The Unburnt Bush Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos

The Unburnt Bush Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos

The Unburnt Bush icon has been known since the early centuries of Christianity. The icon comes in a variety of versions, making it one of the most complex allegorical images. Moreover, since it has references to both the Old and the New Testaments, this icon is often referred to as the painted Bible. So, what are the history and symbolism behind this amazing image? 

The biblical story of the Unburnt Bush

The Old Testament tells the story of the Prophet Moses who came to Mount Sinai following God’s voice and saw a bush that “was burning, yet it was not consumed” – the miracle that would be later called the Unburnt Bush. Suddenly, the Lord Himself emerged out of the flame to guide Moses on how to set the Israelites free from Egyptian slavery. The main value of this event for all mankind was receiving the Ten Commandments that are being used by Orthodox Christians to this day.

The complex composition of the Unburnt Bush icon

People started painting icons of the Mother of God of the Unburnt Bush during the first centuries of the Christian era. The image of the Theotokos holding her divine Son was commonly placed inside the burning bush. Moses was often depicted in the icon aside, taking off his sandals because of the holy place around the bush.

Later, in the 16th century, a rather complex symbolic and allegorical image was formed. The Mother of God with the baby was encircled by an eight-pointed star in green and red colors, which represents the bush and the flame embracing it. In the Unburnt Bush icon, the Theotokos is depicted with several symbols: she holds a house representing the earthly Church and a ladder leaning against her shoulder, which means it was through the Holy Virgin that the Son of God came to our land. The Unburnt Bush icon also features angels, archangels, and images of the visions of the prophets. 

The Unburnt Bush as a prototype of Virgin Mary

According to Orthodox theology, the Unburnt Bush on Mount Sinai is a prototype of the Most Holy Theotokos. This miraculous event is considered as a prefiguring of the virgin birth of Christ. Throughout her earthly life, God’s Mother lived in divine purity. She received the Holy Spirit in her and remained untouched by the fire that burned the sinners.

We hope you enjoyed this story telling about one of the most revered and complex Orthodox icons. Do not miss our new blog posts about other religious icons!