Eastern Orthodox Icons of John the Baptist: Description and Symbols
In the Orthodox tradition, few saints are as loved and revered as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among them is John the Baptist, God’s beloved servant and a great prophet. Eastern Orthodox icons of John the Baptist, which are often displayed in churches, monasteries, and temples, carry unique meaning and symbolism. In this blog post, we explain the way the saint is depicted in religious icons and the meaning of certain iconographic characteristics.
Eastern Orthodox icons of John the Baptist
It is worth noting that the image of John the Baptist is considered a symbol of patience and repentance, and his life is a model for every Christian believer. There are many variations of Orthodox icons of the saint. However, we can still highlight the main characteristics of his images.
- A thin old man with a small braided beard.
- John the Baptist is often portrayed waist-length, but there are also full-length images.
- He is dressed in coarse cloth of camel’s hair and belted.
- One hand of the saint is raised in blessing, and in the other, he holds a scroll of prayer.
- Sometimes, a long cane can be seen on his shoulder, which is a reference to living in the wasteland.
- He often has large wings behind his back.
One of the most famous and revered icons of John the Baptist is “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.” It was painted around the 18th century and depicts the scene of the saint’s martyrdom, namely the beheading by Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. John the Baptist stands over a cave with his head lying on a platter.
Sometimes, Eastern Orthodox icons depict John the Baptist with a bowl in which Jesus Christ lies. The icon symbolizes all the sins and suffering of mankind, which the Lord takes upon Himself.
The symbolism of John the Baptist’s wings
In the antique Orthodox icons, John the Baptist is usually depicted with angelic wings. Why is that?
The saint is often called the “angel of the desert” or the “divine messenger,” and the Greek word evangelos (evangelist) means “messenger of good news.” In fact, this is what the archangels do as well. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Messiah and thus became a messenger of the Lord. His life was full of prayer, chastity, and righteousness, so the saint is equated with angels and is depicted in icons with large wings behind his back.
Eastern Orthodox icons of John the Baptist are highly revered by Orthodox Christians, and now you know a little bit more about them. Don’t miss our new blog posts to learn about other famous religious icons.