Silver gilt small icon with the Iveron (Iberian) image of the Mother of God is made in the shape of richly decorated wrought gates. On the locket obverse there is the icon itself, at the foot thereof being Greek inscription: “Portaitissa”, meaning “Mother on Gates”. On six gate panels of its reverse written are the words from Her prayer glorifying: “Hail, Good Portaitissa, who open doors of Heaven for us”. Such an uncommon name of the icon has the history of its own.
As the legend tells, after the Ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit the Apostles started drawing lots about countries where to go with evangelism. It was for the Mother of God to go to Iberia (Georgia). Before setting off for long journey She decided to visit Lazarus, the friend of Christ whom He raised from the dead. Lazarus was the Bishop of Cyprus. Having said goodbye to him the Mother of God went on the ship that was bound for Caucasus. But a strong breeze prevented the ship from entering Dardanelles where since antiquity there had been heathen temples. The Lord disclosed His wish of Her remaining at the Mt. Athos. The sailors put Her ashore, and proceeded their way without hindrance. As soon as the Holy Virgin stepped the ground of Athos, the demons dwelling in the idols destroyed them from pedestals, and plunged into the water. Sacrificers met the Mother of God and heard the proclamation of the Gospel from Her. It is they who became the first monks at the Holy Mount. Taking after the disposition of Her Divine Son the Mother of God did not go to Iberia but remembered Her apanage. She glorified Georgia there, at the Mt. Athos by one of the greatest icons of Her.
By the legend the sacred object of Athos – the Iveron icon of the Mother of God – in 999 itself came to the Georgian (in Greek named Iberon or Iveron) monastery by waters in a fiery column.
According to the ancient Georgian saga, in the time of aniconism under Emperor Theophilus (829-842) a certain pious man from Byzantium took monastic vows in the Iberian monastery. He narrated a story of the family sacred object – the icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria. The monk told that the heretic warriors burst into his mother’s house. On seeing a large icon one of them threw a lance into it. The spike pierced right into the face, and the soldier saw with horror that the wound started bleeding. The warrior repented of his act and helped to lower the sacred object into the sea.
More than a centenary nobody heard of it. But one day it came swimming to the shore of Athos surrounded with fiery aureole. The Holy Mother of God came to the dream of a devout monk – St. Gabriel the Georgian (commemorated on July 25) – and revealed its secret to him, having ordered to go through water and to take the sacred object. St. Gabriel fulfilled the order, and the monks placed the icon ceremonially into the altar. But the Mother of God again came to the dream of St. Gabriel, and said that she wished to be the monastery Guardian but not the guarded. Then the monks erected the supra-gate temple for it where it resided hitherto. The icon is named “Portaitissa” and sanctifies the monastery gates as a symbol of the gateway to Heavenly Jerusalem. The Mother of God said to the monks that Her image would disappear from the monastery gat before the end of the world.
The Iveron icon is not only Portaitissa, but also the Guide: that is the iconography according to which the Mother of God as if shows to the Infant Christ Who sits on Her left arm in a kingly way, as to the Way of salvation, to the living Truth, an to the source of Life. (John 14, 6). In Greek such an iconography is just called “hodegetria”.
Moscow also has the wonderworking copy of the Iveron image. On October 26, 1648 its was brought from the Mt. Athos, and solemnly met by Muscovites. The Great sacred object of Russian Orthodoxy – the Iveron image of Moscow – was placed to the chapel specially built at the Red Gates of Cremlin, and became Russian capital Guardian. Now the wonderworking copy is in the Church of the Resurrection in Sokolniki. The Iberian chapel that was destroyed in 1929 was restored completely in 1994. A new copy was ordered at Athos that was made free of charge according to ancient custom.