Have you ever wondered about the “ribbons” on the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon? They have words on them, but what do they say? When we finally found a version that was legible, it was in Russian! We asked people, “What do the ribbons say?” Everyone had a different answer. We wrote to monks who sold the icons and asked, “What do the ribbons say?” We did not receive an answer. Finally, we got close enough to the icon in our own church and discovered that the words were written in English. So, what do the ribbons say? Hint: they are not the words to the Joy of All Who Sorrow Hymn. Keep reading as the words bring hope, healing, comfort, and a hint of how to pray for the unbeliever. They may even be where the icon got its name.
But first, a history of the icon
“The wonderworking “Joy of All Who Sorrow” Icon of the Mother of God was glorified in the year 1688. Euphymia, the sister of Patriarch Joachim (1674-1690), lived at Moscow and suffered from an incurable illness for a long time. One morning during a time of prayer she heard a voice say, “Euphymia! Go to the temple of the Transfiguration of My Son; there you will find an icon called the ‘Joy of All Who Sorrow.’ Have the priest celebrate a Moleben with the blessing of water, and you will receive healing from sickness.” Euphymia did as she was directed by the Most Holy Theotokos, and she was healed. This occurred on October 24, 1688.” 1
“The design of this icon depicts the Theotokos [meaning ‘God Bearer’], a most beautiful blossom of heaven, standing among the flowers of paradise. Her Son is visible above her in the clouds, the King of heaven and earth. Along both sides of the icon, framing the Mother of God, are suppliants (us), asking for her intercession. She stands with her arms spread open and her head tilted as if listening. The tenderness and kindness of a loving mother are evident in her face. She stands in paradise and yet among us.
“The theology in this icon depicts the Theotokos as also being our mother, who feels our pain. It is believed, by Orthodox Christians, that she intercedes for us, bringing our pain into her Son’s presence. She is praying our prayers with love, bringing our needs into the unique relationship that a mother shares with her children. She is our joy, because in her love she hears us. Her unceasing intercession and her limitless love help heal our sorrows.” 2
What do the “ribbons” say?
Starting at the top left and working down the left side, the ribbons say:
Ye who are being persecuted and are in exile and in prison who are ahungered and naked and athirst, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for behold you are given life and comfort.
To the aged art thou a staff, a succor, and a comfort, O Lady.
Visit those who are aged and ailing, and have mercy on them, Mother of God on High.
Upon those who are naked and cold have mercy.
Be thou a covering, O Lady, for those who are naked with the nakedness of unbelief.
O Lady, thou art the healing of the sick and the deliverer from every illness.
O Virgin Theotokos and Lady, thou art our hope and comfort in illness.
Starting at the top right and working down the right side:
Unto all who sorrow and who are downtrodden, who are ahungered and athirst, who are struggling and aged, who are poor and suffering, thou art a comfort, protection, and intercessor.
Thou art the Joy of those who sorrow and the defender of the downtrodden.
Change our sorrow into joy, O Lady, for we are greatly sorrowful.
Thou art a provider for the hungry, and for those in all sorrow and want.
Look down upon us O Lady as thou merciful and guide and nourish us.
O Lady, comfort of the wandering, do thou comfort us.
As we travel O Lady, be thou our companion.
Celebrate our Feast Day with a hymn and a prayer
Apolytikion [dismissal hymn] in the Plagal of the First Tone
They that pray before thy holy icon, O sovereign Lady, are made worthy of healing,
receive the gift of understanding of the true Faith, and repel the attacks of the Hagarenes [the enemy]; likewise, for us who fall down before thee, do thou ask for forgiveness of our sins. Enlighten our hearts with devout purpose and raise thy prayer to thy Son for the salvation of our souls.
An Akathist to the Theotokos, Joy of All Who Sorrow, can be found here:
Many thanks to John Rigby, the iconographer of our Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, for his assistance.