The Pilgrim Virgin Icon of Fatima
The importance of Fatima to both the West and also the East can never be emphasized enough. Yet, within many circles in the East, there is a fear of the rosary, and essentially Fatima, as a Western only apparition with no bearing on the universal Church. In fact, some Eastern Catholics see the rosary itself as a Latinization that waters down the rich Marian traditions of the East.
These assertions and fears are not well founded or remotely true but do point to a reality that the Church must overcome in spreading the message of Fatima and the rosary. Our Lady did not visit the children to say, “Pray the rosary, but only in the West”, but she came to the universal Church proclaiming the necessity of the rosary for all.
Overcoming age long mistrust among the Eastern Orthodox and fear of Latinization among some Eastern Catholics are obstacles that must be overcome in proclaiming and spreading the universal message of Fatima. The rosary can no longer be seen as a Latin prayer, but a Catholic prayer that Our Lady gave to the Church, both East and West. Both lungs of the Church must breathe the rosary.
The historical reality is that the message of Fatima originated in the East at Hrushiv, Ukraine in 1914, when Our Lady appeared on May 12, two weeks before the outbreak of World War I, to 22 people who were mowing the fields. There Our Lady emphasized the threat of war and the subsequent sufferings of Ukraine, and later, the importance of the Rosary to fight this evil. This message would find its fulfillment three years later on May 13, 1917 at Fatima.
In emphasizing this historical reality to the East, the Pilgrim Virgin Icon of Our Lady of Fatima has been instituted and commissioned to bring the message of Fatima to Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. Blessed by Bishop Bohdan Danylo of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Parma on March 4th, 2018, this icon has been directly blessed by an Eastern See to fulfill its mission.
The image of our Lady, as an icon, is the best way to connect Fatima and Eastern traditions. Icons have always in the East been the expression of choice among sacramentals. Unlike statues, icons are special paintings upon wood. They express ideas through a rich symbolic theology that does not adhere to realism found in Western paintings, but instead adheres more to symbolism. The icon itself is a prayer offered by the iconologist that is written and offered through fasting.
The Pilgrim Virgin Icon of Our Lady of Fatima shares the same deep spirituality and common iconic themes. Written by Vivian Imbrulia, the icon captures many spiritual themes of Fatima, as well as being inspired and based off the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue. In this way, Imbrulia captured many of the expressions found in the famous and miraculous statue and transferred them into the face of the Icon itself.
The overall image of our Lady of Fatima is done in classic Eastern Iconography with the Byzantine folds of her gown and mantle, but the softness of her face represents a more Ukrainian style than the sterner Greek style found in other icons.
Surrounding the face of Our Lady is a halo in 24k gold paint, outlined with twelve stars representing the Twelve Apostles. In addition to this, the Star of David is depicted at her feet. Above her is the image of her Son, Jesus Christ, who looks down from Heaven, blessing her and the message of Fatima. Christ is surrounded by gold while Our Lady is surrounded in a blue background, depicting the difference between Heaven and Earth. Below our Lady are three doves, representing both the Trinity and the miracle of the doves. The miracle of the doves refers to the famous story of the very first Pilgrim Virgin Statue pilgrimage from Fatima to Lisbon and back in 1946, when three doves flew to the feet of Our Lady in the village of Bombarral outside Lisbon and kept vigil there until the pilgrimage and ceremonies at Fatima were complete. The Bishop of Leiria declared that “these doves are symbolic of the theological virtues…faith, hope and charity.”
Numerous images surrounding Our Lady capture the classic Eastern way of storytelling found perfectly in icons. Without need of accurate depictions of size, the theology of the icon is able to portray important symbols regarding the mission and story of the image. Mary, the Theotokos is the central figure and message of the icon and naturally becomes the primary presence found in it, but if one looks closely, there are a variety of other messages related to Fatima found in the icon.
First, one can see two churches on each side of Our Lady. The first church is St Peter’s Basilica in Rome found on the western side of our Lady, while flanked to the Eastern side of our Lady is the second church, the Hagia Sophia, once the center of Orthodox Christianity in what was once Constantinople but is now Istanbul. Both represent the entire Apostolic Church of Christ, both East and West, and the equal importance of Fatima to both Churches. The gold painted rosary held by Our Lady is spread out over both Churches, emphasizing the desire for reunification and unity among them.
Second, within the mountains behind the two Churches are two trees. On the Western side is the Portuguese Cork Tree of Fatima and on the Eastern side, the Weeping Willow of Hrushiv, Ukraine which were both beneath the apparitions of Our Lady. These trees within the icon emphasize the importance both these nations played in the message of Fatima. Finally, above the mountains is a representation of the miracle of the sun as seen as a golden globe that dances from West to East.
The importance of Fatima and the message of this Icon has never been more important. Our Lady seeks unity among the Churches and in that unity, she asks that all Christians pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners and the conversion of Russia.