from Psalm 107:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, his kindness endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord who is good, whose love endures forever.
Give glory to the Lord, for He is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Every translation of the Bible varies just a bit, according to the understandings, interpretations, connotations, etc., of the translators of the original texts.
An icon is “written” in an analagous way. It is the Gospel written in line and color rather than in words. Icons are not copied, but are translated. Each iconographer has his/her own style and nuances, but the message is consistent. Each icon asserts and witnesses to the truth of Christ: God Incarnate, true God and true man. Each one is freshly interpreted for new viewers, with the same consistent message.
The image used as an example here is called a Hodegitria image, meaning “She Who Shows the Way”. The first version is medieval Russian written through the hand of Dionysius, the second one a contemporary rendition written through the hands of N.&N. Bogdanovs, the third one a medieval Serbian icon.
The title of the icon is Our Lady of Smolensk, after the miraculous appearance of the image in that Russian town. The icon’s feast day is July 28. It is a ceremonial, formal portrait, fairly unemotional and totally doctrinal. The prototype is traced back to one of the original icons of St.Luke the Evangelist.
In the Hodegitria icons, Mary is shown as a guide to her Son: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. She is labelled as the Mother of God (MP OV). There are 3 stars on her cloak, indicating that she is a Virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus. (in the 2 older icons, the lettering and stars are wearing off but still faintly visible). Her gesture is one of presentation. Her hand, the lines of her garments–everything points to the Lord, carrying the eye of the viewer to the Savior.
The Child is shown as God Emmanuel, not an infant, but the eternal God, filled with wisdom despite his small size. He is alight with divine rays. He, too, is labelled by name, Jesus Christ (IC XC). The letters in his halo stand for “I Am Who Am”. These are the words that God identified Himself with to Moses in the burning bush. The icon leaves no doubt that Jesus is God, the same God of Moses, of the Old Testament.
Archangels watch over them in some versions of this image, others feature saints worshipping or even the donors of the icon bowing to the Lord. It is up to the iconographer, the composition, and the size and position of the panel as to whether extra figures are included. The details, shades of color, etc vary, but the message of truth remains the same.