Russia Religion Subjects Virgin Mary Our Lady of the Burning Bush

Our Lady of the Burning Bush

The subject of Our Lady of the Burning Bush is based on the Old Testament prophecy of the incarnation of Christ. Such theologians as St Gregory of Nyssa and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarded Moses’s vision of the burning bush as a symbol and prototype of the Virgin Mary and the virgin birth of Christ (as the bush was not burned, so Mary gave birth to Christ without losing her virginity).

The iconography of the scene was inspired by the Russian Orthodox hymns comparing the Virgin to the burning bush seen by Moses – engulfed in flames, yet not burning (Exodus 2:1–6). Icons of the subject were popular from the sixteenth century onwards and were believed to offer protection from fire. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the festival of the icon on 4/17 September, which is also the day of Moses.

This composition of the icon consists of two four-edged stars placed on top of one another. The Virgin is depicted as the Queen of Heaven, wearing a crown and holding the Christ Child in a fiery red circle and round yellow radiance. The symbolic representations of ladders and hills on Mary’s breast are derived from the text of the Akathist to the Mother of God. There are images of Christ in the robes of the great high priest “that is passed into the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14) and also the fiery countenance of Hagia Sophia.

The red edging around the yellow circle is filled with fiery cherubim, signifying the glory of the Virgin and the Son of God. Ranks of angels and masters of the elements (dew, storm, darkness, ice and fire) and other servants of God (Spirit of Wisdom, Reason and Glory) are depicted in the rays of the green star and around the stars in the clouds. The rays of the red star contain the symbols of the four Evangelists. The visions of the Old Testament prophets Moses, Isaiah, Jacob and Ezekiel can be seen in the segments in the corners of the icon. Beneath is the stem of Jesse, while the Lord Sabaoth is supported by fiery cherubim in clouds at the top.

The colour scheme of the icon is also symbolical. The main colours are red (fire) and green (leaves of the bush). The star signifies the Theotokos – “the star who manifests the sun” – while the red rectangle symbolises the earth enlightened by the divine wisdom. The composition is partially based on the iconography of Christ Pantocrator, which appeared in Russia in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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