The Holy Family
Icon Holy Card
Size (in inches): 3 x 5
"The Holy Family" icon is beautifully painted in iconographic style, but the composition is from western rather than from eastern Christianity. The young Christ Emmanuel is surrounded in love by Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family serves as an example and a reminder of the importance of family in both human and divine existence.
Icon holy cards are 3" x 5", a convenient size for use as gifts or bookmarks. The backs are blank except for a faint colophon at the bottom, leaving plenty of room for custom imprinting with your own message.
There are hundreds of variations on the theme of the Madonna and Child in traditional iconography, but Joseph is never included. He appears in the Byzantine composition of the Nativity, but is portrayed sitting in the corner of the picture, looking quite puzzled about his role as God’s foster father. Most conservative Orthodox Christians would not be comfortable with this icon of the Holy Family because Joseph’s arm is around the Virgin Mary with his hand actually touching her shoulder. The Orthodox tradition has always emphasized the virgin birth of Jesus and Joseph has been relegated to the background. In contrast, Saint Joseph has always enjoyed considerable popularity among western Christians. He played no biological role in the Holy Family, but he was the father in every other sense; the protector, the bread winner, source of love and support to Mary, and the educator of his child. He was also a strong example for us of faith in God, willing to trust in the messages sent to him via dreams. The pattern for this icon is of uncertain origin, probably Russian, and dating from after the time of Peter the Great (eighteenth century) when western Christianity began to influence iconography.
Theology and Symbolism
In these modern times, nontraditional families are becoming more common than traditional ones. Our Heavenly Father has provided for us via the Holy Family an example that relates to both. On the one hand, God found it necessary to provide an earthly foster-father for His Son, affirming that fathers are needed as well as mothers for nurturing children. On the other hand, Mary endured the potential shame and risk of being pregnant before her marriage (Matthew 1:18-19) and many years of life as a widow. In this beautiful icon of the Holy Family, we see the holiness of the parents and their sense of wonder at their calling. Their heads are inclined together in a posture of mutual support and affection. At the bottom of the picture, three hands touch in unity and love. Joseph is portrayed as a strong, handsome man, his arms protectively enveloping both Mary and Jesus. His face shows love, but also concern. We can sense his wonder and fear at being called to be the earthly father of the Son of God. Mary’s face shows peaceful acceptance of her place as wife and mother. The stars on her robe are symbols of her perpetual virginity. In the upper left corner of the icon, the Greek letters MP ØY stand for Meter Theou, "Mother of God." The Greek letters in the upper right spell out "Saint Joseph." Jesus is presented to us in a posture of strength. Unlike the adults, He isn’t leaning on anyone. He is their center and the center for all humanity. He looks directly into the soul of the viewer, his hand raised in blessing. He wears a royal robe, symbolic of His dominion over all the universe. On his halo, Greek letters omicron, omega, nu, spell out "HO ON." In English, this becomes "Who Am," the name used for God in Exodus 3:14.
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