The unburnt bush icon holds significant symbolism in the Orthodox Church. It draws inspiration from a religious hymn which compares the Mother of God to the incombustible bush that Moses encountered on Mount Horeb. This thorn-bush was engulfed in flames but remained unscathed, serving as a divine miracle.
The icon portrays two superimposed quadrilaterals or triangles with curved sides, creating an octagonal or hexagonal star. One square is colored green to represent the bush, while the other is colored red to represent the flame. The star bears the image of the Mother of God with the child, and may feature additional symbols such as a stone, a ladder, a gate or a rod. The stone symbolizes the prophecy in the Book of Daniel, where the Mother of God and Christ are identified with a stone that is mysteriously torn from a mountain without human intervention.
The ladder alludes to Jacob’s vision of a staircase that stretches from earth to heaven, upon which angels ascend and descend; it emphasizes the divine connection between heaven and earth. The gate is a reference to a vision of the prophet Ezekiel, and underscores God’s presence amidst His people. The rod portrays Christ as the “scion from the root of Jesse,” emphasizing His lineage and divine nature.
In each of the four corners, the icon depicts the symbols of the evangelists. The lion represents Mark, the bull represents Luke, the eagle represents John, and the angel/man represents Matthew. These symbols reflect the animal imagery found in the beginning of each Gospel account.
In some versions of the icon, the Mother of God is depicted within a mandorla – two concentric circles depicting angels. This emphasizes the divine and angelic nature of the Mother of God, and her role as the mediator between earth and heaven.
Overall, the unburnt bush icon is a powerful testament to the miraculous power of God’s presence, and the intercession of the Mother of God for all those who turn to her in prayer.