Monday, 25 November 2013

Marian Monday: Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi)

Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring (Gr.: Zoodochos Pigi, Ζωοδόχος Πηγή), sometimes translated as Life-Giving Font or Fount, is a Byzantine icon and devotional title of the Holy Theotokos.

Legend tells us about the origin of this title:
Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great. 
Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who, being tormented with thirst, asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. 
After Leo became Emperor as the most holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring".

Technically, then, the name "Life-Giving Spring" refers to said miraculous water source that was housed in a church built by Byzantine Emperor Leo the Great. The church was destroyed during a Turkish invasion 1000 years later, but the water survived and can now be accessed through the new church, the Zoodochos Pigi at the Baloukli, Istanbul, Turkey. The icon can be seen above the font as if pointing to it and guarding it.

Symbolically, the "Life-Giving Spring" is also a title of the Virgin Mary, as expressed in the Canon of the Akathist:
Hail, Sovereign Lady, never-failing spring of the Living Water!

The Living Water is, of course, Christ Himself, and the line is a reference to the Old Testament, when Moses in the wilderness struck the rock “and [God] brought water out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down as rivers” (Psalm 78:16; also Exodus 17). Jesus, referring to this miracle, said: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believes on me, according to the Scriptures, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

The Zoodochos Pigi icon is very easy to recognise because it is the only Theotokos icon where she and her Son is seated within a water font, from which streams of holy water gush forth to heal believers. The font is usually in the shape of a cross. The Theotokos may be shown in any pose—oranta (praying) as above, or else. There may or may not be a pair of angels by her sides.

The Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring is celebrated in the Eastern Church on Bright Friday, the first Friday after Easter.
As a life-giving fount, you conceived the Dew that is transcendent in essence,
O Virgin Maid, and you have welled forth for our sakes
the nectar of joy eternal,
Which pours forth the water that springs up unto everlasting life
in unending and mighty streams;
And so, taking delight, we all cry out:
Rejoice, O Spring of life for all men!
—Apolytikion for the Feast Day

Enjoy this small gallery of the Zoodochos Pigi! (click to enlarge)

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