Orthodox Icons Depicting the Mother of God: Major Types

Akhtir Mother of God icon

Like icons of Jesus Christ, holy icons depicting the Mother of God (Theotokos) are considered to be authentic as they are a revealed truth. It is commonly believed that the first image of the Virgin and Child was created by Saint Luke, though, in fact, he had not seen Mary until she was already elderly. Anyway, for today, we can divide Eastern Orthodox Church icons of the Mother of God into several major types, but certainly not without exceptions. In general, there are five broad groups that include Agiosortissa, Oranta, Eleusa, Odigitria, and Panachranta religious icons of the Theotokos.

Agiosortissa icons of the Holy Virgin (Intercessor)

This type of famous religious icons is intended for the veneration of the Virgin Mary, who is often depicted in full length and without the Child. However, there are also hand-painted Orthodox icons depicting the half-length Virgin Mary; for example, the Akhtir Mother of God icon and the Seven Arrows icon of the Mother of God.

Oranta icons of the Virgin Mary (Praying)

This type of Eastern Orthodox Church icons shows the Mother of God in prayer, with her arms in the ornate position, turned heavenward. The image of Christ usually appears in her womb enclosed in a circle. In most cases, Russian religious icons of this type show half-length depictions of the Virgin Mary and are often called “The Sign,” while the full-length depictions of the Mother of God with the Child are known under the name of “The All-Holy” or “Great Panagia.”

Eleusa icons of the Theotokos (Tender Mercy)

Hand-painted Orthodox icons of this type are among the most ancient. They depict the Mother of God holding her Son. The Christ Child wraps one or sometimes two arms around her shoulder or neck and touches His face to the Virgin Mary. It is a clear expression of the affectionate relationship and power of love between God and man.

Odigitria (Hodegetria) icons of the Mother of God (Guide)

These antique icons are exactly those that are usually attributed to Saint Luke. The word “hodegetria” itself means “who shows the way” or the “Guide.” This type of Eastern Orthodox Church icons shows the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. She touches or points toward Him, which is indicated by a specific gesture of her right hand. It is a guide to salvation and God.

Panachranta icons of the Holy Virgin (All-Merciful)

These Orthodox Church icons depict the regally enthroned Mother of God with her Son on the lap. She presides with Christ over the destiny of the world. The image of the throne in such religious icons symbolizes the Theotokos’s royal glory.

There is no other subject in Eastern Orthodox iconography, besides Jesus Christ, that has been painted with so much love as the image of the Mother of God. For today, there are many variations of these amazing religious icons, but these five types may serve you as a guide. However, please note that this division is still very generic, with lots of exceptions.

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