Icon of the Theotokos the "Milk-Giver", Russian - (12G77)

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The Theotokos the "Milk-Giver"

The icon of the Mother of God called the "Milk­-Giver" is found at the present time on Mt. Athos, in the church of the Karyes cell belonging to the Serbian Monastery of Hilandar. Oral tradition, preserved till now in this monastery, states that initially this icon was found in the Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, which is situated not far from Jerusalem.

Before his blessed end, Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, the great founder of the only lavra in the East, turned to the brethren surrounding his deathbed and prophetically stated that in time a pilgrim of royal lineage, having the same name as he, would visit the Monastery, and to him the Icon of the Mother of God, the "Milk-­Giver", should be given as a blessing from the Monastery. Saint Sabbas the Sanctified peacefully departed to the Lord in the year 532. After his repose, more than six centuries passed while the icon stood immovably in its place, awaiting the fulfillment of the prophetic deathbed testament of Saint Sabbas, which was passed down in his monastery by oral tradition from century to century. The fulfillment of the prophecy ensued only in the 13th century, when Saint Savvas [or Sava], the Archbishop of Serbia, arrived as a pilgrim. The prophetic testament of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified was related to him and the icon of the divine "Milk­-Giver" was handed to him together with another icon of the Mother of God, called "Three­-handed" Icon.

On the return trip from Palestine to Serbia, Saint Sava visited Mount Athos, where the Hilandar Monastery had been founded by him and to this his Monastery he left the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, the "Milk-­Giver". The holy fathers then placed it in the church at the Karyes cell belonging to Hilandar, which was subsequently called Typicarnitsa, since in it the Typicon (Rule) written by Saint Sava was preserved. The other icon, the "Three­-handed" Theotokos remains to this day in the Catholicon of Hilandar. 

Of special note, an important detail which immediately stands out to the pious pilgrim is that the icon of the "Milk-­Giver", contrary to the general practice of our Eastern Orthodox Church, was placed by Saint Sava, and remains until now, on the iconostasis not at the left side of the Holy Doors, but at the right where an icon of either the Holy Trinity or the Saviour is usually placed. The image of the Lord Almighty occupies that place on the left side of the Holy Doors in this church were the icon of the Mother of God strictly ought to stand. 

The depiction of the face of the Mother of God and her Divine Son on the icon of the "Milk-­Giver" is expressive, beautiful and in a strict Church style. One may easily number this icon among the greatest images of the Byzantine school.