A brief article in the April 4 edition of The Christian Century (citing the March 2 edition of Christianity Today) talks about a woman in Georgia who claimed she was kicked out of church for breastfeeding her baby during worship.  “The pastor called her behavior lewd and compared her to a stripper, telling her she needed to feed her baby in the bathroom.”

(Yeah, I know April 4 was a while ago, but I getting caught up on back issue of The Christian Century.)

Mother of God, Nourisher of Life icon

When I read this article, I thought about an Orthodox Christian icon I had seen — of Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus.  So I did a little scouting around the internet (thanks, Google) and found this picture, among others.  It is an the Icon of the Virgin “Galaktotrophousa” (Γαλακτοτροφουσα, meaning “the Milk-Giver”).  The Icon shows the Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus.

Pictures have been in use since the earliest days of the Christian Church. They can found in the catacombs and other places of ancient Christian worship. They included: the cross, the fish, the lamb and other symbols that represented Jesus Christ.  By the fifth century, iconography became more refined and widespread.

Icons served and serve many purposes in the Orthodox Church.  They were used to help teach the faithful about God. A person can walk into an Orthodox Church and see the whole Bible story unfolded on its walls.  Like stained glass windows in western churches, icons of Old and New Testament people and events were used to teach the faith.

Another purpose of icons was and is to aid the faithful in prayer and meditation on the person or the salvific significance of the event depicted. Icons kept the mind from wandering and helped focus one’s attention on prayer. They also serve as a reminder of God’s omnipresent and immanence in the world.

I find this particular icon — of Mary nursing the baby Jesus — to be one of the most profoundly moving icons.  What could celebrate the incarnation more than this simple, life-sustaining act of a mother and her child?

Would I kick a mother out of church for breastfeeding her child?  Nope.  I’d celebrate the love and nurture such an act embodies.