The Unexpected Joy appears to be a traditional depiction of Christ and His Mother, however there here a few notable differences: blood is seen on the wounds from His Crucifixion, and the icon even takes on the quality of “an image within an image”, as a man is seen in the lower left-hand corner, his hands raised in supplication towards Jesus and His Mother. What is the significance of this third person?
St. Dimitri of Rostov records a young man who after praying before an icon of Christ and the Theotokos often went out to commit a sin. One day after praying, he saw that the wounds of the Crucifixion had suddenly appeared on the icon. The youth cried out, asking the Theotokos why this had been done. The Theotokos responded that this was done because he, and other sinners like him, continued to crucify Her Son all over again.
Only then did the Young Man realize how much his sins meant, and he begged for forgiveness. She was moved to mercy, but Her Son refused, noting that he also had asked His Father to take the cup of suffering away from him.
The Theotokos continued to entreat Her Son, reminding him how she nursed Him, and how she suffered at His Crucifixion. When he continued to refuse, St. Dimitri records that the Virgin Mary rose up, and put Her Son down, ready to fall at His Feet if necessary, until he forgave the sinner.
Moved at the depths of His Mother’s compassion, Christ stated that the law requires that a son obey his mother, and that the Lawgiver too must obey the law; he agreed to fulfill his mother’s request, requiring only that the man kiss his wounds.
The sinner rose up, trembling and transformed, and went to kiss the wounds of the Infant. At once, the vision ended, and the sinner began to cry tears of joy, living out the rest of his days in true repentance.
This tradition became widely known throughout Russia, and then the subject of many icons, which are highly venerated there.