The representation of the unburnt bush is seen as a supreme emblem of the Virgin Mother of God. Miraculously enveloped in divine flames, she remained untouched and unharmed. This intricate depiction, prevalent in Russia since the 16th century, encapsulates profound reverence towards Mary. The Virgin Mother is portrayed with the baby Emmanuel, encapsulated within an eight-pointed star composed of two overlapping diamonds. This star is placed atop a rosette, with symbols of the four evangelists in the lower star points, and angels with attributes taken from the Akathistos hymn in the rosette and upper star points. This icon was traditionally venerated as a safeguard against lightning and fire, and thus served as a protective emblem for homes and residences.
Surrounding the symbols of the four evangelists – the angel, eagle, lion, and bull – is a narrative originating from the biblical visions of Ezekiel (in the Old Testament) and John (in the New Testament). In John’s Revelation of the opened heavens (Rev 4:1-11), the evangelist beheld the throne of the Almighty encircled by four enigmatic creatures, each adorned with six wings. This visual concept was first realized in Roman mosaics. The definitive association of these symbols with the evangelists, prevalent today, can be traced back to the 4th-century church father Jerome. According to Jerome’s assignment, the lion symbolizes Mark, the bull represents Luke, the eagle signifies John, and the human figure (or angel) corresponds to Matthew. He also determined the chronological order of the Gospels in the New Testament.
Circumscribing the troparion:
A troparion in Orthodox Christianity refers to a short hymn of one stanza or one of a series of stanzas. This term comes from the Greek word “tropos”, which means “way” or “manner.” Troparia are often metaphorical in nature, using symbolic references to convey deeper spiritual meanings. These hymns have different forms and uses within the liturgical tradition, serving as an important part of the Orthodox worship.
Troparia are frequently used in the Divine Services and can appear at different points, each with its unique function and purpose. For instance, the Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn) is a troparion that is specific to a feast day or to a particular saint, and it sets the tone for the day’s liturgical celebrations.
One of the most well-known troparia is the “Troparion of the Holy Cross” which is sung on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It goes: “O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries; and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.”
Another notable one is the “Paschal Troparion,” sung at Pascha (Easter) and goes: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
There’s also the “Kontakion”, another type of hymn, often confused with the troparion. Kontakia tend to be longer and more elaborate, explaining the feast or giving the history or significance of the event being celebrated.
While the specific troparion used can vary depending on the occasion, they all serve the purpose of connecting worshipers to the divine through song, enriching the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church with profound spiritual and theological meaning.