BYZANTINE GREEK ICONS
SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER " THE ANGEL OF THE DESERT " BYZANTINE ICON
Saint John the Forerunner "The Angel of the desert" Byzantine Greek contemporary icon.
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SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER " THE ANGEL OF THE DESERT "
Title: Saint John the Forerunner ``the Angel of the desert``
Greek title: Αγιος Ιωάννης ο Πρόδρομος "Ο Αγγελος της ερήμου"
Medium: Egg tempera ,gold leaf on canvas prepared wood,stones.
Description and Biography
"The Angel of the desert" is a Byzantine Greek contemporary icon.
This icon type is full of Theological symbolism. In this icon type Saint John the Forerunner depicted standing on a rocky landscape with a symbolic tree on the right corner that suspends an axe. He looks like an Angel with golden hair and wings holding in his right hand his own lifeless head decapitated and is bleeding.He is standing between 2 rocky mountains in the wilderness in desert.He was an "earthly Angel " and a " heavenly man " according also to the hymnography of the Church for his feast. His wings symbolize his Angelic pure manner of life.Saint John preserved by the Lord in dessert . After the Theotokos
and the Angels Saint John is the patron Saint of the monks and
for this reason has a special position in the Holy Mount Athos in Greece. His mission even before from his birth was to be a messenger Angel "Αγγελιοφόρος" (Aggelioforos) for the Mesiah Jesus Christ (comes from the Greek word "Aγγελος" (Angelos) and the verb "φέρω" (fero) means the Angel which brings messages from Heaven like the Archangel Gabriel message that was brought to the Virgin Mary. In the quotation from Isaiah found at the beginning of the Gospel of Saint Mark in the New Testament we read: " Behold, I send my Angel messenger before your face ,who shall prepare your way ; a voice crying in the wilderness ,"Prepare the way of the Lord ,make straight his paths."
The icon with Saint John usually with his head on the golden
plate originated in Byzantium in the 13th century and was popular throughout Asia Minor. Probably originated from the Komnene era at 12th century and was developed by the great Greek icon painters Angelos Akotantos in the 15th century and later by Michael Damascenos and others in the 16th century.
Saint John was the cousin of Christ through his mother Elizabeth.
His mother Righteous Elizabeth was the sister of Saint Anna the mother of the Most Holy Theotokos.His Father was the Holy Prophet Zahariah and was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.They were descended both from the lineage of priestly families of Aaron.The righteous holy spouses were blameless in observing
the commandments and ordinances but their marriage was childless because Elizabeth was barren and they were both in well advanced in past child-bearing years .Yet she conceived through the grace of God just as the Angel foretold. While she was pregnant, Mary the expectant Mother of Jesus visited her
and the baby (St John) in Elizabeth's womb leaped for joy on hearing Mary's voice.Saint John's miraculous birth in the holy couple's old age took place 6 months before that of Jesus and according to the Gospel was expected by Prophesy and foretold by the Angel Gabriel. Saint Elizabeth had a great faith
to the God and God reward her with a blessed child. His father Zachariah lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son John because of their advanced age and had
it restored on the St. John's circumcision. The child grew up and "waxed strong in spirit " but remained in desert of Judea until he assumed the ministry that was to earn him the name John the Baptist .He is the most glorious ascetic Prophet the crown of the Prophets and the last Prophet of the Old Testament. Saint John was focused not in materialistic things but in Heavenly things preaching for the necessity of repentance and many people attracted to his message doctrine and from his manner of life bringing people to see him in Jordan where from him was baptized.He proclaimed the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ and he was the Baptist of Jesus Christ in the Jordan river ( The Baptism of Christ / Epiphany is at January 6).
We see him in this icon with the title `The Angel of the desert"
tall and emaciated and ascetic symbolizing the intensity of fasting and the tranquil concentration brought by prayer. Saint John has big wings and looks like an Angel with golden hair. He is looking also like an eagle known also the same icon type as the "The eagle of the desert" because like the eagle Saint John used to fly with his thoughts and prayers in Heaven. He is standing between Earth and Heaven wearing rope fiber and animal skin clothing (symbolizing his ascetic manner of life) and a green chiton (symbolizing the earth) with long hair and unkempt beard.He was used to eat locusts and wild honey. Saint John is turned to Jesus Christ supplicating and gazing Him right in the eyes with an awe and grievance and melancholy expression
for the injustice occurrence.He is holding his bleeding cut off head with his right hand while with his left holding a Cross stick which refers to his martyrdom Cross (is his sacrifice ). He is a martyr who shed his blood preaching repentance reminding the crowd the judgement of God." Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Saint John in this icon is praying and conversing mystical with Christ like the Angels which communicates with God in Heaven without speaking but with their eyes, a kind of gestures. Saint John communicates with Christ also through the falling from his hand scroll in Greek bearing his words : "Oρας οία πάσχουσιν ω Θεού Λόγε οι πταισμάτων έλεγχοι των βδελυκτέων, έλεγχον και γαρ μη φέρων ο Ηρώδης τέτμηκεν ιδού την εμήν κάραν Σώτερ" which means : " See Thou what suffer those who censure ,o Word of God ,the faults of the unclean. Not being able to bear censure, Herod cut off my scull, O Saviour. "
Jesus Christ with a rapid movement comes from an opening above from the Heaven...is looking the top of Saint John's head and he is wearing a royal red and golden-blue chiton. He holds
a crown in his stretching hand for the Holy Martyr replying to him with a scroll in Greek in His hand bearing His own words: "Ορώσε Μάρτυς και στέφω σου την κάραν." which means "I see you Martyr and crowning you the scull." The golden royal crown with stones is not symbolizing only the "crown of life" which is the
award the prize from Jesus Christ the King of the Kings to the Martyr for his sacrifice but also is a reference for the mystical marriage of the martyr`s soul with Jesus Christ and with his Holy Church. (The Byzantine emperors also used this kind of crowns when they get married.)
The axe laying at his foot in a tree and there is also another small scroll in Greek nailed on the grey rocky mountain with Saint`s
John prophetic words recorded on Scripture in the Gospel of Luke 3:9:"Hδη δε καΙ η αξίνη προς την ρίζαν των δένδρων κείται πάν ουν δένδρον μη ποιούν καρπόν καλόν εκκόπτεται και εις πύρ βάλλεται."
which this means "And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." The tree and axe are symbols of the Judgement of all the Humanity by God during His second coming.They are also elements common to icons commemorating
the decapitation of Saint John the Forerunner on August 29th.This version is meant to emphasize the element of sacrifice in both the martyrdom of Saint John himself as a Forerunner to the sacrifice of Christ to come...
To the bottom on the right side of the Saint is a luxurious royal golden platter with the blood from Saint`s John head just as it was presented to the Herod`s step- daughter Salome according to the Gospel of Matthew. Saint John beheaded by the King Herod in the first century to satisfy the request of Herod`s step
daughter Salome and from his " wife " Herodias (which was the wife of Herod`s brother ) and for this both they was not able to bear the censure from Saint John for repentance for their unclean faults.
Additional in this icon we see a bird is α spring dove with a small branch in her mouth (είναι η εαρινή τρυγώνα "λαλούν" σύμβολο του Βαπτιστή).This is a rare symbol of the Forerunner in the iconography from the morning hymns of Saint John`s feast at 23 of September.In the icon next to the bird is written the words in Greek "Τρυγών η φιλέρημος,ο ιερός Βαπτιστής,κηρύξας μετάνοιαν ,και φανερώσας Χριστόν".
Saint John has six feasts in the Orthodox Church but his mainly feast is at 7th of January after the great feast of Epiphany .
For the greatness of Saint John speaks every temple of an Orthodox Church where his icon is always in the right side of the icon of Jesus Christ and the words of Jesus Christ in Scripture: "Among those born of women there is no one greater than John."
Saint John is after the Mother of God and the Angels the most revered Saint and the only Prophets that show Jesus Christ the Mesiah in life. In Eastern liturgical hierarchy comes second after the Virgin Mother of God and they are both the two humans above even the ranks of the Angels because of their mission ,purity and sacrifice in every aspect!