Question about a Theotokos icon

That Icon is Virgin Mary of Extreme Humility

Other Theotokos icons exist that do not show Jesus Christ:

  • Virgin Mary of Sorrows - Seven Swords
  • Virgin Mary of Sorrows “The Softening of Evil Hearts” (Semistrelnaia)
  • The Holy Protection of the Theotokos
  • Unbreakable Wall
  • Virgin Mary of Athos
  • Virgin Mary “Ostrobramska”
  • Virgin Mary Kaluzhskaya
  • Virgin Mary Panagia Gerontissa

Yes, I have seen this one in the past called “Umilenie”, “Tenderness”, or “Virgin of Extreme Humility”.

Apparently the Orthodox of Jordanville Monastery have yet another name for her.

I corrected my post regarding icons of Mary without Jesus. Whatever I read suggested that it was unusual for her to be shown in iconography without Jesus. Apparently not, based on your list.

The name Umilenie is also used for another icon that shows the Virgin touching a cheek of the infant Jesus, appear especially touching and gentle, also called Eleusa.

Merriam-Webster: compunction (noun)

  • 1a anxiety arising from awareness of guilt
  • 1b distress of mind over an anticipated action or result
  • 2 a twinge of misgiving: scruple

Luke 1

34 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

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I’m not familiar with it either. My first thought was that it doesn’t look Eastern (not a judgement, just an observation).

Like babochka, I tend to prefer the slightly Westernized icons. The Russian Orthodox seem to have quite a few of them.


Perhaps, like prayer, it is not intended to change the recipient, but us. Rather than inferring that Mary had compunction, it suggests that we should after viewing the joy and tranquility in her expression. She calls to us, calls us closer to her so that we may be closer to her Son. Compunction rightfully moves us to repentance and increased holiness.


That was my thought as well, but it seems that bear has found a different orthodox meaning for the word that could apply to Mary herself. Either way, it’s worthy of contemplation. Thanks for sharing the image, Bear.

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I considered that interpretation, that it is us who are called to repentance and “compunction”.
But it seemed to be at odds with the manner of St. Seraphim’s devotion to the icon.
Penitence for sin and humility should of course always be part of our devotions, but he seemed to regard the icon in more of a joyful manner than a “guilt for sin” kind of manner.

I think the answer lies in the Russian Orthodox Church use of the word “Compunction” as being different from the current English definitio of the word. Literally it meant originally a “pricking” (same root as puncture) and the English language might take that to mean a pricking of the conscience whereas the Russian Orthodox are seeing it more as a spiritual stimulation.

I think the title “Virgin Mary of Extreme Humility” is probably the best one in describing what the icon is all about, based on what I have read. It is calling us to be humble and like Mary when she said Fiat. Like “Anawim”.

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“Compunction” is also a Latin word meaning “thoroughly (com) + pierced (punctum)”, which the Theotokos was - Saint Simeon said that “a sword will pierce [Mary’s] own soul too,” (Luke 2:35) perhaps because of her Son’s suffering at crucifixion?


Thank you for that insight. That certainly gives another angle of meaning to the icon to ponder and meditate upon.

I asked this question of an Orthodox lecturer some years back - “What is compunction and how is it attained?” and he fired back at me: “What? Do I look like a monastic? Do you think I am a desert father?” And he fumbled about for 3-4 minutes and failed to come up with an answer… When he came through a year later, he thanked me for the question, saying it saved him further embarrassment 2 weeks later when some nuns he was lecturing asked the same question, and by then he had researched an answer for them…

So I told him about the way I had gotten my answer, how an Orthodox Monk had recorded morning prayers and the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion on a CD, and the monk with whom I was posting noted casually how he prayed with great compunction… Now, I had been using this CD for my prep-prayers on my car’s CD player while traveling to various monasteries and Churches for Communion Services enroute, and I had not noticed all that much about them that I would see as “compunction”, so I dove in and listened again and still did not “get” what he meant… “Where was this “compunction” in this mere reading of the prayers?” I asked…

So I decided to imitate his voice, to sound just like him, as I prayed aloud after hearing a line of his prayer on the CD, and voila! Because in order to sound like him, I had to constrict my throat and raise the pitch of my voice - I had to make me small…

And then, finally, I looked at the word itself - com- plus -punction… We all know what a puncture is, and we all know what com- means… And it all opened up - “with-puncture” is clear enough, given the results of puncturing things that rely on air pressure to maintain their rigidity - Life rafts and balloons come immediately to mind, along with tires…

So it means making one’s self small by releasing one’s bloated self image…
It is the gateway to humility for a bloated ego…
Attained by the pricking of one’s self-conceit…

I mean, NO WONDER I couldn’t hear it in his voice!!

Were it a drug, compunction would be known as the reality pill…

“For Behold! - He hath regarded the lowliness of His hand-maiden…
For Behold! - From henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed!”


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I would tend to see it not as a momentary state at the point in time when she made her Fiat, but instead as a lifelong stance of her being, her ousia, as a person, from her birth… She guarded her purity from her beginnings, and this entailed never permitting herself to be puffed up by any vanity of this world… Indeed, by never permitting this world to determine who she is at all… And we all do this to some degree… But her humility was perhaps both the cause and the consequence of this keeping of inner inner purity that places her so far above creation…

And it may well be that for her, compunction is the consequence to come of the loss of Her Son, the piercing of the sword of this loss, taking from Her the one thing in this world that was her only earthly joy, our Lord Her Son… And yet she lived until her repose, a Light to the Apostles who loved Her, in the care of the Apostle John the Evangellist… From which I have to believe that She understood and accepted Her Place in both God’s Creation and among all mankind…


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