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libertyseed
Aug 5th 2007, 08:14 PM
Hello everyone,

I am interested in learning about the hand gestures depicted in the Byzantine- style icons of Jesus and the Saints. I have learned of the sign of Benediction and am interested in learning of the meaning of others. Such as St. Andrews depicted here: http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/andre/images/andrew.jpg
and
http://www.thehtm.org/images/a-228.jpg


I have heard these hand gestures referred to as mudras in an Indian or Buddhist context but am looking for Christian references. I appreciate any help given. Thank you.

Teddy

watchinginawe
Aug 6th 2007, 03:42 AM
I have alerted a couple of our members about this thread. Maybe they can shed some light. This is an interesting question!

threebigrocks
Aug 6th 2007, 03:46 AM
From my background, I believe it was linked to the hands of Christ on the cross, the position they held as he hung there. It would fall under tradition as I understand it as it wasn't mentioned in scripture that I've ever come across.

So, unless there is something that I do not have knowledge of, that is the only explination I've ever heard.

Beloved by God
Aug 6th 2007, 04:12 AM
Hand positions aren't referenced in the Bible that I know of. In fact, a lot of people think you have to close your eyes and bow your head and clasp your hands to pray. But that's not true, there are some people that lifted their hands and looked towards heaven to pray.

Are you Catholic?

Tanya~
Aug 6th 2007, 07:39 AM
These do indeed look exactly like yogic mudras. They don't come from Biblical Christianity, and were likely adapted from one or more of the eastern religions that have long employed them. So you won't find any explanation or instruction in the Bible for hand gestures, as they are completely foreign to the Biblical teaching, but you might find some information from Orthodox or Catholic sources.

Maybe if the thread was moved to World Religions you could get more help there. It certainly doesn't apply to Biblical symbology, which I think is more about 'word pictures' than tangible images like that in your opening post. :)

Teke
Aug 6th 2007, 03:04 PM
Actually Tanya, they are very biblical. It is what is known as chironomy (also called "neumes"). Scripture is a mixture of music and art. The Hebrew scriptures gave these gestures to know what tone to sing/chant the piece in. ie. Song of Solomon is actually a song, the Psalms, when Joshua 'reads the words' of scripture or book of Moses etc.

Byzantine and Gregorian chant employ the same ancient technique. They are mainly known as "tones" in Orthodoxy. Readers and cantors (which also form choirs) of Eastern Orthodoxy are very skilled in "tones". All Orthodox are taught "tones" in music class. It is a complex element of liturgics.

Basically scripture contains "chironomy" in it's letters of the language. So, for instance, the OP's icon of Christ, titled "Christ Pantocrator" is conveying this in a laconic tone.

Icons also contain a great deal of teaching information. And this is why the Church decided by ecumenical council that they would be a part of the tradition of the Church, according to the guidelines set by the Church..;)

gray0013
Aug 6th 2007, 03:18 PM
The answers to your questions about the hand symbols can be found here:

http://www.christiansymbols.net/god_2.php

Doug

Tanya~
Aug 6th 2007, 03:47 PM
Actually Tanya, they are very biblical.

Can you provide the Scripture references so I can look it up? I'm also curious as to the meaning of the hand gestures.

I guess someone with a Hindu or Buddhist background would interpret the mudras differently than an Orthodox or Catholic person.

By the way, I looked up the image source and from there you can see that it is of Andrew, not Jesus. I have to question the validity of the idea that these icons have teaching information. Only those who already know what they're supposed to mean can know what they mean. They don't teach, all they can do is reinforce what has been taught.

Teke
Aug 6th 2007, 05:53 PM
Can you provide the Scripture references so I can look it up? I'm also curious as to the meaning of the hand gestures.

I guess someone with a Hindu or Buddhist background would interpret the mudras differently than an Orthodox or Catholic person.

By the way, I looked up the image source and from there you can see that it is of Andrew, not Jesus. I have to question the validity of the idea that these icons have teaching information. Only those who already know what they're supposed to mean can know what they mean. They don't teach, all they can do is reinforce what has been taught.

The first icon depicted in the OP is Andrew, the second is Christ. I was speaking of the second one, as it is widely known in the eastern churches. It is always by the altar in front.

Icons, can be, and are used for teaching. But what they are, is really an expression of worship. We are to worship in beauty and holiness (Ps.29:2, 96:9). An artist, poet or musician would understand this. This is also the expression of scripture, IOW worship.

For scripture refs and more on the musical association using the Hebrew, I think I recall a thread in Shorashim on the subject.

Art, music and poetry have an ontological aspect to them. IOW because we are relational beings, we experience through them.

mike1983
Aug 6th 2007, 06:07 PM
Byzantine and Gregorian chant employ the same ancient technique. They are mainly known as "tones" in Orthodoxy. Readers and cantors (which also form choirs) of Eastern Orthodoxy are very skilled in "tones". All Orthodox are taught "tones" in music class. It is a complex element of liturgics.


The tones probably mean numbers used in the bible. I wrote something about numbers here:

http://bibleforums.org/showthread.php?t=89891&page=2

Example:

3 Heavenly completeness, -views [Trinity, yesterday, today, tomorrow, etc.]
4 Earthly completeness, -views [elements, corners/winds of the earth (North-East-West-South), seasons, 4 gospels]
5 Gods Grace [5 wounds of Jesus]
12 Perfection of government [12 tribes, 12 apostles, 12 foundations of the Holy City]

By adding 3 and 4 you get 7, or the fullness of understanding everything from a heavenly AND earthly view on the scriptures. Add the number 5 to this (the Grace of God, saved by Jesus) and you get 12, or the perfection of earthly government.

In short this means if you have full understanding of the heavenly view (spiritual) and fully the earthly view, and add by that being saved by Jesus, you have the perfect control (government) over you own life!

By this I'm trying to say that combinations of tones or fingers or whatever, biblical meanings can be given!

I hope some can tell some more about this because I find this very interesting!

Praise God and bless all!

Tanya~
Aug 6th 2007, 06:21 PM
Hi Teke,


The first icon depicted in the OP is Andrew, the second is Christ. I was speaking of the second one, as it is widely known in the eastern churches. It is always by the altar in front.

Yes, I realized that after posting. I guess my edit wasn't quick enough. :) Thanks for the correction.



We are to worship in beauty and holiness (Ps.29:2, 96:9).

What translation are you using? Mine says we worship in the beauty of holiness -- in other words, holiness itself is beautiful to God. This phrase occurs in 1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalms 29:2; and Psalms 96:9. In none of these passages is there any indication that the use of images was in view.


For scripture refs and more on the musical association using the Hebrew, I think I recall a thread in Shorashim on the subject.

Scripture is full of references to the use of music so I have no problem with that. It's the imagery as aids to worship in general, and the use of these curious hand gestures in particular, that isn't in Scripture. What's more, these are very common in the iconography of the religions of India and the far East.

I've been trying to find information on the web about these hand gestures, and there isn't much about them in reference to Christian art. I hope someone comes by with an answer to this curious question!

punk
Aug 6th 2007, 06:33 PM
Hand gestures in Byzantine art and liturgy usually have a theological interpretation.

In both of the icons given there is a combination of two fingers held together and another combination of two fingers and thumb held together.

The second part of the gesture, consisting of three digits (two fingers and a thumb) represents the trinity, and is a reminder of the three persons that make up the trinity.

The first part of the gesture, consisting of two digits (two fingers) represents the person of Christ in two natures (human and divine).

In effect the hand gesture is a mini-Nicean Creed.

This gesture appeared in each of the icons. There was another gesture in one of the icons where three fingers were extended and the thumb and ring finger came together. Again the three extended fingers represent the trinity, and the thumb and ring finger represent two dual nature of Christ. This second gesture is somewhat better as the dual-nature fingers occur next to the second finger in the fingers making up the trinity, thus linking the dual-nature to the second person of the trinity (which is absent in the other gesture where the two-fingers appear next to the first or last finger for the trinity).

Teke
Aug 6th 2007, 07:26 PM
Hand gestures in Byzantine art and liturgy usually have a theological interpretation.

In both of the icons given there is a combination of two fingers held together and another combination of two fingers and thumb held together.

The second part of the gesture, consisting of three digits (two fingers and a thumb) represents the trinity, and is a reminder of the three persons that make up the trinity.

The first part of the gesture, consisting of two digits (two fingers) represents the person of Christ in two natures (human and divine).

In effect the hand gesture is a mini-Nicean Creed.

This gesture appeared in each of the icons. There was another gesture in one of the icons where three fingers were extended and the thumb and ring finger came together. Again the three extended fingers represent the trinity, and the thumb and ring finger represent two dual nature of Christ. This second gesture is somewhat better as the dual-nature fingers occur next to the second finger in the fingers making up the trinity, thus linking the dual-nature to the second person of the trinity (which is absent in the other gesture where the two-fingers appear next to the first or last finger for the trinity).

They do convey such theological messages as this also. I don't usually focus on this aspect much, because it was a matter of contention in the past. Even causing death in wars on the subject. Depicted in pictures that clearly show what fingers are held and how.
Now it just depends on what culture one is speaking of, and that would relate their use of the fingers on the hand when making the sign of the cross, conveying the Trinity and Christology. There is a picture depicted here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_the_cross) at the Wiki site on that,



A fragment of painting Boyarynya Morozova by Vasily Surikov depicting Feodosiya Morozova arrested by the Nikonians in 1671. She holds two fingers raised: a hint of the old, i.e., "proper", way of cross-signing oneself: with two fingers, rather than with three.

Here (Chironomy in the Ancient World) (http://www.rakkav.com/kdhinc/pages/chironomy.htm) is what I was speaking of, "chironomy (also called "neumes")".

If I were a born and raised Greek Orthodox, I could explain this better. :D But I'm not (I'm an American convert to Eastern Orthodoxy), and am still learning about this in icons.

So, yes, theology is conveyed in the icons and hymnography of Orthodoxy.
And those within can identify those of another sect by the gestures. I'm just not going to make the call of who is right and who is wrong, they all have their own reasoning for how they conduct themselves.
So I will only say it is worship related. ;)

Teke
Aug 6th 2007, 07:42 PM
What translation are you using? Mine says we worship in the beauty of holiness -- in other words, holiness itself is beautiful to God. This phrase occurs in 1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalms 29:2; and Psalms 96:9. In none of these passages is there any indication that the use of images was in view.

The use of icons was addressed at the second council of Nicea (seventh ecumenical council of Christianity) if you want to explore that subject further. If you disagree with that decision then you should address the reasoning of that council on the matter. I don't think the OP intended the thread to center on a debate of that decision.


It's the imagery as aids to worship in general, and the use of these curious hand gestures in particular, that isn't in Scripture. What's more, these are very common in the iconography of the religions of India and the far East.

Pictographic imagery in ancient writings is quite common. ie. Egyptian hieroglyphics

And imagery and hand gestures is very clear in Israels worship depicted in OT scripture. ie. hands that were waving the sheaf, pouring out, washing hands etc. Imagery such as tablets of commandments, the ark of the covenant, Aarons rod, manna in the ark, Israels tribal pictures etc.

And BTW icons have existed from the beginnings of the Church.
"In the History of the Church by Eusebuis (2nd Century), the following phrase is found "I have seen a great many portraits of the Saviour, of Peter and of Paul, which have been preserved up to our own times". Eusebuis' testimony is believed to be all the more valuable since he was personally against icons and his reference to the portraits is accompanied by the disapproving comment that it is a pagan custom (as cited by Lossky 1952)."

Art in pictures is a part of human history.

Tanya~
Aug 6th 2007, 09:15 PM
I don't think the OP intended the thread to center on a debate of that decision.

I concur. Because this forum is "Symbology of the Bible" I somehow thought that the OP was looking for reasons for the mudras in the Bible. My apologies if my answer derailed the thread.

libertyseed
Aug 7th 2007, 09:30 PM
Thanks for everyones contribution to this thread. I hope that we can continue to explore this fascinating subject.

Ta-An
Aug 8th 2007, 07:37 AM
http://z.about.com/d/altreligion/1/0/2/U/2/birkat.jpg


Copied from the above site :

This gesture accompanies the Birkat Kohanim, or Priestly Blessing, an ancient Jewish custom. The Blessing is administered by members of the Kohanim, or priestly class, usually on holidays. The hands are spread into two "V" shapes, in the form of the Hebrew letter Shin () and symbolizes the light of the Shekhina, or Presence of God.
The blessing itself is taken directly from that given in the Book of Numbers:
"The Lord bless and keep you.
The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace."

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