Softener of Evil Hearts Icon | An Icon for Our Enemies

Softener of Evil Hearts; <<Умягчение злых сердец>>

Softener of Evil Hearts; <<Умягчение злых сердец>>

“Behold, this child is set for the falling and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sin which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
– St Simeon’s Prophecy

February 2 is the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. This celebrates the event when the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple according to Jewish law, and was received by the Elder Simeon and the Prophetess Anna (Luke 2:22-38).

St Simeon prophesied about Jesus being the salvation of the world, and also had a prophecy for His mother, Mary. It is this prophecy which is the inspiration for the Icon of the Mother of God, “Softener of Evil Hearts”, also celebrated today.

The Seven Swords

Seven Swords (Семистрельная)

20th-century Icon (Click to Enlarge)

The origins of the icon are unclear, though it appears to come from South-Western Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Russian name for the icon is «Умягчение злых сердец», meaning “Softener of Evil Hearts”, or sometimes Семистрельная, meaning “Seven Arrows” or “Seven Swords”.

Simeon’s prophecy to the Mother of God: “…a sword will pierce your soul also…” has always been understood to refer to the intense grief she would experience seeing her only Son crucified. In Western Europe, the Roman Catholic church developed the “Seven Sorrows” of the Mother of God, referring to seven sorrowful events in her life which by the 15th century had evolved into a feast-day with devotional prayers for each of the “Sorrows”. These seven sorrows were also depicted in religious art, and given the relatively late date of the “Softener of Evil Hearts” icon, plus its origin in south-western Rus (on the frontier with Roman Catholic Europe), it is probable that the image was adopted by the Orthodox Church from the West. However, in Christianity and ancient Judaism, the number seven signifies fullness or completeness. Therefore, in Orthodoxy, the “Seven Swords” of this icon can be seen as representing the boundless sorrow experienced by the Mother of God as Simeon’s prophecy is realised, without having to list a particular number of sorrows.

Why Softener of Evil Hearts?

Just as Christ would be pierced with nails and a spear, so the soul of Mary would be pierced by sorrow and pain in the heart, when she saw her Son’s suffering. After that, the heretofore hidden thoughts of the people regarding the Messiah would be revealed, and they would face a choice: to be with Christ, or against Him. Thus, Simeon’s prophecy is completely fulfilled: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

For those who cannot help but be moved by the sufferings of Christ for us, and the sufferings of Mary as His earthly mother, contemplation of the Lord’s Passion guides their prayers. Thinking on the Passion, they are unable to condemn their enemies in prayer; it’s impossible because the words of Our Lord on the Cross “forgive them…” resonate too strongly. The same is true when we contemplate the Mother of God’s sufferings, which are immeasurably deeper than any pain we receive from those who offend us. Indeed, very often the insults we receive are embarrassingly slight in comparison.

Icons provide a focus for these meditations, as our minds are wont to produce images if none are present. And so, the “Softener of Evil Hearts” is the Icon the wisdom of the Church recommends we pray in front of to dispel anger against our enemies. It is discovered that when Christians pray for their enemies before such icons, their feelings of enmity are softened, and that internecine strife and hatreds abate, giving way to kindness. When we pray for before such an icon we are not accusing our enemy of evil, but confessing the evil in our own hearts, and asking for help.

Softener of Evil Hearts (detail)

Soften our evil hearts, O Mother of God,
And quench the attacks of those who hate us
And loose all straitness of our soul.
For looking on thy holy icon
We are filled with compunction by thy suffering and loving-kindness for us
And we kiss thy wounds;
We are filled with horror for the darts with which we wound thee.
Let us not, O Mother of Compassion,
According to the cruelty of our hearts, perish from the cruelty of heart of those near us,
For thou art in truth the Softener of Evil Hearts.

Above Prayer taken from the Akathist to the Mother of God, Softener of Evil Hearts

Article on the Softener of Evil Hearts Icon, including some stories.


This entry was posted in History, Icons of the Incarnation, The Theotokos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Softener of Evil Hearts Icon | An Icon for Our Enemies

  1. Fr. A. ALAM says:

    I am surprised to see Orthodox Icons of the Theotokos
    represented alone without Christ.
    How come?

    • iconreader says:


      I can understand your surprise as generally Orthodox icons of the Theotokos show her holding Christ. She is the Mother of God, and so it is right to represent her as a mother holding the infant Jesus Who is God. However there are a few exceptions.

      The icon of the Annunciation does not show the Theotokos with Christ, for obvious reasons. There is an icon of the Theotokos, the Tenderness Icon, which is based on the Annunciation icon. The icon shows the Mother of God as she appeared at the Annunciation, but with all the other details (the Angel Gabriel, the house she is in) absent. This icon is similar because it is based on the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, when Mary received the prophecy “a sword shall pierce your heart also…”. Mary is shown receiving the prophecy, but the rest of the details are absent; so it becomes an icon of the Theotokos without Christ.

      For the Softener of Evil Hearts icon specifically, the image probably came from western Europe and Roman Catholic art, where images of the Mother of God without Christ are more common. The image was then adopted and adapted into Orthodoxy.

      • Fr. A. ALAM says:

        Thank you, Brother in Christ, for your prompt reply.
        I appreciate your time and your attempted clarification.
        The influence of the Roman Catholic art you have referred to
        clearly shows in the features of the” “Softener of the evil hearts.”
        The Theotokos is depicted with a Renaissance mentality i.e.
        focusing on rendering natural beauty, a “terre à terre”, down to earth
        But the super-natural radiance of the genuine Byzantine Icons remains

        God bless your ministry.

  2. Pingback: Miracle-Working Softener of Evil Hearts Icon | A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons

  3. Pingback: Evil haerts | Billpearson

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