Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How do we symbolise the four Evangelists?

In the iconography of the Orthodox Church the four Evangelists are not always depicted as we know them, with their human form. On the contrary, Byzantine iconographic tradition has assigned a unique symbol to each one. However, the four symbols find their first expression in the writings of the Prophet Ezekiel, who described his famous inaugural visions:

 “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men, by each had four faces, and each of them had four wings…As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back. Such were their faces…”(Ezekiel 1:3-6, 10).
St Matthew is the winged man, because he traces the human lineage of Jesus Christ. St. Mark is the winged lion, because he starts his Gospel by describing St. John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness. St. Luke is the winged ox, because his Gospel describes the sacrifice of Christ. Finally, St. John is the winged eagle, because his Gospel seems to soar on eagles’ wings. 

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