Each year, on April 7, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation. One of the Twelve Great Feasts, it commemorates the joy of the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement of the coming of Christ. Orthodox icons depicting this event are highly venerated and honored with great respect by the faithful around the world. Read on to learn about the biblical story hidden behind this important image.
The story of the Annunciation
According to the religious texts, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce the glorious news of the Son of God’s birth. The Archangel declared to Mary that the Holy Spirit would descend upon her and she would become the mother of the Savior of all mankind. The Virgin Mary was initially confused but soon admitted to being God’s servant and ready to fulfill His will.
The feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated by the Christian Church since the 4th century. It was presumably initiated by the Byzantine Empire. The scenes of this event are found in all kinds of sacral art, including Orthodox icons, murals, and religious paintings.
Orthodox icons of the Annunciation
Since the biblical story hidden behind the Annunciation is joyful, the icons of this feast are distinguished by bright colors. The Archangel Gabriel is shown to the left, with his feet spread apart as if he was rushing to the Virgin to bring her the good news. His one hand is holding a staff, a symbol of God’s messenger, and his other hand is outstretched in greeting.
Mary attired in a red garment sits on an elevated seat. Her bowed head and hand gesture indicate her obedience and admission to be the chosen one. The clothing of the Virgin features the three stars that are a traditional symbol pointing to her purity and virginity before, during, and after Christ’s birth.
In the background of the icon, one can see the outlines of the temple and a bright red veil from which three rays stretch. It is a symbolic depiction of the Holy Spirit descending on the Virgin Mary. Sometimes, Orthodox icons of this type also depict Christ at the very top of the composition.
The feast of the Annunciation signifies the beginning of mankind’s liberation from sinful life. This is another reason why Orthodox icons dedicated to this joyful event are highly revered by all believers.