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Christ's Baptism-Holy Theophany

Here I will discuss some interesting symbolism present in an unusual icon of Christ's Baptism. This icon was found on the St. Athanasius weekly bulletin in 2009 and has raised the interest of my Catechetical school students (as well as teachers) for its depiction of two unusual figures at the bottom of the icon. After doing a bit of research I thought I would share my findings here, since I was not able to find much information on this icon in English. I have assembled the information below from various web sites in Greek.

 Icon of Christ's Baptism

 
 For a full description of the important elements and symbolism in this icon, I direct you to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese site.

Furthermore, this particular icon contains the depiction of two unusual figures at the bottom,  an old man and what appears to be a woman in a red cape. These figures are riding two 'monstrous fish'.

Very few people have seen this particular icon, and no one I was able to consult with knew the meaning and symbolism of these figures. My 5th grade Catechetical Sunday school students thought that these figures appeared to be fleeing away from the central figure of Christ. (as you'll see below they were correct!)

Let's find out then who are these figures, and why they appear to be turning away?
 
 
 

 

The following explanations were found on this site


Μέσα στον Ιορδάνη, γύρω από το σώμα του Κυρίου, κολυμπούν ψάρια. Κάτω ξεχωρίζουν μια γυναίκα κι ένας γέρος να κάθονται πάνω σε θεριόψαρα. Η γυναίκα συμβολίζει τη θάλασσα κι ο γέροντας τον Ιορδάνη ποταμό. Ο γέροντας κρατά στα χέρια του μία υδρία από την οποία τρέχει νερό.


In the Jordan river, below the Lord's body, fish are swimming. Below can be seen a woman and an old man riding monstrous fish. The woman symbolizes the (Dead) sea and the old man the Jordan river. The old man typically (although not in this icon) holds a jug spouting water.

 

 Αυτά τα πρόσωπα ζωγραφίζονται με βάση τον ψαλμικό στίχο « θάλασσα εἶδεν καὶ ἔφυγεν Ἰορδάνης ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω». (Ψαλμ. ριγ΄ 3).


These persons are depicted based on the 3rd verse of Psalm 113 "The sea saw them and fled, The Jordan turned back". (Psalm 113, 3)


 

Ο άγιος Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος βλέπει μια βαθιά αλληγορία στη στροφή του  Ιορδάνη προς τα οπίσω. Ο ποταμός πηγάζει από δύο πηγές, τη μια που ονομάζεται Ιόρ και την άλλη που λέγεται Δαν. Από την συνένωση των δύο ποταμών προκύπτει ο Ιορδάνης που χύνεται στην Νέκρα θάλασσα. Έτσι και το ανθρώπινο γένος  προήλθε από τους προπάτορες, τον Αδάμ και την Εύα. Μετά την αποστασία το ανθρώπινο γένος πορευόταν στην αμαρτία και τον πνευματικό θάνατο, που αλληγορούνται με τη Νεκρά θάλασσαΟ Σωτήρας Χριστός με τη Ενανθρώπησή του ελευθέρωσε την ανθρώπινη φύση από την υποδούλωση στη φθορά και στο θάνατο με αποτέλεσμα ακόμη και ο Ιορδάνης ποταμός να θέλει να στραφεί προς τα πίσω, και να μη θέλει να νεκρωθεί

 
St. John Chrysostom sees a deep symbolism on Jordan's turning back.

The Jordan river originates from two springs, one named 'Jor' and the other 'Dan'. From these two sources Jordan is formed and then flows into the Dead Sea. Similarly, the human race originated from the ancestors Adam and Eve. After the fall, the human race was destined for sin and spiritual death, symbolized by the Dead Sea.

Christ The Savior with his incarnation freed humankind from the slavery of decay and death. As a result, even the Jordan river wants to turn back and avoid death.

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