Icons of the Theotokos: The Panagia Portaitisssa (The Gatekeeper)

The Panagia Portaitisssa (The Gatekeeper)

The Panagia Portaitisssa (The Gatekeeper)

As is the case with many of the sacred images we have profiled, the story of this week’s icon begins during the iconoclastic persecutions of the emperor Theophilus. Tradition holds that this icon belonged to a certain widow who lived in Nicaea. When soldiers burst into her home to search for icons, one soldier stabbed the image of the Most Holy Theotokos, but miraculously, the wound on her face began to bleed. Overcome with shame and fear, the soldiers fled in terror. Not wanting the image to fall into the wrong hands, the widow cast the icon into the sea where, it began to float upright and sail westward.

While the widow’s son, who became a monk in Iveron on Mount Athos, informed the brothers of the miracle, the image was not sighted for many centuries. In the year 1004, the monks marveled at a pillar of light coming off the sea. When the monks approached, they saw that pillar of light fell atop the icon. However, whenever the monks dared to approach the icon, the further it drifted out on the water.

The Theotokos then appeared to the fathers of the monastery, informing them that only monk fit to retrieve the icon was a visiting Georgian monk named Gabriel. Appearing to Gabriel, Our Lady told him that by walking out onto the sea, all would witness her love for the monastery. And so, on Bright Tuesday of that year, accompanied by the censing and chanting of the other monks, Gabriel stepped out on the water, and retrieved the icon.

When the monks began to celebrate a paraklesis of thanksgiving, a miraculous cold spring began to gush forth from where the icon had been placed. Naturally, they took the icon to the sanctuary to revere it. However, when a monk arrived the next morning to light a lamp, he found the icon was not there—now it was hanging above the entrance gate. Surprised, the monks returned it to its initial resting place, but again at monastery gate. This miracle occurred several times until the Theotokos appeared to Gabriel, explaining, that she did not wish to be protected, but she wanted to protect the monastery. Filled with great joy, the monks dedicated a small church to the Theotokos outside the monastery gates, placing the icon inside the church, where it has remained to this day.

This icon is commemorated on February 12.

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