The Icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father – 4

Brief History of God the Father in Iconography and Iconology: Pre-Iconoclasm

Historically the icons of God the Father written in the universal Church were scriptural, based on the prophetic visions found in the Old Testament (Bingham, 1995; Florensky, 1996; Ouspensky, 1992). The visions were specifically those of Daniel (7:9-15), Ezekiel (1:26-28, 8:1-5), Isaiah (6:1-5), and Moses (Ex 24:9-11, Nb 12:6-8); all of which were theophanic (Athanasius the Great, VEP 35; Augustine of Hippo, 400-412, 401-415; Cyril of Alexandria, PG 70; Gregory of Palamas, EPE 9; Hippolytus of Rome, PG 10; John Chrysostom, PG 57, EPE 8; Nicodemus the Hagiorite, 1864; Symeon of Thessalonica, Interpretation of the Sacred Symbol, p. 412). During that time period, it was also current practice to depict God the Father, in terms of the various manifestations of His divine energies (not His essence; Bingham, 1995; Lossky, 1944/1997). Such manifestations of the Father’s energies had occurred to Elijah (1 Kgs 19:9-13), Ezekiel (Ez 10:1-5), and Moses, with Aaron and some of the Israelite elders (Dt 5:23-27, Ex 3:2-6, 19:9-25, 24:16-18).

In fact, an example of the practice, at that time, of depicting God the Father in symbolic form, can be found in the iconographic manual of the 17th-18th century, Eastern Orthodox, monk-iconographer Dionysus of Fourna (1996). Fourna is considered by many to have retained the original typology of icons in his work. Bogoslovskii (1893) stated that, “in the language of painters, the right hand is, as it were, a monogram of God the Father” (p. 16). Meanwhile, Russian iconographers delineated for their students how the Lord Sabaoth should appear, in icons of the Holy Trinity (Iconographic Collection, 1907, pp. 84-85).

The Russian Orthodox Archpriest-theologian Bulgakov (1931) showed how, “the icon of God the Father . . . [is] legitimated through its accepted use in the Church” (p. 137), a stance similarly held by the Council of Russian Metropolitan-iconographer (St) Makarii in 1554 (Anatolius, 1945). The said practice of depicting God the Father iconographically was also indicated as legitimate, in official Orthodox handbooks for the clergy (e.g., Lebedev, 1901). However, during the two iconoclastic persecutions that followed, most icons were destroyed, based on the suspicion that venerating icons was idolatry.    


  • Anatolius, Archpriest. (1945). On the painting of icons. Moscow: Author.
  • Athanasius the Great. VEP 35, 121.
  • Augustine of Hippo. (401-415). De genesi ad litteram, 12.
  • Augustine of Hippo. (400-412). De trinitate, 2 & 3.
  • Bingham, S. (1995). The image of God the Father in Orthodox theology and iconography and other studies. CA: Oakwood Publications.
  • Bogoslovskii, I. N. (1893). God the Father, first Person of the Trinity. In The monuments of ancient Christian art. Moscow: Author.
  • Bulgakov, S. (1931). The icon and its interpretation: A dogmatic survey. Paris: YMCA Press.
  • Cyril of Alexandria. PG 70, 1461.
  • Dionysus of Fourna. (1996, rep. ed.). The ‘painter’s manual’ of Dionysus of Fourna (P. Hetherington, trans.). CA: Oakwood Publications.
  • Florensky, P. (1996). Iconostasis (D. Sheehan & O. Andrejev, trans.). Essex: Oakwood Publications.
  • Gregory of Palamas. Homilies, 14. EPE 9, 390.
  • Hippolytus of Rome. PG 10, 37. 
  • Iconographic Collection. (1907, St Petersburg). Vol. 1, pp. 84-85.
  • John Chrysostom. PG 57, 133 & EPE 8, 640-642.
  • Lebedev, P. (1901). The science of the liturgy. Moscow: Author.
  • Lossky, V. (1944/1997). The mystical theology of the Eastern Church. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
  • Nicodemus the Hagiorite. (1864). The rudder. Zakynthos, Greece.  
  • Ouspensky, L. (1992). Theology of the icon. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
  • Symeon of Thessalonica. (1429). Interpretation of the sacred symbol.
  • The New Jerusalem Bible. (1999, stand. ed.). NY: Doubleday.