Christ’s Holy Forefathers – the Old Testament Saints

Icon of Old Testament Saints

Icon of the Holy Forefathers of Christ

In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, the Church remembers the “Holy Forefathers” of Jesus Christ; in other words, the Old Testament Saints who preceded Christ in the flesh, prophesised His coming, or prefigured Him. In iconography, the Old Testament Saints can appear by themselves, in scenes from their lives, or – like here – in anachronistic compositions.

In the left bottom corner is Adam, the original forefather of Jesus’ humanity, and all of us. He gestures to the figure in the bottom centre, the Patriarch Abraham, holding a child symbolizing the promise made to him – that even as an old man his progeny would be numbered as the “stars in the sky” and “the grains of sand on the seashore”. To confirm the fulfilment of this prophecy, the child himself gestures to his left, where Abraham’s grandson Jacob stands holding a cloth containing his twelve sons: the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Flanking Abraham is Enoch and Isaac, hands raised in a sign of humility.

Along the top, from left to right, stands the prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist King David, the Prophet Daniel amid the Three Holy Youths, Aaron the Levite, and Joshua. Being well-known for their prayerful attitude and faithfulness to the Torah, the Three Holy Youths, Daniel, and Aaron all wear kippahs topped with phylacteries. Below Aaron is his brother Moses, also wearing kippah and phylactery.

On the left wearing a crown of authority is the last of the Hebrew judges, Samuel. Besides his name being inscribed in his halo, Samuel is easily recognized by the golden horn he holds, used to anoint the first two kings of the nation of Israel: Saul and David.

Below Samuel is Jeremiah, holding a scroll of his own prophecy, as is the Prophet Zechariah on the far right or Jeremiah. Zechariah is also holding the seven-branched Menorah, a common liturgical ornament of the Temple, which this prophet helped to rebuild.

To the right of Zechariah is Righteous Noah, considered a prefiguration of Christ, and holding the Ark of Salvation, a prefiguration of the Mother of God, who held within her our Salvation. To the left of Jeremiah is a prefiguration of John the Baptist: the Prophet Elijah (or Elias in greek). Like the Saint who came after him, Elijah is recognizable by the coat of animal hair which he wears. Another example of an icon of Elijah is here

Flanked by a prefiguration of John the Baptist and the Theotokos on either side, the figure in the centre can only be an Old Testament prefiguration of Jesus Christ. That figure is the “Royal Priest”, the King of Salem, the person who came distributing bread and wine, and the person to whom Abraham, the Patriarch of the Hebrews gave tithes: Melchizedek

This entry was posted in History, Iconography, The Saints and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Christ’s Holy Forefathers – the Old Testament Saints

  1. Poppy says:

    This is one of my favs. i love the composition. i love the depth in it and that even if all them people are dead there still part of the family its like looking at a family history picture of a tonne of relitives that have gone before you. Or some giant game of tap that spreads across thousands of years linking everyone together. I love it!!

  2. iconreader says:

    Absolutely! That is why Icons are venerated in churches… because they are pictures of our family, and no one would treat a picture of their loved-one badly.

  3. cj says:

    who are the 2 figures between Samuel and Moses??

    • iconreader says:

      Hello cj,
      Even reading the names in the halos, the Greek doesn’t seem to make much sense. The names seem to transliterate as Iszseima on the left and Eliolios on the right. It could be that they are unusual spellings of Ezekiel and Elisha but these are purely guesses based on a combination of elimination and which Old Testament saints are most commonly depicted in Icons.

      Anyone reading who can correct me is welcome to do so.

  4. Pingback: Förfädernas söndag « Kristi Uppståndelses Ortodoxa församling

  5. Marian says:

    Where might one be able to purchase this particular icon?

  6. Pingback: Christ IS Risen! | NC Links

  7. Hello, hope all is well with you IconReader!

    Being well-known for their prayerful attitude and faithfulness to the Torah, the Three Holy Youths, Daniel, and Aaron all wear kippahs topped with phylacteries. Below Aaron is his brother Moses, also wearing kippah and phylactery.

    As far as I can tell, these things are actually Pharisaic inventions (like their spurious oral torah)…

    The ancient Israelites depicted above therefore would never have worn these things because there there was no such practice in their time (not before the first century BC for phylacteries and the second century AD for kippot).

    So it seems that depicting them in an icon in this manner is ahistorical at best. What do you think?

  8. Pingback: Icons of the Bosom of Abraham | A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons

  9. Pingback: Curt Dispute to the Protestant Approach to Scripture – Brent Contra Mundum

  10. Despina Lachanaris says:

    Dear Iconreader, thank you very much for your website! It is an invaluable resource for both our Sunday School and in our website, Orthodox Pebbles. I noticed that the link for Prophet Elias’ icon is broken: Could you please investigate?
    Thanks again and may God bless you to keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s