Psalm 110 opens by quoting words addressed by God to the ‘Lord’ of David: ‘Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool’ (v.1).
This line is particularly significant for Christian exegetes since it forms part of a group of citations that reappear in the New Testament and are used by Jesus himself in his disputes with Pharisees (Matthew 22:41–45; Mark 12:35–37). Hence, this text was re-read in Christian terms from very early on, and was considered messianic, highlighting the connection between the LORD in Hebrew Scripture and Jesus (read as the other ‘Lord’).
This parallelism between the Old and New Testament texts provides the context for the image found in this nineteenth-century Russian icon. The panel represents a rather late example of the so-called New Testament Trinity iconography that was introduced into Eastern Christian art at an advanced stage of the fourteenth century.
The image depicts a striking combination of figures: God the Father with grey hair and white robes is represented seated beside Jesus, who appropriately appears on his right, distinguished by a halo with an inscribed cross and a caption bearing an abbreviated form of the name ‘Jesus Christ’. The elderly figure is also identified by an inscription as Lord Sabaoth. The flying dove with wings spread wide embodies the Holy Spirit and completes this complex rendering of the Trinity, which grants each hypostasis (or ‘person’) of God an individual representation and gives God the Father and Christ equal visual importance.
Conventionally the two figures of Christ and God the Father would come to be shown as jointly enthroned. Here, however—instead of a throne—the two figures are seated on a ‘red field’ which is filled with the faces of cherubim, while winged whirling wheels serve as a footstool. The presence of these heavenly forces is reflective of the way visions of God are described in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7). Ιf read in the light of Psalm 110, they bring to mind the ‘enemies’ that—according to v.1—are destined to form the footstool of God. In other words, like throne images, they allude to the absolute cosmic power of God, since all powers—whether earthly or heavenly; hostile or benign—are subject to the divine sway.
Bigham, Steven. 1995. Image of God the Father in Orthodox Theology and Iconography and Other Studies (Torrance: Oakwood Publications)
St John Chrysostom. 1998. Commentary on the Psalms, trans. with an introduction by Robert Charles Hill (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press)