The symbolisms of the Orthodox Icon of Nativity

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1. The Cave.

Due to sin, many of us struggle with doubt or disbelief. This cave represents our struggle. The Cave represents the world, dark with sin through man’s fault. It is now illuminated by the Light of the Incarnation. Within this cave, Christ, “the Sun of Truth”, enters into the world He created for us, clothed in the flesh of Mary’s body through natural birth, the same way all of His children are born. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it”. (Saint John the Evangelist).

2. The ox and the ass.

The ox and the ass fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand”. Isaiah 1:3

3. The Most Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary.

The main focus of this icon is the Christ-child and His mother, the Theotokos and Mother of Light. Archangel Gabriel told her that she will bear the Son of God. He then led her to Bethlehem. The Virgin Mary is seen resting on a red blanket that symbolizes the color of life. The Virgin Mary is also seen not only looking at her Son, but at her beloved husband Saint Joseph. She is praying to the Lord so his struggles of disbelief and temptation will pass. She relies on the Lord, her Son, through prayer that her husband will overcome his doubt and the temptations of Satan.

4. The Christ-child.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is seen wrapped in swaddling cloths. This not only represents His total submission to the human flesh, but also foreshadows His death and resurrection. “wrapped in bands of cloth”. Luke 2:7,12. He is lying on an altar which symbolizes He is the bread of life. The manger represents His crib, His church, and His tomb, all in one. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51

5. The angels.

The angles brought the “good news of great joy” to shepherds tending their flocks. “And the angel said unto them, fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”. Luke 2:10-14

6. The magi

Bring gold, frankincense and myrrh the three magi (wise men) were led by the heavenly star to the manger in which our Lord resided. “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him”. Matthew 2:2 “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

7. The Shepherds

The Jewish shepherds were among the first to worship the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This symbolizes that Christ is the Good Shepherd.

8. Saint Joseph and an elderly man.

A widower before he had wed Mary, Saint Joseph the Betrothed is seen as an elderly man. With gray hair and hunched over, he is in doubt of this miraculous birth. Struggling within himself, he wonders if this was by another man or if it was indeed true. To the right of Saint Joseph is Satan. Satan appears in the form of an elderly man as well, yet he is shown in rags and with a cane. Saint Joseph is being tempted by Satan with doubt. Saint Joseph loves the Virgin Mary and through her prayers he overcomes this struggle. He is the protector of the Virgin Mary and guardian of Jesus Christ the Savior.

9. The Star.

The star which is shown in this icon represents the heavens and the Trinity rejoicing the glorious birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shining brighter that any other star, it is what guided the magi to the new-born King. Some icons are written with three lines coming from the heavens which represent the Trinity.