The war in Ukraine leaves us searching for ways to help to make a modicum of difference; we realize individuals cannot possibly donate enough money, or necessary material goods to fill the monumental need. Thankfully, relief agencies are capable of providing meaningful material support. But as iconographers, we can offer spiritual support, prayers, and love through the icon of the Protectoress who can intercede on behalf of the faithful to God. We wish to offer spiritual support to Ukrainians through the gifts of the Holy Spirit by creating icons of the very strongest possible image, that of the Most Holy Mother of God and her protecting veil.
The prospect of re-creating this ancient image, relied upon for centuries and based on the Marian apparition that first appeared during war and siege of Constantinople, into a tiny pocket icon for those on the front lines, quickly blossomed into a community service project uniting iconographers and iconography supporters throughout the state. We began producing icons of the Theotokos of the Protecting Veil, on miniature, handmade, durable icon boards. Iconographers of the Trinity Iconography Institute began this project during Lent as a work of charity and hope to finish shortly after Easter.
The Theotokos of the Protecting Veil, also called the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, is the icon image that appeared in the air above congregants in the Church of the Blachernae at Constantinople in the 10th century, holding her veil above them as a sign of protection during times of war and siege.
This image is known as “The Protectress” and its origins date to the earliest-known Marian hymn/prayer, found written in Greek on a Coptic papyrus from Egypt. It is generally known by its first words in Latin translation, Sub Tuum Praesidium — “Under Your Protection.” Though it is fragmentary, the missing parts may be supplied to read:
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν – ”Under your compassion
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε – We flee for refuge, God-birther
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας – Our petitions
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει – Do not disregard in affliction
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς – But rescue us from danger
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη – Only Pure, only Blessed.” *
“We flee under your compassion for refuge, Birthgiver of God (Theotokos); do not despise our prayers when troubles surround us, but deliver us from danger, only pure one, only blessed one.”
Our Holy Mother is not approached as an intercessor or intermediary, rather directly for her powers of deliverance. The icon “Protect us with the Shelter of Your Wings”, is an icon in the same vein as the one we chose, and is believed to have entered Russia via Ukrainian engravings in the latter part of the 1600s. For these reasons, we selected the image of the Our Holy Mother to provide comfort, protection, and deliverance to the people of Ukraine during this time of war.
Each icon is handmade by a group of iconographers who have donated their time and materials on behalf of those in Ukraine. We created the icons in the ancient tradition, gessoing the tiny boards, and painting them with egg tempera and natural pigments of ground earth and minerals. The blessing, “God Save You” is written in Ukrainian on the back of each board, translated by a Ukrainian language expert for our project. The boards are varnished with a very durable marine finish, to help them survive in a rough pocket; each board has a tiny key chain affixed to help unite it with other valuables. The icons will be blessed before they leave the US.
*Prayer found on “Icons and their interpretation” blog, Protection Images East and West