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The Icon of the Sign

Among the most endeared icons of the Mother of God is the Icon of the Sign. Its Greek title is translated "more spacious than the heavens." These words come from the hymn that is sung to the Mother of God in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great (quoted below). The hymn serves as a parallel to the icon.

The image portrays the Mother of God with the Christ Child in her bosom. Christ, in this icon, is a sign that was announced first by the Prophet Isaiah: "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you this sign: 'The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name Him Emmanuel,' " (Is. 7: 14) a name that means 'God is with us.' In the icon the sign is Christ — God becoming man. The Son of God is made known to us as the Son of Man. He is true God and true man. The icon celebrates this truth. Through the Virgin Mother of God, He receives His human nature. Thus, "The Lord Whom the heavens could not contain is contained in the Virgin."

The Virgin Mother is portrayed with upraised arms, a classical position of prayer. This image of the Mother of God praying is customarily placed in churches in the dome of the apse, behind and overlooking the Holy Table and the worshipping community. This placement indicates that the Mother of God, who presents Christ to the world, also represents us and serves as our model in the prayerful relationship with her Son to which we have been called.

HYMN — In you, O Full of Grace, the angelic choirs and the human race —all creation rejoices. In you, O Sanctified Temple, Mystical Paradise, and Glory of Virgins, from whom God took flesh, He Who is our God from before all ages became a child. For He made your womb a throne and made it greater than the heavens. In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices. Glory be to you.