Meaning of Colors in Eastern Orthodox Iconography

The Nativity of Christ

Eastern Orthodox iconography is a theological art that represents a vision of the Orthodox faith expressed in images through lines, symbols, and colors. The last ones are of utmost importance as they can energize, give a certain state of mind, cheer us, and make us feel calm and safe. Moreover, every color shows us the true meaning of events depicted in the hand-painted icon. From magnificent Byzantine religious icons filled with metallic gold to more vibrant antique Russian icons, each religious icon is a perfect combination of colors that have the same substance as words.

1. Gold

Gold is reserved for Jesus Christ. No wonder, many Eastern Orthodox icons have lots of gold elements, from halos and background to pure gold leaf. This brilliant color symbolizes the divine nature and the uncreated light of God Himself. After all, there is no night in God’s kingdom, only eternal day.

2. Blue

Blue stands for heaven or the Kingdom of God that is not on this earth. Being a symbol of another everlasting world, it additionally shows the infiniteness of the sky. Besides, dark blue is also the color of the Mother of God and is usually used in the religious icon paintings to show her heavenly nature.

3. Red

Red signifies life on earth. It is a symbol of life-giving energy, love, passion, and certainly Christ’s sacrifice. Since it is the color of blood, red represents the saving nature of the resurrection. Therefore, some hand-painted icons have a red background to symbolize the true celebration of life.

4. Green

Green is the color of eternal renovation, hope, flowering, youth, and nature. In Eastern Orthodox iconography, it is usually used to denote where life begins (for example, in the scenes of the Nativity of Jesus Christ and the Annunciation).

5. White

White stands for divine light, purity, and holiness. In religious icons, white clothes usually indicate people who were honest and good in life. Besides, white is also used to depict the robes of angels, the shrouds of the dead, and the swaddling clothes of babies.

6. Black

Being a symbol of death and evil, black is usually used to depict satanic beings, demons, and the infernal abyss. However, don’t think that all monks in black robes are an embodiment of evil. In such a case, black is simply used as part of the traditional dress or a symbol for renunciation of secular pleasures.

7. Purple

Purple is the color of royalty, which was most commonly used in the Byzantine religious icons. It is intended to show the glory of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God.

It is also worth noting that the only color that is never used in Eastern Orthodox iconography is gray. Being a mixture of white and black, it has become the symbol of vagueness and emptiness. As you might have already guessed, there is no place for such a color in the radiant world of beautiful religious icons.

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