2009 - 07: The Icon of All Saints


Question: On the cover of the June Vineyard is the Icon of All Saints. Who are the people depicted in the Icon?

Answer: On the Eastern Orthodox calendar, the Sunday feast of All Saints always follows the Sunday of Pentecost and commemorates all those saints not already spoken of throughout the rest of the year. The Synaxarion of the day from Nassar’s book of “Divine Services and Prayers” puts it best:


             David the Prophet and king who revered the beloved of God and respected them because of his great piety, said, How precious are thy beloved unto me, O God (Ps. 138:17). And the divine Apostle, having recounted the deeds of the saints and reviewed their memory that they might serve as examples for us in their patience, their perseverance in persecutions, their virtues, their contempt for sin, and their turning away from worldly thing, said, Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1).


In pursuance, therefore, of the teachings of the divine Scriptures and apostolic traditions, we also, a people of piety and of true worship, honor the beloved saints of God, respecting them as keepers of God’s commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of human nature. We honor every one of the known saints on a special day of the year, as may be discovered from the list of saints (in the daily Synaxaria). But since their number has increased many-fold at various times, still increases, and will increase continually to the end of the world, and since the names of many of them have escaped us, the Church designates one day in the year on which is celebrated the memory of all the saints, which is this day, on which we piously beatify and honor all the righteous, the Prophets, the Martyrs, Confessors, Bishops, teachers, and pious ones, all those who were counted and are counted among those who spent their lives in piety and true worship, glorifying God with their deeds, whether men or women, known or unknown, and on this day we also honor the hosts of angels, and especially our Lady the ever-virgin Theotokos, putting their lives before our eyes as an example and a model of virtue, petitioning them to intercede with God for us, that his grace and his boundless mercy be with us all.


            The Icon of All Saints comes in many different depictions, so describing the particular saints in the Icon depends on which one you are looking at. However, some common elements include the following which can also be located in the cover Icon from last month: Christ in Heaven inviting the blessed saints into the heavenly kingdom (“Come ye blessed of My Father...”, Matthew 25:34); Adam and Eve preparing Christ’s Throne located below Christ; the Theotokos and St. John the Baptist located on either side of Christ; The Four Evangelists depicted by their prophetic symbols - the winged ox, eagle, man, and lion; the Bosom of Abraham located in the bottom left; the Good Thief from the crucifixion, located in the bottom center; The Patriarch Jacob who became Israel, the father of the 12 tribes/nations.


            Surrounding Christ are various groupings of the saints. These groupings include but are not limited to: Apostles, Prophets, Men and Women Martyrs, Hierarchs, Righteous Fathers and Righteous Women, Patriarchs, Holy Unmercenaries, and Fools for Christ. And then depending on which Icon you are looking at and when it was “written” (Icons are not painted - they are written since they depict “Theology in line and color”. Thus the term “Icono-grapher”.), you may find groupings of Neo-martyrs (“New” martyrs) depicting a particular holocaust of Orthodox saints, say, from Turkey, Cyprus, Russia, or other locations where Orthodox Christians were martyred en-mass.


            Although I am not certain, I believe the royal figures in the upper corners are Sts. Constantine and Helen. And as we pursue a Christ-centered life, maybe one day our images will appear on the icon as well.