Panagia Portaitissa (Gr. She who resides by the door or Keeper of the Gate) also known as Theotokos Iverskaya.
If the Panagia Axion Esti is the official icon of Mount Athos, then this icon is the most popular. Is is a pre-iconoclastic Byzantine icon, with dimensions of 1.37 x 0.94 m. The entire icon is encased by a gold and silver shirt, made in Moscow, 1819 - that covers the entire body except for the faces. The most unique characteristic of the image is what appears to be a scar on the chin of the Virgin.
History of the icon
This is the most famous and most revered miraculous icon of the Theotokos on the Holy Mountain. In the 9th century, during the reign of Theophilus the Eikonomachos (Iconoclast), it was the personal property of a devout widow from Nicaea in Asia Minor, who kept it and honored it in her private chapel. The Emperor's men who got to hear of this decided not to carry out immediately the order about icons, but to start by trying to blackmail its rich owner. In the time which they gave her to collect the money they demanded, the widow took the icon and her dearly loved son and, after fervent prayer, took it to the sea and left it on the surface of the waves, so that it should not be defied by the iconoclasts. The icon stood upright on the water and began to head towards the west, while the widow's son, following her advice, also fled towards the west to escape persecution. Later he became a monk and died on the north-east coast of Mount Athos near or in the Monastery of Clement, and so the anchorites round about heard from him the story of the icon.
One evening, when monks from Georgia (Iberians) had started to live at the Monastery of Clement, an amazing phenomenon puzzled all the monks of the area: a column of fire stood upright on the sea and reached to the heavens. This vision continued to be seen for several days, and then the monks saw the icon adrift in the sea. They made their supplications to God that this priceless treasure should be given to them, and the Theotokos appeared to the devout anchorite Gabriel the Iberian and bade him to walk on the water to take the icon and to give it to the Abbot and brethren of the Monastery.
Nevertheless, after its reception and installation in the church, the icon repeatedly disappeared and was found above the gate of the Monastery on the inside. In a dream, the Blessed Virgin told St Gabriel that this was the place which she herself had chosen, so that she could protect the monks and not be protected by them. Thus the icon took the name of “Portaitissa”, and until this very day its presence in the Monastery and on the Holy Mountain is regarded as a guarantee of the protection of Athonite monasticism by the Theotokos. Later, a chapel was built near the wall of the Monastery in which the icon was placed, while the old entrance was closed and another, grander, one built. The miracles performed by the Portaitissa are without number, especially on August 15 and on Monday of Diakainisimi Week, when there is a procession and the finding of the icon is commemorated with a liturgy in the chapel on the shore, at the exact spot where St Gabriel took it out of the sea.
Monasteries around the world
- Iviron, (Mount Athos, Greece) - the location for the original icon.
- The Portaitissa icon at Iveron monastery by Kriton Chryssochoidis, From Maria Vassilaki (Ed.), Images of the Mother of God, Ashgate, 2005 (Church of Greece Myriobiblos Library)