Decades ago, when my spiritual father was a little boy in Communist Romania, he came very close to death. A violent disease almost killed him. An orphan by father, with a mother exhausted by worry and work, the four-year-old child was certain to die by morning. But then, with no doctor in the village, no money to travel and seek help somewhere else, no hope or human help left, the survival instinct of the mother took over and resurrected her faith.
Faith is a strange thing. One lives one’s entire life thinking faith is deep in one’s heart. Then, in a moment of real crisis, one discovers with horror that one’s heart is in fact empty, and that what we called faith is merely an illusion and the appearance of faith. And then, the whole world collapses around us. Things that were certain fall to the ground in the fraction of a second. The sources of our strength melt away. Hope disappears. Even the desire to get up and fight is vanished. All is lost. The fall is complete and final.
And then, out of the depth of that fall, out of the death of that abandonment, faith blossoms in one’s heart, and – against all human reason – one’s heart starts beating again.
When all was lost, faith blossomed in the heart of the little boy’s mother. She took the child, by now fainted and with no sign of consciousness, and she run to the village church carrying him in her arms. There, inside the dark wooden church, she knelt before the old icon of the Mother of God and gave the child away. This is an old habit in our remote villages. ‘Giving the child away’ means that the mother abandons her child and gives it to the Mother of God who becomes the child’s new real mother.
My spiritual father told me once how his mother placed him on the floor of the church, before the icon of the Mother of God, and left him there, almost dead, while she went a bit further to pray. She had given him away. She had abandoned him, and he now belonged to the Mother of God. Should he die, he was Her child. Should he live, he will always be Hers. The mother prayed long and her newly found faith made that prayed alive. By early morning, the little boy opened his eyes and started eating again. Slowly, life returned to his frail body.
All his life, to this day, he has considered the Mother of God his proper mother. His natural parent was his care-taker, the one who cares for him on behalf of his real Mother. That little boy grew to become a priest, serving the Mother of God each day of his life, as gratitude for restoring him to life and for accepting him as Her child. That little boy is my spiritual father, and I share in his gratitude to the Theotokos – without Her, he would not be here to keep me alive.
When the person who commissioned this icon of St Ita approached me, she also asked me to pray for one of her children. For some reason, this story of my spiritual father’s life came to my mind, and we created the composition of the icon to illustrate this story of a mother’s cry. It is a personal story, but it is also universally valid. Sooner or later, all parents have to find the strength, have to find the faith to let go of their ‘possession’ of their children and ‘give them away’ to Christ and His Mother.
Parents are entrusted with the most wonderful gift. To take care of a human being is endlessly frightening. To take care of a child, in full awareness that the child is Christ’s Own Image, can be a paralysing responsibility. But one can find immense wisdom and comfort in the primitive gestures of our peasants. They teach us that one only has to love this new Image of Christ; one only has to care for it ‘with fear and love’; one only has to kneel down before the Mother of God and ‘give the child away’ to Her. She will never fail to love. She will never fail to heal. She will never fail to guide.
In this icon, St Ita kneels before the Light of Christ, keeping the children He entrusted her close to her heart. She loves them, but she does not own them. She has given them away to God and God Himself is now their Father.
I pray this icon brings joy, peace and healing in its new home. May St Ita bless and guide all of us.
Commission going to Canada. More images of the icon are available here: https://www.shop.mullmonastery.com/product/st-ita-a-mothers-cry/
Thank you Father Seraphim. The icon of St Ita is a blessing just seeing it here. I asked the Theotokos to take my daughter Anna into her care tonight. It is very hard, but what else can I do. The pilgrimage in June was such a blessing. I am giving a talk on the pilgrimage at our church, St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee the end of September. I pray that I represent the joy and peace that was there. Thank you again for your love and prayers.