I have been working on an icon of the Divine Mercy, and recently completed it. Before beginning work on it, I prayed about it for more than a year.
For those who don’t know the background story of this image, here is my paraphrased, shortened version–from memory:
Sister Faustina Kowalski (now St. Faustina) was a young nun in Poland, who began to have multiple visions of Jesus beginning in the 1930s. She kept a diary of these conversations and visions. In them, the Lord reassured her of His great love and mercy for all souls. He taught her a prayer–the Divine Mercy Chaplet–to be recited on ordinary rosary beads. Jesus promised great graces to all who said it, with special mercy granted to those who prayed it on their deathbed.
He asked her to have a painting made of Him, just the way He appeared to her. St. Faustina, who was not an artist, was a bit flabbergasted at this request. Commissioning a painter was a bit problematic for a young nun in a convent, with her vows of poverty and obedience, but eventually she was able to carry out her task with the help of her confessor. The artist painted the image to her specifications. She was not pleased with the result–after all, who could paint the Lord to look as beautiful as He appeared to her. Eventually, however, she accepted the image as good enough.
Jesus told her that He wanted this image displayed in every Church. He promised grace and blessings would be granted to each church as well as each person who prayed before the image. In addition, Jesus asked that a feastday be established throughout the world, to be called Divine Mercy Sunday. It was to be celebrated the Sunday after Easter. Getting the word out about this, too, presented some practical difficulties for the young nun.
Decades later, with the support of St. Pope John Paul II, this feastday was established. St. Faustina was canonized. Copies of the painting are found all over the world.
Divine Mercy is a Roman Catholic devotion, so my decision to repaint the image as an icon raised some issues for me. This is my version, containing all of the elements requested by Jesus, consisting of:
Our Lord is dressed in a simple white garment. One hand is raised in blessing. The other is pulling aside the robe over His heart. Two rays emanate from His heart. Jesus explained the symbolism of each “the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls” (Diary of St. Faustina). The pale ray “stands for the water which makes souls righteous” (Diary of St. Faustina). On every version of the painting, these words must be written: “Jesus I Trust in You”. The words “Jesus I Trust in You” are written in the original Polish, as well as in English and Spanish.
The above are the essential elements for the image. (Read more about it here.)
I added several specific icon elements as well: Jesus is standing before a mandorla, shaped like an almond–a symbol of life in ancient Semitic cultures. The mandorla stands for the glory of God. It is painted in 3 rings of dark color, representing the mystery of the Triune God, for in His essence He is unseeable and unknowable.
Christ’s halo is a symbol of the Holy Light and radiance of God. It is inscribed with Greek letters that say I AM WHO AM. The IC XC above are also Greek: they read “Jesus Christ”. Every icon has the name of the person depicted written on it so that there is no doubt who it is. (An icon does not attempt to be a physical likeness, but a spiritual portrait.)
The color is not so great in this photograph, but the background is actually a golden color. Yellow and gold are used to indicate that the Light of God being present all around the figure, and are a typical icon background color. The border is a darker shade of gold.
The figure casts no shadows, as the light comes from within. He moves towards the viewer from Heaven, not bound to any physical place or time.