Many icons are inspired directly by the hymns of the Church and are indeed simply a visual representation of the words. One such icon is that of the Mother of God, “All Creation rejoices in thee…”
The hymn the icon is based upon was written by St John Damascene (shown in the icon holding a scroll and close to the right of the Mother of God) and is used in the Liturgy of St Basil the Great instead of the usual “It is truly meet…” hymn to the Theotokos. This hymn comes after a great prayer of intercession said by the priest on behalf of all those reposed in faith: “forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.” The prayer is completed with the exclamation: “Especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary.”
Then, on days the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated, comes the hymn “All creation rejoices in thee…”
All of Creation rejoices in thee, O full of grace:
the angels in heaven and the race of men,
O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise,
the glory of virgins, of whom God was incarnate
and became a child, our God before the ages.
He made thy body into a throne,
and thy womb more spacious than the heavens.
All of creation rejoices in thee, O full of grace:
Glory be to thee.
The icon then represents this hymn. In the centre is the Mother of God, seated, with the Christ-child on her lap so that “[Christ] made [her] body into a throne.” Around her are “the angels in heaven” whilst below the “race of men” are represented by a multitude of the righteous – some recognizable such as John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles, Empress Helena, whilst others are representations of holy bishops, (naked) ascetics, virgins, rulers and other men and women. The blue mandorla of light represents Mary as “full of grace“, and this circle of light is mirrored by the tree-filled “spiritual paradise” and “sanctified temple” which appear to bend around our Holy Mother, conforming to her; truly as though this humble woman had suddenly been made “more spacious than the heavens” through the Incarnation.
Difference between this icon and the Synaxis Icon.
As discussed recently, the Icon of the Synaxis of the Mother of God, celebrated on the 26th December, also has a composition based upon a hymn of the Church. It is similar in that the Mother of God is seated at the centre of the icon, with the Christ-child on her lap. Sometimes, these icons are mixed up, as has happened on the Orthodox Church of America website. The “All creation rejoices…” icon is a comparatively more popular icon, so it is not unusual for this icon to be used in place of the more Nativity-themed icon. It is the icon containing the three kings, shepherds, star, manger and cave that properly belongs to the feast of the Synaxis, although of course any icon of the Mother of God is appropriate for the feast of the 26th of December.
YouTube video of the hymn – in tone 6 and in English
Wikipedia article on Dionysius – the painter of the icon used in this article.