By Mary Sayad
Many of you are familiar with the beautiful icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but most of you may not know about its origins or its history. This icon was previously known as Our Lady of Succour. Succour is defined as “assistance in time of great need.“ The icon may have originated in Greece. After the west adopted her, the name was changed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Although it cannot be confirmed, is was believed that this icon was painted by St. Luke, the Apostle. According to the tradition of the Byzantine rite, icons represent the Saints, Prophets and Angels in Churches and homes.
St. Luke wrote one of the four synoptic Gospels, which indicated the true humanity of Jesus and His place in history. He was also a traveling companion of the Apostle St. Paul. St. Luke was a Greek physician, highly literate in the Old Testament traditions and in Hellenistic Greek writings.
The icon remained in the Holy Land until about the fifth century. Later it was taken to Constantinople and given to the Emperor and it remained there for approximately one thousand years. There were frequent public processions with the icon and miracles were reported as a result of these processions.
The icon disappeared in 1453 during the Muslim invasion, but was brought to Rome by a merchant from Crete. This merchant stole the icon from a church and brought it to Rome. Before he died, he asked a Roman friend to place the icon in a location where it could be seen and honored by many. However, the wife of this Roman fell in love with the icon and kept it in her home. Our Lady appeared to the Roman and requested that he take the icon to a church so that it may be venerated, but the man ignored her. Later, Our Lady appeared to the man’s daughter telling her to take the icon out of their house. She instructed the girl to place the icon in a church dedicated to St. Matthew. The young girl obeyed Our Lady and she and her mother delivered it to the Augustinian Friars where it was placed in St. Matthew‘s Church. It. remained there for three hundred years.
On March 6, 1798, a French commander ordered the destruction of thirty churches. The monks removed the icon and it remained hidden for almost seventy-five years. St. Alphonsus Liguori was instrumental in bringing the icon out of hiding. On January 1, 1866, the icon was once again returned to the rebuilt Church of St. Matthew, the Church of Our Lady’s choice.
In the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Golden Crowns on Our Blessed Mother’s head and on the head of Jesus were added during a solemn coronation, on June 23,1867, with the approval of the Vatican.
Our Lady and Jesus are wearing garments of blue, green and red colors. Blue, green, and red were the colors of royalty. Only the Empress was allowed to wear those colors. Our Lady is an important and powerful figure and therefore is arrayed in these colors. Most icons feature two stars on Our Lady’s headdress, however the original icon has three stars which symbolize her virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus. The gold background represents heaven. Byzantine icons always have gold backgrounds.
Mary is holding Jesus’ hands in her open hand, comforting Him. Her hand is open because she is inviting us to place our hands in hers along with Jesus. Her loving demeanor is beckoning us to come to her and to her Son for comfort and hope.
There are Greek letters near the top of the icon. Near the upper left corner of the icon are the letters MP. The translation of these Greek initials is “Mother of God”. In the upper right corner are the Greek letters OY. These are translated into “I AM”. Also to the left of Baby Jesus are letters in Greek which signify, “Jesus Christ”.
In the icon, there are angels to the left and the right of Our Blessed Mother. Above the angels are letters. The angel to the right of Our Lady is St. Michael the Archangel. and the letters above him are his initials in Greek. The angel to the left of Our Lady and above the baby Jesus, is St. Gabriel the Archangel and the letters above him are his initials.
St. Michael the Archangel is carrying a reed and the sponge which was soaked in gall and vinegar and offered to Jesus as He hung on the cross and cried out “I thirst”. The angel is also holding the spear which pierced Jesus’ side.
St. Gabriel is holding the cross and the nails of Christ’s Crucifixion. Jesus is looking at the Cross. According to one legend, after seeing the angels, because He was frightened by them, the child Jesus ran to His Mother. As he was running, his sandal fell off his foot. Mary’s sad and reflective expression is looking towards us, signaling us to avoid temptation and to love and follow her Son.
In the book of Ruth of the Old Testament, 4;7 - “Now it used to be custom in Israel that to make binding a contract of redemption or exchange, one party would take off his sandal and give it to the other. 8- So the near relative in saying to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” drew off his sandal. 9 - Boaz then said to the elders and to all the people, “You are witnesses today……..” The sandal which is falling off of Jesus’ foot is symbolic of the promise or “contract “ of our redemption.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God and our Mother loves us very dearly. She directs us to her Son and encourages us to seek Him. In the above icon, she is solemn and pensive. She foresees Her Son’s destiny of suffering and is deeply saddened.
All loving mothers want their children to be happy and well. Our Blessed Mother is the embodiment of a nurturing, compassionate mother. She too is emotional, and longs for the best for her children. She wants her children to be spiritually strong, healthy and wise.
When we come to her in humble prayer and supplication, when we ask her to intercede for us to her Son, she hears us and longs to fulfill our prayers. She is our Mother. She is the entire world’s Mother. We worship Jesus as our Lord and Savior because He is Divine, but we ask Our Mother to intercede for us. With the heart of a mother, she is our special advocate, and she longs for her children to be well, happy and successful.
Strike a balance between your worldly lives and your spiritual lives.
Many televised preachers and ministers declare and encourage success, happiness and health through faith. They preach that you are entitled to be prosperous and happy. Some promise us happiness and unending joy if we simply come to Jesus and accept Him as your Lord and Saviour. While listening to them, you may feel the excitement of the promise of freedom from problems, difficulties and sorrow. We’re encouraged when we listen to them and there’s merit to their inspirations, but unfortunately they eliminate the fundamentals and the fullness of our faith. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that we live in a broken world, and that conflicts in various situations are unavoidable. They eliminate the honor, acknowledgement and respect towards Our Blessed Mother.
Catholicism bases its success in our trust in God through Jesus and Mary. All Catholics are spiritually and emotionally strengthened through the reception of the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance.
Love and defend your Mother, the Church. Love and defend your Christianity.
Mothers are perpetually concerned with their young children as well as their adult children’s welfare. Love and embrace your mother, grandmother and aunts on this coming Mother’s Day! It’s your special day ladies - Happy Mother’s Day!! Let’s pray for all mothers on this special day. Thank you.
Your companion in prayer, Mary
Holy Mary, help those in need, give strength to the weak, comfort the sorrowful, pray for God’s people, assist the clergy, intercede for religious. May all who seek your help, experience your unfailing protection. Amen