Monday, March 4, 2013

On the Ancient of Days icon

Do I have an opinion on the Ancient of days icon? Why, yes I do. Leaving aside my rather conservative approach to iconography, I'll let the article speak for itself. You might also enjoy reading Fr. John Whiteford's article on the topic here.

(Orthodox Arts Journal) - The essential questions in this passage and for the image of the Ancient of Days are these: Who is the Ancient of Days? And who is the Son of Man who comes close to him to receive a kingdom? This passage from Daniel has historically been used to theologically justify images of God the Father, alone or in various forms of what is called the New Testament Trinity as opposed to the Old Testament Trinity that is the Hospitality of Abraham. The so-called New Testament Trinity has various forms but always shows an old man with a white beard, an adult man or a boy, and a dove. According to this interpretation, the old man, the Ancient of Days, is the Father; the man, the Son; and the dove, the Holy Spirit. These images and their theological justification have become so common in the Orthodox world that nobody, almost nobody, questions them. But I, being impertinent, rebellious, and–imagine Orthodox, I hope–wish to rise up and challenge both the image and the theological explanation as being contrary to the Holy Tradition.

We know from historical and iconological studies that both the image of the Ancient of Days as God the Father, alone or in the so-called New Testament Trinity, and its theological justification based on Daniel do not come from the Orthodox Church’s tradition. It is only around the late Middle Ages that the image and its justification make their appearance in the Orthodox world, and the source is the Latin Catholic West. For several centuries, western painters had been painting various forms of the Trinity, which were eventually justified by an appeal to Daniel and his vision of the Ancient of Days. During the period of what is called the Western Captivity, when Orthodox all over the world swallowed nearly everything that came from the Latin West as “better” than the “old-fashioned” Orthodox images and theology, this image and its justification made great inroads into the Orthodox consciousness. And this to such an extent, that people forgot the real and genuine Holy Tradition of the Fathers. And what is that Tradition?

Briefly, it is that the Logos of God the Father, the Son, who became incarnate in the historical Jesus of Nazareth, is the one, the Person, who reveals himself, imperfectly, vaguely, as through a mirror, just a little bit, in the Old Testament. Who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai? Who spoke to him in the burning bush? Who is the creator that Genesis talks about? With whom did Adam and Eve walk and talk in the Garden of Eden? Whom did the prophets see and hear in their visions? The unanimous Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church says that it was the Divine Logos, the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, not the Father. The Son reveals the Father and the Spirit both in the Old Testament, “darkly” and openly in the New Testament. “And he taught us how the Law and the Prophets spoke about him.” So the question is this: Whom did the prophets, and particularly Daniel, see in their visions? The general answer from the Fathers is that they heard and saw the Son and not the Father. Therefore, this general principal of interpretation–the Son reveals himself darkly in the Old Testament–should be enough to answer the question as to the identity of the Ancient of Days...
Complete article here.


  1. Anyone who paints an Icon of the Father must be the most spiritual and holy of not only iconographers, but of all Christians in the history of the Church. Since no one has seen the Father but the Son, to be on par with the Son is just awe-inspiring. More power to them.

  2. The only problem with interpreting the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 as being Christ is that this has no basis in the Fathers or the Services of the Church, which say quite the opposite, for example:

    “The Son of Man shall come to the Father, according to the Scripture which was just now read, “on the clouds of heaven,” [Daniel 7:9] drawn by a stream of fire [Daniel 7:10], which is to make trial of men. Then if any man’s works are of gold, he shall be made brighter; if any man’s course of life be like stubble, and unsubstantial, it shall be burnt up by the fire. And the Father “shall sit, having His garment white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool” [Daniel 7:9]. But this is spoken after the manner of men; wherefore? Because He is the King of those who have not been defiled with sins; for, He says, I will make your sins white as snow, and as wool, which is an emblem of forgiveness of sins, or of sinlessness itself. But the Lord who shall come from heaven on the clouds, is He who ascended on the clouds; for He Himself hath said, And they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XV, NPNF2, Vol 7, page 110).

    “Let us, however, resume once more our theme. The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand. Do you see the equality of status? Where there is a throne, you see, there is a symbol of kingship; where there is one throne, the equality of status comes from the same kingship. Hence Paul also said, “He made his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire. But of the Son: Your throne, O God, is forever.” Thus, too, Daniel sees all creation in attendance, both angels and archangels, by contrast with the Son of Man coming on the clouds and advancing to the Ancient of Days. If our speaking in these terms is a problem for some, however, let them hear that he is seated at his right hand, and be free of the problem. I mean, as we do not claim he is greater than the Father for having the most honorable seat at his right hand, so you for your part do not say he is inferior and less honorable, but of equal status and honor. This, in fact, is indicated by the sharing of the seat.” St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 110

    The Octoechos, Tone 5, Midnight Office Canon to the Holy and Life Creating Trinity, Ode 4, first troparion:

    “Daniel was initiated into the mystery of the threefold splendour of the one Dominion when he beheld Christ the Judge going unto the Father while the Spirit revealed the vision.” HTM Pentecostarion (which includes this text from the Octoechos), p. 270

    “Μυείται τής μιάς Κυριότητος, τό τριφαές ο Δανιήλ, Χριστόν κριτήν θεασάμενος, πρός τόν Πατέρα ιόντα, καί Πνεύμα τό προφαίνον τήν όρασιν.” Ωδή δ’ πλ. α’, ΤΟ ΜΕΣΟΝΥΚΤΙΚΟΝ

    And there is a lot more where those quotes came from.


    1. Thanks, Father. I'll add that link to the post.