This iconographic type acquired its name from the prophecy found in Isaiah 7: 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The Theotokos in this iconographic depiction is most often placed behind the altar in the apse of the church. The Christ Child is found in a circle at the Virgin’s bosom. This reflects Christ having been formed in the Theotokos’ stainless womb.
Yet this icon communicates more than the Incarnation. It reminds the observer that Christ can dwell in us if we allow Him to do so. Just as Christ was formed in the Virgin, so can He be formed in us. The Theotokos’ raised arms welcome us to join her in faith and obedience so that Christ may dwell in us as well. As St. Ambrose writes, “Every believing soul conceives and gives birth to the Word of God. Christ, by means of our faith, is the fruit of us all, thus we are all mothers of Christ.” This icon’s presence in the apse of the church serves to remind worshippers that the purpose of our life is to allow Christ to form within us. Her open arms invite us to receive Christ as she did so that we may all play the role of God bearers. They also invite us to join her in prayer to Christ, the Pantokrator, who is often depicted in the church’s dome.
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Hebrew Theotokos with Christ Holding Torah
based on Theotokos of the Sign