Artwork of God’s Artwork

In a previous post I explained the meaning of the text “IC XC” which is found in Eastern icons. I thought today I would do a quick follow-up to explain the letters which commonly appear around the Theotokos…

The Theo-what?

“The Theotokos” (pronounced “th-ay-oh-to-kos”) is the name that Eastern Christians (both Orthodox and Catholic) typically give to Jesus’ mother, Mary. It was also the word used in the proclamation of the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. In the Western Church, “Theotokos” is often loosely translated into English as “Mother Of God” (whereas it literally means “God-bearer”).

Giving Mary the title “Mother of God” has certainly caused some heated arguments in the history of Christianity. Some have mistakenly seen this title as an elevation of Mary to a height even greater than that of Jesus (if such a thing were possible!). Yet the title “Mother Of God” is really much more about Jesus than Mary, since to say that Mary is not the mother of God is to say that she gave birth only to His humanity, which would indicate  some kind of rupture between Jesus’ human and divine natures. That’s kind of a weighty topic…I think I’ll come back to that another time….

Pls Pry 4 Me

Anyway, the literal rendering of “Mother of God” in Greek is “Meter Theou”. When the Greek alphabet is used, it becomes:

Μητηρ Θεου

As we did before, we can capitalize these letters…

ΜΗΤΗΡ ΘΕΟΥ

….and then strip out all but the first letter and last letter of each word, giving us….

ΜΡ ΘΥ

….and these are the letters you will find written above Mary:

So next time you see “ΜΡ ΘΥ” next to a woman in an icon you’ll know that it is depicting Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Happy May 🙂

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