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Reading Icons 2: Colors, Posture, Gesture (Pencils & Prayer Ropes)


Hello my siblings in Christ, I’m Bojan and welcome to
the next episode of our series nominated for Academy Awards in the category of Byzantine
iconography. Let us begin with colors. As you can imagine, colors play an important
role in iconography, with many of them having a symbolic meaning. However, care should be taken not to read
too much into colors, because, on occasion, they weren’t picked for their symbology,
but for their price and/or availability. And sometimes, a plant is green because it’s
green. Gold is used to indicate God’s glory, the
neverending day of His Kingdom. Generally, icons have their backgrounds done
in gold, to symbolize that God is present everywhere and fills all things. Color yellow is often used instead of gold
due to its lower price, and has the same symbolic meaning as gold. White is the color of light and purity. On icons, white is used to designate Christ
after His life-giving Resurrection, meaning that death has no more dominion over Him. The color is often used for the robes of angels
to further emphasize their goodness and bodiless nature. Red has a dual meanings in iconography. Red vestments on Christ symbolize His divinity,
and on the Theotokos they symbolize that She was made a participant of the divine nature
of God. On other saints, red is a color of blood,
and is used to designate martyrs – martyrs will often wear a red cloak. Blue is the color of heavens, and backgrounds
that do not utilize gold or yellow will frequently have blue color. It is also a color of humanity, and that is
why it is used on the icons of Christ and the Theotokos. For Christ, it indicates that He took our
human nature; for the Theotokos, it means that She is human by nature. Purple is a color of royalty, due to its beauty,
scarcity and price. While the meaning has been mostly lost in
modern times, obtainig purple in ages past not only involved huge monetary transactions,
but also a considerable risk to life. Eearly icons of Christ often depict Him vested
in purple, to show Him as the King of Kings. Green is the color of the Holy Sprit, the
Giver of Life. Green vestments are usually used to mark Old
Testament prophets, because we believe that the Holy Spirit truly spoke through prophets,
not some other lesser Gnositc deity. Brown is the color of earth, of our fallen
nature. It is a color of transience, a mark that we’re
but dust. It is primarily used for clothing of monks,
as a symbol of them leaving behind pleasures of this life to gain the glory of the next. Early icons of the Theotokos will often have
Her in brown to show that She, even with the glorius title of the Most Holy Mother of God
is still a human. Or the icon painter simply didn’t have money
for blue and red. Or blue and red simply weren’t available. Or blue and red grew dark over time, thanks
to candles and incense. Black is a color of death, darkness and evil. Black is used to indicate demons, tombs and
hell. It is never used on people, and even the biggest
of villains in world’s history are not drawn with that color, for the doors of repentance
are open to all, and we cannot know the ultimate fate of anyone until the Last Judgement. Gray is a color that is never used in iconography. It is a mixture of white and black, and in
the same way light has nothing to do with darkness, or Christ with Belzebub, so gray
isn’t used and should not be used. If you see gray on an icon, it is in all probability
a modern icon by an uneducated or rebelious iconographer. Or white simply grew tarnished over time. Whew, we’ve dealt with color! Now, let us move on to posture and gesture. Generally, people on icons are shown standing,
because that is a traditional Christian stance for prayer. Yes, it’s cute to kneel with your hands
folded, but that ain’t how it be used to be done. Furthermore, figures on icons are showin in
contrapostto, meaning that their entire weight is placed on one foot. This is done to give figures a more dynamic
look, to show that we’re praying to living people, not museum pieces. If space is limited, a bust can be used, and
on occasion, you will see only faces on an icon. An icon will at the very least contain a face. Icons that show Christ and saints seated are
called ‘enthroned’, a way of calling attention to the authority they have. Moving on to gestures. Hands express a lot in the Orthodox icons. First, let us start with the most important
gesutre of them all – the blessing. The hand is placed in such a way that the
fingers spell out letters IC XC, an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ’ in Greek. This hand gesture is used by Christ, Angels,
Prophets, Apostles, bishops and priests, but on older icons you may find it with other
people as it was the way people crossed themselves, for example, on icons of St. Longinus. Hands crossed over the chest is a symbol of
humility and prayer. Hands extended is a typical ‘orans’ prayer
position. On icons with a more narrow format this position
is often abriged to palms being open towards the beholder – this is also an ancient gesture
of giving a sign that the person is listening. Listening – to you! Pointing gesture is used on a number of icons. Prophets will sometimes be depicted with pointing
their index finger towards heavens. The Mother of God usually points to Christ
with her open palm. In fact, one of the most popular icons of
the Mother of God is called ‘Hodegetria’, ‘She Who Points the Way,’ and it is named for
this gesture, the Way being Christ Himself. Well, that’s it for this video! Hoped you liked it, and if not, I have no
idea why you kept watching until this point. In any case, you know the drill, like, comment,
subscribe, click the bell notification button, follow, send friend request, pledge, donate,
venerate but not worship. Bye!

36 Replies to “Reading Icons 2: Colors, Posture, Gesture (Pencils & Prayer Ropes)”

  • First, pray for Kristin who is recovering from cancer surgery
    Second, join M and me in ~4 hours as we rant about our pet peeves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7a6FYkzBO0

  • Hey Bojan!

    I really like what you are doing! The metaphors and jokes you use in your drawings are really so spot on, and it's always thought provoking for me, and you seem like a good person. Every time you put out a video I'm excited to check it out!

    I'm in the process of becoming Christian I think. It's like every day there is something mind-blowing I'm learning about how it all fits together.

    Have you seen Jonathan Pageau's videos here on youtube? He's an orthodox icon carver based in Canada, and he has a channel called The Symbolic World. If you're both interested, maybe you could record a conversation with him about icons and symbolism. I would love to watch that!

    Keep up the good work, man!

  • Hey Bojan, Is a Q&A still coming up in the future? I don't mind if you don't do them anymore just wanted to know.

  • Waow excellent video I learned a lot of my Orthodox Faith, long live Orthodoxy from a former Roman Catholic now Orthodox Catholic Christian.

  • I love drawing icons and I wanna learn what colors on icons mean… Yes I draw icons and I have a specific notebook for drawing Icons

  • Thank you for explaining the colors and especially hand positions in Icons, Icons which are so important to our faith.
    Thank you for Song of Song; ironically I was born in May, the flower Lily is for my month.
    May the Lord grant you many years

  • In one of your videos you made a comment that pianos or maybe organs are not supposed to be in church. I was wondering if you could please say why or explain in more detail? A video on Orthodox hymns would be great. ☦️

  • Hey Bojan! Thank you for all of your videos, they are wonderful and I love them! I am Catholic and participate in both the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Ukrainian Greek) rites in my local city. I have a question that isn’t related to the video but I know you read your comments so I was hoping you could help me! I cannot speak either Serbian or Church Slavonic. I love the music of Divna Ljubojevic. She put out a new album in 2019 that is the Divine Liturgy. I was wondering if you would be able to tell me if it is in Serbian or Church Slavonic. It is so beautiful! Thank you so much Bojan. My prayers are with Kristin, may God have mercy upon her and the Most Holy Theotokos hide her and nurture her under her mantle!

  • LOVED it. No kidding. I was wondering what was up with that blessing hand position and why so many were depicted doing it. Thanks! God bless you.

  • "Hoped you liked it. And if not, I have no idea why you kept watching until this point." Lol! You are hilarious! Great video!

  • On black, some Ottoman-era Greek bishops are indeed wearing the black klobok on their head in their icons such as St. Mark of Ephesus and, of course, St. Nectarius of Aegina.

  • I swear I had enough time to hear the word “beholder,” picture a beholder in my mind, and then see your drawing of the beholder, all sequentially 😄

  • What about icons with people wearing black or gray robes and vestments. Is it the same with plants are green because they're green?

  • Hi bojan, I don’t know if this is the right place to ask, but how do orthodox Christians reconcile some of the conflicting accounts of the life of Christ in the canonical gospels? I’m currently in a religion class in college and our textbook explains that some of the details of Christ’s don’t line up between the gospels. For the record, I’m orthodox Christian, so if this question is best answered by a priest, I’d be more than happy to ask my parish priest

  • So I have a canonical Russian icon of the Romanov Family the Imperial Passion Bearers and the daughters are wearing white which makes sense to denote purity/innocence and the Tsar the the Tsarevitch are wearing red and gold which makes sense for martyrs, but the Tsarina is wearing black. What do you think that that would represent in this circumstance? Or is it likely just a mistake on the part of the copyist? Thank you and God bless!

  • I love (but do not worship) your videos. This was very educational. My wife is Orthodox, while I am protestant. I love learning about Orthodoxy.

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