According to Tradition, during the iconoclast persecution of Leo III the Isaurian (717-741), an Icon of the Theotokos was slashed by the sword of one of the Emperor’s soldiers. Blood flowed from the Icon into the sea. Shaken by this sign, the repentant sinner fled to Mount Athos. One day he saw the Icon, which had floated from Constantinople, lying on the shore, it was still bleeding and dyeing the water red. He ran toward it and, with fear and trembling, he carried it to the Protaton church. There the Icon stopped bleeding, indicating that the Panagia had forgiven him for desecrating her holy Icon.
Many years later, a certain Elder and his disciple were living in a cave near Karyes. On a Saturday night in 982, the Elder went to attend the All-Night Vigil at Karyes, leaving his disciple behind to read the service in their cell. When it was dark, an unknown monk came to the cell. He said that his name was Gabriel, and the disciple invited him to come in.
Since it was time for the Vigil, the two monks began to pray before the Icon of the Mother of God. When they finished the eighth Ode of the Canon, the disciple began to chant: “My soul magnifies the Lord...” and then he sang the Irmos of Saint Cosmas the Hymnographer (Oct. 14): “More honorable than the Cherubim...” The visitor then chanted the next verse: “For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Then, instead of singing “More honorable...” the visitor prefaced it with: “It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.” Then he continued with “More honorable.”
During the singing of this hymn, the Icon was illumined with a heavenly light, and the disciple was moved to tears He asked his guest to write down the new words, but there was no paper. The stranger took a roofing tile and wrote the entire hymn upon it with his finger, as though it were made of wax. The disciple then realized that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. The heavenly visitor told him, “Sing the hymn this way, and all of the Orthodox as well.” Then, he disappeared. The light continued to shine forth from the Icon for a long time.
The Eleousa (Merciful) Icon of the Mother of God, before which the hymn “It Is Truly Meet” was first sung, was transferred to the katholikon at Karyes. The tile, with the hymn written on it by the Archangel Gabriel, was taken to Constantinople when Saint Nicholas Chrysoberges (December 16) was Patriarch.
Numerous copies of the “It Is Truly Meet” Icon are revered in Russian churches. At the Galerna Harbor of St. Petersburg a church with five cupolas was built in honor of the “Merciful” Mother of God, and into it they placed a grace-bearing copy of the “Axion Estin” Icon sent from Mount Athos.
The inscription on the scroll held by Christ reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
The Axion Estin Icon kept at the High Place in the sanctuary of the Holy Dormition katholikon at Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos. Enthroned on the Igoumen's stone chair, the Icon is an object of great veneration. The church is known as Protaton because it was the first church to be built on the Holy Mountain in 843 by Saint Athanasios the Athonite (July 5) The iconography of the church was done in the XIII century by the renowned iconographer Emmanuel Panselinos.
The Icon takes its name from the hymn we sing after the epiklesis during the Divine Liturgy. The cell where the miracle took place is known today by the name “Axion Estin.” The miracle occurred on June 11, 982 on a Sunday. The miraculous tile on which was the hymn was transcribed was transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was displayed for veneration by the faithful in the imperial palace Church of Saint Stephen. From that time on, the expanded hymn Axion Estin became part of the Divine Liturgy and other services of the Church.
The Icon is especially honored with festivities and a procession on Bright Monday, and many miracles take place on that day.
The Icon itself is a bit faded, but is now covered by a silver riza. It has been restored recently and is in good condition. There is an inscription: “Μήτηρ Θεού Καρυώτισσα” or “Mother of God Karyotissa (of Karyes).” Originally, it came from Constantinople, and belongs to the Panagia Eleousa type, which was first painted by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke.
On the one thousand year anniversary of Mount Athos in 1963, the Axion Estin Icon left the Holy Mountain for the first time to be venerated in Athens by thousands of faithful. In 1985 it was brought to Thessaloniki aboard a military ship and received there with the same honors as a Head of State.