The Archangel Gabriel Icon: Iconography & Meaning
The Holy Archangel Gabriel, who is also known as the “Christmas Angel,” is the angel of Announcement, acting as a messenger of God. Along with the Archangel Michael, he is an important figure in heaven, who plays a significant role in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and some other faiths. It is no wonder that the Archangel Gabriel icon is highly venerated in Russia and throughout the world.
The Archangel Gabriel icon
There are several variations of the Archangel Gabriel icon, but two of them are the most popular. The first variation is the icon of the Annunciation, which depicts the Archangel Gabriel bringing the good news to the Virgin Mary who has been chosen to become the Mother of God. This important for the Christian world story is described in the Gospel of Luke, along with another one telling that the Archangel Gabriel also appeared to Zechariah, announcing the birth of John the Baptist. Besides, it is believed that God sent Gabriel to Joachim and Anna to announce the birth of the Theotokos.
The second popular variation of the Archangel Gabriel icon depicts the angel along. It should be noted that since the angels are incorporeal beings able to take on any human form, it can be quite difficult to differentiate one from another in the religious icons. However, there are still several characteristics that help distinguish the Archangel Gabriel from other angels.
The Archangel Gabriel iconography
In most Eastern Orthodox icons, the Archangel Gabriel is depicted wearing white or blue garments. He usually holds a spear in his right hand and sometimes a mirror in his left hand. This mirror is made of jasper and bears the letter X on it, which stands for Christ. In Orthodox icons, the Archangel Gabriel can also be depicted holding a shining lantern, a trumpet, a lily that represents the Theotokos, or a palm branch from Paradise, which signals the Virgin Mary’s victory over death.
These details can help distinguish the Archangel Gabriel from other angels and the Archangel Michael in particular, who is usually depicted as a warrior in red garments, with a sword and a shield in his hands. Thus, while Michael is the leader of all angels and the guardian of the Church, whose mission is to defend God’s People, Gabriel serves as a messenger chosen by God to announce salvation to humankind. He is an angel of clarity, purity, and joy, and this is exactly what is depicted in the Archangel Gabriel icon.