17 July 2011

The Icon: History, Symbolism and Meaning

Saint Luke painted many of the first ikons of the
Theotokos (Birthgiver/Mother of God) and
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ
The Orthodox Church is inconceivable without icons, lit candles and burning incense. The Orthodox Church is a Church of tradition, and the presence and use of icons in the Orthodox Church is a reflection of this tradition.

The word ICON comes from the Greek word EIKONA, meaning image. In its broadest sense an icon is any representation of a sacred personage, produced in many media and sizes. In the narrower sense it refers to a devotional painted wooden panel.

The icon is the result of the synthesis of three different cultures: Greek, Roman and Christian. The technique of Byzantine art has traveled beyond the frontiers of the Empire, having a profound influence on the development of art especially in the Slavic nations.

Christian art first appeared in the catacombs which were underground rock-cut burial places widely spread up to the 6th Century. Although the catacombs were not the prerogative of any particular religious group and were widely spread geographically, they are commonly associated with Christianity. The largest body of catacombs was discovered in Rome. Starting with the 3rd Century Roman Christians buried their dead in extramural subterranean tombs composed of networks of corridors and cubicles of various sizes. Some of the tombs were decorated with a painted or carved inscription identifying the occupant, while other images included scenes from the Old Testament. The images in the catacombs are simple, made with few brush strokes and a narrow range of colors. Subjects range from Christ carrying a lamb to three young men praising God from the fiery furnace, to the raising of Lazarus, to the Eucharistic meal. During the time when Christianity became tolerated, the decorations of the catacombs became quite elaborate. The Roman catacombs ceased to be used for burial in the 6th Century.

The art of the catacombs was a teaching, art. Symbols that already existed were used by Christians along with new ones that they invented. For example: the ship represented the Church and also represented prosperity, while the peacock, the dove, and the palm tree were representations of Paradise. The adoration of the Wise Men represented the admission of pagans to the faith, and the multiplication of breads was the symbol of the Eucharistic banquet; the vine symbolized the mystery of God's grace for the baptized. What could not be openly expressed by Christians, because of the fears of persecution, was portrayed in a symbolic language, a secret code used by believers in a hostile world: This secret symbolism of the images in the catacombs was progressively taught to the catechumens. The catacombs bear witness that wherever Christians gathered, they created a visual environment to remind them of the Kingdom of God and help them pray.

The most wide spread symbol used, that appeared in the 2nd Century is the fish. A sign used in antiquity to represent fecundity and later, in Roman times, eroticism, the fish became a condensed form of the Creed: the word fish in Greek is composed of five letters forming an acrostic abbreviating the dictum: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter; translated into English, it means: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

When Christianity was no longer a forbidden religion, Christian art left the catacombs and moved rapidly and vigorously into creating its own art, its own form of expression. After the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentius in 312, Christianity is recognized as a state religion. With emperors now joining Christianity, it led to massive conversions. Constantine the Great, imitated by many others, commanded the construction of many beautifully designed and decorated churches. Indifferent to art until now, the Church becomes the strongest propagator of artistic expression, both in architecture and in image representations. Having great wealth coming from the state and also from the princes themselves, the Church has the opportunity to create and develop a separate form of art: Christian art.

In the year 330 Constantinople becomes the imperial capital. In the centuries that follow it was to become the holy city that harmonized the profane with the sacred. In the 4th Century we find that Christ is not portrayed as a philosopher, but as the Master of the Universe; a new and strong bond is now being formed between State and Church, where Christ is the Sovereign of the Christian world and the Emperor is His representative on earth.

Byzantium was the cross road between East and West, and included the entire Mediterranean basin. It had its capital at Constantinople, the meeting point of Europe and Asia. Though well attached to the political and social institutions of the Later Roman Empire, it evolved the new ecumenical religion -- Christianity -- spoke the Greek language and adopted Greek education. Justinian I (527-565), the last of the great Roman emperors, wanted to achieve political and religious unity in the Empire. His reign was called "The Golden Age." An age of high spirituality and artistic genius.

The works of Byzantine art are the products of deeply held beliefs and piety, created for the most part by anonymous artists, reflecting the decorum of the Kingdom of Heaven. Through their structure and unchangeable principles, they give tangible form to the conception of the divine as received by the Orthodox doctrine. Byzantine artists were not simple copyists of the past; they had their own traditions, values and ideals. They lived in an environment that had political and institutional continuity with the past, and while the Western European states established themselves on the ruins of the Roman Empire, Byzantium was itself the Roman Empire. Also, the Byzantine society and culture was linked to ancient Greece. Byzantine language was closest to classical and post-classical Greek. The literature of classical Greece, of the Hellenistic world, and that of the Fathers of the Church, was accessible to the Byzantines, and through its literature, they absorbed the ideas and the values it expressed.

The series of the works of art in Byzantium started with great masterpieces, such as the churches of Saint Sophia, Saint Irene and Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, dating from the middle of the 6th Century, and attributed to the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora, while on the other side of the Mediterranean basin, in Ravenna, Italy we find the most impressive series of mural mosaics dating from the 5th and 6th Centuries; the mosaics dating from the 5th Century are found in the mausoleum of Gala acidia, a Roman Empress, and the Orthodox Baptistery; the mosaics in the church of Saint Appolinarius the New, Saint Vitale, and Saint Appolinarius in Classe, as well as the Baptisterium of the Arians, date from the 6th Century, with some additions from the 7th.

The influence of the Byzantine art is found also in the Eastern parts of the Empire, as far as Egypt. In the monastery of St. Catherine, in the desert of Sinai, we find the same style of mosaic decorations as in the other corners of the Empire. There is also a series of icons painted on wood in encaustic (a method using melted wax in which coloring pigments are mixed) that have been preserved in Sinai, some of them also found now in the Kiev Museum and the church of Santa Maria Nova (Saint Mary the New) in Rome. These are certainly the images that shed light on the origins of the paintings on wood that will develop extensively in the 9th Century and beyond. It is uncertain that these icons were painted in Sinai; it is more likely that they were brought there and the fact that they survived is due to the remote location of St. Catherine's Monastery and also to the respect that the Musslims have for the monastery, therefore sparing it destruction. From Byzantium this kind of pictorial art will travel also to what is known today as Russia.

By the 7th Century Egypt and Syria do not belong anymore to the Empire. We are entering now the dark ages of the Byzantine era, a period that will last almost two centuries: from the time of the Emperor Heracles (611 to 641) to Emperor Justinian 11 (685 to 711), a period of fierce wars against Islam, the Slavs and the Bulgarians.

Two iconoclastic periods mark the history and life of the Church. The first period of condemnation of icons as symbols of idolatry started with the reign of Emperor Leo III, or Leo Isaurian (717-741). Rejecting any representation of Christ and His saints, Emperor Leo III felt that such images should not be objects of veneration. The Council of 754 which convened in Hiereia, near Constantinople, agreed to a formal condemnation of the cult. It denied that the mystery of Christ included both His divinity and humanity. During this time, painting as an art, was never completely abandoned, with the exception of sacred art. Sacred art has been destroyed and desecrated by the iconoclasts, and profane art has been destroyed and desecrated by their adversaries. Two successors to the throne of Leo III, Constantine (780-797) and Irene (797-802), guided by Patriarch Tarasius, convened the Second Council that took place in Nicea, in 787 -- more precisely, the Seventh Ecumenical Council -- where the iconophiles vehemently defended the cult of the icons and their victory prompted the restoration of the cult.

The Church was thrown once again into disarray with the coming to the throne of Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), by giving rise to the second waive of war against the holy images. Leo was succeeded by Michael Amorias and Michael was succeeded by Theophilus (829-842). With the help of Patriarch Antony I Kassymatas he restored iconoclasm by prohibiting all painted images, and any aid to iconodules. After his death in 842 in Constantinople, his wife Theodora served as regent for their son Michael III. She was a devout iconophile, faithfully venerating icons despite the disapproval of her late husband. She managed to secure the release from prison of painter Lazarus, and in 843 she consented to the restoration of the icons. She is quoted to say: "If for love's sake, anyone does not kiss and venerate these images in a relative manner, not worshiping them as gods but as images of their archetypes, let him be anathema!" For her role in the triumph of Orthodoxy she is commemorated on March 11(the First Sunday of Great Lent in 843). To this day, the First Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the restoration of the holy icons by Emperor Michael III and his mother Theodora, and the triumph over all heresies of Orthodoxy.

The theologian who defended the use of icons in Christian worship was St. John of Damascus. In his treatise "On the Divine Images" he writes: "If we've made an image of the invisible God, we would certainly be in error... but we do not do anything of the kind; we do not err, in fact we make the image of God incarnate Who appeared on earth in the flesh, Who in His ineffable goodness, lived with men and assumed the nature, the volume and the color the flesh."

The return to the art of sacred images, after a long and difficult struggle, meant the return to old practices; the images of Christ and of all the saints are now officially proclaimed by the victorious Church as having divine powers and their contemplation as necessary for our salvation. Charged by this new religious function, all paintings with a religious subject placed in the shade all other art representations.

After 843, Cappadocia became an important center for sacred art. The region, developed in the 4th Century by St. Basil as a center for monastic life, blossomed with hundreds of churches. Many of them were rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th Century. These churches present a great variety of themes and styles, the majority of them dating from the 11th and 12th Centuries. Not only did art flourish during this time, but theology as well. Unfortunately, the Crusaders' invasion provoked by the Venetians in 1204, as well as the plundering of Constantinople, depleted the Byzantine Empire of its material resources and its moral strength. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, and the invasion of the Balkans, marks the end of a most glorious and prestigious epoch in history. The Turks, in their wake, transformed the most beautiful churches into mosques.

A second period in the development of Byzantine art is the one after the 9th Century. At this time, we find a new and different type of Byzantine painting style that is not as close to the art that is developing in the other parts of the world. The gap between East and West and Middle East is starting to widen. Byzantine influence is starting to decrease.

The mural mosaics are without any doubt, the most important and the peak of Byzantine art of all ages. A new art form is developing however, and that is the art of the fresco -- the fresco is a mural painting, on a specially prepared plaster material. A totally different technique than the mosaic, the fresco allowed the artist more flexibility and more creative detailing. Just as mosaic, the fresco was used mostly to decorate the churches. The most archaic and extensive fresco of such kind is found in Cappadocia. Others, of more rustic themes are found in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Russia, even Bulgaria. Many are still preserved also in Constantinople.

Along with the frescos, beginning with the 9th Century we find also that the Byzantine piety is influencing greatly the development of small scale pieces, icons painted on wood. Icon shops start to exist now, mostly in the monasteries.

In St. John of Damascus' work we find also his argument in favor of painted icons: "Since the invisible One became visible by taking on flesh, you can fashion the image of Him whom you saw. Since He who has neither body nor form nor quantity nor quality, Who goes beyond all grandeur by the excellence of His nature, He, being of divine nature, took on the condition of slave and reduced himself to quantity and quality by clothing himself in human features. Therefore paint on wood and present for contemplation Him who desired to become visible."

Iconography of the icon:

As we have seen so far, in all ages and in all cultures the icon is not nearly a piece of art, but an aid to worship, and an instrument for the transmission of Christian tradition and faith. The Holy Spirit speaks to men through icons. Anywhere an icon is placed (except maybe in a museum) a place of worship and prayer is set, because the icon is not an end in itself, but a window through which we look with our physical eyes at the Kingdom of Heaven and the realm of spiritual experience. It is important to remember thus that the icon is concerned only with the sacred; the icon is theology in mages and color. In the words of L. Ouspensky Christianity is the Word of --God expressed in images: "Christianity is the revelation not only of the Word of God but also of the Image of God, in which His Likeness is revealed. This godlike image is the distinctive feature of the New Testament, being the visible witness of the deification of man. The ways of iconography, as means of expressing what regards the Deity are here the same as the ways of theology. The task of both alike is to express that which cannot be expressed by human means, since such _expression will always be imperfect and insufficient. There are no words, nor colors nor lines, which could represent the kingdom of God as we represent and describe our world. Both theology and iconography are faced with a problem which is absolutely insoluble -- to express by means belonging to the created world that which is infinitely above the creature. On this plane there are no successes, for the subject itself is beyond comprehension and no matter how lofty in content and beautiful an icon may be it cannot be perfect, just as no word image can be perfect. In this case, both theology and iconography are always a failure; for this value results from the fact that both theology and iconography reach the limit of human possibilities and prove insufficient. Therefore the methods used by iconography for pointing to the Kingdom of God can only be figurative, symbolical, like the language of the parables in the Holy Scripture" (L. Ouspensky and V. Lossky, The Meaning of icons, SVS Press, 1989, pp 48-49).

For the Orthodox Christian the icon is not an aesthetic object, or an object of study; it is "living art" if we can call it such. It is meant to transfigure and to inspire the person to prayer and contemplation. Leonid Ouspensky says: "Just as the teaching concerning the purpose of Christian life -- the deification of man -- continues to exist, so the dogmatic teaching concerning the icon continues to exist and live in the Divine services of the Orthodox Church.... For an Orthodox man of our times an icon, whether ancient or modern, is not an object of aesthetic admiration" (L. Ouspensky and V. Lossky, The Meaning of icons, SVS Press, 1989, pp 49).

The First Icon

The first icon, the MANDYLION or The Holy Napkin, sometimes called "Made without hands" is said not only to have been an authentic likeness of Christ, but one which Christ Himself willingly produced. It was thus often cited both as proof of the reality of His Incarnation -- as it had been in contact with His body -- and as justification for the iconophile position that Christ Himself has endorsed the making of His image.

The existence of The Holy Napkin is first mentioned before the 6th Century. According to one story, Abgar V the Black, king of Edessa (capital of the Turkish province of Oshroene, important Christian and commercial center of the Islamic world until the 13th Century) had fallen ill and begged Christ to come and cure him. Instead of going to visit Abgar, Christ sent him a towel that He had pressed against His face and that retained the impression of His features. Upon receiving the towel the King was miraculously cured. The image was lost and then rediscovered and it remained in Edesa. In the year 944 Edesa was sieged and the Holy Napkin was demanded as a condition for withdrawal. It was then carried in procession to Constantinople, where it was placed in the Sultan's chapel in the Great Palace. The event is celebrated annually on August 16. Later it is said to have been purchased by King Louis IX of France, in 1247, and taken to Paris and placed in St. Chapelle. It disappeared during the French Revolution.

The features of Christ's face on the Holy Napkin are those of the Pantocrator. It is not a bust because it only shows the head and part of the neck; no shoulders are seen. The face is painted as though it is imprinted on a horizontal fringed strip of white cloth, hence the name "napkin." The earliest surviving example is said to date from the 10th Century and it is at St. Catherine Monastery in Sinai. This icon has no fixed place in the decoration of a church.

The image of the Holy Napkin was also known in the West under the name of The Veil of Veronica. The Veronica story is similar to that of King Abgar: Veronica was a woman who comforted Jesus as He was bearing the cross on the way to Golgotha. She offered Him a piece of cloth to wipe the blood and sweat off His face; later she found that she received a 'miraculous image. A building along Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem associated with Veronica is today the home of a community of sisters called "The Little Sisters of Jesus."

St. Luke, First painter of the Virgin Mary

Luke's biography does not contain abundant miracles and dangerous travels. He is presented as a well-educated man, who in Greece and Egypt studied disciplines such as grammar, rhetoric, poetry, ethics and logic. He was a physician and a painter, who died peacefully in Achaia (a late Roman province embracing the Peloponnesus and central Greece, with the capital in Corinth). His relics are said to have been transferred to Constantinople by St. Artemis under the reign of Constantine II.

St. Luke was the first artist to paint the portrait of the Virgin Mary. The monasteries of Hodegon and Soumela claim that the icons of the Virgin Mary in their possession are Luke's paintings. Hodegon Monastery is located in Constantinople close to Hagia Sophia. It was founded the 5th Century by the Empress Pulcheria to house precious relics, which later included the Virgin Hodegetria. Soumela monastery is located on the face of a cliff on the western slopes of Mt. Melas in Asia Minor. The mastery was dedicated to the Virgin; Its origins date back to before the 4th Century and its beginnings are attributed to two Athenian monks, Barnabas and Sophronios, who supposedly discovered in a cave at Soumela an icon of the Virgin painted by Luke. In the 20th Century the monastery was abandoned.

Although portrayed as white haired in the 6th Century Cambridge Gospels, St. Luke appears in most Byzantine portraits as a young man with brown, curly hair, hollow cheeks, and a wispy beard. He is usually shown writing in front of a desk. Occasionally he is accompanied by Paul who supposedly inspired his Gospel; more often he is accompanied by his patron, Theophilus. St. Luke's feast day is on October 18. He is the author of the 3`d Gospel, and the Book of Acts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Prototype, Symbolism, and Techniques

Having looked at the history, development and representation of iconographic images around the world and through the centuries, we need to look also at the qualities of an icon, the prototype, symbolism, and technique.

Along with the Holy Scripture, the icon is a tool for the transmission of Christian tradition and faith. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the use of images, images that are complementing the written words of the Scripture. It follows then that icons are educational and worshiping aids. This is why it is important to mention that the faith of the person who prays is above the aesthetic qualities of an icon. The icon has as its purpose to transport us into the realm of spiritual experience, to go beyond our material world, to show us the greatness and perfection of the divine reality that is invisible to us.

The icon is not meant to be a sentimental piece. There is no sentimentality or drama in an icon. An icon represents mostly biblical events and biblical characters. The faces of those depicted in an icon are always devoid of their feelings, suggestive only of virtues such as: purity, patience, forgiveness, compassion and love. For example, the icon of the Crucifixion does not show the physical pain Christ suffered on the Cross, but what led Him to the Cross: the voluntary action of giving His life for us.

Icons are also silent. A close observation indicates that the mouths of the characters depicted are never open; there are no symbols that can indicate sound. There is perfect silence in the icon and this stillness and silence creates, both in the church and in the home an atmosphere of prayer and contemplation. The silence of an icon is a silence that speaks, it is the silence of Christ on the Cross, the silence of the Virgin, the silence of the Transfiguration, the silence of the Resurrection.

Icons are not three-dimensional. Perspective in the icon does not exist. The attempt is made to suggest depth, but the frontal plane is never abandoned, because the icon is not a representation of our conscious world, but an attempt to suggest the beauty of the Kingdom of God. Natural objects are therefore rendered in a vivid but symbolic, sometimes an abstract manner, because spiritual reality cannot be represented in images, except through the use of symbols. As an example, an icon of the Baptism of the Lord depicts Christ as a young man, even though He was a fully matured man at the time of His baptism in the Jordan. The meaning is that through baptism we enter a new life. Also in this icon (mosaic) of the Baptism we see an old man sitting opposite John. He represents the Old Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descending upon Christ is depicted as a white dove.


Although the iconography is not an artistic creation and can be qualified more as reproduction, it is not simple copying of work done by others. The iconographer uses prototypes but the iconographer's individual spirituality is present in the creation of every icon. Leonid Ouspensky remarked that: "... the personal (in iconography) is much more subtle than in the other arts and so often escapes superficial observation.... although icons are remarkably alike, we never find two absolutely identical."

Another quote, this time from Thomas Merton explains the icon as an act of witness: "What one sees in prayer before an icon is not an external representation of a historical person but an interior presence in light, which is the glory of the transfigured Christ, the experience of which is transmitted in faith from generation to generation..."

Color Symbolism

In iconography there are two distinct categories of colors. First there is white, red, green and blue, used to express life, purity, peace and goodness. The second category of colors is black, brown, grey and yellow, and they are used to express danger and impurity. Christian beliefs follow the thought of Dionysus the Aeropagite who distinguishes three types of symbols: noble, middle and base.

What do colors represent in iconography?
  • White: is the color that represents eternal life and purity.
  • Blue: represents celestial beings, God's dwelling place, the sky.
  • Red: symbolizes activity. In Hebrew thought, red represents life. We find it mentioned in several books of the Old Testament: in the Second Book of Samuel, Saul dressed the daughters of Israel in red garments: "O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury..." (2 Samuel 1:24). In Proverbs we find that the perfect wife wears red, in the book of Jermiah, Jerusalem beautifies herself in a red garment. The martyr's clothes are red, the clothing of the seraphims are red also. Red is also the color that depicts health, fire and the Last Judgment.
  • Purple: purple is the symbol of royalty, wealth, power, and priestly dignity. In the book of Daniel we learn that the king dressed himself in purple, and in the Psalms it is mentioned that the king and the queen are robed in purple.
  • Green: in the Holy Scriptures, green represents nature and vegetation, and it is thus representative of growth and fertility. It is mentioned in the Song of Songs and the Book of Jeremiah. In iconography it is used for the robes of martyrs and prophets.
  • Brown: represents density and lack of radiance. Brown is composed of red, blue, green and black, and it is used to depict soil, rocks and buildings. It is also used as a symbol of poverty and renunciation for the dark garments of monks and ascetics.
  • Black: represents absence of life; it symbolizes a void. It is the opposite of white. While white represents the fullness of life, black represents the lack of it. Monks and Great Schema monks wear black garments, as a symbol of their renunciation of all that is material.
  • Yellow: representing sadness is used in the icon of the Savior being placed in the tomb. In Deuteronomy it is mentioned as a sign of misfortune, bad harvest and blight.
Creation of an Icon

In iconography an icon is not painted, but written. The process of writing an icon is long and tedious. Many hours, weeks, sometimes months are spent in the creation of an icon, depending of course on the size and complexity of it. A Russian monk remarked once that "...icons are not civil paintings. They are not for museums. They are not decorations. They are a reflection of God that has become man. Icons carry the real feeling and teachings of Orthodoxy."

The iconographer does not have the right to change an icon just to be different and creative. As we mentioned earlier, the creation of an icon is not the painter's own work. He is more like a co-author. In the Painter's Manual, preserved on Mount Athos, the master advises him who aspires to become an icon painter to pray before the icon of Christ and that of the Mother of God, because the art of painting comes from God, who alone can guide the painter's hand to give form to the mysteries of God.

Preparation to work on an icon is similar to the preparation for going to church: with prayers and fasting. Painting an icon is a liturgical work. Preparing to paint an icon is like preparing for Liturgy. Always start with prayer. The following is the iconographer's prayer: "O Divine Lord of all that exists, You have illumined the Apostle and Evangelist Luke with Your Most Holy Spirit, thereby enabling him to represent the most Holy Mother, the one who held You in her arms and said: `the Grace of Him Who has been born of me is spread throughout the world. Enlighten and direct our souls, our hearts and our spirits. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant, so that we may worthily and perfectly portray your icon, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the saints, for the glory and adornment of Your Holy Church. Forgive our sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons, and who, standing devoutly before them, give homage those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel. This we ask through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Apostle Luke, and all the saints, now and ever and unto ages of ages."

The materials used to create an icon are of several kinds. The most widely used is wood. The wood has to be hard and non-resinous, such as birch, lime or cypress. In most wood panels two wedges of hard wood are inserted horizontally in the back to prevent warping. The surface of the wood panel is then covered with a sheet of linen that is glued to the wood and on top of it are applied many layers of gesso. (Gesso is a special mixture of plaster and glue that when it hardens it is very strong.) In general seven layers of gesso are applied, and each layer is sanded after it has dried. Because the drying process can take a while, it may take a week or more to prepare the surface of one icon before painting can begin. The final sanding is very important; the surface must remain silky smooth.

The next step is that of tracing on paper the drawing of the prototype that will be used. Once this is done, the drawing is transferred to the icon board with the aid of carbon paper.

The drawing is now on the board, and with what is called a stylus, the contours of the drawing are etched lightly onto the surface of the board. This is done so that the contours do not disappear under the different layers of paint that will be successively applied. If the surface on which the icon will be painted does not have gesso and the contours of the drawing cannot be etched onto it, then the contours are run over with a dark paint, so that they can be seen under the many layers that will be put over.

What follows is the application of the gold leaf. Gold leaf must be applied before anything else. To apply the gold leaf, the area that is to receive the gold leaf is covered with a thin layer of special glue, over which the gold leaf is carefully applied. There are different kinds of gold leaf, the most widely used is 23k gold, but there are also 22k, 18k and 14k gold leaf, and there is of course also gold paint that some may use for economic reasons.

Once the gold leaf is done, the work proper on the icon begins. Contrary to what may be taught in art schools, the painting on the icon is built from bottom up, starting with dark colors and working up to very light colors. In general there are seven layers of paint. After the base layer has been applied, the outlines are redrawn and the subsequent layers are what are called highlights. When the icon is finished, the inscriptions are added and then it is left to dry. Depending on the medium used, drying time can take up to a couple months. After the icon is dry, a fine layer of varnish or oil is applied to the surface. If the icon is painted in acrylic, then the varnish is brushed on the icon and is left to dry, creating a fairly resistant surface. If the painting medium is egg tempera, then boiled linseed oil is applied to the surface and left to penetrate the painted surface and the wood, it too creating a protective coating on the face of the icon and giving it brightness and depth.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters. And God said: "Let there be light" and there was light. In these three verses of the Book of Genesis are reflected both the beginning and the end of the making of the icon. Here we have the spiritual meaning of icon writing: the process of writing an icon, as the movement from being without form to Being of Light; Light means the light of life. The icon develops in the hands of the iconographer from a pure white surface on which there is no form to the general outline of the image of man to a full transfigured figure with a name written on the icon.

The whole process of creation is repeated in each icon: from shadow toward light, adding layer after layer of paint and lines, and from a face darkened to the Face transfigured, transformed, the Face of a holy figure resembling God.

Man is the crown of God's creation and He revealed Himself, made Himself known by taking the form of man in the Incarnation of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The Word. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God" (John 1:1). The concept of the word refers not only to the gift of speech, thinking, but also to the gift of hearing and sight. Therefore theology can be expressed not only by the word as in the Holy Scripture but also in sound as in sacred music and in image as in holy icons.

We may say that iconography is theology through God the Word as Image, therefore, the icon is regarded as a form of Christian doctrine. It is the Word of God, the Holy Scripture, in color.

The icons displayed in the church are more than attractive pieces of art, or decorative items; they are not even considered religious art, but because icons do present religious subjects they can be classified as religious art. In fact an icon is a link between the eternal and the temporal aiding the worshiper in his own pilgrimage through this earthly life.

The role of icons in the home of every believer is not to be taken lightly. Icons in the home are an extension of the presence of the liturgical mystery which we experience in church. The icon is an integral part of our worship life style.

The spiritual meaning of the icon

Humanity simultaneously moves towards self-destruction while yearning for restoration or more specifically salvation. While evil still remains a reality infecting man's way of living, the icon points to a new mode of existence. The person depicted in the icon is a new person who regardless of sex is a reflection of the New Man Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation the invisible became visible and the undepictable became perceptible and therefore depictable. By taking on human nature the Son of God opens the way for all mankind to be renewed. By taking on human nature the Son of God reveals the true identity of every man as being created in the image and likeness of God. The icon, therefore, depicts each person as a new being who has been restored to God's image and likeness. For this the icon is able to become an object evoking contemplation and prayer from the one who views it. Because of this, Orthodox iconography can only be properly appreciated in the context of communal prayer which provides the basis for its content and form. Iconography is an art that springs from the liturgical celebration of the new covenant, The Eucharist established between God and man through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ who says: "Behold I make all things new" (2Cor. 5:17).

The material used for the icons: wood, paint, stone, fabric, glass, metal, elements of the created world, are brought into the reality of the church and like every person of the community undergo a transformation. The transformation of the matter takes place at the same time with the transfiguration and divinization of man. Why is the mystery of the incarnation so great and so important for us to understand: Through His incarnation God has taken all the elements of this earth in his body as we have them in ours; by His suffering, death and Resurrection He has purified them and made them anew. By His ascension He has taken them into heaven. In the icon we see what will be in the future by what is already here present. History and eschatology are brought together. Everything is depicted as existing beyond time and space. Everything in the icon is on one single plane, figures are long and thin, the center of gravity is upwards and not downwards. The icon is able to witness to the liberation of what is evil and oppressing in this world and reveals human beings as created in the image and likeness of God. This tells us that man has the capacity to know and change creation, because man, like God is able to love. Through love man establishes relationships with other persons and things. In fact man has been entrusted with caring for the life of creation. The idea can be further enhanced by what St. Maximos the confessor says about the cosmological Liturgy, how everything and everyone is sanctified by the act of the Eucharist. When the liturgy is served by the priest and the people in the temple, there is an angelic Liturgy taking place as the priest asks that the angels simultaneously be present and enter the Holy of Holies together. Then there is the Liturgy taking place on the altar of each of the faithful's hearts. According to St.. Maximos the whole nature, birds, trees and animals celebrate together and rejoice in this celebration. By this the paradisiac harmony is accomplished, so that all things may remain and grow in God.

The beauty, harmony, unity and joy of life -- as God has intended it for us -- is disrupted by ugliness, division, alienation, misery and death. Through sin we embark on a course of self-destruction therefore communication with God is interrupted. In such a state man begins a process of self -preservation, misusing everyone and everything including God as St. Paul says in the epistle to the Romans: "For I have already charged that all man both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin as it is written: None is righteous, no, no one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together thy have gone wrong, no one does good not even me. Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know, there is no fear of God before their eyes"(3:918).

If the icon is to be a means of contemplation and prayer the one standing in front of it must be willing to enter a process of repentance which can be painful. Standing before the icon and seeing it for what it is, makes us realize the state of brokenness we are in and our alienation from God. Contemplating the icon requires repentance which is a conversion from that self-destruction to life. If we can contemplate the icon in silence we will enter a state of sorrow and joy. Sorrow for we realize the poor state of our spiritual life and the need for change. As we establish a relationship with the icon then we perceive with our minds and senses how the inner light of the icon exposes the inner darkness of our souls and encourages us to enter that light. Once we come to this understanding we enter the joy of the Resurrection that comes to us when we no longer live for ourselves but are willing and ready to give up our lives for our neighbor, we are ready to say with St. Paul: "...It is no longer I who live but, Christ lives in me"(Gal. 2:20).

In the presence of a good icon we move from contemplation to prayer. In fact it is said that a good icon is one that inspires prayer. Prayer requires asceticism. Prayerful asceticism becomes a healing process in which whatever has estranged us from God is transformed into becoming a means of communion with God. The mind, soul, heart, body and will of the person who prays becomes still, attentive, attuned, and peaceful, constantly receptive to the presence of God.

As we pray before an icon we enter in communion with the icon's prototype. This becomes the fulfillment of Christ's prayer: "so that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us..." (Jn 17:21). St. Isaac the Syrian describes the person who prays as one who possesses uncontainable love and intense compassion. Such a person's heart is aflame for all creation, for man, birds, animals, demons and all creatures. The icon and the one who enters the reality depicted in the icon witness to the eradication of evil which has infected man's achievements. To the ascetic who prays the icon communicates the meaning of life. Matter and Spirit, heaven and earth, are both united in the icon and in the one who has entered the reality it communicates. Already in the present they begin to manifest the future of creation when God will be all in all.

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16 July 2011

The Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Saved by God the Son

In Christianity and Judaism, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are well known from the biblical Hebrew book of Daniel Chapters 1 – 3, for their exclusive devotion to their God, having been safely delivered by their God from the Babylonian execution of being burned alive in a fiery furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three young Jews, of royal or noble birth from the Kingdom of Judah, who were inducted into Babylon when Jerusalem was occupied by the Babylonians in 606/605 BC, under the campaign of Nebuchadnezzar II, during the first deportation of the Israelites.

Their Hebraic names were Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה). It was probably by the King’s decree that Chief Official Ashpenaz assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego.[Daniel 1: 3, 7]

These three young men were very dear to Daniel, whose Chaldean name was Belteshazzar, a peer who spoke highly of the three to the King whenever opportunity afforded itself, so that they could also have honorable positions in the Province of Babylon.

In Daniel (Daniy'el) Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar wanted select men from Judah to learn the language and literature of Babylon. This would be a three-year training course to qualify those select to serve in the King’s Palace. Those chosen were to partake of Babylonian royal food and wine. [v.3-5] Among these men of Judah were Daniel (Belteshazzar), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. [v.6, 7] Because Daniel did not want to defile himself with the King’s food, he requested from his appointed guard to provide them vegetables and water for ten days. After the ten day trial, the four appeared better nourished and healthier than all the others who partook of the royal food. Thus they were awarded the freedom to regularly have vegetables and water. [v.8-16] Upon the King’s review, he also found them to be “ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm”.

In Daniel Chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were sent into a blazing fiery furnace because of their stand to exclusively serve their God alone. By the Son of God in the form of an angel, they were delivered out of harm’s way from this order of execution by the King of Babylon.

The story takes place during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, who had a nine-story high statue made of gold erected in the plain of Dura[v.1] (The region around present day Karbala, Iraq). The statue was either an image of himself or possibly of the Babylonian god of wisdom, known as Nabu. When the project was complete, he prepared a dedication ceremony to this image ordering all surrounding inhabitants to bow down and worship it. The consequence for not worshiping the idol, upon hearing the queue of instruments, was execution in a fiery furnace.[v.2-9] During the dedication ceremony, certain officials noticed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down to the idol. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar was immediately notified.[v.10-12]

The King was enraged and demanded that these three men come before him.[v.13] Nebuchadnezzar knew of these very men, because it wasn’t too long ago when Daniel had petitioned the King to assign Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon.[Daniel 2: 48, 49] Daniel was also very special to the King because he was able to interpret his dreams unlike any of the Chaldean wise men.[Daniel 2: 24, 25] So it is of no surprise that the King would offer one more chance for these three Jews, who held honorable positions to the King, to show their patriotism to Babylon.[v.14, 15]

Their response: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."[v.16-18]

Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the execution furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Valiant soldiers of the King’s army were ordered to firmly bind the fully clothed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and cast them in the blazing furnace. Upon approaching the mouth of the furnace, the fire was so hot that the soldiers perished while attempting to throw in the three tightly bound Jews (who then fell in).[v.19-23]

The SOn of God in the form of an angel immediately came to deliver the three men from the furnace releasing them from their ties. When the King saw what appeared to be four men in the furnace, unbound and walking about, he called to them to come out. King Nebuchadnezzar then acknowledged the power of their God, even going as far as to make a decree, whereby any nation who says anything against the God of the Jews is an act of war. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were then given promotions to their positions over the province of Babylon.[v.24-30]

In the "Prayer of Azariah", passage of the Septuagint, Azariah (Abednego) confesses their sins and the sins of Israel, and asks their God to save them in order to demonstrate God’s power to the Babylonians. It is followed by an account of an angel who came to make the inside of the furnace feel like a cool breeze over dew. An extended hymn of praise to their God for deliverance is found in the "Song of the Three Young Men".

In view of the possible foreign religious connotations attached to their names, commentators have questioned why the Bible seldom uses their original Hebrew names. It is speculated that they are identified mostly by their Chaldean names to maintain the accuracy of the dialogue given in the text. Since it would have been confusing to have the writer call them one thing and the King call them another, the story primarily uses their Chaldean names instead.

Hananiah is a Hebrew name that means "God who is gracious". Misha'el means "Who is like God?” and it also means "to feed" or "to provide" as in how a husband provides for his family. The Hebrew name Azariah appropriately means "God has helped".

It has been asserted that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's names all pertained to pagan Babylonian gods. Shadrach possibly is derived from Shudur Aku "Command of the moon god". Meshach is probably a variation of Mi•sha•aku "Who is what Aku is?", an interesting twist from the Hebrew name Mishael “Who is like Yahweh?” Abednego is either a corrupted or deliberate use of Abednebo, "servant of Nebo/Nabu," or Abednergo, a variation of Abednergal, "servant of the god Nergal."

The song of the three youths is alluded to in odes seven and eight of the canon, a hymn sung in the matins service and on other occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where their feast day is December 17 (along with Daniel). The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ. The reading of the story of the fiery furnace, including the song, is prescribed for the vesperal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox on Holy Saturday. Likewise, the three are commemorated as prophets in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on December 17 with Daniel.

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15 July 2011

Marriage as an Icon of the Trinity

In every beloved there is an encounter with the one and only Beloved, just as in every divine name the totality of Names is found again… [1]

God creates all people, men and women. He creates out of love, for a specific purpose, making our destiny eternal life with Him. This destiny is called divinization, and it means that we are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons. What exactly this divinization consists in we do not know, for it is a mystery known only by God in Himself. Our participation in the life of the Trinity will not make us sharers in this mystery in the same way each of the Persons in the Godhead shares in it. But God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is His communio personarum. St. Athanasius said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” By this he did not mean that we will become divine ourselves, but that through His incarnation in Jesus Christ, God has invited us into His life.

Every human person is made in God’s image, that is, in the image of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person who is baptized actually enters into the life of the Trinity in a unique way, and takes his first steps on the path toward divinization – a path only to be realized in its fullness in the eschaton.

“The deification…of the creature will be realized in its fullness only in the age to come, after the resurrection of the dead. This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our corruptible and depraved nature and by its adaptation to eternal life. If God has given us in the Church all the objective conditions, all the means that we need for the attainment of this end, we, on our side, must produce the necessary subjective conditions: for it is in this synergy, in this co-operation of man with God, that the union is fulfilled. This subjective aspect of our union with God constitutes the way of union which is the Christian life.” [2]

When two baptized persons are joined in marriage, they enter into the mystery of the Trinity together, and live out the universal call to holiness in a new, unique way. In their union, they become icons, or images, of the Trinity. Iconography is a powerful symbol for the presence of God among us, and icons are integral to the life and worship of Eastern Christians (both Orthodox and Catholic). To say that married persons are icons of the Trinity carries enormous theological weight. It is literally to say that the sacramental union of husband and wife manifests (or should manifest) the presence of God Himself in the world. The force of this statement is underscored in the Ritual of Marriage in the Eastern Church. [3] It is also seen within the theology of iconography. The icon does not simply portray a moment from Scripture or the likeness of a saint, nor is it simply meant to be a “picture of God.” Rather, the icon makes manifest, in a mysterious way, the presence of whomever it portrays.

In this paper we will look at what it means to say that the married couple is an icon of the Trinity, and how they, in flesh and blood, make real the presence of God through their sacramental bond. We will discuss how the icon, in wood and paint, also makes real the presence of God in the world. Specifically, we will examine St. Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Holy Trinity, The Hospitality of Abraham, which is a profound symbol of Trinitarian love, and draws the beholder into Their communio personarum. By looking at the theology of iconography and its application to Rublev’s icon, and the symbolism of a specific moment in the marriage ritual (the Dance of Isaiah), we will see how the Trinity permeates art and life in profound and powerful ways that draw us toward It, and into Its very life.

The Mystery of Holy Matrimony According to The Eastern Church

O Holy God, You formed man out of the dust of the earth. You fashioned a woman from his rib and joined her to him as a helpmate; for it pleased Your great generosity that man should not be alone upon earth. Now, O Master, stretch forth Your hand from Your holy dwelling place and join these Your servants N. and N.; for You alone join the wife to her husband. Unite them in one mind and flesh, granting them fruitfulness and rewarding them with good children. [4]

The celebration of the Holy Mysteries (sacraments) in the Eastern Church differs from their celebration in the Western Church, most specifically in terms of ritual. The Mysteries of Holy Eucharist and Matrimony differ also in matter and form from their Western counterparts. For example, the Eucharistic bread (prosphora) is leavened, symbolizing the risen Lord who is alive, just as the yeast in the leavening is “alive.” Bread and wine – Body and Blood – are distributed together from a chalice with a golden spoon, and a small amount of warm water is added to the chalice, symbolizing the warmth of the “living Blood” of Christ being received. As he pours the water into the chalice, the priest says, “The warmth of the Holy Spirit.” [5] In the Eastern tradition, symbol is central to worship and sacramental life.

Marriage according to the Eastern tradition is a symbolic “calling out of the world” for the couple, an “ordination” into a new state in life. It is a channel of grace for the spouses, and a way toward salvation. Indeed,

“the sacrament establishes the couple as bearers of salvation in a new way…salvation flows through the sacrament not for themselves alone, but through them to all they encounter. What happens to the couple on their wedding night is less important than what will happen through them in the Church for the rest of their lives.” [6]

The marriage rite in the Eastern Church differs from that of the Western in ritual as well as in form. While in the West, either a priest or deacon may officiate at a wedding, in the East a marriage is only valid when the priestly blessing is conferred. [7]

“In the Eastern tradition, the priest, in addition to assisting, must bless the marriage. To bless means to act as the true minister of the sacrament, in virtue of his priestly power to sanctify, so that the spouses may be united by God in the image of the flawless nuptial union of Christ with the Church and be consecrated to each other by sacramental grace.” [8]

Significant in effecting the sacrament in the Eastern marriage rite is the crowning of the couple. The priest places a crown [9] on the bride’s head, and one on the groom’s, invoking the Holy Trinity in doing so. The significance of the crowns themselves is threefold: they are crowns of royalty, martyrdom, and of the Kingdom of God. The crowns place certain responsibilities on the spouses, and call them to a new life with each other that is not centered on self, but places each at the service of the other, and together, at the service of Christ.

“When a couple is crowned, no longer is their union a relationship between the two of them alone, or even a three-way relation with the Lord standing outside them; rather, their relationship is situated within the relation of Christ and the Church, implanted within this holy union.” [10]

The marriage rite of the Eastern Church, through the use of symbols and ancient ritual, becomes a call to the spouses into a kind of “nuptial priesthood.” This priesthood entails a responsibility and a duty of the spouses to manifest God in the world through the very witness of their marriage, and in the raising of children. The priestly blessing effects this call because it is an epiclesis – a calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the couple, sealing their bond, and infusing it with His love and grace.

“In the Gospel, every work of Christ reaches completion in glory; its fulfillment is manifested and glorified by the Holy Spirit. Standing in the presence of Christ, the betrothed receive the glory that achieves the establishment of their unique being, and the priest raises them to this glory through the invocation (epiclesis) of the sacrament: ‘O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor.’ This is the effective moment of the sacrament, the time of the nuptial Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit making a new creation.” [11]

The Theology of the Icon

Out of love for Him you should make, therefore, an icon of Him who became man for our sakes, and through His icon you should bring Him to mind and worship Him, elevating your intellect through it to the venerable body of the Saviour, that is set on the right hand of the Father in heaven.

St. Gregory Palamas [12]

St. Gregory’s words speak so eloquently of the purpose of the icon, reminding us that it is written in love to call our intellect and senses “out of ourselves,’ and raise our body, mind and spirit heavenward. We speak of the icon being written, not painted, because iconography is no mere genre of art. Rather, to write an icon is to make the Word of God present, analogous to God’s presence in Scripture. St. John Damascene explicates this when he says, “For just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding.” [13] The icon is not, however, merely educative. It is not only a “story” in pictures, but it manifests the presence of the one portrayed. This is done through the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit.

The spirituality of the Eastern Church is keenly focused around the Trinity. The doxology (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is an important part of prayer and liturgy. The Sign of the Cross is made every time the Trinity is mentioned – a sign of belief, reverence, and affirmation of the Trinitarian God. The action of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy and in the conferring of the Mysteries is emphasized more strongly in the East than in the tradition of West. [14] The pneumatalogical emphasis is important to our discussion of icons, because the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the iconographer’s work.

Icons escape the classification of “graven images” forbidden in the Old Testament because of the most important event in human history: the Incarnation. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the cooperation of Mary, God became man. Because God condescended to us and clothed Himself in our flesh, we can create images that give honor and glory to Him. Icons may portray angels and saints. But the mysterious, ineffable and hidden God can only be portrayed in the Incarnate icon of God, that is, Jesus Christ. “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.” (Jn 1:18) [15], therefore, no image of the Father can be produced. The Holy Spirit is sometimes portrayed in icons (especially in the Theophany and Transfiguration icons) in the form of a dove, or (in the icon of Pentecost) as tongues of fire, but this is only because Scripture describes the Spirit in these terms. Since, as Saint Paul tells us, Jesus alone “is the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15), icon writers may portray Him.

The icon is not simply a piece of art, a representation of a person or an event. Nor is it the actual event itself, or the person himself. Rather, the icon is a copy of the prototype. It mediates a reality not graspable in our limited humanity – a transfigured reality. The true iconographer may not portray his subject with the absolute freedom of an artist. He must abide by canons governing the media used and the subject matter it is permissible to depict. But by submitting to the canons, the iconographer actually experiences the true freedom of responding in love to the beckoning of the Holy Spirit, who gives him the means to portray Truth in the icon. The iconographer therefore prepares himself spiritually through prayer and fasting, and he is a partner with the Holy Spirit in writing the icon.

“As a painter of what is invisible and inexpressible, he is not a creator in the usual sense. It becomes his responsibility to seek the integrity derived from the unification of his being, by emptying himself through his perpetual conversion. Bound to Christ, and thus to the Church, he must engender the icon from within himself, lest he be relegated to painting cold images, devoid of the warmth of the Holy Spirit.” [16]

Thus the act of icon writing is not merely artistry, nor is it done to win personal recognition. [17] The act of writing an icon is an act of worship.

A comprehensive study of the symbolism of the icon – the colors, the use of light, etc. – is beyond the scope of this paper. Our discussion of Rublev’s Trinity will look at the symbolic elements of the icon, and show how this representation of a scene from the Old Testament in wood and paint mediates, in a mysterious way, the reality of the Trinitarian communio personarum.

The Hospitality of Abraham

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing nearby.

Genesis 18: 1-2

St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity is considered by many to be a masterpiece of artistry, and, above all, the quintessential representation of the Trinity, the closest possible for a mortal man in a fallen world. Rublev wrote the icon ca. 1411, and it has become the standard by which icon writers since that time approach their work.

The scene represented in the icon comes from Genesis 18: 1-15. Three mysterious strangers visit Abraham, and he hastily orders his servants to prepare a meal for them, and he treats the three with great reverence. The guests are described simply as three men, but when Abraham addresses them, they respond in unison (the author of Genesis writes “they said”). Curiously, at times only one of the men addresses Abraham, and when he does he is named as the LORD. The LORD appeared to Abraham, but when he looks out of his tent to see who is there, he sees three men. The author makes no mention of Abraham being frightened by this apparition, or questioning the unity of the three in speech, and the obvious priority of the one. The text says that the LORD appeared, but it does not clearly state that Abraham knew God Himself was visiting him. In any event, Abraham, willing servant that he had been since he first encountered the one true God, whether he knew his visitors to be God or merely His messengers, offers the men the finest hospitality.

For many scholars, this scene is a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinitarian God that will come with Christ’s Incarnation. The three men visiting Abraham are viewed as being God-Yahweh, God’s Word, and God’s Spirit: in other words, the Holy Trinity. Such a reading of this scene can only be made through the lens of the Incarnation, and Christ’s revelation of the Father and Holy Spirit, both in what He said, and what He did (the manifestation of the Trinity at Christ’s baptism, and in His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.) Similarly, St. Andrei Rublev could only portray this scene iconographically because of the Incarnation of Christ, who is the perfect icon of the Father.

Rublev’s icon enters the scene when the three men are sitting at table, a cup placed before them. Here is where the symbolism of the icon takes over from the Scriptural text, or, rather, where it transcends the text. The identity of each figure is in some dispute among scholars, but a widely accepted interpretation – and the one we will adopt for this paper – is that the figures are seated in their doxological order: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

All three figures portrayed in the icon have a few things in common. Each one holds a rod, “half shepherd’s crook and half scepter [18],” symbolizing the equality among the three. Each one wears a cloak of blue, the color symbolic of divinity in iconographic language. And the face of each is exactly the same, perhaps another sign of the oneness in the distinction of the three. The figure seated to the right of the icon is the Holy Spirit. He wears a cloak of green over the blue of His divinity, symbolizing life and regeneration. The action of the Holy Spirit transfigures and transforms, and it is through Him that we are invited to experience new life, especially through the Holy Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Eucharist, and Marriage. The Spirit’s head is inclined toward the middle figure and draws our eyes there as well. As he does in the life of Christ in the New Testament, the Spirit is pointing us toward the Word, revealing to the beholder of the icon who He is.

The central figure is Christ, the Word and Son of God. With the blue of divinity He also wears a cloak of reddish purple, a symbol of royal priesthood. Christ is royalty – the King – and He is Priest, the One who condescends to His creation and becomes part of it. Christ is the High Priest, the One in whose place every earthly priest who celebrates the Liturgy stands. With His two fingers, formed to spell the Greek letters Chi-Rho, an abbreviation of the word Christ, the Son blesses the cup at the center of the table. The cup He blesses, as one of the visitors, is the calf Abraham ordered to be slaughtered and prepared. In the symbolic language of the icon, however, the cup contains the sacrificial Lamb, a foreshadowing of His sacrifice on the cross. His blessing shows his acceptance of this sacrifice, as does the inclination of His head and its gaze toward the figure to His left – the Father.

The Father’s divinity (the blue tunic) is cloaked in a color that is light and almost transparent, yet opaque as well, symbolizing the ineffable, hidden nature of the Creator and Lord of all. In one hand He holds the rod, and with the other He blesses, as if to show that He is pleased with the Son’s acceptance of His mission. His gaze is turned toward the other two, but His head is not inclined – rather, Son and Spirit incline their heads toward Him, acknowledging the One who is Their Origin and Source. But the icon is not strictly meant to be a portrayal of the monarchy of the Father. The positioning of each figure, with Son and Spirit inclining their heads toward the Father, and He directing his gaze back to them, indicates a circular motion, a motion into which the beholder of the icon is mysteriously drawn. Henri Nouwen further indicates how the beholder is drawn in by his description of the gesture of the Spirit toward the small rectangle at the base of the table: “We must give all our attention to that open space because it is the place to which the Spirit points and where we become included in the divine circle…this rectangular space speaks about the narrow road leading to the house of God.” [19]

There is so much happening within this circular movement of the icon: initiation by the Father, and receptivity of the Son and Spirit; giving and receiving; loving and being loved. An eternal circle, never-ending gift, never-ending love, never turned in on itself, but always reaching outside of itself to the Other. Rublev beautifully portrays this eternal love and giftedness, but he also ensures that the viewer receives his invitation to participate in the communion shared by the Three. The icon shows the Divine taxis of Father as Source; the Spirit as the one who prepares the way for the Son’s mission and, at the same time, is intimately tied to Him; and the Son, deferring in everything to the will of the Father, accepting the sacrifice He must make, and accomplishing all through the Holy Spirit. Through a portrayal of the economic Trinity, we catch a glimpse of God in Himself through the circle of love we ourselves are drawn into by gazing upon the icon. The Trinity Itself is mystically present in a way beyond our understanding, yet even as our gaze moves from one figure to the next, and back again, we know that we have transcended time and space and entered into another realm. This realm takes us beyond our intellect, beyond trying to “figure out” who these mysterious men are and why they affect us as they do. All we can do is to look at each of Their faces and rest in the peace of Their gaze.

The Dance of Isaiah

Rejoice, O Isaiah! * The Virgin was with Child and bore a Son, * Emmanuel. * He is God and Man, Orient is His name. * By extolling Him we also praise the Virgin. [20]

Just as Rublev’s icon draws the beholder in to the circular motion of the exchange of love among the hypostases in the Trinity, the so-called “Dance of Isaiah” symbolically draws the spouses into that circle as they begin their lives together. The Dance of Isaiah is led by the priest and is a triple procession around the tetrapod, a table on which the Gospel book is placed, a symbol signifying that the Word is at the center of their lives together. The hymn that is chanted invokes Isaiah’s prophecy of the Savior, a child to be born of a Virgin for the salvation of all (cf. Isaiah 7:14). The prophesy of Isaiah speaks of “God with us” – Emmanuel. God is with the new spouses from now on, because they have invited Him into their marriage by receiving the priestly blessing.

The mention of the prophecy also reminds us of the miraculous way in which the Word – the true icon of God - took flesh from a virgin. “The Incarnation reaches into the very depths of human existence, making the whole of human life an epiphany of the eternal.” [21] Just as it is because of the Incarnation that icons may be written, so the husband and wife can be icons by conceiving Christ in their hearts. Finally, the prophecy is a reminder of fruitfulness – the fruitfulness of Mary as a result of the agency of the Holy Spirit, and the fruitfulness of the spouses as a result of their cooperation with God. “This circular procession, a solemn ‘dance of joy,’ is an image of life in Christ.” [22]

Icon in the Body, Icon in Paint

O Mother of God, through you in the incarnation, the indescribable Word became describable, for through the divine goodness the Word spoken from eternity became an Image. May we who believe in salvation clothe ourselves with the same Image both in word and deed.

Kontakion for the Sunday of Orthodoxy [23]

Humans are very sensual beings, meaning that we comprehend the world around us through our senses: what we see and here, taste, touch and smell. Since God has created us He also communicates Himself to us in ways we can understand, ways that incorporate all of our senses. The incarnation of the Word is God’s ultimate communication of Himself to us, and by becoming one of us, He meets us on terms we can understand. He shows us how we are to image God – how we are to be icons.

Rublev’s icon of The Hospitality of Abraham – our analysis of which merely scratched the surface of interpretation – gives us so much on which to meditate. In this study, we focus on how Rublev’s Trinity calls to mind the married couple’s command to be icons of the Trinity as well. What is the relationship between Rublev’s icon and a husband and wife? How can we compare a moment in the marriage ritual with a picture whose subject matter is (seemingly) unrelated to matrimony? We can make this correlation because the Incarnate Word, the icon of the Father, has deified our flesh, and called us to holiness in communion with each other (for we are the body of Christ) and with the Trinity.

We have said that Rublev’s icon shows us something of the economic Trinity by the positioning of the figures and their gestures. The Son, the central figure, accepts the cup of sacrifice, and the Spirit lays His hand on the table, as if to signify that He will be with the Son throughout His mission. Indeed, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Incarnation takes place. The Father blesses the Son for His acceptance of this saving work that will invite His creation – all of humankind – to participate in Their communion. Their love is not self-enclosed, but reaches beyond Itself, and this is the model for the love of all human persons.

The Son and Spirit incline their heads toward the Father, who is the Source. Yet they do not dissolve into each other, or into Him. Each is a subject – a hypostasis – and yet they are One. In an analogous way, we can speak of the husband as the source in the marriage relationship – he is the initiator and the head. The husband is the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. The husband gives the gift of himself to the wife, which she receives in love and reciprocates, thereby the two become one. “However, this analogy [Christ and the Church and the one flesh union of husband and wife] does not blur the individuality of the subjects: that of the husband and that of the wife, that is, the essential bi-subjectivity which is at the basis of the image of ‘one single body’.” [24] Of course, any analogy between the Creator of all and His creation is just that, and the dissimilarity between the two is ever greater. But our contemplation of Rublev’s icon enables us to catch a glimpse of what it means to image the Trinity in perfect giftedness and love.

The symbolism in the Dance of Isaiah allows us perhaps even more clearly to see the correlation between the spouses as icons and Rublev’s icon of the Trinity. With the triple procession, the spouses are symbolically drawn into the Trinitarian perichoresis – the “circle dance.” Together, they enter into the life of the Trinity, and they are called to image the Trinity together as one. Similarly, the viewer of Rublev’s icon is drawn into a deeper communion with God by contemplating it. He gazes upon the serene faces of Father, Son and Spirit, and his eye is inexorably drawn into the circular motion that is Their “circle dance,” the never-ending circle of love.


At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, calling You his “Beloved Son,” and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You! [25]

Troparion for the Feast of Theophany

Just as the iconographer submits to the will of God (found in the canons for writing icons) and freely collaborates with the Holy Spirit, the married couple must freely submit to each other, and ultimately to Christ as their head. The iconographer writes the icon for the glory of the Father, and he allows the Holy Spirit to speak the Truth through his work: he cooperates freely. Similarly, the spouses are not free to “live as they please,” but must submit to “living for the other,” thus “speaking the Truth” in their union as living icons.

Rublev’s icon is not a sacrament – as marriage is – but it is a sacramental that manifests God’s presence in a unique and very real way. The icon of the Trinity is a theophany, and the marriage itself is called to become a theophany as well. One is an image of the Trinity in wood and paint, mysteriously making present what is portrayed in it. The other is an image in flesh and blood, also making present what is portrayed in each person’s body – the man and the woman -and in their union. The “circle of love” is eternally manifested in the Trinity, and it must be manifested in the married life as well. In the ineffable, mysterious and glorious God there is perfect love. Because His image in His finite and weak creatures is merely tarnished and not destroyed, a glimmer of that perfect love can still be found with them. God created men and women to be in union with Him forever. His only begotten Son, by the power of His Holy Spirit, clothed Himself in feeble flesh so that, one day, all of creation might be caught up with Him in the fluid motion of love in the circle dance.

Works Cited

  • Applying The Liturgical Prescriptions Of The Code Of Canons Of The Eastern Churches. http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/eastinst.htm#10
  • St. John Damascene. On the Divine Images. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1997.
  • Evdokimov, Paul. The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1995.
  • Goodall, Lawrence D. “The West’s Forgotten Sacrament.” Eastern Churches Journal Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1996); 107-113.
  • John Paul II. The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan. Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 1997.
  • Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2002.
  • Nowen, Henri. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1987.
  • Mack, John. Preserve Them, O Lord: A Guide for Orthodox Couples in Developing Marital Unity. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1996.
  • Ouspensky, Leonid. Theology of the Icon. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1978.
  • St. Gregory Palamas. On the Holy Icons. http://www.monachos.net/patristics/palamas_on_icons.shtml
  • Quenot, Michel. The Icon, Window on the Kingdom. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1991.
  • The Resurrection and the Icon. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1997.
  • Stevens, Clifford. “The Trinitarian Roots of the Nuptial Community.” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly.
  • The Ritual of Marriage. Pittsburgh, PA: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1972.
  1. Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love. p. 110
  2. Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. p. 196
  3. References to the marriage rite are according to the ritual of the Ruthenian Catholic Church, which uses the Byzantine Rite.
  4. The Ritual of Marriage, p 12
  5. The symbolism of this action, and its emphasis on the agency of the Holy Spirit will recur in our discussion of iconography.
  6. Lawrence D. Goodall, “The West’s Forgotten Sacrament,” Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 3 No.2, p. 113
  7. It is important to note that marital consent is a necessary component for the celebration of the Mystery, as prescribed in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (see especially Canons 817, 824, 828, and 837.) As in the Latin Church, exceptions to the form are made in the case of grave necessity, but always with the provision that a priest blesses the marriage as soon as possible. (Cf. Canon 832, § 3, which states “If a marriage was celebrated in the presence only of witnesses, the spouses shall not neglect to receive the blessing of the marriage from a priest as soon as possible.”) Unlike in the Latin Church, the marriage rite in the Eastern Churches does not include an exchange of vows. The priest asks each person if he or she has come to the marriage ceremony freely and without reservation to take the other a s husband or wife “according to the mind of the Church.” This declaration of consent is made first, before the ritual can proceed. Once both parties give the consent, the nuptial blessing of the priest is the action that actually effects the sacrament.
  8. Applying The Liturgical Prescriptions Of The Code Of Canons Of The Eastern Churches, No. 82 http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/eastinst.htm#10. Thus, unlike in the Latin Church, it is the priest or hierarch who ministers the sacrament, and not the couple themselves.
  9. Every parish has its own set of crowns for the ritual, usually made of metal and inlaid with colored stones. The couple may also choose to have their own crowns made, often garlands of flowers, to preserve in the icon corner of their home, a reminder that they head their own “domestic church.”
  10. Goodall p. 113
  11. Evdokimov, p. 153
  12. On the Holy Icons, http://www.monachos.net/patristics/palamas_on_icons.shtml
  13. St. John Damascene, On the Divine Images, No. 17
  14. Throughout the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Holy Spirit is invoked, most prominently in the epiclesis, which is performed after the words of institution in the Byzantine rite.
  15. All biblical quotes are from the New American Bible.
  16. Michel Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon p. 53. The “warmth of the Holy Spirit” infuses the icon, just as it infuses the Eucharistic bread and wine that actually become the body and Blood of Christ (Cf. footnote 5 above.)
  17. True iconographers do not sign their work as other artists do because the work is not about themselves as artists, but is focused on glorifying God.
  18. Quenot, p. 203
  19. Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. p. 24
  20. The Ritual of Marriage, p 19
  21. Clifford Stevens, “The Trinitarian Roots of the Nuptial Community,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, p. 358.
  22. John Mack, Preserve Them, O Lord: A Guide for Orthodox Couples in Developing Marital Unity. p.170
  23. The Byzantine Book of Prayer
  24. John Paul II, Theology of the Body, p. 316
  25. The Byzantine Book of Prayer
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11 July 2011

The Canon of the Bible

For Orthodox Christians, the canon of the Holy Bible (i.e., its content) is, by definition, the list of scriptures deemed venerable and holy as set forth by the Canons of the Orthodox Church (referred to as the Rudder elsewhere in these pages). It should be understood that, for the most part, the origin of approved scripture lists began with individual bishops and regional councils as they sought to combat the spread of heretical documents. However, it is likewise important to know that not all such local lists were ratified by ecumenical council. Nor is a book considered part of the Bible—or excluded from it—on the basis of manuscript evidence.

In all, there are six lists that collectively define what the Orthodox consider to be Holy Scripture: Canon LXXXV (85) of those handed down in the name of the Holy and Renowned Apostles; Canon LX (60) of the regional Council held in Laodicea ca. 364; Canon XXXII (32) of the regional Council of Carthageheld during the years ca. 418-424; the “39th Festival Epistle” of St. Athanasios the Great (+ 373), Archbishop of Alexandria; the “heroic verses” of St. Gregory the Theologian (+ 389), Archbishop of Constantinople; and the Verses of St. Amphilochios (+ ca. 403), Archbishop of Iconium, that were addressed to Seleucus.

In terms of ratification, the works containing all six of these lists were explicitly accepted and validated (the sources were listed by name) by Canon II (2) of the Holy and Ecumenical Sixth Council, except for the Apostolic Constitutions referenced by Canon LXXXV (85) of the Apostles “…into some of which certain spurious passages destitute of piety have been interpolated long ago by the heterodox to the detriment of the Church… .” Because Canon II (2) includes the phrase “…that the 85 Canons handed down to us in the name of the holy and glorious Apostles, and as matter of fact accepted and validated by the holy and blissful Fathers preceding us…” it is fair to state that Canon I (1) of the Holy and Ecumenical Fourth Council also applies, to wit: “We pronounce it just and right that the Canons promulgated by the Holy Fathers, in each and every Council down to the present time, continue in full force and effect.” Likewise, Canon I (1) of the Holy and Ecumenical Seventh Council states: “… we welcome and embrace the divine Canons, and we corroborate the entire and rigid fiat of them that have been set forth by the renowned Apostles, who were and are trumpets of the Spirit, and those both of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and of the ones assembled regionally for the purpose of setting forth such edicts, and of those of our holy Fathers.” Thus by the seal of these three Ecumenical Councils, the 4th, 6th and 7th, we can set forth the contents of Holy Scripture, as in the table below.
Because the six scripture source lists vary in book order and content, it was necessary to either choose a precedence in order to compare and integrate them, or choose some other approach. After considering various options, for the purposes herein, it was decided that the order presented in Codex Alexandrinus would be used. This manuscript is thought to date from the late 4th or early 5th century. (Codex Alexandrinus contains the "Epistle of Athanasius on the Psalms to Marcellinus," and so it cannot be dated earlier than A.D. 373, the year he died (terminus post quem). Furthermore, since the manuscript does not contain textual apparatus found in later manuscripts—such as the prefaces or chapter divisions in the Acts and Epistles which are attributed to Euthalius, Bishop of Sulci—it is likely to have been produced before the last half of the fifth century (terminus ad quem).) Of all the ancient Bible texts (cf. Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), it is the most complete in terms of both the Old Testament (LXX or Septuagint) and New Testament books.

Given this Bible Canon list, it is also a fair question to ask "what resources (e.g., printed Bibles) are available for the Orthodox who are only proficient at reading English?"

Iesous son of Naveyesyesyesyesyesyes
Routhyesyesnot listedyesyesyes
1st Basileionyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Basileionyesyesyesyesimpliedyes
3rd Basileionyesyesyesyesimpliedyes
4th Basileionyesyesyesyesimpliedyes
1st Paralipomenonyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Paralipomenonyesyesyesyesyesyes
Epistle of Ieremiasimpliedyesimpliedyesimpliedimplied
Estheryesyesyesprescribednot listedyes
Tobitnot listednot listedyesprescribednot listednot listed
Ioudithnot listednot listedyesprescribednot listednot listed
1st Esdrasyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Esdrasyesyesyesyesimpliedyes
1st Maccabeesyesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
2nd Maccabeesyesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
3rd Maccabeesyesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
4th Maccabeesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
Song of Songsyesyesyesyesyesyes
Wisdomnot listednot listedyesprescribednot listednot listed
Sirachpermissiblenot listednot listedprescribednot listednot listed
1st Peteryesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Peteryesyesyesyesyesyes
1st Johnyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Johnyesyesyesyesyesyes
3rd Johnyesyesyesyesyesyes
1st Corinthiansyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Corinthiansyesyesyesyesyesyes
1st Thessaloniansyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Thessaloniansyesyesyesyesyesyes
1st Timothyyesyesyesyesyesyes
2nd Timothyyesyesyesyesyesyes
Apocalypsenot listednot listedyesyesnot listedsome approve
1st Clementyesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
2nd Clementyesnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed
Psalms of Solomonnot listednot listednot listednot listednot listednot listed

1. "yes" means that the book was obviously referred to, even if not explicitly (i.e., a reference to the 14 epistles of St. Paul is understood as referring to the 14 epistles commonly accepted as being his, and not some mix of 14 others otherwise unknown or defined).

2. "implied" means that it has been interpreted that the author was using a collective title otherwise understood to include the works in a certain category (e.g., when St. Gregory refers to the "Acts of the Kings" under two books he is referring to 1, 2, 3, and 4 Basileion as explicitly evidenced in other authors, or when the prophet Ieremias (Jeremias) is referred to evidence suggests that this is inclusive of all his works).

3. "permissible" refers to the end of the Old Testament list of books in Apostolic Canon LXXXV where it states: "outside of these it is permissible for you to recount in addition thereto also the Wisdom of very learned Sirach by way of teaching your younger folks." This suggests that Sirach may be a different class of book from the rest of those called "venerable and sacred," but not explicitly so. Cf. note 8 below.

4. "prescribed" refers to the following statement of St. Athanasios made near the end of his Scripture list: "Nevertheless, for the sake of greater exactness, I add also this, writing as I do the fact as a matter of necessity, that there are also other books than these outside of the list herein given, which, though not canonically sanctioned, are to be found formally prescribed by the Fathers to be read to those who have just joined and are willing to be catechized with respect to the word of piety, namely: the Wisdom of Solomon; the Wisdom of Sirach; and Esther, and Judith, and Tobias; and the so-called Didache (i.e., salutary teaching) of the Apostles, and the Shepherd."

5. "some approve" is a pointer to the statement made by St. Amphilochios that "As for the Book of Revelation of John again, Some approve it, but at least a majority call it spurious." Yet note that this statement is followed by “This should be a most truthful canon of the God-inspired Scriptures,” suggesting that he accepts the book. It might also be noted that St. Gregory eventually came to think of the Apocalypse with some regard, for "in the constituent address which he made to the one hundred and fifty bishops composing the Second Ecumenical Council he expressly mentioned it, saying 'For I am persuaded that other ones (i.e., angels) supervise other churches, as John teaches me in Revelation.'" (Rudder, p. 153)

6. Although the table index from Codex Alexandrinus presented above uses the word "Psalms," the codex actually contains a Psalter. Interestingly, two of the canon lists also make reference to a "Psalter" and not just "Psalms" (the Apostles and Carthage).

7. Codex Alexandrinus aligns up surprisingly well against the composite list provided above; only 4 Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon are outside of the canonical scripture lists. However, this is not quite the whole story. The Apostles canon includes "the Injunctions addressed to you Bishops through me, Clement, in eight books, which ought not to be divulged to all on account of the secret matters they contain." To this could be added two of the "prescribed" books of St. Athanasios: "the so-called Didache (i.e., salutary teaching) of the Apostles, and the Shepherd." However, "As for the Injuctions of the Apostles, which are also called the Didache of the Apostles by St. Athanasius the Great, they were rejected by c. II of the 6th Ecumenical Council, on the ground that they had been garbled by heretics." (Rudder, p. 153) So while we might wonder why Codex Alexandrinus did not contain the Injunctions(e.g., was it already recognized that it had "been interpolated long ago by the heterodox" and so not included?), it is not important for purposes herein. In terms of the Shepherd, "this was a book which has not been preserved to our times." (Ibid.) There is extant a Shepherd of Hermas, or The Shepherd, from Codex Sinaiticus; however, it is not at all clear that this is one and the same document. The one referred to by St. Athanasius is apparently in some way related to a discouse by John of Climax, and is referred to by St. Maximus in his scholia on divine Dionysius. (Ibid.) The Rudder here also makes mention that this Shepherd is the work of Quartus, one of the seventy Apostles, and not Hermas as the title and the Muratorian fragment (2nd c. AD) give credit to. Until such confusion is sorted out (if it be possible), it is best to continue to consider that this book "has not been preserved" (the Shepherd of Hermasincludes heretical ideas such as those related to adoptionism).

8. The order of the New Testament books of the Evangleistarion and Praxapostolos as found in the Codex Alexandrinus follows that presented by St. Athanasios. It also follows that of Laodicea, with the exception of the addition of the Apocalypse. It does not, however, preferentially follow the order of books in the Old Testament of any of these references (basically, all of the Prophets have been shifted to follow after the historical books.

9. NONE of the books identified as Scripture by any of the six witnesses presented above (even if just "prescribed" or "permissible" like Sirach) should be identified as Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical as the Protestants or Latins are wont to do. Consider the words of St. Athanasios: "And yet, dear readers, both with those canonically sanctioned and these recommended to be read, there is no mention of the Apocrypha; but, on the contrary, the latter are an invention of heretics who were writing them as they pleased, assigning and adding to them dates and years, in order that, by offering them as ancient documents, they might have a pretext for deceiving honest persons as a consequence thereof." Yes, there are Apocryphal writings, and while they may include 4 Maccabees and the 18 Psalms of Solomon as found in Codex Alexandrinus, they do not include any of the other books found in the table above.

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