Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Miraculous Icon of Panagia Portaitissa (the Keeper of the Portal)


One of the feasts associated with this Holy Icon is celebrated Monday, so I thought to include the incredibly moving story behind this icon (one of the most treasured of Mount Athos, and throughout the world). In fact, Panagia still works many miracles through the copies of her icon. Most-holy Theotokos, save us! Great is your grace! Lord Jesus Christ, save us through the prayers of your Holy Mother! Amen!

Holy Icon of Panagia and Christ "Portaitissa" (of the Portal), the original from the Iveron Monastery of Mount Athos (taken from

"The Iberian Icon of the Most-Holy Virgin, which is especially honored above all of the Icons of Mt. Athos, first appeared about the middle of the 9th Century. The Holy Orthodox Church at that time was profoundly agitated by fresh waves of iconoclasm under Emperor Theophilus; and to protect the Holy Icons from being burnt and desecrated, pious people tried to hide or set them afloat on swift rivers or seas, entrusting their destiny to the will of God. Such was the case of the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God. According to Church Tradition, to save the Icon from the iconoclasts, a certain pious widow who lived not far from the town of Nicea, floated the icon on the waters of the sea, committing it to the case of the Theotokos. But as the widow and her son, who helped her to set the Icon afloat, watched, the Holy Image did not disappear into the water, but floated westward in an upright position. This moved the widow's son to dedicate himself to God and secretly he set out for Thessalonica and from there to Mt. Athos, where he settled after taking monastic vows at the Iberian Monastery (Iveron). It was he who told the Monks there about the Icon and thus preserved its sacred memory.

An icon of the miraculous journey of the Portaitissa over the water to Mount Athos (

One day in the latter half of the 10th Century, the Monks of Iveron Monastery saw a pillar of fire rising from the sea. It continued for several days and nights. Soon the Monks who gathered on the shore saw an Icon of the Virgin which seemed to be standing upright on the surface of the water, giving off rays of light. The mystery of the miraculous appearance of the Icon was revealed by the Holy Mother of God Herself to Gabriel, a pious hermit of Iveron, whom she willed to walk over the water and receive the Icon in his hands. With great rejoicing and ceremony the Monks greeted the Holy Image on the shore and a chapel was built on the spot soon after. The Holy Icon, placed by the Monks on the Holy Table of the Monastery Church , was soon found to have changed its place and to stand above the gates of the Monastery. And every time the Monks returned the Icon to the place they had chosen, it miraculously moved back to the gates of the Monastery. Finally it was revealed to the Monks by the Mother of God through the same Gabriel that this was a visual sign that she herself wished to be their Gatekeeper and Guardian not only in their present life, but also in the hereafter. Thus, at this special Sign, the Monks built a special chapel for the Icon by the inner gates of the Monastery, where they worshipped zealously every day. The Icon was called Iberian (or Of Iveron) after the Monastery, and Portaitissa (or Gate-Keeper), after its place by the gates.

One day, a blow dealt by a bandit left a mark on the cheek of the Holy Virgin. The sight of the blood that ran down the cheek terrified the robber. He turned to God and to the life of a holy ascetic. Since then all copies of the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God have depicted Her with a scar and drops of blood on Her cheek.

[Note: some accounts mention that this robber who later became a monk was actually St. Barbaros (May 15, or May 6) (]

A close-up of the original icon of Panagia Portaitissa. Dried blood running down from the chin of the Theotokos is visible to this day. (Icon taken from

The fame of the Icon reached Russia through pious pilgrims. It became especially venerated in Russia in the 17th Century when two early copies of it were brought from Mt. Athos one in 1648 and the other in 1656 both being made at the order of Patriarch Nikon. One copy was placed in the Tsar's palace and later in a special chapel built for it by the Resurrection Gates of Moscow. This chapel was built in 1685, and the Icon placed here was especially venerated locally as a miracle-working Icon. The other copy, which had been commissioned by Patriarch Nikon, was brought in 1656 to the Monastery of Holy Lake. During the War of 1812, the wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God from the Iberian Chapel, together with the Icons of the Virgin of Vladimir and of Smolensk were taken in procession, while prayers were offered to the
Mother of God for victory for the Russian armies over the invader, Napoleon. In time, numerous copies were made of the Holy Iberian Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos.

The wondrous icon of Panagia Portaitissa without its silver covering (Riza) (source)

In the Church Calendar, the Iberian Icon is commemorated on three occasions: Oct. 13, the day when the Icon was brought from Mt. Athos to Moscow, in 1648; Feb. 12, when the main Feast of the Holy Icon was established; and on Bright Tuesday, according to the Athonite tradition. The many prayers that are offered up to the Iberian Icon of the Virgin and the services in its honor testify to the great love and veneration in which it is held among all the Icons of the Mother of God which are the spiritual beauty of the Russian [and entire] Orthodox Church."
(Excerpt taken from "These Truths We Hold - The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings". Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459;

Here is a Russian copy of Panagia Portaitissa (taken from

Here is a discussion of another miraculous copy of Panagia Portaitissa (taken from

"In 1982, a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy, Jose Munoz, in the company of two friends, embarked from Canada to the ancient bastion of Orthodox monasticism, Mt. Athos, on a pilgrimage. An art teacher by profession, he is also an iconographer, and therefore wished to visit some of the sketes (small monastic communities dependent upon one of the 20 major monasteries of Athos) and monasteries which specialize in icon painting. One of the friends who had accompanied Jose decided to become a monk and remained on Mt. Athos in one of the smaller sketes; Jose and his other companion directed themselves towards the Danilov skete, where icons are painted in the ancient Byzantine style using the egg tempera technique.

After eight hours of climbing uphill on rough terrain, they were very tired and decided to stop at a skete which they could see on the the Mountainside below. This skete, dedicated to the Nativity of Christ, is very poor and its 14 monks keep a strict monastic rule. The abbot, Fr. Klimentos, greeted them warmly and offered traditional Athonite hospitality. Then he took them to see the skete's icon-painting studio.

As soon as he entered the studio, Jose felt an immediate and indescribable attraction to a copy of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God which hung on one of the walls. As he later explained, his heart felt as though it had 'leaped or turned over. " He asked whether he could buy this Icon, but was told repeatedly that it was one of the first icons which had been painted at this skete ( by one Fr. Chrysostomos in 1981) and was not for sale at any price.

That night at a divine service in the church of the skete, during the singing of the angelic hymn to the Theotokos "It is Meet" (one of the chief prayers of the Orthodox Church to the Mother of God), Jose fell to his knees and begged the Mother of God to make it possible for him to take the Icon back with him into the world, where "we have need of You." Immediately he felt an assurance that somehow his prayer would be answered. The next morning, as Jose and his friend were about to depart, the abbot appeared holding the Icon and said to Jose that it pleased the Mother of God for Her Icon to go with him to North America.

Jose and his companion went down the mountain and took the the boat towards Daphne, a port on the western shore of the peninsula. On the way, Jose heard a strong inner voice which bade him: "Go to the Iveron monastery and touch your Icon to the original wonder-working Iveron Icon." This they did.

Upon arrival at the Iveron monastery they waited three hours before a monk came to open the church which houses the original "Portaitissa." Jose asked that the protective icon case be opened so that his Icon could be placed upon the original Portaitissa in order to be directly blessed by the Mother of God. The monk was suprised, but agreed to Jose's request when it was explained to him that Jose and his companion wished to take the blessing of the Mother of God to the West where Her intercession is much needed.

Returning to his home in Montreal, Canada, Jose placed the Iveron Mother of God in his icon corner, where he also kept relics of the saints from the Kiev Caves monastery and of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth (one of the New Martyrs of Russia).

Jose began to read a daily Akathist (hymns of praise) before his newly-acquired Icon. At about 4 a.m. on Nov. 24, 1982 (three weeks after his return from Mt. Athos), Jose woke up to the smell of a very strong fragrance, as though someone had spilled a bottle of exquisite perfume. He thought at first that the fragrance emanated from the relics but later, when he stood before the Icon to say his morning prayers, he saw that the hands of the Mother of God were streaked with oil. Jose assumed that a friend who was sharing the house had spilled some oil onto the Icon while adjusting the flame of the vigil lamp hanging before it, but the friend denied touching the lamp. When Jose wiped the Icon, he discovered that it was the source of the wonderful fragrance which had by now filled the whole house.

Upon the advice of a local Orthodox clergyman, the Icon was taken to church and placed on the altar. During the entire liturgy, myrrh flowed from the hands of the Christ Child. Since that time, with the exception of several days during Holy Week, when the Icon is absolutely dry, the myrrh has continued to flow almost uninterruptedly. (Holy Myrrh is a sweet, fragrant oil which was used in the Old Testament for the anointing of kings. In contemporary Orthodox church practice, a newly born Christian is anointed with Holy Myrrh during which the words "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" are said by the priest.)

In the years since, Jose has traveled to many cities and parishes where the Icon has been venerated to the great joy and consolation of the faithful.

Wherever the Icon goes, there are always many questions. Some people initially have doubts. A scientist in Miami was astounded to see that the back of the Icon remained perfectly dry. He later surreptitiously chipped off a small piece of the board on which the Icon is painted for scientific analysis: it was found to be ordinary pine wood, nothing more.

At some times the myrrh flows in greater abundance than at others. During the consecration of a bishop in Montreal there was such an outpouring of the myrrh, that it streamed down from the analogion (lectern on which icons are kept in Orthodox churches) onto the floor. On another occasion, in Florida, the myrrh was seen to rise forth from the hands of the Mother of God and the Christ Child as though it were being pressed from within. Nobody has any power to regulate the flow of the myrrh, it moves to the will of God and His Most Pure Mother."

The miraculous copy of Panagia Portaitissa, guarded by Brother Jose. Unfortunately, in 1997 he was killed in Greece while trying to help a stranger. May his memory be eternal! (see:


Apolytikion of Panagia Portaitissa - First Tone (amateur translation)
Your sacred icon O Lady Portaitissa, which has come by the sea, is wondrous in your flock, we honor as a pure blessing, and faithfully as a repository of your glory, from it you pour forth gifts, to those who cry out fervently. Glory to your wonders O Pure One, Glory to your providence, Glory to your rich goodness towards us.

(The Paraklesis to Panagia Portaitissa in Greek is available here:

Most-holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!


vi melendez said...

I would like tohave a picture of Our Lady of POrtaitissa.

Unknown said...

This is iberi icon and its starts from georgia

gus said...

Not the icon but the monks who founded the monastery were iberians

Unknown said...

Well..the monks were iberian but the icon is also called 'iverion' because Panagia Portaitisa chose the iberian monk Gabril to "meet Her" on the sea...'The Holy Mother of God-Portaitisa-have mercy upon the world'...Amen!!!