Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God


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Commemorated on September 8

The Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, occupies an unique place in the Russian Orthodox Church. On the icon is depicted the Theotokos, and the Hypostatic Wisdom, the Son of God incarnate of Her.

Sophia ponders the Son of God, about Whom in the Proverbs of Solomon it says: “Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars” (9:1). These words refer to Christ, the Son of God, Who in the Epistles of St Paul is called “Wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:30), and the word “house” refers to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, of Whom the Son of God is incarnate.

The arrangement of the icon bears witness to the fulfillment of this prophecy. On the Kiev icon of Sophia is a church, with the Theotokos in a robe with a veil on her head, under an archway of seven pillars. The palms of Her hands are outstretched, and her feet are set upon a crescent moon. She holds the Pre-eternal Christ Child, blessing with Her right hand, and holding the Infant with Her left.

On the cornice of the entrance are inscribed the words from the Book of Proverbs: “Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars.” Over the entrance are depicted God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. From the mouth of God the Father issues the words: “I am the affirmation of Her footsteps.”

Along both sides are depicted the seven Archangels with outstretched wings, holding in their hands symbols of their duties. On the right side: Michael has a flaming sword; Uriel has a lightning flash hurling downwards; and Raphael has an alabaster vessel of myrrh. On the left side: Gabriel has a lily blossom; Selaphiel has a scale; Jerudiel has a royal crown; and Barachiel has flowers on a white shawl.

Under a cloud with the crescent moon, serving as a footrest for the Mother of God, is a staircase with seven steps (depicting the Church of God on earth). Those standing on the seven steps are the Old Testament witnesses of the manifestation of Wisdom, the Forefathers and the Prophets. On each of the seven steps are inscribed: faith, hope, love, purity, humility, blessedness, and glory. The seven steps of the staircase are set upon the seven pillars, on which images are inscribed, and their explanations taken from the Apocalypse.

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)