“What shall we offer you O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother.”
-From a Prayer for the Orthodox Christmas Vespers Service.
The task of iconography is to express the theological and spiritual content of revelation in a summary fashion through images. This is true of the Icon of the Nativity. The Nativity Icon is in sharp contrast to the sentimental imagery often used to depict the birth of Christ. In the Icon there is no charming Bethlehem bathed in the light of the nativity star but only a rugged mountain with a few plants. The austere mountain suggests a hard, unwelcoming world in which survival is a real battle - the world since our expulsion from Paradise.
The most prominent figure in the Icon is Mary. Orthodox Christians call Her the Theotokos: Godbearer, or Mother of God. Her quiet but wholehearted assent to the invitation brought to Her by the Archangel Gabriel has led Her to Bethlehem, making the cave at the edge of a peasant village the center of the universe. He who was distant has come near, first filling Her body, now visible in the flesh.
Christ’s body is wrapped “in swaddling clothes.” In Icons of Christ’s burial, you see He is wearing similar bands of cloth. In the Nativity Icon, the manger looks much like a coffin. In this way the Icon links birth and death. The poet Rilke says we bear our death within us from the moment of birth. The Icon of the Nativity says the same. Our life is one piece and its length is of much less importance than its purity and truthfulness.
The figures of Mary and Christ are at the heart of the Icon. Mary fulfilling Eve’s destiny, has given birth to Jesus Christ, a child who is God incarnate, a child in whom each of us finds our true self, a child who is the measure of all things.
(This narrative is printed on the back of Note Cards & Christmas Cards. A copy is included with each plaque & print.)
And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2:7)
(This greeting is printed on the inside right panel of Christmas Cards only.)
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