The image known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” is familiar to Roman Catholics everywhere – especially here in the Philippines.
Less well-known, though, is the fact that this is an Orthodox icon.
The icon was painted in the 15th century at the Keras Kardiotissas Monastery in Heraklion, on the Greek island of Crete. It was stolen from Crete by an Italian merchant, who later gave it to the San Matteo church in Rome. It became known as the “Madonna di San Matteo.” It disappeared from view when the French invaded Rome in 1812, and was gone for over forty years, but then was found in an Augustinian oratory in the 1860s. The rediscovered image caught the attention of Pope Pius IX, who had known it in San Matteo as a boy. He accorded it great importance, which led to its eventually becoming a well-known Catholic printed paper reproduction found on the walls of many Catholic homes. It was by then known as Nostra Signora del Perpetuo Soccorso in Italian, or in English “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”
Most Filipinos are familiar with the German copy of the icon which is venerated in the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Parañaque City, Metro Manila.
This icon is of a type known in Russia as “Strastna,” or “Of the Passion.”
The “Passion” Icon of the Mother of God
Commemorated on August 13/26 and on the 6th Sunday after Pascha
The “Passion” Icon receives its name from the two angels depicted around the face of the Theotokos, carrying the implements of the suffering of the Lord.
According to tradition, a pious woman named Ekaterina, after entering into marriage, began being subjected to seizures and madness. Having lost her senses, she ran off into the forest and more than once attempted suicide.
In a moment of clarity she prayed to the Mother of God and promised that if she received healing, she would enter a monastery. After recovering her health she remembered this vow only after a long time. Becoming afraid and distraught, she took to her bed.
Three times the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to her, instructing the sick woman to go to Nizhny Novgorod and to buy from the iconographer Grigorii an icon for prayer. Having done this, Ekaterina received healing, and from that time onward miracles have occurred associated with this icon.
The icon is commemorated on August 13/26, on the occasion of its transfer in 1641 from the village of Palitsa to Moscow. At the place of its meeting at the Tver’ gates a church was built, and later in 1654, the Strastna [“of the Passion”] monastery. A second celebration of the icon is on the 6th Sunday after Pascha, on the Sunday of the Blind Man, in memory of miracles which occurred on this day.