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Question 121.

 


Dear Fr Christopher,
I noticed that most, if not all Greek Orthodox Churches (& other Orthodox Churches) have icons of St John the Forerunner & Baptist wearing wings. Why is he depicted with the wings of an angel? Is it perhaps because he lived a holy, ascetic, humble and angelic life?
In Christ,
Regards, John


Answer to Question 121.

 

Dear John,
Scripture describes the cherubim and seraphim as having six wings, but at all other times when angels have appeared to men they have appeared without wings so not all angels have wings even though they are always portrayed in Icons with wings. The wings of the angel symbolizes swiftness and “the lightness of the wings denotes their being in no respect earthly, but undefiled and lightly raised to the sublime” (St Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchy).
John the Forerunner is termed as a heavenly man and an earthly angel because he lived a holy, ascetic, humble and angelic life? But his portrayal with wings in Icons has nothing to do with the symbolism given to the wings of angels, but rather to the word angel (άγγελος) which in Greek means messenger. Iconographers followed to the letter the words of the Prophet Malachi (3:1) which Matthew and Mark interpret as referring to John the Baptist: "For this is [he], of whom it is written, Behold, I send (
τὸν ἄγγελόν μου) my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Matt. 11:10). "As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send (τὸν ἄγγελόν μου) my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Mark 1:2-3). Thus iconographers chose to give emphasis to the word άγγελος meaning messenger by giving John wings like the heavenly angels.

In Christ
Fr. Christopher