In this icon we see the unwavering faith of the 3 Holy Youth in the fire who, at the time of Daniel the prophet in the 6th Century BC, held the faith that God the Almighty would save His people and one day send a Messiah to bridge the gap that Adam had created between God and man.
The 3 boys, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are dressed in simple white Jewish tunics, adorned with Egyptian patterns. While the patterns might seem historically inaccurate since the boys weren’t Egyptian, it is in fact a custom in iconography to add features of each culture’s visual identity into the icons, in order to help viewers identify which country the iconography is from. For example, as well as some clothing patterns, other examples in Egyptian iconography are the types of patterns seen in carpets, the musical instruments being played (e.g. in the wedding of Cana) and even the architecture of the buildings around the saints. Above the youth stands a brown-winged angel. In Neo-Coptic Iconography angels are usually painted with such eagle-like wings in reference to the majesty and span and protective quality of eagles’ (and in general all birds’) wings. Eagles are in fact mentioned in the Bible over 30 times; most notably in Isaiah where it is written ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles…’ It is also worth noting that out of all the animals, eagles alone are able to look directly at the sun. They are reported to spend several minutes a day staring at it, with tears pouring down their eyes, in order to cleanse them. No doubt beautiful parallels can be drawn from the worshipful gaze that angels hold with God, our ‘Sun of Righteousness’. Around the angel’s head is very special halo – one that contains the simplified diagram of a cross. This cross-containing halo is usually reserved only for Christ himself, in order to set Him apart from all other saints. In the book of Daniel however, the surprised King Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed that he saw the 3 youth walking around in the fire and that the fourth looked like ‘a son of the Gods’. Therefore in iconography, we sometimes add this cross-bearing halo to suggest that this may in fact have been Christ himself. In addition to this feature, the angel is also unusually clothed in blue which, because of its similarity to the deep colour of the unchartered ocean, symbolising the unknown mysteries of God in Coptic iconography.
3 Holy Youth
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