Be Perfect

Below is a link to the video showing the restoration of the little icon pictured above (before and after) with the translations of the inscriptions. If you watch it as a spiritual meditation, I think you’ll find that it goes far beyond just being an interesting look at an art restoration project.

I couldn’t help but think about God working on our souls as I watched the restoration. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matt 5:48. Thinking you’re a good person, because you haven’t done anything illegal or dastardly lately, is about as close to being perfect as this icon was at the beginning.

I spent quite a lot of time hunting down what the inscription means and I’m so glad I did! The letters on the top line, on either side of Mary’s halo, means Theotokos, which is Greek for Mother of God, the doctrine that Mary was not merely the uterine incubator, but Jesus’ true, physical mother.

The small letters on the right by Jesus’ halo are a Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ. His pose with a book and two fingers raised, which is called Christ Pantokrator, represents His role as the All-Powerful, Omniscient One who “will come to judge the living and the dead.

The hardest part for me to figure out were the letters on the left, above Mary’s shoulder. I finally deciphered it as being Greek for “The Mercy.” This reminds me of the last prayer of the Rosary that starts, “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”

This provides such a beautiful balance to the Christ Pantokrator. I love how she presents Him to us with her right hand, while holding Him close with her left. Their big eyes and the expressions on their faces speak to me of how much they knew of what He would suffer.

In the conclusion of his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993), St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Mary is Mother of Mercy because her Son, Jesus Christ, was sent by the Father as the revelation of God’s mercy (cf Jn 3:16-18). Christ came not to condemn but to forgive, to show mercy (cf Mt 9:13). And the greatest mercy of all is found in His being in our midst and calling us to meet Him and to confess, with Peter, that He is “the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). No human sin can erase the mercy of God, or prevent Him from unleashing all His triumphant power, if we only call upon Him.”

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