Christ as Holy Wisdom

Icon of Christ as Holy Silence

This remarkable icon depicts Christ as Holy Silence. The inscription on the bottom border says, "Hê hagia hêsychia", that is, "Holy silence." Hesychia is much sought after in Orthodox spirituality, but this is clearly an icon of Christ, for the inscription within the icon itself reads, "Jesus Christ." Is the Word now silent? Is it not rather that the Word is found and speaks in silence?

The figure in the icon has wings, a sign of heavenly origin, as in Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity. Christ is wearing red robes. Red is the color of the Incarnation, and also the color of grace. The diamond on Christ's breast is surrounded by seven jewels, seven being the number of perfection and the number of gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In iconography, Christ as Hesychia is sometimes depicted as masculine and at other times, as in this instance, in feminine form. The same can be said of the portrayal of Christ as Holy Wisdom.

Wisdom, if not depicted in the Old Testament as a Person in the Trinitarian sense, is certainly personified and identified very closely with God. In Hebrew and Greek, the Biblical languages, Wisdom is feminine. Therefore Divine Wisdom is "she". See, for example, Proverbs 8 and the beginning of the following chapter. Christians understood these Old Testament references to Wisdom as foreshadowing Christ. The Gospels tell of Jesus Christ in words that are often reminiscent of Holy Wisdom, and St. Paul more than once calls Christ the Wisdom of God. This icon accordingly portrays Christ as Wisdom incarnate.

I first encountered this icon in the Orthodox Page's collection of Orthodox Icons (2K text, 65K graphics). It has since been removed. The reason for its disappearance is not what you might think. The problem was not that it depicts Christ in female form, but rather that in the last century there was a theological movement within Orthodoxy which wrongly implied that Divine Wisdom was a fourth Person of the Godhead.

This icon of Christ was written by William Hart McNichols, based on an eighteenth-century Russian icon of Hagia Sophia, and he offers some thoughts about the icon.

If you wish, you may see the full-size icon of Christ as Holy Silence (363K GIF).

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Christ as Holy Wisdom / Rev. 3 March 2003 / © Copyright 1997-2003, Elizabeth T. Knuth / URL: