The Panagia Portaitissa

Panagia Portaitissa, Iveron Monastery

Panagia Portaitissa, Iveron Monastery

Recently I noticed an icon of the Virgin Mary where she had a wound on her face. This was intriguiging, especially as no one could explain it. A quick Google search later and I found the answer. The Panagia Portaitissa icon is a very special icon, dating back to the time of the iconoclastic controversy, when the forces of the Byzantine emperor were ordered to destroy all icons. The story goes that the icon belonged to a widow in Nicea who tried to protect it from destruction. A soldier stabbed the icon and, as the story goes, blood flowed from the wound. The widow spent the night in prayer, after which she cast the icon into the sea. This occurred early in the 9th century.

Monk Gabriel rescuing the icon of the Panagia on the water

Monk Gabriel rescuing the icon of the Panagia on the water

In the latter half of the 10th the icon was recovered off the coast of Mount Athos by a monk named Gabriel of the Iveron Monastery. The icon was taken to the main church of the monastery. When the monks entered the church on the following day, the icon was missing, and was later found hanging on the gates of the monastery. The monks took it down and put in back in the church, but the next morning it was found hanging on the monastery gates. This happened for several days until the monk Gabriel reported he had received a vision of the Theotokos, in which it was revealed that she did not want her icon to be protected by the monks, but she wanted to be their Protectress. Since then the icon has been installed above the monastery gates. The icon is called Portaitissa, or the Gate-Keeper, a title that comes from the Akathist to the Mother of God: “Rejoice, O Blessed Gate-Keeper who opens the gates of Paradise to the righteous.”

Iveron Theotokos of Montreal

Iveron Theotokos of Montreal

In 1648, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, while he was still Archimandrite of the Novopassky Monastery, commissioned a copy of the Panagia Portaitissa. This famous icon, and the chapel in which it resided, was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Other famous copies have been made, including the famous Iveron Theotokos of Montreal, which is a myrrh-streaming icon. A copy of the Montreal Myrrh-Streaming Iveron Icon began streaming Myrrh at the Russian Orthodox Church in Hawaii in 2007; I have personally witnessed the myrrh on the face of the icon, and was anointed with the oil during the icon’s visit to Washington DC.