The Chrysorogiatissa monastery in Cyprus keeps one of the holiest icons of Christianity, the one painted of the Virgin Mary by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. Other monasteries also boast that they keep this icon, three others in Cyprus alone, but also seven in Ethiopia, and many others in Russia, Rome, on Mount Athos, in India, and around the world. But you do not have to choose one and reject the authenticity of the others, and it does not need to be rationalized either, as the Kykkos monastery tries to explain, for the sake of peace, saying that St. Luke indeed painted three icons, and each of the three are kept in three different Cyprus monasteries. No. St. Luke painted only one single, most holy icon, the model of all subsequent images of the Holy Virgin, and this very one is kept in each monastery, always right there, where one makes a pilgrimage to it.
The icon of the Holy Virgin by St. Luke, kept in the Chrysorogiatissa monastery, may have been made in the 12th century, based on its stylistic features, but these cannot be seen on the iconostasis of the monastery, along which have been hung silver votive reliefs and wax dolls as supplication or thanksgiving for healing. The painted icon, in fact, is covered by a silver kleimo or in Greek skafto, an icon cover, on which we see in relief the figure of the original icon, Mary with the child. But even the silver icon cover is mostly covered by a black fabric, embroidered with a colorful version of the original figure. It is very fitting that the sacred, which enters this world, is not exposed to the multitude of uninitiated, skeptical or even indifferent gazes, but it can be seen, as if through a multiple layer of glasses, essentially only to the believer.
But to benefit also the simple pilgrim from the holiness mediated by the icon, a tiny crack appears in the glasses. The embroidered picture leaves the lower part of the silver icon cover exposed. And on this visible strip, a small silver door opens, through which a little piece of the original icon is revealed. All the paint has long been worn off of this small rectangle, and even the wood of the icon panel has been indented in the aftermath of the touch of thousands of pilgrims’ fingers. But even so, the little window opens onto the icon, like New Year’s eve on the coming of an unknown new year, full of hope for those who peer into it.