In front of this icon, pregnant women, women in labor and nursing mothers most often offer their prayers, because the experience of the Church shows its beneficial effect and the help of the Holy Mother of God for a good delivery and supply of milk. A copy of this icon is located in the Church of the Holy Ascension in the center of Belgrade (Serbia). To the readers of iFamNews, we bring a brief history and lessons from Mount Athos regarding this icon, which we downloaded from the Facebook page of the Friends of the Hilandar Monastery.
The Miraculous Icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver has been known since ancient times in the Christian East. The icon was painted on the basis of the truth of the Gospel: that the Most Holy Mother of God nursed the incarnate Lord Christ as Her Son, which the woman confessed in the Gospel with the words addressed to Christ: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed” (Luke 11:27).
According to the oral tradition preserved in the Hilandar monastery, today’s Hilandar icon of the Virgin Mary was located in the Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, twenty kilometers from Jerusalem. The holy founder of this largest Lavra in the East, Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (after whom the Saint Sava of Serbia was named when he became a monk), before his blessed death (in 532 A.D.) prophetically told the assembled brother monks that after a long time the Lavra would be visited by a monk of noble birth from the West, named Sava, to whom they should give as a blessing the icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver and also his abbot’s scepter. Since then, a lot of time passed, almost seven centuries, and the brothers remembered the commandment of their spiritual father, passing down the legacy of the great saint from generation to generation.
And indeed, at the beginning of the 13th century, on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Saint Sava, the first Serbian Archbishop and Miracle Worker, came to visit the monastery of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified near Jerusalem. The abbot’s scepter of St. Sabbas the Sanctified fell from the wall at the feet of Saint Sava of Serbia and and the icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver moved on its pedestal. The monastery brothers were silent at first, and then they remembered the prophecy of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, in disbelief that it was now being fulfilled in front of them. Whenever Saint Sava of Serbia entered the monastery temple during those days of his stay in the Lavra, this scene was repeated. Only after his third entry into the temple, the brothers told him the bequest of their spiritual Forefather. Thus, the prophecy had come true! Then, out of love and mercy for Saint Sava of Serbia, and according to the bequest of Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified, the icon of the Milk-Giver and the abbot’s scepter were presented to the Archbishop of Serbia, along with the famous miracle-working icon of the Mother of God called the “Of the Three Hands”. On his way back from Palestine to Serbia, Saint Archbishop Sava first went to Mount Athos to the Hilandar monastery, where he left, as an inalienable legacy, the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God of the Three Hands, and the abbot’s scepter in a cell called Paterica in Kareja (now kept in Hilandar). The miraculous icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver was placed by Saint Archbishop Sava on the iconostasis of the Hermitage-Typikarnica cell in Kareja, which he dedicated to Saint Sabbas the Sanctified. Unique in the Orthodox world, the Icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver represents Christ the Child in the arms of the Mother of God, nursing at the breast of His Holy Mother.
Another important feature related to this miraculous icon is its place on the iconostasis, near the Imperial Doors. Contrary to the customs of our Church, out of great love for the Mother of God, Saint Sava placed the Milk-Giver on the iconostasis as a throne icon on the right side, where according to the canon of the Orthodox Church the icon of Christ the Savior is placed, which is why he placed it on the left side of the Imperial Doors. There are still such cases in Orthodoxy. Many devout Orthodox Christians turn to this Holy Icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver in faith and in prayer, and through it they are mercifully delivered by the Mother of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is especially experienced by pious devotees when they come to the Typikarnica-Hermitage of St. Sava in Kareja.
May the Most Holy Mother of God the Milk-Giver help everyone, especially children and mothers.Father Nikodim of Hilandar, Typist of the Hermitage of St. Sava in Kareja, Mount Athos