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February 11, 2017

Saint Theodora and the Icon Behind the Mirror

On the 11th of March in 843, the Empress Theodora restored the holy icons and thus ended the century-long period of iconoclasm.

On this occasion was established the annual celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy which takes place on the first Sunday of Great Lent, commemorating the restoration of holy icons and the victory of Orthodoxy over iconoclasm.

The Empress Theodora had married the fiercest pursuer of icons and relics, the Emperor Theophilos (829-842). His period of government was very strict. In that era frescoes in churches would be white-washed in order to eliminate holy figures.

Saint Theodora herself was terrified at this time and she was forced to protect an icon of the Panagia that she had, hiding it in her bedroom behind her mirror.

Theodora and Theophilos had acquired five daughters: Thekla, Anna, Anastasia, Pulcheria and Maria; as well as two sons: Constantine and Michael, who became Emperor Michael III (842-867).

It is said that one evening when the Empress was absent from the Palace, the Emperor was playing with his children. At one point Theophilos told his children that it was time to go to bed. They then asked for their "Panagitsa," so they could pray to the Theotokos.

"Here we have no icons," replied Emperor Theophilos sternly and with confidence.

"We want our Panagitsa which is behind the mirror," said the children.

This is how Theophilos discovered the icon. Enraged he grabbed it and threw it in the fireplace.

At that moment Theodora entered the room, and she managed to save the icon of the Theotokos from the flames.

This icon of Empress Theodora is called "the Mirror," and can be seen today at the Monastery of Saint Paul in Mount Athos. With markings it testifies that it was thrown into flames.

It is formally called Panagia of the Kathrepti ("of the Mirror") and kept in the Holy Sanctuary of the Katholikon of the Monastery. Usually it is brought out for veneration during Compline Services, along with the Gifts of the Magi and other relics. Around the icon itself are small portions of sacred relics.

Saint Paul, the builder of the Monastery, had brought the icon back with him as a gift when he had visited Constantinople. A Service and Supplicatory Canon were written for this icon in 1983 by the hymnographer Elder Gerasimos Mikragiannanites.