Russian Icons of the Mother of God “Eleusa”
Endless love and tenderness are what icons of the Mother of God “Eleusa” bear in the first place. This type of iconography, which shows the infant Jesus nestling against Mary’s cheek, is considered one of the main depictions of the Virgin in the Russian Church. The icon renders the sacrifice of Christ as the highest expression of His love for humanity. By the way, the word “Eleusa” is also often used as an epithet when praising the Mother of God in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eleusa-style Russian icons are generally considered to be the most cherished symbols in the Russian Theotokos iconography. Let’s take a closer look at several well-known examples of such icons that are preserved and venerated in Russia.
Most known Russian icons of the Mother of God “Eleusa”
1. The Theotokos of Tolga
The Theotokos of Tolga (pictured above) is a Russian Orthodox icon depicting the Theotokos with Baby Jesus on her lap. The icon was named after the Tolga River in Yaroslavl where it is referred to as its patroness. The legend of the icon’s arrival in Yaroslavl is closely related to Prokhor, the Bishop of Rostov, who witnessed its manifestation on the River Tolga. He later laid the foundations of a church at the place where he prayed and installed there the icon of the Mother of God Eleusa.
2. Our Lady of the Don
This icon was painted in the 14th century and traditionally represents the reflection of the Virgin’s earthly life and her constant love for the people, as well as Christ’s tenderness and holiness. The face of the Virgin Mary drowns in a soft, caressing light, radiating love for Baby Christ, whom she carefully holds in her arms to give to the salvation of people. Responding to the caress, the Child gently presses His cheek to His mother. This icon, as well as many other important Russian icons depicting the Theotokos, are currently in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
3. Seraphim-Diveyevskaya icon of the Mother of God
This sacred icon is preserved in the Holy Trinity-Saint Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery where it occupies the central place. It is interesting that it served as an inspiration for the well-known ascetic and wonder-worker Saint Seraphim. This particular Tenderness icon of the Mother of God is quite rare within Orthodoxy because it shows the Virgin without the infant Jesus. The reason lies in the fact that it depicts Mary at the moment of the Annunciation.
Now, after looking a bit more closely at Russian icons of the Mother of God “Eleusa,” you know their importance to the Orthodox Church and their sacred meaning of love and tenderness to the whole world.