Saint Michael in Russian icons

The Image of the Archangel Michael in Russian Icons

In the Orthodox tradition, the archangels stand for the highest angels who guard the kingdom of heaven and serve as messengers of the Lord. Saint Michael the Archangel is considered the leader of the angelic host and the patron saint of Russian princes. Religious icons of the saint are highly revered by Orthodox Christians and are often displayed in many Russian temples. In this blog post, we will discuss the image of the Archangel Michael in Russian icons.

The Archangel Michael in Russian icons: main features

The commander of the Heavenly Hosts

Most commonly, the Archangel Michael in Russian icons appears as the commander of an angelic force. He is dressed in a red vestment and holds a sword, spear, shield, or other armor. Sometimes, St. Michael is depicted not full-length, but riding a horse or propping up the devil with his feet. In his right hand, he has a flaming shield or spear with a banner; and in his left hand, he holds a green date branch.

The messenger of God

Another way of depicting the Archangel Michael is as the Lord’s servant. Russian Orthodox icons of this type do not portray him in a militant and stern manner, but rather with thoughtfulness and serenity. The Archangel is dressed in richly ornamented clothing, with no armor. He often wears a belt worn by clergymen.

Instead of a weapon, the Archangel Michael holds a staff and a mirror with the image of Christ Emmanuel as a symbol of connection with God and the Heavenly Kingdom.

A striking example is an icon of the Archangel Michael from Yaroslavl, painted in the 12th century.

The guide of the dead

St. Archangel Michael in Russian icons can also be depicted as a psychopomp, i.e., escorting the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Such icons depict the Archangel as a formidable and stern warrior, holding scales in his hands to weigh the sins and righteous deeds of men before escorting them to the Last Judgment. Sometimes, Russian icons depict the devil trying to tip one of the scales.

The Archangel Michael is one of the most revered angels not only in Christianity but also in Judaism, Islam, and some other religions. The image of the Archangel can often be seen on church iconostases, namely in the Deesis or “angelic row.”

Stay with Russian Icon Collection to learn about the religious icons of other Christian saints too.