Author Topic: Icon question (Nimbus)  (Read 2405 times)

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Offline LizaSymonenko

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Icon question (Nimbus)
« on: September 29, 2009, 04:11:33 PM »

On the halo/nimbus of Christ are often seen the Greek letters that symbolize the name given when Moses asked God His name at the burning bush.

God said "I am"

The letters look a lot like the English "W" "O" "N"

I have seen the letters depicted in different orders on different icons.

OWN, or WON.

Which is correct, or does it really not matter?  Is it preferred those letters be on the icon, or can they be omitted?


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Offline Schultz

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2009, 04:20:28 PM »
I imagine this is a stylistic choice as to the placement of the letters.  One can either read them in a clockwise fashion (first one) or in a "regular left-right, top-down" fashion.  I could, of course, be wrong, but I have certainly seen both ways in a wide variety of icons of our Lord spanning many centuries.
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Offline GammaRay

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2009, 06:26:36 PM »
I don't think that I've ever personally seen it as "O-W-N" (see second picture), but I guess that it's correct.
"WON" could make a good pun in English though. :P
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Offline LBK

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2009, 07:08:03 PM »
For reasons probably lost in history, Slavic iconographic tradition generally orders the letters as WON, Greek icons as OWN. The order of the letters does not matter - what is most important is that they are there. There are some very early icons of Christ where no letters are present, but, certainly since the iconoclastic upheavals (in essence, the iconoclastic position denied the full humanity and full divinity of Christ) and the final restoration of iconography, the presence of the letters and the cross made up of nine lines in Christ's halo is as important as the painting of the three stars of perpetual virginity on the maphorion of the Mother of God. These symbols have great doctrinal and theological importance, and therefore should not be omitted.
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Offline LizaSymonenko

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2009, 08:16:52 PM »
Thank you very much for the excellent explanation!
Conquer evil men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your goodness. Put the lover of legality to shame by your compassion. With the afflicted be afflicted in mind. Love all men, but keep distant from all men.
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Offline Margaret Anne

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2009, 11:36:46 PM »
These letters which are in Greek are called the oh-own, which is the sound the letters represent.  They actual meaning is "I AM"  So, as Christ is fully God and fully man, the fully God is represented with these letters spelling out "I AM" in Greek.  This is from the response Moses got from the burning bush, "I AM that I AM."

Does this help?

Offline ozgeorge

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2009, 11:42:19 PM »
These letters which are in Greek are called the oh-own, which is the sound the letters represent.  They actual meaning is "I AM"  So, as Christ is fully God and fully man, the fully God is represented with these letters spelling out "I AM" in Greek.  This is from the response Moses got from the burning bush, "I AM that I AM."

Does this help?

Not entirely correct.
The actual meaning of "O ΩΝ" is not "I AM" (first person) but rather "THE ONE WHO IS"(third person).
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Offline pensateomnia

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2009, 01:03:19 PM »
The actual meaning of "O ΩΝ" is not "I AM" (first person) but rather "THE ONE WHO IS"(third person).

Almost. O ΩΝ is actually a participle (a masculine nominative singular present active participle) and, thus, being a verbal adjective, does not have a person (third or otherwise).

However, you are indeed correct that it can be translated as "THE ONE WHO IS". Another good translation would be "THE EXISTING ONE". The latter is a bit more literal, since it more fully conveys the participial nature of the Greek.

The translators of the Septuagint decided to replace the Hebrew "I AM" with O ΩΝ -- not a literal translation, but one that captures the essential meaning and conforms with the prevalent Hellenistic philosophical language/understanding of what true Divinity must be like, i.e. that true Being must, by definition, be eternal and unchangeable (as Parmenides taught). Thus, the translators of the Septuagint were making it clear that this God to whom Moses was speaking was indeed the true God.
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Offline Margaret Anne

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Re: Icon question (Nimbus)
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2009, 09:01:33 PM »
Thank you both. This is what I had been taught.  I appreciate accuracy; it is more meaningful. It is nice to have someone better educated than I give me the best information.  Thanks again.