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Icon of the 'Mother of Unexpected Joy'


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#1 Peter Yancey

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 04:41 AM

Hello,

I have been reading post on Monachos for quite some time and have appreciated the valuable insights that I have been blessed to find here. This is my first post. I am quite troubled by the story of the icon of unexpected joy that follows:

"In the writings of St. Dimitri of Rostov there is an instructive narrative about a certain sinner who unexpectedly experienced the joy of repentance before an icon of the Mother of God. This event became so beloved of the Russian people that an icon was drawn depicting it, which came to be known as “The Unexpected Joy.” The icon shows a sinner standing on his knees, praying before an icon of the Theotokos and cleansing his soul through penitence.

This sinner had the habit of praying each day to the Blessed Virgin, often repeating the Archangel’s greeting: “Rejoice, O Virgin full of grace!” Once, before routinely going out to sin, he turned to the holy image and fearfully saw the Holy Virgin standing live with Her Divine Son in Her arms. The Infant had wounds on His hands and feet, and blood was flowing from a wound in His side, just as it had been on the cross. The sinner fell to his knees and cried out: “O Mistress! Who did this?”

“You and other sinners. Over and over again you crucify My Son by your sins, just as the Jews had done,” – the Theotokos answered softly.

“Have mercy upon me,” – tearfully cried out the sinner.

“You call Me the Mother of mercy, yet you offend Me and bring Me sorrow by your deeds.”

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"The Unexpected Joy" “No, Mistress,” – the sinner cried out in fear. – May my malice not overcome Thy indescribable kindness and mercy! Thou alone art the hope and safe haven of all sinners! Have mercy upon me, O benevolent Mother! Entreat Thy Son and my Creator on my behalf.”

Seeing a soul being purified by repentance, the most blessed Mother began to entreat Her Son: “My benevolent Son! For the sake of My love have mercy upon this sinner.” But the Son replied to Her: “Do not be angry, My Mother, if I do not obey Thee. I, too, entreated My Father to have this cup of suffering pass Me by.”

Over and over the Mother of God entreated Her Son, reminding Him how She had nurtured Him at Her breast, how She had suffered at His cross. But the Lord would not bend down to mercy. Then the Mother of God arose, put Her Son down, and was ready to fall at His feet. “What dost Thou wish to do, Mother?!” – cried out the Son. “I shall remain, – She replied, – lying at Thy feet together with this sinner until Thou forgivest him his sins.” Then the Son said: “The law requires a son to venerate his mother, while justice demands that the giver of the law be himself obedient to the law. I am Thy Son, Thou art My Mother; I am obliged to do Thee homage by fulfilling Thy request. Let it be asThou wishest! His sins are now forgiven for Thy sake! And as a token of forgiveness, let him press his lips to My wounds.”

The sinner arose, with trembling and joy kissed the most holy wounds of the Infant, and came to himself. When the vision ended, he felt within his heart both awe and joy. His soul exulted, streams of tears ran down his face. He kissed the icon, filled with gratitude for having found repentance and forgiveness, and prayed that he be granted the gift to always see his sins and repent of them. His life changed completely and remained God-pleasing to the end of his days."

This seems to me to be completely foreign to the Churches understanding of the Lord and repentance. That the Lord would refuse to forgive someone except out of duty and obligation to his Mother is greatly troubling to me. I am inclined to see this story as similar to the Toll House story in the life of St. Basil the New. I am a recent convert and I would like to know, how many such stories are there? Are they common in such literature? What are we to make of them?

In Christ

Peter

#2 Olga

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 07:49 AM

Hello Peter, and welcome to the forum.

Here is a thread from a couple of years ago which addresses some of your concerns:

http://www.monachos....l-of-repentance

You might also find this analysis of the meaning of the icon useful:

The sinner who is shown kneeling at the icon of the Mother of God was in the habit of praying before the icon in full knowledge that he was to sin (in some accounts, commit a crime) shortly afterwards. By his prayers, he, in effect, was praying for his sinful actions to be "blessed". This persistent behaviour could be regarded as "I can go ahead and sin as much as I like, and all will be forgiven". The man was soon confronted with his unrepentant ways in a dramatic way, and finally showed true repentance. The initial refusal of the Christ-child to forgive the man was, in this case, necessary to bring the sinner to his senses, and to true repentance.


#3 Peter Yancey

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 09:31 PM

Thank you Olga,

That does help a bit with my concerns. I will also look at the thread you referred me to.

#4 Jason Johnson

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 09:58 PM

I've been struggling with this issue too. Why would the Lord would refuse to forgive someone except out of duty and obligation to his Mother? It has been something that I've been trying to wrap my head around. I never have thought that I will know everything there is about God but I'm working at it. I went to vacation bible school, went to church camp, and I even with to a Christian High School but I still struggle with these issues. I'm glad that I was able to find this post and help me with this question. Even though I have been a Christian for a long time, some things are still hard to understand.

#5 Peter Yancey

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 05:10 AM

I've been struggling with this issue too. Why would the Lord would refuse to forgive someone except out of duty and obligation to his Mother? It has been something that I've been trying to wrap my head around. I never have thought that I will know everything there is about God but I'm working at it. I went to vacation bible school, went to church camp, and I even with to a Christian High School but I still struggle with these issues. I'm glad that I was able to find this post and help me with this question. Even though I have been a Christian for a long time, some things are still hard to understand.


Hello Jason,

Since I posted on this subject I have reached the conclusion that this story, and others such as the "Tale of the five prayers" that used to be printed in older editions of the Jordanville Prayerbook are simply the product of Latin influence in the Church. The influence resulting from interaction with the Uniate Church and Roman Catholic schools, as well as the need (in the case of Orthodox countries under Ottoman rule) to print books in Venice and other Catholic countries all contributed to this.

#6 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 06:56 PM

This reminds me a great deal of Roman Catholic Mariolatry, especially in the way that the Theotokos replaces Christ as the Mediator. We are presented with a merciless Christ who is swayed by the mediation of the Theotokos. Quotes like "I can no longer hold back the heavy arm of my Son" (La Salette apparition), "If God is angry with a sinner, Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son and saves him" (Alphonsus Liguari), and "She is the sure refuge of sinners and criminals from the rigour of the wrath and vengeance of Jesus Christ" (Jean-Jacques Olier) would all have fit into this story. During the officiate of St. Dmitri of Rostov, the Church in Russia was reduced to a government department, and Czar Peter I imported a lot of Western "theologians" to help "reform" the Church.




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