In the 17th century, a new image appeared in Russian iconography based on the text of John’s Revelation. Archangel Michael is the crowned Prince of all angels, a great military commander and the vanquisher of the errors humanity has committed. The Archangel appears as the Rider of the Apocalypse, sitting on a fiery horse. He arrives in a decisive encounter at the end of times. In his hands, he holds the gospel book as the Word of God, and the censer as a tool for driving away evil spirits. On horseback he alludes to am ancient prophecy, our fiery Apocalypse has begun.
A fiery rainbow vaults in the sky is a sign of God’s promise to never bring about another flood. The horn in his hands symbolizes the beginning of the Last Judgment and awakens sleeping souls to new life. Michael’s spear is not a reference to violence, but a visual tool to direct our attention to what lives in darkness. The devil is being thrown out of a white translucent city, symbolizing the Christian community that has been trapped in darkness. Stacked mountains recall our spiritual growth as our souls ascends to God in stages. In the upper left corner, Christ is blessing the Archangel Michael for this battle. In His hands, we can see the sacrificial cup, “take this in remembrance of me and feed on it in your heart”
A wonderful assortment of symbols in three icon compositions.
Ancient prophecy is at times unsettling. You cannot help but feel the heat in the bright red used throughout the icon. In the middle icon, they painted the earth with a rainbow of colors. God’s next response to human sinfulness may not be a rainbow after the flood, but fire. I wonder if the designer of this icon was showing our next run in with the Almighty might be burning heat? A very thin spear directs our attention to the underworld, a city with a devils. dragons, and fire. Fire is the element that is threatening our globe as we approach the critical levels of destructive behavior. The climate heat temperatures are rising, volcanoes are rumbling and forest fires burn all over the globe.
Other Apocalyptic attributes for reflection.
The horn is being sounded to awaken sleeping souls to new life. I smile. It will have to be loud to awaken us.Could the electronic devices we use be putting the worlds population to sleep. Will we awaken one day to a loud sound? His burning censer creates a plume of smoke to declare it is a sacramental moment. This fog will prevent us from seeing things clearly. We can trust in the aroma and hold dear to truth, awaiting a new beginning. Notice the tiny cloud beneath the angels foot. This tiny attribute places the event in the realm of mystery, outside of time and space.
The Archangel in the Christian tradition as the Captain-General of the Host of Heaven. Revelations is the last book in the bible and describes a war between the Archangel Michael and satanic power.“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So they cast the great dragon out, that serpent of old, called the Devil, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him?” (Revelations, 12: 7–9). The ominous prophecy on horseback, says our Apocalypse has Begun, illustrated in metaphor announced in the 17th century. I wonder?
Children on Horseback
I was recently asked to paint this image for a memorial. This icon was placed in a hacienda chapel near San Miguel Allende, Mexico. In 2019, a young boy was playing in the countryside with a friend near a cave, it collapsed on him and he died. He is remembered for his love of horses and the freedom to roam the countryside. I did not realize the depth of symbolism the icon carried when it was chosen by the downer. May young Benedict be remembered as valiant and courageous, and may he rest in peace.
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