Byzantine Icons
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Copyright © 2002-2007 P.W. de Ruyter        Updated : 2 October 2006       Top of Page

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Icon Galleries and Icon Types - Menu
   Icon Gallery Center
        Gallery - Icons of Christ
        Gallery - Icons of the Theotokos
        Gallery - Feast Day Icons
        Gallery - Icons of Angels
        Gallery - Icons of Saints
        Gallery - Special Icons
        Scrolling Icon Galleries
        Icon-Gallery-Index : medieval & contemporary byzantine images (sortable)
   Icon Types
        Icons of Christ Pantocrator / Dogma of Chalcedon
        Marian Icons
              Virgin Kyriotissa
             • Virgin Hodegetria (Hodigitria)
             • Virgin Eleousa (Virgin Eleusa)
                    Mother of God of Vladimir
                    Mother of God Oumilenie
                    Mother of God Glykophilousa
              Virgin Orans
                    Mother of God of the Sign
                    Virgin of the Sign, Olga Kirichenko
              Other Mother of God Icons
                    Icon Descriptions
                    Miraculous (Marian) Icons
        Feast Day Icons
              The Nativity
              Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (aka The Meeting)
              Four Scenes of the Holy Passion of Jesus Christ
              Four Scenes of the Holy Resurrection of Jesus Christ
        Icons of Angels
        Icons of Saints & Lives of Saints
        The Three Hierarchs of the Church, & Doctors of the Church  
        Special Icons

Understanding icons

Related Files:

- What are Byzantine Icons?
- Dogma of Chalcedon
- Essential Feature of Icons
- Summary
- Icon Types
- Iconostasis
Understanding Traditional Icons
Updated: 9 July 2006
Coming to love icons is a unique experience. Ultimately, the context within which they were created and flourished - the first 1000 years after Christ's birth when Christianity was united - should be taken into account as well. From a Catholic perspective, it can be a means for getting closer to fellow Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It's not unlike learning to speak a foreign language which is a gratifying experience and invariably appreciated by those whose mother tongue it is. However, getting to know and love icons goes far beyond this. Icons brought me closer to the Most Holy Mother of God, and through her to Jesus. In his book "Les icônes byzantines de la Mère de Dieu", Paris, 1992 (I read it in French), Fr. Egon Sendler S.J., one of Europe's leading iconographers, writes that an icon can become a mediator of grace. For me, icons have become a mediator of grace.

Most of the articles linked to on this page are relatively short and easy to read. Even so, you will probably profit more from reading them if you have previously read the Summary and The Essential Feature of Icons. If you haven't, you may want to do that first. Once you have read them, as well as the articles on this page, you will start understanding why icons are so unique and precious. Eventually also, you may come to recognize that "there is nothing in Western Christian experience quite the same as the Eastern Orthodox Icon" (source: the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Canada "To the Glory of God: the Icon", 1998, ). If you want to know more, you can then read the articles on the General References page.

Note : In some of the above you may find mentioned 'illiteracy' as an argument explaining the 'need' for icons. Instead of commenting on that, I will leave you with the following thought « If contemplation with the intellect had been sufficient, it would have sufficed for the Word to come among us intellectually only » (Theodore Studite)

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Icon Types

Icon Types
Icon Galleries & Icon Types - Menu Top of Page
Return to Icon Galleries - Master Page
It is understood that classifying icons into icon types is an arbitrary thing. Yet it is useful to create some order. The icon types shown on these pages are the ones seen most often. However, these Icon Types pages are not really about classifying icons. As previously mentioned, they are meant to provide further understanding of icons, particularly with regard to the Icons of Christ 'Pantocrator' ('The Almighty') and the 'Theotokos' ('God Bearer' or Mother of God).
      For example, it is not widely known, I think, that entire battles were waged during extended periods of time. Waged by the early Church Fathers, at first the battle was about the nature(s) of Christ (cf. Icons of Christ Pantocrator, and The Incarnation). It reached its conclusion in the second half of the fifth century. Years later (730-843) the battle seemed to be more directly about icons. But what really was at stake, however, was again the Incarnation, the very foundation of the Christian Faith (cf. The Essential Feature of Icons).
      On another note, I find it absolutely amazing that byzantine icons, i.e. traditional orthodox icons are being written or painted today as they were 800 years ago. That seems to further confirm the close relationship between icons and the foundation of the Christian Faith. It is important to understand that relationship, and its history, because that is what makes traditional orthodox icons unique.
Icon Types
Click image
for details

'The All Powerful'

'God Bearer'
Mother of God

Feast Days




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Icons of Christ Pantocrator / Dogma of Chalcedon

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Christ Pantocrator
XIIIth c. (mosaic)

The Savior - XIIIth c.
Chilandar Monastery
Mount Athos

00044 Icon of Christ
"not made by hand"
Acheiropoietos, 12th c.

The Crucifixion
XVIth c.
Other icons
of Christ


The icon of Christ, God-man, is the graphical expression of the Dogma of Chalcedon (1)  (2). The Council of Chalcedon (4th Ecumenical Council in A.D. 451) affirms the apostolic doctrine of the two natures in Christ being present in one and the same person. The icon represents the incarnated divine person, the Son of God who became Son of man, consubstantial * with the Father through his divinity, consubstantial with us through his humanity. Christ unified these two aspects in his life: "He who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as man" (Phil. 2, 6) (emptied > ekenosen, see kenosis).

The foregoing also reveals to us what is often referred to as 'the greatest attribute of God', his Mercy: the Word made himself man in order to die as all men and through his death guide all men back to the Father so as to enable them to participate in his divine life.

- Catholic Encyclopedia: Council of Chalcedon, Kenosis, The Incarnation
- Daniel Rousseau, L'Icône - Splendeur de Ton Visage, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1982, pp. 239-244
- Pope Pius XII, Encyclical on the Council of Chalcedon

Orthodox Images of Christ   New! Oct. 2007
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Faces of Christ   22 byzantine images (out of 25)

Early images of Christ   7 byzantine mosaics (out of 18)

Images and Icons of Christ in the Middle Ages   22 images

Miracles of Christ  New!

* 'Consubstantial', what a difficult word that was the first time I read it. Reading up on it in the dictionary **, however, it becomes clear that the above paragraph in Daniel Rousseau means that the Son of God is as fully God as God is, and as fully man as man is. Christ possesses those two natures, at the same time, all the time.

** con·sub·stan·tial adjective
CHRISTIANITY having same substance: having the same substance as something else, for example, another member of the Holy Trinity

[14th century. From ecclesiastical Latin consubstantialis, literally “substance together,” from Latin substantia, “substance.”]

Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999,2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

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Iicons of the Theotokos

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Type "Kyriotissa"

On the throne

Type "Hodegetria"

She who shows
the Way

Type "Eleousa"

Loving Kindness

Type "Orans"
of the Sign
Other Mother
of God Icons
& Icon Descrptions

"Other Icons"


It is difficult to historically trace the process of creation of the different types of icons of the Theotokos.
           We can, nevertheless, distinguish in chronological order :
- the Vigin Kyriotissa (She who reigns in majesty)
- the Virgin Hodegetria (She who shows the Way)
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- the Virgin Eleousa (Virgin of LovingKindness)
- the Virgin Orans, with or without the Child (probably much earlier as the image already showed in the Catacombs)

          Through the ages iconographers have painted ("written" is the better word to use) icons with many different themes. Whether or not these ' fit ' in-, or are a variant of-, some arbitrary class is not so important (to me). Yet, some understanding of the above 4 base types may enhance your enjoyment of viewing icon images, and may even lead some of you into meditation or prayer which, ultimately, is what is of much greater importance. In my own experience, viewing icons and reading what holy men and women wrote or said when they lauded the Holy Virgin has a profound effect on me.

Virgin Kyriotissa
School of Moscou
XVth c.

The Virgin Kyriotissa

As described more fully in The Essential Feature of Icons , the first images we know of are paintings on the walls of the catacombs. It was with the coming to power of Emperor Constantin in the IVth century and his spectacular conversion that Christianity was made the State religion (380). Then a third Ecumenic Council was held in Ephesus (431) during which Mary was proclaimed Mother of God. It's then that iconographers started to represent the Mother of God sitting solemnly on the trone with the divine Child sitting on her lap : the Mother of God Kyriotissa.

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Virgin Hodegetria
XIVth c.

The Virgin Hodegetria

The image of the Hodegetria holds a privileged place in the iconography of the Mother of God. It has been and remains one of the preferred images of the Western world, even though its origin is specifically Eastern. "Hodegetria" means "She who shows the Way". The name Hodegetria comes from a miracle by the Holy Virgin (see Virgin Hodegetria).

Mother of God Hodegetria
"Salus Populi Romani"
Santa Maria Maggiore
Rome, VIIIth c.
          Shown to the right is another image usually considered of the type Hodegetria. It is a detail of a full length image (icon) of the Mother of God and rarely seen. The "Virgin Salus Populi Romani" dates back to the 8th century, and is considered "the" major Italian shrine. It is kept in the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

          Icons of the Holy Virgin of before the Iconoclasm are rare because many were destroyed during that period, particularly in Russia. Since Italy was not affected and the "Salus Populi Romani" icon is considered to be post Iconoclasm, it is not clear why it is difficult to see an image of the "Virgin Salus Populi" or of other ancient icons in the possession of the Church in Rome, like the "Virgin Nikopeia" ("She who gives Victory"), also of the 8th c., or of the very old (3rd or 4th c.) icon of the Virgin and Child in the Saint Francesca Church in Rome.
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          "Salus Populi Romani" can be translated as "Protectress of the Roman People" (French "Protectrice du peuple romain") or as "Salvation of the Roman People" (French "Salut du peuple romain"). The Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) is the most important basilica in Rome, and consecrated to the Holy Virgin by all Christians.

          Another example of the 'Hodegetria' type is the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa also known as the "Black Madonna".

          Before continuing on to the next type, here are a few of the characteristics of the "Hodegetria" type :
- The Mother always carries the Child on her left arm
- She points her right hand to the Child as if to say "He(re) is the Way"
- The faces of Mother and Child don't touch as in the icon of the Virgin Eleousa
- The Child is holding a parchment in his left hand.
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Virgin Eleousa
Mother of God
of Vladimir, XIIth c

The Mother of God Eleousa (Virgin Eleousa)

In the West, the icon of the Mother of God Eleousa (Virgin Eleousa), is almost always equated with the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir (Virgin of Vladimir), the treasure of Russia and one of Russia's most venerated icons.

We could say that the Eleousa-type can be thought of as to comprise 3 sub-types: the Merciful (Greek: Eleousa), affectionate Tenderness (Russian: Oumilenie), and Sweet Kissing (Greek: Glykophilousa).

See the page Mother of God Eleousa for a more detailed explanation.

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The Virgin Orans

Also called the Virgin of the Incarnation, or the Great Panaghia of Yaroslavl, the image of the Virgin Orans as we know it today started to appear in the XIth Century. The image of a praying man or woman (the Orant Figure) discovered in the Giordani Catacombs in Rome may be at its origin. Click here to see a large image of the Virgin Orans, and more information.

Other icons considered to be of the 'Orans' type include the following :
- Virgin Blachernitissa : She who mediates, mosaic
- Mother of God of the Sign
- "Virgin Platytera" ("Greater than Heavens")
- Virgin 'Inexhaustible Cup'

The above mentioned icon of the Mother of God of the Sign is one of the most venerated icons of Russia. Its history is linked with the history of Novgorod. Particularly noteworthy is the wonderful (contemporary) icon of the Mother of God of the Sign of Olga Kirichenko, Lithuania
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Other Mother of God Icons

Virgin Galaktotrophusa
Greece, 15th century
There are many more Marian icons. Several of them can be viewed in the icon Galleries. Here are some that are really different from what we have seen sofar :
- The Virgin Galaktotrophusa or the Nursing Mother of God (image to the left)
- The Virgin Pokrov (She who protects) ; click link to see image, then press 'back' for description and miracle
- The Virgin Kardiotissa "close to the Motherly heart"
- The Virgin Strastnaïa (Virgin of the Passion or Our Lady of Perpetual Help)

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Miraculous Mother of God icons
- images & descriptions

(1) Religious Antique Shop Sancta, Lithuania

(2) List of the Most Popular Types of Miraculous Icons
        Includes 86 images WITH descriptions ; part of (1) above.

(3) Orthodox World, Russia

Mother of God icon descriptions
Descriptions of Mother of God icons, with and without images, can be found on the following sites:

- Orthodox Church in America. The Orthodox Church has a new site with many images and descriptions of Mother of God icons : click Site Map, scroll down to Feasts and Saints, then click Icons of the Mother of God. Here is a direct link Icons of the Mother of God

- Saint John The Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington DC
- ==> click 'English version', then Icons of the Mother of God
- ==> some icons, many descriptions.

- Eight icons very precious in Russian history compiled and edited by A. Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania >> very detailed descriptions

- Come and See Icons, Books & Art has compiled a number of excellent descriptions.

- Marian Icon Types by Sr. Marcia Vinje Descriptions and 20 images

- Images of the Theotokos in Byzantine Iconography by Joyce Rabbat

- Off-line: A number of books are available, off-line, that include many images and descriptions. The book titled "Icons of the Mother of God" by Fr. Egon Sendler, S.J. is very complete with respect to many aspects concerning iconography, icon history, and theology and includes an extensive catalog-like section with icon decsriptions (see Bibliography).

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Updated: 8 June 2006

Feast Day Icons

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Feast Day Icons (Festal Icons)
Feast days in chronological order
The Nativity of the Virgin Mary (September 8)
The Exaltation of the Cross (by Arch. Zinon, Courtesy Orthodox World) *
The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (November 21)
The Annunciation (March 25)
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (December 25)
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (February 2)
Baptism of Jesus by John the Forerunner (Theophany or Epiphany) (January 6)
The Transfiguration (August 6)
The Raising of Lazarus (Saturday before Palm Sunday)
Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)
The Crucifixion (Good Friday)
The Resurrection (Easter or Holy Pascha)
The Ascension (40 days after Easter)
Meso-Pentecost (Jesus, 12 years old, lectures the Jewish Priests in the Temple)
The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, 50 days after Easter)
The Dormition of the Holy Virgin * (August 15)
Feast days ordered by calendar date
Baptism of Jesus by John the Forerunner (Theophany or Epiphany) (January 6)
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (February 2)
The Annunciation (March 25)
The Raising of Lazarus (Saturday before Palm Sunday)
Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)
The Crucifixion (Good Friday)
The Resurrection (Easter or Holy Pascha)
The Ascension (40 days after Easter)
Meso-Pentecost (Jesus, 12 years old, lectures the Jewish Priests in the Temple)
The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, 50 days after Easter)
The Transfiguration (August 6)
The Dormition of the Holy Virgin * (August 15)
The Nativity of the Virgin Mary (September 8)
The Exaltation of the Cross (by Arch. Zinon, Courtesy Orthodox World) *
The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (November 21)
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (December 25)

* More on Feast Day Icons (Festal icons)
If you want to know more about Feast Days, here is an informative and beautiful Russian website dealing with that subject and a lot more : The Orthodox World (click 'cancel' in dialog box). Both their medieval and contemporary icon images are of high quality and great beauty.
          Put together by Russians, the site is nevertheless in English. They specifically direct their attention to the Western reader, as part of an effort to make their Church better known, loved and accepted, as it is. The site is very complete. Using their words, here is what they say about it themselves : 'The site can be considered as a general encyclopedia on Orthodoxy, created for a Western reader. In it we want to pay particular attention to the things that unite us and to those that are different to our traditions, but that complement each other'.

* A Reflection on the Feast of the Assumption

Updated : 1 January 2006

Icons of Angels

Top of Page Angels - A1 Angels - A2 Angels - A3

Byzantine Icons of Angels

The Miracle of
the Archangel
in Chonae
In earlier days when speaking about angels, I might remember my Guardian Angel. I also might remember the Archangel Gabriel, or the Archangel Raphael from the Book of Tobias. However, angels had little meaning for me. Iconography changed that. The Archangel Gabriel got meaning in the icon of the Annunciation, and even more so in the Acathist Hymn. But it is through the icon of the miracle of the Archangel Michael in Chonae that I started to believe in Angels. See icon to the left and click here to read the story.
Only the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are mentioned in the Bible, out of a total of seven as follows:
- Michael
- Gabriel
- Raphael
- Uriel
- Salathiel
- Jegudiel
- Barachiel
"Who is like God?"
"Man of God"
"Help of God"
"Fire of God"
"Prayer of God"
"Praise of God"
"Blessing of God"
Michael led the good angels to victory in the battle (in heaven) against Lucifer (Satan) and the bad angels
Gabriel is entrusted with the service of being messenger to mankind
The merciful healer, sent by God to comfort the sick and the sorrowing
The light or the fire of God
The patron of prayer
The patron, defender and helper of all those who toil
The angel of God’s blessings

Top of Page Angels - A1 Angels - A2 Angels - A3 A2

The Archangel Michael
- Archangel Michael (of Deisis) (Ukrainian Icon Gallery)

- Archangel Michael (The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, D.C.)
- ==> 25 images of Michael the Archangel
- Archangel Michael (Lynne Taggart)
- Archangel Michael icon dedicated to the World Trade Center ... (Sacred Icons)
- Archangel Michael (Charalampos Pilarinos)

The Archangel Gabriel
- Archangel Gabriel 14th c. Chilandari Monastery (HMC)
- Archangel Gabriel (Great Deisis) 14th c.Vatopedi Monastery (HMC)
- Archangel Gabriel (Part of the Annunciation Icon, Icons of Macedonia)
- Archangel Gabriel Novgorod School 15th c. (George Mitrevski)
- Archangel Gabriel (Lynne Taggart)

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The Archangel Raphael
- Archangel Raphael
  Catholic Encyclopedia St. Raphael

Further Information
- Angels, Blessed Messengers of God (Bishop Alexander)
- Angels in Orthodoxy
- The World of the Angels (Russian Orthodox Church in Baltimore)
- St. Michael and all angels (James Kiefer's Christian Biographies)
- An important story about St. Michael the Archangel, for children
   (Saint Michael Center for the Blessed Virgin Mary)
- Images of Angels and Archangels
   (St. Luke Icon Painting Center (or Sudio), St. Petersburg )
   For other icons of the SLIPAC, see the sections on the
   - Medieval Byz. Icons page and on the
   - Contemporary Byz. Icons page

Icons of Saints & Lives of Saints

Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S1

Byzantine Icons of Saints & Lives of Saints
Of all icon categories (the Savior, the Theotokos, Feast days...), the Saints category may well be the one with the largest number of icons and it keeps on growing. Shown below are a few links to icon images of well known Saints, recognized by both the Orthodox and the Catholic Church.
Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S2

'Come & See' Icons Books & Art
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
   Includes both Icons and Lives of Saints of the early Church.
   Thus no Saints are included form Russia or the Balkans, for example.
   To view icons, move your mouse over 'Multimedia Programs' in
   the top menu, then click 'Icon Gallery'.
'A Brief Guide to Byzantine Icons' (Mark Keriotis) : Various Saints in Iconography  An interesting look at various Saints.
Orthodox Church in America - Lives of the Saints ==> sitemap scroll down
   Click on any day of the calendar to access the page with the Lives of the Saints commemorated that day
St. Mary Orthodox Church Icon Library
   Can be used to look up a particular icon, including that of a Saint
All Merciful Orthodox Mission - Western Saints Icon Gallery - 499 Western Saints as at 5 Aug 2009
Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S3

Father Alexander, Saints in alphabetical order
Father Alexander, Saints sorted by month of the year
   Jan, Feb :
   Mar, Apr :
   May, June :
   July, Aug :
   Sept, Oct :
   Nov, Dec :
Christus Rex Index of Saints
Russian Orthodox Cathedral St. John The Baptist, Washington DC : Lives of Saints (organized by month) ==> click 'Lives of Saints'
Saints of the Orthodox Church (Orthodox Research Institute)
Some Saints and Feasts of the Orthodox Christian Church (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia)
Catholic Encyclopedia (enter name of Saint in search engine box)
Doctors of the Catholic Church
Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S4


SPECIAL NOTE: Different sources may give different accounts of the life of one and the same Saint. How much or what exactly is historically true may not always be easy to ascertain, while sometimes it may prove impossible to do so. Regardless of those details, however, what always shines through is the Saint's deep faith, and profound love for the Creator, his (her) profound love and veneration for the Holy Virgin, and the holiness of his (her) way of life. Ultimately, that's all that really matters. Even so, different accounts may reveal different aspects of the time in which the Saint lived. This may provide a better understanding of the issues that were important in one particular period, which in turn can help understanding the Saint's heroism.
Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S5

St. John of Damascus

First is a link to a wonderful collection of icons of St. John of Damascus ==> 13 icons | icon-14
The link is part of the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology
of the Balamand University in Beirut, Libanon

Here are three different accounts of the life of Saint John of Damascus:
Righteous Saint John of Damascus
St. John of Damascus
St. John of Damascus
The Life of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II
Miracle Of The Child Martyr Grand Duchess Maria
The Martyr - Saint Elisabeth, Grand Princess
The Place of Lives of Saints
Top of Page Saints - S1 Saints - S2 Saints - S3 Saints - S4 Saints - S5 Saints - S6 S6

- The Three Hierarchs of the Church
- Doctors of the Catholic Church

I have always felt awed by the lives of the Three Hierarchs of the Church, but it is only when I discovered the great beauty of the site Doctors of the Catholic Church *, by Tommy Ferris, that I decided to add this section. Even though some of the (Catholic) Church Doctors may not have been officially recognized by the Orthodox Church, the holiness, beauty and wisdom of the lives can, I think, be appreciated by all.

* Read about St. John Crysostom, for example, hailed by many as the greatest preacher of all times (after Jesus)!

Special Icons
The 'Special Icons' class comprises icons that do not 'fit' in the foregoing classes or types. Almost all of these are icons that depict special events. For example, all the miracles Jesus did are (or will be) included here, like the wedding at Cana, Jesus healing the blind, Jesus healing the paralytic, Jesus calling on Matthew to follow him, Jesus calming the storm and others. Also included are scenes of the Holy Passion of Jesus and scenes of the life of the Theotokos like the Visitation, for example. These events are not designated as Church Feasts and since they therefore cannot be included under Feast Days, they are included under 'Special Icons'. Finally, images of the iconostasis and of some churches and monasteries can be found here.
     To see the 'Special Icons' return to the Icon Galleries - Master Page