The Icon Before Us

St Mary of Pahokee "Our Lady of Bethlehem"

When, where, how and why?

To understand the great treasure before us today we must first look at the circumstances of the times in which it was first painted. Now, somewhere in Russia, in the 16th century a monk took to his cell and began, even as they do today, the painstaking task of painting an Icon.The monk would have spent many days in prayer and fasting before painting the image of Mary and Jesus that we see before us today. Don't let the beautiful solid silver frame encrusted with so many fine jewels fool you. The real value for believers is inside the precious frame on the tablet of wood and it is this small panel of wood that tells us the true age of our Icon. That it is from the 16th century 

It was first there that the holy monk painted the images of Mary as the Mother of God and Jesus as her baby and then gave the wooden panel to a silversmith to have the frame and shield put over the simple images and so painstakingly the silversmith would cut the shield that at first shows the images that the monk had painted to reveal what we see today the face, hands and feet of the Blessed Mother and her Child Jesus. Next a jeweler would be called in and the wealthy family for whom the Icon was made and who commissioned the monk probably in the first place to paint the images would begin to donate sometimes all at once if whey were the Czars family itself of a noble family or sometimes over the course of years the Icon became dazzlingly decorated with the precious and semi-precious stones. 

Certainly the list of pearls, diamond, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and garnets on our Icon is most impressive. But be not distracted. The real value again I say for believers is not the jewels but the simple sacred images of Mary and Jesus, looking out at us imploring us to notice them, to speak to them, to pray to them.For from the 16th century when Ivan IV (or the Ivan the Terrible) as he was also called began to use for the first time the title “Tsar” that was the Russian translation for the Latin word for Caesar, this icon was present for all the drama of Russian History. 

 

  • And when in the 17th and 18th century, as early as 1613 when Romanov was first chosen as Czar our Icon was there!
  • And when at the same time under the Romanovs, Russia pushed westward taking the Ukraine and much of Poland our Icon was there!
  • And when Peter the Great (1696-1725) sought to westernize Russian society, which lagged behind the rest of Europe our Icon was there!
  • And when Peter the Great gained the territory on the Gulf of Finland and 1703 established St. Petersburg, our Icon was there!
  • And when St. Petersburg became the new capital of Russia in 1712 our Icon was there!
  • And when later under Catherine the Great (1762-1796) Russia became the chief power of continental Europe, our Icon was there!
  • And when Napoleon in 1812 marched into Moscow our Icon was there!
  • And when Russia and Austria made their Holy Alliance our Icon was there!
  • And when in 1864 the serfs of Russia were emancipated, our Icon was there!
  • And when the internal discontent grew and the last Tsar in the Romanov Dynasty, Nicholas II was assassinated with his entire family, our Icon was there!

Yes, there perhaps not in each event in the exact place of each historical occurrence, but yes there in Russia being prayed to, implored, beseeched so that through these sacred images of Mary the Mother of God and the Baby Jesus her son, they might obtain the answers to their prayers or at least consolation and solace in their sufferings. 

Today this Holy Icon is not in Russia but here with us.

Today these Holy Images of the 16th century await our prayers, our petitions, and our supplications. Now their history is mingled with ours.


Now through what maybe considered an act of great generosity of destiny through Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kahn, we now are to be the custodians of this precious sacred work.


Now it is our turn to see our history as divinely watched and guided by so holy a mystery where Mother and Child though in heaven touch the earth through sacred objects and in return allow each one of us to turn to them and through them to touch the face of God.