Religious Icon of John the Baptist: Types and Symbolism
On January 19, the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The key role in this event was played by John the Baptist (or John the Forerunner), the closest predecessor of Jesus Christ, who announced the coming of the Messiah. The saint was also Christ’s relative on the mother’s side. He was the one who baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River. The icon of John the Baptist is a highly revered religious relic in the Orthodox world. Learn about the different types of the saint’s iconography and its symbolic details.
John the Forerunner, Baptist of the Lord
Saint John the Baptist was the last of the prophets who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. Jesus Christ said, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” For this reason, the Orthodox Church honors him more than any other saint after the Virgin Mary. He is called the Forerunner because he came preaching before the Savior, and the Baptist because he baptized Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan. Saint John was beheaded due to the slander of the Jewish princess Herodias and her daughter Salome. The Church established the day of the Beheading of John the Baptist as September 11.
Icon of John the Baptist
The traditional icon of John the Baptist depicts him half-length, holding an unfolded scroll and a cup with the Christ Child in his left hand. The cup symbolizes his prophetic words about the Messiah. The saint is depicted with long shoulder-length hair and a beard. He is dressed in a red chiton and a green himation.
The icons of the “Beheading” are also significant. They show the scene of the martyrdom of John the Baptist who was beheaded by order of Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. The center of the composition depicts John the Baptist leaning over the cave where his head lies on a triangular platter. The face of John before the execution shows suffering and tension. Besides, iconographers often depict the moment preceding the beheading and the outcome of the execution.
The icon of the Baptism of the Lord also displays the figure of John the Baptist. For example, in the icon of Andrei Rublev, the saint stands to the left of Christ and pours out water on Him.
The icon of John the Baptist would make a great gift for every Orthodox believer who wants to strengthen their faith or heal their mental and physical ailments.