Hetoimasia | The Throne of Preparation

Throne of Preparation, 14th Century, Decani Monastery, Serbia

Throne of Preparation, part of a Fresco of the Last Judgment (1300’s, Serbia)

The Hetoimasia (Gr. ἑτοιμασία, “preparation”), or Throne of Preparation, is one of the most widespread images in iconography, particularly in Orthodox Christianity. It very rarely dominates any composition it is part of, so the image and its significance can be overlooked. In this article, the image and its history is explored through three interpretations of what the Throne represents.
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Why do the Saints never smile in icons?

Saint Silouan the Athonite

There are over 400 occurrences of the word “joy” in the Bible, most of them referring to what awaits those who become close to God. So why do icons – portraits of people who have been received by Christ into Heaven – show the Saints looking sombre?
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An icon for Whitsun | Pentecost Mosaic of San Marco

Pentecost mosaic in church dome, 12th century

The image above is of the interior of a dome at the 9th-century St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The mosaic of gold, bronze and other precious materials dates from the 12th century and depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost.

The mosaic shows what can be achieved by using the architecture of the church building to depict Orthodox iconography without losing any of the teaching contained in the more traditional depictions.
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The Epitaphios | Burial of Christ Icon

Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century)

Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century)

The Epitaphios (Gr. Επιτάφιος) is a large icon, usually embroidered, that depicts the burial of Christ. The name, epitaphios, literally means “winding-sheet”, and is used in services of Holy (Good) Friday and Holy Saturday to re-present the burial and funeral of Christ. An expanded version of this post, with a gallery of various epitaphios images, will be added here later. In the meantime, I add one of the most well-known icons (actually a fresco) of the epitaphios thrênos; i.e. the Lamentations by the Tomb. I also include some of the hymns from Holy Saturday, which understandably contain much hope mixed with the sorrow of Christ’s passion and death.

By being covered with the dust of the earth,
You renew the nature of mortals, O Creator;
The tomb and the winding-sheet reveal your deepest mystery, O Word;
The noble counsellor renders present the counsel of your eternal Father,
Who renews me in this wondrous way through you.

Glory to You, O God, Glory to You

By your death, you transform that which is mortal;
By your burial, you transform that which is corruptible;
By your divinity, you draw us up from the abyss.
For, that which you assume, you make immortal;
Your flesh, O Master, did not undergo corruption,
And your soul did not remain in Hades where you were a stranger.

Altar cloth from the Bishop's sacristy of Yaroslav (16th Century)

Altar cloth from the Bishop’s sacristy of Yaroslav (16th Century)

The most holy Temple is destroyed,
But he raises up the fallen tabernacle;
For he who dwells in the highest heaven, the New Adam,
Goes down into Hades to raise up the first Adam.
O youths, bless the Lord;
Praise him, you priests;
And let the whole nation exalt him forever…

…O marvelous wonder!
O goodness and condescension beyond description!
He who dwells in the highest heavens
Accepts burial beneath a sealed rock;
And God himself is treated as a deceiver!
O youths, bless the Lord;
Praise him, you priests;
And let the whole nation exalt him forever.

The lamentations of the Mother of God (glass icon, Romania)

The lamentations of the Mother of God (glass icon, Romania)

I conceived you in a wondrous way, O my eternal Son,
And I was happier than all women,
For I did not suffer any pain.
But today I see you lifeless, O my God,
And a sword of sadness pierces me in a most cruel manner;
But arise, O Lord, that I may extol you…

… O Mother, the earth covers me by my own will;
But the guardians of Hades shudder to see me,
Wearing the bloody garment of punishment;
For, on the Cross, I have struck down my enemies;
I shall arise as God, and you shall be exalted…


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Icons for Holy Tuesday | Parable of the Ten Virgins

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On Holy Monday Christ’s teaching on the importance of genuine fruitfulness was emphasized. On Holy Tuesday, we are reminded of the importance of remaining watchful. This is illustrated in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13).
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Icons for Holy Monday | Christ Cursing the Fig Tree

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Palm Sunday heralds the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week: the final ascent towards Easter and the celebration of Christ’s glorious resurrection. After Sunday, the first three days of Holy Week remind us – through the liturgical prayers, scripture readings, and icons – of Christ’s final instructions before His crucifixion.

Holy Monday is given over to the remembrance of Christ’s cursing of the fig tree: a parable in action (Matt 21:18-22).

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White Angel of Serbia | The herald sent into outer-space

The White Angel (Бели анђео) of Mileševa, Serbia

The White Angel (Бели анђео) of Mileševa, Serbia

On March 26, the day after the Feast of the Ascension, the Archangel Gabriel is commemorated. One of the most famous images of the Archangel Gabriel is the White Angel (Serbian: Бели анђео or beli anđeo), which is part of a 13th century fresco in the Mileševa monastery.

Considered a beautiful example of European medieval artwork by itself, the image is particularly well-known because it was sent as a message in the first satellite broadcast signal from Europe to America after the peaceful end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, the same signal, containing the White Angel, was transmitted into outer-space in an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life forms.

The original fresco (shown below) depicts the Myrrh-bearing women discovering Christ’s empty tomb. An angel clothed in white, understood by the church to be Gabriel, points to the grave-clothes and proclaims to the frightened women the good news of: “…you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matt 28: 5-6).

The White Angel in the Mileševa monastery

The image of Gabriel sent into space may well have been transmitted to show any extraterrestrials of the civilization of mankind, and our ability to produce peaceful, serene, art. Christians will understand that the beauty of the image derives from its prototype: Gabriel the minister of God. Unwittingly, man has sent an image of the messenger of Christ’s nativity and resurrection – the two most important messages given to our civilization – into outer-space.


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