This week’s icon, Panagia Axion Estin takes its name from the hymn to which it is directly intertwined.
According to tradition, a young monk of Karyes on Mount Athos had been left alone, with the specific instructions to chant the All-Night Vigil by himself. That evening however, an unknown monk, who called himself Gabriel, arrived at the disciple’s cell, and the two began to hold the service together.
During the chanting of the Magnificat (“My soul magnifies the Lord…”), the young disciple and the unknown monk alternated verses, as is customary—until the monk Gabriel began to chant a verse that the young monk had never heard before: “It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God…” He then continued with the standard, “More honorable than the Cherubim…”
During the chanting of this hymn, the young monk was greatly moved by the eloquence of the monk Gabriel’s new additions, and also by the light, which had begun to radiate from the icon of the Theotokos during the chanting.
When the service had concluded, the young monk asked Gabriel to write down the new verses. However, when Gabriel asked for a pen and paper, the young monk realized that he did not have any. And so, the taking an ordinary roof tile, the monk Gabriel began to write the hymn on it, as though the tile were wax. It was then that disciple knew that this Gabriel was none other than the Holy Archangel Gabriel. “Sing in this manner, and all the Orthodox as well,” the angel told the monk. He then disappeared, and the icon of the Theotokos continued to radiate for some time after.
The tile on which the Archangel wrote the hymn that we sing at every ordinary Divine Liturgy was transferred to Constantinople in the late Tenth century.
The Axion Estin icon itself still resides in the main church of Karyes, where it is considered both the holiest object and the protector of Mount Athos. The church commemorates the icon, together with the miraculous writing of the hymn, on June 11.