Holy Apostles in Orthodox Icons. Part I
Orthodox Christian icons are painted to show the heavenly reality and, therefore, are often called “windows into heaven.” Along with that, famous religious icons depict persons and heroes of the faith we know and love, however, with distinct features and in a special “spiritual” way. Among these recognizable people are Holy Apostles, whose lives on earth are considered exemplary and instructive. No wonder, such hand-painted icons of saints are loved by both, Christian believers and collectors. They can be found in almost all Orthodox monasteries and churches, as well as in private religious icon collections. So let us provide you with a simple guide that will help you recognize Holy Apostles depicted in Eastern Orthodox icons!
St. Peter played an important role in the early Christian Church. Also called “Apostle of the Apostles,” he was an impulsive and fiery leader of Jesus Christ’s Twelve Apostles. St. Peter is often shown with a distinctive white beard and white curly short hair, which makes him easily recognizable in the famous religious icons. Moreover, he is usually depicted with keys and a scroll that may additionally contain words from his Epistles.
St. Paul is considered one of the most significant figures of the Apostolic Age, though he wasn’t one of the original Twelve. However, along with St. Peter, he was the leader of the Apostles, who taught Christ’s Gospel to the first-century world. St. Paul is usually depicted with a long brown beard and also brown hair. Besides, in Eastern Orthodox Church icons, he can also be shown as a balding man with a high forehead. Plus, St. Paul can be recognized by a large Gospel book he is carrying in his hands.
St. Simon is also called Simon the Zealot or Kananaios to distinguish him from Simon Peter (St. Peter). He was one of the most obscure among the Twelve Apostles. In fact, there is little information about his life, but it is believed that it was his wedding in Cana, at which Christ converted water to wine. In holy icons of saints, St. Simon is often depicted with a high forehead, gray beard, and also gray curly hair.
St. John was probably the youngest of the Twelve, who outlived the remaining Apostles. Orthodox Christianity icons of St. John are represented by two general types: the “Theologian” and the “Beloved Disciple.” The first one shows sixty-year-old John “The Theologian.” These religious icons are usually painted in the so-called “portrait” style and depict the elderly John with a high forehead and a long white beard. In most cases, he is holding the open Gospel book. In such holy icons, St. John can also be shown with an Eagle. Otherwise, if Apostle John is depicted as a brown-haired beardless sixteen-year-old boy, then you are looking at the “Beloved Disciple” Eastern Orthodox Church icons. Most of them show the Acts of the Apostles or the Biblical scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.
In this way, each Apostle has his own features that distinguish him from others. You should just read and learn more about Orthodox Christian icons of saints to recognize each of them at a glance!