The Hermit, The Icon and The Emperor: The Holy Virgin Comes to Cyprus

by Chrissi Hart • illustrated by Niko Chocheli

“Kykkou, Kykkou, Kykkos’ hill A monastery the site shall fill A golden lady shall enter in And never shall come out again.”

Long ago on the island of Cyprus, a cuckoo sang this prophetic song that started a series of mysterious adventures. A hermit had a vision, a proud and selfish governor was stricken with paralysis, and a princess lay dying.

All these events, including the miraculous healing of the governor and the princess, were part of a plan-God’s plan-to bring the very first icon of the Mother of God, painted by the Evangelist Luke himself, from the emperor’s palace in Constantinople to a new home on the island of Cyprus.

The richly detailed, jewel-toned illustrations by acclaimed fine artist Niko Chocheli, and the engaging text bring this true story to life for contemporary readers of all ages.

Praise for The Hermit, the Icon, and the Emperor

image of the Virgin MaryDeeply embedded in the history and hearts of Cypriots and venerated in the Orthodox Church, the icon of the Mother of God at Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus is among the oldest continuously active miracle-working images in the Christian world.  Its legend, already well formed when it was first recorded in the fifteenth century, revolves around recognized historical figures from the early twelfth century in the imperial court of Byzantium, thus rooting the image in the prime of the most enduring Christian empire the world has ever known.

The story of the icon of Kykkos has been retold many times over the centuries, and shaped to serve many different aims and ideals.  In this visually captivating book, its story is told in a way that will enchant children.  Opening a world of splendor and heartfelt feeling to them that will surely arouse their curiosity about Byzantium, the book prompts them at the same time to ponder the deep design that underlies the dramas and traumas of the characters, drawing them together with the icon into a luminous web of divine intention.
— Annemarie Weyl Carr, Professor of Art History Emeritus, Southern Methodist University

With elegance, but in words that a child can easily understand, Chrissi Hart tells the compelling story of how the Eleousa Icon came to Cyprus. In addition to the history of such an important icon, there are many spiritual lessons to learn here—the consequences of sin; the beauty of repentance; humility and forgiveness as shown by the Hermit Isaiah; and over all, the love and care of God and the Theotokos for the Church. As always, Nico Chocheli’s illustrations are stunningly beautiful. I am looking forward to more of Chrissi’s stories.
— Mother Melania, Author of The Twelve Great Feasts for Children, The Three-Day Pascha Series and the Old Testament Stories for Children

Thank you for forwarding me a copy of your beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book about the Virgin of Kykkos, entitled ‘The Hermit, The Icon and The Emperor.’I congratulate you and Niko Chocheli on the work that you have done to make the traditions of the Island of Cyprus known to young people – and, in this instance, of the history of the most significant icon of the Mother of God that is venerated in Cyprus. Praying that Almighty God will bless you and your family this Christmastide and throughout the New Year 2009.

–Gregorios, Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain.

Church history is always a challenging topic with young children.  The Hermit, the Icon, and the Emperor brings one moment of history alive in this beautifully illustrated and delightful retelling of the establishment of one of Cyprus’ most important religious centers.
— Anton C. Vrame, Ph.D. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

“This book does not merely entertain, but invites children to sense something of the beauty and mystery of our faith. The story, in itself appealing, is wonderfully complemented by the unique and moving illustrations.”
— Frederica Mathewes-Greene, Author of The Lost Gospel of Mary, First Fruits of Prayer and the Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer.

Chrissi Hart’s charming re-telling of the legend of the icon of the “merciful Mother of God” in the monastery of Kykkos in Cyrpus is perfectly illustrated by Niko Chocheli. Both word and image capture the devotion of the Orthodox world to the Virgin Mary, the life of a holy monk, the splendor and intrigue of the Byzantine court, and the natural beauty of the island’s hillsides and sea. This is a book to be treasured and enjoyed by both children and adults.
— Danial Elliott, Arcadia Director of the Library and Archives, Philadelphia Musuem of Art

The Hermit, the Icon and the Emperor tell the story of how the prayers of a monk brought about the healing of a governor and a princess and how these events led the Emperor of Constantinople to give to the people of Cyprus his most precious possession: an icon of the Mother of God holding the child Christ that was painted by the Saint Luke, the Gospel author. This skillfully written and beautifully illustrated book introduces the reader, both child and adult, to one of the most treasured memories of the Cypriot people.
— Jim Forest, Author of Silent as a Stone and The Road to Emmaus

Amazon Reviews

More Miracles in Cyprus, November 16 2008

By the Wengers (Lancaster, PA United States)

How can an old hermit monk convince a king to give up a priceless treasure, especially one as ancient and beautiful as the icon of the Virgin Mary, written by St. Luke? Hart’s beautifully written retelling of the ancient takes readers by the heand and leads them reverently through the story. Chocheli’s powerful illustrations echo the wonder of the events. Readers come away from the book amazed at the many miracles, encouraged by the power of prayer, and challenged by the living faith of the simple monk.

A remarkable story, a beautiful book, November 25, 2008

By Jim Forest (Alkmaar Netherlands)

Chrissi Hart tells the story of how an icon of the Mother of God, painted by the Evangelist Luke, journeyed from a palace in Constantinople to a remote hilltop in Cyprus, where it remains to this day as part of the iconostasis of the monastery church of Kykkos. It’s a tale that begins with the song of a cuckoo and involves a resolute hermit, a governor stricken with paralysis, a princess close to death, and an emperor whose greatest treasure is the icon painted by St. Luke. Niko Chocheli’s vibrant illustrations bring the story to life and will give many young readers their first glimpse of Byzantium. The story also introduces the realization that some dreams are God-given.

It’s a book that will engage both children and their parents and no doubt will inspire more than a few readers to make their way as pilgrims to the Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus.

Christian children in preschool and up will benefit from having this powerful tale read aloud to them, January 16, 2009

By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI, USA)

The Hermit, The Icon & The Emperor is an Eastern Orthodox Christian picturebook for children about how the very first icon of the Mother of God, as painted by the Evangelist Luke himself, traveled from the Emperor’s palace in Constantinople to its new home on the island of Cyprus. Striking, jewel-toned illustrations by Niko Chocheli illustrate this retelling of a priceless piece of Christian history, starting with the vision of a hermit. The text is just complex enough that preschool children may not be able to read it on their own, but Christian children in preschool and up will benefit from having this powerful tale read aloud to them.

A Rich and Special Book, September 14, 2009

When you open the pages of ‘The Hermit, the Icon, and the Emperor’, you enter a beautiful and rich world, both in the story itself, which seems like a step back into time, and the elaborate and beautiful illlustrations.
The history of the Eleousa of Kykkos is a wonderful one, as is the history of St. Luke as it’s iconongrapher.

This book should be savored, taking in all of its beauty and is one that every child should have in his/or her library.

Claire Brandenburg
Children’s Orthodox Book Illustrator and Author