The Temple Gallery, that delightful little icon gallery in Holland Park sent me their catalogue for their Christmas exhibition. I am fascinated by these two icons of "The Blessed Silence". Although this seems to be a particularly Russian devotion, there is in the ancient Roman Canon the reference to the Angel who takes "this offering to Your Altar in Heaven". Presumably the same scripture references support both the icon and the reference in the Canon.
The second icon interestingly shows Christ's heart pierced with instruments of the Passion.
Christ depicted as an angel is based on Isaiah 9:5 who refers to “The Messenger (‘Angelos’) of Great Counsel”. He is the ‘Word in Eternity’ and, according to Coomber in The Icon Handbook, (Springfield Illinois, 1995), the iconography is ‘associated with the Creation and the Plan of Salvation, ordained from Eternity’. Other references from Isaiah are relevant: 42:2 “He shall not...cause his voice to be heard in the streets”; 53:7 “He was afflicted yet opened not his mouth...as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth”. Two four pointed stars, one superimposed on the other, are seen within Christ’s halo; their eight points are said to symbolise Eternity and the whole of Creation. (The Octave is the symbol of completion). Christ is clothed as a bishop (cf Hebrews 4:14 “...we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus Christ, Son of God...”. Seraphim, six-winged, bodiless and traditionally red, adorn the upper part of his chest and arms. The Seraphim, according to Dionysios the Areopagite, are the highest order of Angels and stand at the entrance into Paradise. At Christ’s chest is a Cherub, also bodiless and regarded as second in the angelic order. Christ holds the symbols of the Passion and an inscribed scroll: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). On the borders are the Guardian Angel and a female saint.
The subject was introduced into the iconographical canon in Russia in the 16th century. At that time Moscow, which had recently declared itself the Third Rome, was a milieu of intense theological and iconographical activity. (See N.P. Kondakov,The Russian Icon, OUP 1928, Chapter Mystical and Didactic Subjects).