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Author Topic: "Tree of Life" Icon - need info, please  (Read 1323 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: December 02, 2012, 11:41:35 PM »

Hi! One of my ECF students asked me a question today about the "Jesus Tree of Life" icon in our church, and I wasn't sure what the correct answer was - and can't seem to find anything on line.

Can anyone help? It's basically this icon:



The question she has is, "Who are those guys holding books and scrolls? Are they the gospel writers? If so, why are there more than 4?"

Could someone explain to me in some detail who is pictured in this icon, what they're holding, and why? In simple language so I can explain it to her next week?

Thanks VERY much!   Smiley
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2012, 11:45:59 PM »

Hi,

I know this icon (somewhat) well because I own it.  Smiley


The 12 men are the 12 Apostles, not the 4 Gospel writers per se (although St. Matthew and John are called "the Evangelist" for this reason).

The Gospel passage in the center is usually John 15:5:  "I am the vine, you are the branches".

The icon itself, showing the 12 Apostles, is a sign of the unity of Christ's Church and the Apostolic Succession inherent in the Church.


Hope this helps!
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2012, 11:48:36 PM »

Hi,

I know this icon (somewhat) well because I own it.  Smiley


The 12 men are the 12 Apostles, not the 4 Gospel writers per se (although St. Matthew and John are called "the Evangelist" for this reason).

The Gospel passage in the center is usually John 15:5:  "I am the vine, you are the branches".

The icon itself, showing the 12 Apostles, is a sign of the unity of Christ's Church and the Apostolic Succession inherent in the Church.


Hope this helps!

That helps a lot! Thank you very much!  Smiley

But just one more question, what exactly are the books and/or scrolls the apostles are holding?
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2012, 12:56:59 AM »


But just one more question, what exactly are the books and/or scrolls the apostles are holding?
Things they wrote or a symbol for "The Gospel" in general, I think.
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2012, 01:52:28 AM »


But just one more question, what exactly are the books and/or scrolls the apostles are holding?
Things they wrote or a symbol for "The Gospel" in general, I think.

The books are the Gospel, and the scrolls represent divine wisdom and knowledge, which the apostles received from Christ.

BTW, theistgal, the icon's name is not "Tree of Life", it is "The True Vine".  angel
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2012, 09:51:05 AM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2012, 06:51:54 PM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)

The Greek inscription on the icon you posted reads "I Ambelos" - the Vine.
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2012, 07:01:12 PM »

I'm curious, who's the 12th Apostle depicted? Paul or Matthias?
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« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2012, 07:02:55 PM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)

The Greek inscription on the icon you posted reads "I Ambelos" - the Vine.

And yet I found it by googling "Jesus The Tree of Life Icon".

Also: http://archangelsbooks.com/proddetail.asp?prod=LUM1366010127
and this one seems to be making sure you find it by either name:
http://www.easterngiftshop.com/orthodox-icons-of-christ-cross-stitch/tree-of-life-the-true-vine-orthodox-cross-stitch-pattern--CSTree.html

Is it possible for an icon to be referred to by more than one name? If not, who makes that authoritative decision?

(also just to clarify, when I said "the one in question" I meant the one in our church which my student asked about, not the one in the photo I posted above. Sorry!  Grin )
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« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2012, 07:04:06 PM »

I'm curious, who's the 12th Apostle depicted? Paul or Matthias?

Paul. As also happens in icons of the Twelve Apostles, and in other icons where the Twelve are featured, such as the Dormition of the Mother of God (though in that one, Thomas should not be there).
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« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2012, 07:09:19 PM »

I'm curious, who's the 12th Apostle depicted? Paul or Matthias?

Paul. As also happens in icons of the Twelve Apostles, and in other icons where the Twelve are featured, such as the Dormition of the Mother of God (though in that one, Thomas should not be there).

Thanks!
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« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2012, 07:09:41 PM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)

The Greek inscription on the icon you posted reads "I Ambelos" - the Vine.

And yet I found it by googling "Jesus The Tree of Life Icon". So I can only assume other Orthodox call it that as well.  Smiley

It's only an assumption, and if "other Orthodox" do call it "the tree of life", it is an error. Not earth-shattering, but it is still an error. Christ is the Bread of Life, not the Tree of Life, and the Gospel quote provided earlier is quite clear.

There is another icon called the Tree of Jesse, which is an icon of the genealogy of the Mother of God. It's quite likely the title of this icon has become conflated with the True Vine icon.
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« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2012, 07:12:30 PM »

It's only an assumption, and if "other Orthodox" do call it "the tree of life", it is an error. Not earth-shattering, but it is still an error. Christ is the Bread of Life, not the Tree of Life, and the Gospel quote provided earlier is quite clear.

There is another icon called the Tree of Jesse, which is an icon of the genealogy of the Mother of God. It's quite likely the title of this icon has become conflated with the True Vine icon.

We have the "Tree of Jesse" icon in our church as well. But the one with Christ is definitely titled "The Tree of Life". (FWIW both written by a Greek Orthodox iconographer.)

So who is in charge of naming icons in Orthodoxy? How can you be sure "True Vine" is the one and only correct name for this icon? Is there a final authority somewhere?

(P.S. sorry if I sound cranky; my last batch of Christmas sugar cookies turned into rocks.)
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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2012, 08:03:11 PM »



It's only an assumption, and if "other Orthodox" do call it "the tree of life", it is an error. Not earth-shattering, but it is still an error. Christ is the Bread of Life, not the Tree of Life, and the Gospel quote provided earlier is quite clear.

Our hymnography would not agree with the portion of your statement that I have bolded. Troparion for the Preparation of the Nativity: "...Prepare, O Ephratha; for the Tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her belly (womb) did appear as a supersensual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as Adam...." (Nassar, p. 369)
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« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2012, 08:09:40 PM »

The thing depicted is plainly a vine, not a tree, so I am quite sure that the "Tree of Life" designation is mistaken.
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« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2012, 08:19:21 PM »

The thing depicted is plainly a vine, not a tree, so I am quite sure that the "Tree of Life" designation is mistaken.

Could it be a very viney tree, or a very thick tree-like vine?  Grin
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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2012, 08:20:25 PM »

That's interesting. I think I've seen it before, with both titles.
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« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2012, 08:22:06 PM »

The thing depicted is plainly a vine, not a tree, so I am quite sure that the "Tree of Life" designation is mistaken.

Could it be a very viney tree, or a very thick tree-like vine?  Grin
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« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2012, 08:27:47 PM »

This reminds me of the icon I saw recently of the Theotokos sitting in a big fountain. It was at an art gallery's icon display in Southeast Pennsylvania. It also had a sculpture of St. Sorsky. The director said that St Sorsky is the only saint that is supposed to be depicted in a three dimensional form. Does that sound familiar?
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« Reply #19 on: December 03, 2012, 10:19:52 PM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)

I've always heard of it referred to as "The vine of the church" or "The true vine".
The "tree of life" makes its sound like the Kabbalah.

The icon represents the books, divine knowledge, and the apostles... Of course Christ as well, and
"connected".
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« Reply #20 on: December 03, 2012, 10:21:31 PM »

I've seen both titles in writing on different copies of the icon - the one in question does say Tree of Life.

But thanks, I'll check that out as well. :-)

The Greek inscription on the icon you posted reads "I Ambelos" - the Vine.

And yet I found it by googling "Jesus The Tree of Life Icon".

Also: http://archangelsbooks.com/proddetail.asp?prod=LUM1366010127
and this one seems to be making sure you find it by either name:
http://www.easterngiftshop.com/orthodox-icons-of-christ-cross-stitch/tree-of-life-the-true-vine-orthodox-cross-stitch-pattern--CSTree.html

Is it possible for an icon to be referred to by more than one name? If not, who makes that authoritative decision?

(also just to clarify, when I said "the one in question" I meant the one in our church which my student asked about, not the one in the photo I posted above. Sorry!  Grin )

Thanks.
Learn something new every day.  Smiley
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« Reply #21 on: December 03, 2012, 10:23:10 PM »

This reminds me of the icon I saw recently of the Theotokos sitting in a big fountain. It was at an art gallery's icon display in Southeast Pennsylvania.

The icon of the Mother of God in the fountain is known as Life-giving Spring. It commemorates a miracle of hers, as well as being a reminder of her part in the Incarnation, that she is the source of the Source of Life. This icon is commemorated on the Friday of Bright Week.

Quote
It also had a sculpture of St. Sorsky. The director said that St Sorsky is the only saint that is supposed to be depicted in a three dimensional form. Does that sound familiar?

You mean St Nilus of Sora? Sometimes I wonder where some of these museum curators get their ideas from. Or maybe not - the vast majority regard icons as simply an exotic, "mysterious" art form.
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« Reply #22 on: December 03, 2012, 10:35:20 PM »

The thing depicted is plainly a vine, not a tree, so I am quite sure that the "Tree of Life" designation is mistaken.

Indeed it is a vine, and I have seen a good number of examples of this icon which feature bunches of grapes as well as vine leaves.
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« Reply #23 on: December 03, 2012, 10:39:08 PM »

One of my favorite passages in the scriptures -  (sorry if anybody finds this out of context, but I think most would find it appropriate)

John 15: 1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
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« Reply #24 on: December 03, 2012, 10:43:56 PM »

One of my favorite passages in the scriptures -  (sorry if anybody finds this out of context, but I think most would find it appropriate)

John 15: 1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

And it is exactly this passage which the icon illustrates and refers to.
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« Reply #25 on: December 04, 2012, 12:47:43 AM »

No offense, but I'm going to reserve the right to be skeptical that there's only one "correct" name for this icon. Since it's offered in so many different Orthodox venues under both names, I have to assume "Jesus the Tree of Life" is just as valid a name for it as "Jesus the True Vine".

However, none of that answers the original question, which is, what are the books and scrolls being held by the Apostles?

Oh well, I appreciate all the responses and don't mean to denigrate any of them. Perhaps I should toddle over to the Greek Orthodox church and just ask them about it.

And since that church is called "St. Nicholas", perhaps I could do that on ... oh, I  don't know ... December 6?  Wink
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« Reply #26 on: December 04, 2012, 01:04:41 AM »

Quote
No offense, but I'm going to reserve the right to be skeptical that there's only one "correct" name for this icon. Since it's offered in so many different Orthodox venues under both names, I have to assume "Jesus the Tree of Life" is just as valid a name for it as "Jesus the True Vine".

Iconography is the most visible, but the most poorly-understood facet of Orthodoxy.

Quote
However, none of that answers the original question, which is, what are the books and scrolls being held by the Apostles?

I, and others, have already answered that.
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« Reply #27 on: December 04, 2012, 01:18:22 AM »

No offense, but I'm going to reserve the right to be skeptical that there's only one "correct" name for this icon.

People who sell icons aren't theologians.  "Jesus the Tree of Life" may sound more marketable than "Jesus the True Vine" especially to those who don't have a great understanding of Orthodox theology and symbolism.

Since it's offered in so many different Orthodox venues under both names, I have to assume "Jesus the Tree of Life" is just as valid a name for it as "Jesus the True Vine".

The cross represents the Tree of Life that existed in Paradise.  Jesus, as the Tree of Life, was suspended between heaven and earth, just as the Tree of Life existed in Paradise. 

However, none of that answers the original question, which is, what are the books and scrolls being held by the Apostles?

Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles who went on to publish Gospels, Epistles, etc.

Oh well, I appreciate all the responses and don't mean to denigrate any of them. Perhaps I should toddle over to the Greek Orthodox church and just ask them about it.

And since that church is called "St. Nicholas", perhaps I could do that on ... oh, I  don't know ... December 6?  Wink

Good idea.   Grin
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« Reply #28 on: December 04, 2012, 08:17:04 AM »

This reminds me of the icon I saw recently of the Theotokos sitting in a big fountain. It was at an art gallery's icon display in Southeast Pennsylvania.

The icon of the Mother of God in the fountain is known as Life-giving Spring. It commemorates a miracle of hers, as well as being a reminder of her part in the Incarnation, that she is the source of the Source of Life. This icon is commemorated on the Friday of Bright Week.

Quote
It also had a sculpture of St. Sorsky. The director said that St Sorsky is the only saint that is supposed to be depicted in a three dimensional form. Does that sound familiar?

You mean St Nilus of Sora? Sometimes I wonder where some of these museum curators get their ideas from. Or maybe not - the vast majority regard icons as simply an exotic, "mysterious" art form.
Thanks for the explanations. Yes, I think it was St Nilus of Sora. I was going to say St. Nils Sorsky as what stuck in my head, but that sounded alittle funny. Actually, "of Sora" could be "Sorsky." Anyway, curator may have said this saint was the only who could be portrayed this way, not that he was supposed to be.

Regards.
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« Reply #29 on: December 04, 2012, 08:35:21 AM »

This reminds me of the icon I saw recently of the Theotokos sitting in a big fountain. It was at an art gallery's icon display in Southeast Pennsylvania.

The icon of the Mother of God in the fountain is known as Life-giving Spring. It commemorates a miracle of hers, as well as being a reminder of her part in the Incarnation, that she is the source of the Source of Life. This icon is commemorated on the Friday of Bright Week.

Quote
It also had a sculpture of St. Sorsky. The director said that St Sorsky is the only saint that is supposed to be depicted in a three dimensional form. Does that sound familiar?

You mean St Nilus of Sora? Sometimes I wonder where some of these museum curators get their ideas from. Or maybe not - the vast majority regard icons as simply an exotic, "mysterious" art form.
Thanks for the explanations. Yes, I think it was St Nilus of Sora. I was going to say St. Nils Sorsky as what stuck in my head, but that sounded alittle funny. Actually, "of Sora" could be "Sorsky." Anyway, curator may have said this saint was the only who could be portrayed this way, not that he was supposed to be.

Regards.

"Of Sora" is "Sorsky" in Russian and Slavonic. As for the curator saying this, if he did, he's wrong. There is a custom in certain parts of Russia to make statuettes which are flattened at the back - more dimensional than bas-relief, but not fully three-dimensional - and the ones I've come across are of St Nilus, and of St Nicholas of Myra. However, such statuettes did not replace icons of these saints, as great numbers of icons of St Nicholas, and good numbers of St Nilus were, and are, being produced.

At best, these statuettes are folk-art curiosities, and not a substitute for icons.
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« Reply #30 on: December 04, 2012, 11:11:16 AM »

People who sell icons aren't theologians.  "Jesus the Tree of Life" may sound more marketable than "Jesus the True Vine" especially to those who don't have a great understanding of Orthodox theology and symbolism.

Thank you!

I will have to convey this info to the GOA iconographer next time he visits; he definitely told us it was called "Christ the Tree of Life".

Maybe next time we should just get our usual Byzantine Catholic iconographer, who tends to be more Orthodox than the Orthodox and for some reason wasn't called in for this one!  Grin
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