Hand in icon as Presence of God


During my holidays in Romania, I saw many Orthodox churches, colorful and full of pictures written, or icons. In the monastery in Arbore, I found an icon that represented the people in the hand of God. I associate this with the care and security we find in the Lord, hence the reference to Psalm 145. Unfortunately, I did not find the exact interpretation of the icon, but on the way I came across an article about the symbolism of the hand in the icons. I present below the fragments


The Symbolism of Hand Gestures in Icons. A Theological and Iconographic Study

In icons God the Father presents himself, inter alia, in the symbol of the hand, ie in so-called Manus Dei (dextera Dei), as is the case in the icons “Baptism of Jesus Christ” or “St. George the Winner “. Emerging from heaven, the blessing hand is, in fact, the oldest symbol of God the Father in all Christian religious art in general. This blessing manus Dei is the right hand of the Father, but for example in the icon “St. George Winner” it may also be the hand of the Son. Also, in Christian iconography, the right hand symbolizes the glory of eternal life and contemplative life, but – impainted as it emerges from a cloud – in Christian religious art, it became known as the symbol of God the Father Himself. The portrait of the first Divine Person does not end with the symbol of the right hand emerging from the clouds. The symbol of God Father in icons is also one of the three fingers of the blessing right hand, indicating with their arrangement, the dogma of the Holy Trinity. Of these three fingers one points to God the Father, while the others to the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is not only the unity of the Holy Trinity, but also the distinctiveness of the Divine Persons.

The gesture of the hand may also indicate in the icons the direction of the descent of God’s energy, thereby the hand also acts as an instrument of gratiae. It is symbolic of not only God the Father, but also a symbol of power, action, power, and tools of justice. “Considering this symbolism of the hand, it should be emphasized that in the icons, the movement made for example by the blessing right hand is closely connected with the moment. This is also the moment of the bestowal of the power of God, so the hand also symbolizes the generosity of giving (Ps 104: 28), pointing not only to theophany (Ez 1,3: 8,1) But also for the love of God (Pn 2: 6), which is the foundation of his generosity (Ps 145: 16). The right hand is performed by Jesus Christ, for example, in Marian icons of the Hodegetria type, in the left hand holding a scroll or book of the Gospel, a scepter or a royal apple. The Savior Himself blesses the Savior in these icons, and embraces in Her the gift of the whole creation. God can bless.

The blessing shown in the icons might also involve exorcism e.g. in the icon “Baptism of Jesus Christ”. This icon shows the Messiah who blesses the Jordan River and sanctifies it by immersion of his body in its waters. Thus the Savior prepares the waters of the river to become the water of baptism. As a consequence of the Messiah’s sanctification, the spiritual meaning of water changes from the image of death (Gen 6: 11-7, 24) to the image of salvation (Col 2: 11-12; 1 P 3, 18-21). Furthermore, since around the 10th century, in the icons “Baptism of Jesus Christ”, bent in the elbow, the blessing right hand of the Messiah can move slightly upward; this gesture indicates exorcism, expressing the Savior’s triumph over Satan, identified here with the Jordan River and the Sea. This Jesus Christ’s blessing can also refer, not only to the witnesses of the baptism of Messiah in the Jordan River, but to all those participating in the sacrament of Baptism in the Church as well. It should be emphasized here that also the hand remains in constant communication with the celebration, not only of this sacrament. In the ecclesial community, for example, the baptism is preceded by extending of the hand of the priest or a lay person. It is also expressed in the symbol of the hand and by this “symbol” is given, e.g. the Church’s position or outreach “results” in sacramental giving of the Holy Spirit. In this dispensation the Church remains the “prolonged hand” of the Savior.

The hand as instrumentum gratiae, which accumulates, and at the same time transmits the grace of God, is also depicted in the icons “Descent to the Abyss”. In the images, next to the saving hand, also appears a hand accepting this salvation. In these icons the saving hands are the hands of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The Savior, with one strong pull of his hands, hauls Adam and Eve, and with them all the humanity, from the depths of Sheol. R Evdokimov interprets this scene as a shocking encounter between two Adams, which already foretells the Pleroma of the Kingdom. The first parents and following them the two caravans of their descendants recognize the Savior, expressing it with the gestures of their hands. Standing on the broken gates of hell, arranged in the shape of a cross, Jesus Christ grasps Adam’s hand, usually the wrist, where the pulse is the sign of life, moving Adam and all mankind into existence i.e. to the circle of the eternal presence of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit. This gripping of the sinner’s hand at the spot of the pulse by the saving hand of God indicates hand-to-hand transmission of the saving grace of God. In addition, by holding in his left hand a slim, high cross, an instrument of Triumph related to Redemption, the Savior makes a blessing gesture with his right hand, a gesture of bestowing the grace of God. A cross held in the hand as a sign of Redemption (but also as a symbol of martyrdom) sometimes appears in other icons e.g. as a sign of the Redeemer wielded by St.John the Baptist in the above-mentioned icon “Baptism of Jesus Christ”. Moreover, the sacrament of baptism is associated with the Mystery of the Cross, where God defeated evil and opened the gates of Heaven.

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