Coptic_Crucifixion_IconNumbers 21:5

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”

Truly the ancient Scriptures of the Old Testament offer an amazing testimony towards Orthodox Christianity.  This particular event in the history of the ancient Hebrews bears witness to the coming of Christ as our Great High Priest.  Lets examine this a little deeper. 

The people spoke against God and against Moses and committed a great sin, which resulted in the LORD sending serpents among the people to bite them.  This brings to mind in reminiscience the ‘bite’ of that serpent of old, Satan, the great deceiver, whose venemous ‘bite’ lead to the fall of Adam and Eve from paradise.  Again now in the wilderness, the people spoke against God committing great sin in doing so, which lead to them suffering again from the bite of the serpent, this time leading to physical as well as spiritual death. 

Although many of the people died, a number repented and had enough wisdom to realise their poison from the bite of the serpent was a direct result of the blasphemous words spoken against God and His prophet Moses, so in repentance they approached Moses looking for mercy.  Note the people did not run off to the hills to seek forgiveness from God by themselves (as modern so called Christian sects would have us do because they believe we don’t need mediators), but they approached Moses whom God had appointed over the people, just as we approach the priests of Christ appointed by God through His Church when we seek forgiveness from sin today. 

His-Holiness-Moran-Mor-IgnaThen God commanded Moses to make an IMAGE of a serpent and set it upon a pole that all those bitten who look upon it shall live.  It is interesting to note that GOD COMMANDED MOSES TO MAKE AN IMAGE!  The same God who commanded the people not to make false idols to worship commands Moses to make an image of a bronze serpent.  There is an interesting disctinction here.  An idol is the image of a false god that is worshipped by people, who call the image god.  Yet as God commanded the image of cherubs to be placed on the ark of the covenant, so too He ordered Moses to make an image. 

In the Orthodox tradition we use icons or images in our worship.  Some icons are of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We venerate them as holy because of what they signify.  They lift our mind and hearts towards the One true living God of Israel, the Holy Trinity whom we worship and glorify.  We do not worship the images themselves, just as the ancient Hebrews did not worship the bronze serpent Moses lifted up before them, but yet by looking on the serpent hanging on the pole the people received healing.  (NB The picture shown of HH Mar Ignatius Zakka I Patriarch of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Church clearly shows the form of a serpent hung on a pole below the cross, a clear modern link to the sign of the crucifixion of Christ pointed to in the wilderness when Moses held aloft the staff with the bronze serpent.  The priesthood of the New Testament era in the Orthodox Church is clearly then not disjointed from the ancient faith of the Hebrews as its rightful successor through Christ our Lord – Furthermore, like the ancient Hebrews we too use signs and symbols in our Divinely ordained faith without forsaking the purity of our Monotheism as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the exact image of the One Triune God {Hebrews 1:3}.) 

There is another who was hung on a tree, and as the bronze serpent is a symbol of sin and its punishment so too the Holy Cross of Christ Our Blessed Lord is a sign of healing and life; for truly He bore the weight of the sins of the world for those who would seek Him in repentance to receive healing and the cling to the hope of following Him to the promised land of paradise, as the Hebrews of the desert hoped for the promised land…


3 thoughts on “”

  1. Bless me, father,

    I find Veneration of icons a topic that is recurring in discussion with the heterodox, and it is really exciting to see someone who can discuss this from misconception to appreciation. Thank you.

    I was wondering if you have any advice on how to use icons to lift our minds and hearts to what the icon represents?


    1. Please Antony,

      I am just your brother in faith! I am only a deacon/reader in the Church! I will ask our priest Fr James to say a prayer for you, thank you so much for your kind comments. It is a revelation to many people that our Orthodox Faith is a Biblical and true faith, it is in fact the fulness of Christianity preserved in the modern era. All our doctrines are sourced from the sacred traditions of the fathers and of course the Bible.

      I personally love the icons of our Church. In the Coptic Orthodox tradition the modern neo-Coptic icon was made famous by Dr Isaac Fanous, whose style was a clear and strong representation of the ancient methods of icon writing but modernised, retaining the beautiful geometrical form made famous by the sons of Egypt. Generally speaking the Coptic icons show saints as victorious and glorified. This unique style is a heritage connected to the old world and should be studied and preserved as much as the school of hymnology and its ancient chanting tradition as a treasure of the world.

      One thing that strikes me is that as we face east in our prayers looking towards the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Church and in our homes we are faced by icons. These holy ‘writings’ of theology remind me of the saints who have gone on to glory, and as they face us they reflect the Divine Glory of Our Ressurected Lord God, King and Great High Priest! For this reason alone we should show reverance towards them as they are signs of spiritual truths and realities, and they represent actual people who attained the kingdom of heaven by God’s grace and remember the rest of the body of Christ living on earth in anticipation of the heavenly feast at the end of the ages.

      You will note in the coptic tradition the figures have large eyes to denote wisdom and small mouths to show discipline, restraint and peace. I have learnt that what the icon symbolises is the most important thing, not the ‘artistic’ talent of the individual writer. In days gone by when people couldn’t read as much as modern people do, these wonderful icons taught theology to those who could see. Just as we have pictures of our loved ones up at home, so too we should have pictures of those beloved of Christ as we should love them with the same vigour! I personally love the icons of the Pantocrator – the Lord Jesus Christ on His throne in heaven – when the book is open judgement has yet to commence but when it is shut the judgement has taken place. It makes me meditate on my sinfulness and focus on repentance before my Lord, and I find it a great blessing to preserve this picture in my mind as I say the prayers from the agpeya – the daily prayers of the Church – and in doing so I am conscious of the majesty of Our Lord with a sense of foreboding and fear…Another time I like to visualise this image of the Lord on His throne is during the mass, for so He appeared above the Cherubim on the ark of the covenant – the mercy seat…This is the best I can do to describe the immense emotions connected with signs of heavenly realities…

      Hope this helps my brother Antony!

      Pray for my weak self,

      Brother Mark

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