This icon is known as Our Lady of Vatopedi for the Monastery on Mt. Athos where this icon originated in the 9th century. It is also referred to as the Comfort or Consolation Icon, as Mary is being consoled by the Christ-child; and she, in turn, is the Consolation of all Christians.
Icons of Mary and the Christ Child have a long and rich tradition in the Eastern churches. According to ancient legend, the first one was painted by Luke with Mary herself as a model. These icons may be classified into groups based on the degree of relationship or affection between mother and child that is shown to us. The earliest ones show Jesus enthroned on Mary’s arm, both facing the viewer, with no human affection whatsoever. Icons from the late Russian period show very great affection being expressed in both directions. The image of Our Mother of Consolation is in between these two types. Jesus raises His hand in benediction and Mary grasps His arm and pulls His tiny hand to her face. For His part, Jesus appears not to notice.
The young Jesus is turned partly toward His mother and partly toward us. His right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing while his left holds a scroll, symbolic of the Sacred Word of God. Mary provides a comfortable throne for Him with her left hand. Mary is gazing at infinity or gazing within, with an expression of sadness, as if recalling Simeon’s words, “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)
Jesus is dressed as an adult, not as a baby. He wears a tunic and a cloak, called a hymation. The rich cloak is symbolic of His divine royalty, in sharp contrast to His bare feet symbolizing poverty and humanity. Mary wears a homophorion or cloak over her dress. It is of a burgundy red shade that is the most common color in Russian iconography. Her homophorion is adorned with three stars on the head and shoulders (one is hidden by the child). These are symbolic of Mary’s perpetual virginity; before, during, and after her Son’s birth.
The overall composition has the form of a triangle inscribed in a rectangle. This is intended to represent the mystery of the Trinity coming to reside in the world. Gold leaf is used on Mary’s halo and that of Jesus to express unearthly light, the divine origin of sanctity. Christ’s halo is inscribed with a cross and the Greek letters omicron, omega, nu, spelling “HO ON.” In English, this becomes “Who Am,” the name used for God in Exodus 3:14. Greek letters are also inscribed on the background. “ICXC” is the Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ, Iesous Khristos. “MPOY” is the Greek abbreviation for Mother of God, Meter Theou.