otechestvo

Icons of God the Father?

IconsA friend asked: “This is an image of iconography of a church in Greece. It’s beautiful but there’s an icon of the Father. I thought icons of the Father were forbidden? What’s the Orthodox perspective?”

As far as I can tell there isn’t an ecumenical canon against it.

The 1667 local Church council in Moscow banned the “Fatherhood” (Otechestvo) icon of the Trinity, stating:

To paint icons of the Lord Sabaoth (that is the Father) with a white beard holding the only-begotten Son in his lap with a dove between them is altogether absurd and improper, for no one has seen the father in his divinity. Indeed, the Father has no flesh, and it is not in the flesh that the son was born of the Father before all ages.

Howver: (1) The Prophet Daniel did see the Father as the Ancient of Days in his vision (Dan 7:9) of the Ascension of Christ, quite distinct from the Son of Man (7:13-14) who ascends to receive his kingdom; and we do in fact depict the Holy Spirit as a dove in certain contexts based on St John’s vision (John 1:32), though that divine Person has also never become incarnate, much less as a bird. And (2) the use of the “Fatherhood” icon was common both before the 1667 council and after, suggesting that even hierarchs of Moscow did not consider this canon worth teaching and enforcing.

See The puzzle of the ‘Paternity’ Trinity image in Russia – (PDF is downloadable after annoying signup process.)

Paternity Icon
Russian Icon of God the Father with the Son and the Spirit, 1680s.
Note that God the Father, the Ancient of Days, is not commonly pictured in icons apart from the Son of Man, because the one time he is visibly encountered in scripture is in Daniel’s vision; just as the Holy Spirit is not commonly represented as a dove in icons other than the Theophany, since again this was one specific vision in the context of Christ’s baptism.

And of course it’s also true that people do things the canons say they ought not to do. This a thing that happens.

A note from personal experience: There’s an icon of the Trinity (White-bearded Father, Christ the Son, and a dove for the Holy Spirit) in the main church at Jordanville; and it’s been twenty years but I remember seeing one in the catholicon at St Anthony’s in Arizona. I’m not the abbot of either holy monastery, so I do my best to simply pray and keep my peace.

Fr Silouan Thompson

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