The Ladder of Divine Ascent icon

A Short Guide to Famous Religious Icons

If you are not a Christian believer, then it may be quite difficult for you to interpret the figures and the events recurring in Eastern Orthodox iconography. This is especially true when it comes to the Biblical apocrypha and its influence on the religious icon art. While not being recognized as canonical, the apocryphal literature is still a base for many Orthodox Church icons, including those depicting the Resurrection of Christ, the Annunciation, the Dormition, and the Birth of the Mother of God. Therefore, to help you choose the right items for your collection, we have prepared a short guide to some of the most famous religious icons depicting scenes and events from both, the Bible and the apocrypha.

The Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Christ, also known as The Harrowing of Hades, is not only one of the most famous religious icons but also one of the most cherished and celebrated Eastern Orthodox icons of Jesus Christ. The fact is that this religious icon is not content with simply depicting the Risen Lord trampling the doors of Hades – it also shows us resurrecting Adam and Eve, John the Baptist, and several of the Old Testament saints. It should be noted that the figures of saints vary from icon to icon, but one thing remains constant – any variation of this amazing icon of Christ symbolizes God’s complete victory that redeems all humanity.

The Annunciation 

The Annunciation is a hand-painted icon of bright colors that depicts the Archangel Gabriel announcing the ever-virgin Mary that she has been chosen to be the Mother of God. There are also several variations of this Orthodox icon, each with details that come from the Apocryphal book of James. Moreover, modern religious icons of the Annunciation additionally include lots of architectural and domestic elements.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent 

This religious icon represents theological teachings of John of the Ladder, a 7th-century monk, also known as John Climacus. It shows men of differing ages, usually monks, ascending the ladder towards Jesus Christ in Heaven. The ladder usually has 30 rungs, each with its own meaning, from “forsaking the world” to “love.” Besides, this Orthodox icon also depicts angels and saints ready to receive those on the ladder when they reach Heaven, as well as demons attacking people at various stages of ascent in order to make them fall. Please do not confuse the Ladder of Divine Ascent with the Jacob’s Ladder depicting angels on a ladder trying to wake the sleeping Jacob.

The Last Judgment 

The Last Judgment is also one of the most famous religious icons existing in several variations due to its complex nature of the composition. However, the main idea of each of them is the Lord’s final judgment of all humanity. This Orthodox icon depicts Jesus Christ seating on a central throne, with Adam and Eve at His feet, the Mother of God, John the Baptist, angels, and twelve apostles with open books. Judas and Satan are usually showed in the lower part of the image representing Hell.

These are only a few of the famous religious icons with complex scenes from both, the Bible and the apocryphal literature. Stay with us to learn more!