This Icon of Nativity has Greek inscriptions: “CHRIST IS BORN” at the top, “MARY” above Virgin Mary, and “IS HS” or Isus Hristos — Jesus Christ above the Child.
Orthodox Armenians, Copts, Russians, Georgians and Serbs celebrate the Nativity on January 7th. Having been baptized in the Serbian Monstery of Hilandar on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece, I celebrate this Joyous Day with them. Here is a Serbian Icon of Nativity, with Serbian inscriptions:
Shortly after my baptism, Tatiana Cacic Trifunovic explained the meaning of the Nativity Icon:
The Icon of Nativity is one of the most important Icons. I cannot tell you where this precise icon comes from […] but the elements in it are common to most of the Nativity Icons. Like all Icons, this one brings a lesson in theology: every detail is important and has a very precise meaning […] the Child is shown in a cave in the mountain, which, paradoxically, is an image of death: the Infant is born only to die and be arisen. His body, actually, is covered with wrappers with the same pattern that those of the dead body of Christ shown in the Resurrection Icons.
The ray of light coming from above […] symbolizes His divinity, the link between the Father and the Son.
On the left, you can see the Three Magi [on horses], and above the manger, the ox and the ass, which belong to both traditions, Catholic and Orthodox, are a remainder of the prophesy of Isaiah. So is the branch growing among the rock, symbolizing the coming of the Messiah.
On the lower part of the Icon, there is Saint Joseph on the right, and he is apart from the Mother and the Child, since he is not actually the father. He is shown to be in a deep meditation, properly dumbfounded by the birth of the Child, which no human mind can properly understand. It is an image of doubt, fed by the presence of a shepherd, who does not belong at all to the Canonical Gospels, but to the Apocryphal ones: he is supposed to be the devil, tempting Saint Joseph into disbelief.
And finally, this troublesome image of the other child [in the lower left corner] … It comes also from the Apocryphal Gospels, where Mary’s labour is attended by a midwife called Salome, who bathes the Child, thus proving his humanity. It is also a reminder of the Sacrament of Baptism, since in the early times of Christianity, the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ were celebrated at the same time. The image is misleading, since Jesus was a grown man when he was baptized by John the Baptist, but the whole Icon shows that the Child is not a baby, but already the Man ready to suffer and die to be arisen.