Objects Held by Saints in Religious Icons and Their Meaning
Eastern Orthodox iconography with all its styles of painting and depicted themes is a very beautiful and memorable way of communicating the faith. Moreover, it is also full of sacred symbolism you may not have noticed before. However, if you are going to buy religious icons for your home or art collection, you should know at least about some of them. Just take a closer look at the icons of saints, and you will see that most saints are holding some objects in their hands. These objects can actually help you recognize the depicted figures, as well as tell you much about their lives and death. So let’s make a list of the most important objects held by saints in Orthodox Christian icons!
Saints murdered for confessing faith in Jesus Christ are usually depicted in religious icons with a cross. Therefore, this object that has become a symbol of Christianity is intended to indicate a Holy Martyr. Moreover, in remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and death, such Orthodox icons of saints also symbolize the sacrifice of life for others.
The Gospel Book is shown in religious icons as the main tool of sainted bishops who use it for proclaiming the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Thus, this object is usually depicted in the hands of Holy Apostles, especially Paul, who taught Christ’s Gospel to the faithful in the first century.
The scroll depicted in Eastern Orthodox icons of saints means that these holy persons were known not only for imparting divine knowledge to others but also for percipience and prophecy. This object is actually intended to indicate the wisdom given from God. Therefore, if you see the scroll in the religious icon, most likely the depicted person is one of the Apostles or the Old Testament prophet.
Weapons in holy icons (for example, swords, shields, or lances) mean that the depicted person is most likely a soldier-martyr murdered because of his conversion to Christianity. Furthermore, these saints, who are also called “soldiers for Christ,” can even be garbed in full armor, which makes them easily recognizable among others. By the way, in addition to weapons, soldier-martyrs depicted in religious icons usually hold a сross in their hands as a symbol of their sacrifice.
The crosier in the Orthodox Christianity icons tells us that the depicted figure is a shepherd or pastor of God’s flock. Although this object usually indicates a bishop, abbot, or abbess, it can also be shown in the hands of those, whose spiritual authority is not in doubt (for example, Saint Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg). It’s interesting that the crosier depicted in Eastern Orthodox icons usually has the same shape as the Greek letter Tau, thereby symbolizing resurrection and life.
These are the main objects held by saints in religious icons. However, except for the mentioned above, holy figures can also be depicted with some other objects, like a small church building that indicates saints remembered for the “church-building.” Thus, each object has its own meaning in Eastern Orthodox iconography; so if you are not sure in what exactly is depicted in the religious icon you want to buy, it’s better to ask professionals for help!