ASK FATHER TED (August 2012)

QUESTION:

I noticed that the priest’s robe depicts a pattern of two-headed birds. What does the depiction signify?

ANSWER:

The depiction of the bird is intended to signify an eagle with a sharp beak and claws. The eagle in many cultures is the king of birds, symbolizing height of flight and power over all other fowl. In the culture of Byzantium, the civilization that flourished for one thousand years between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries, when Constantinople was the capitol of the gradually Christianized Roman Empire, the symbol of the double-headed eagle signified the two authorities, the State and the Church, distinct but united in cooperation.

The symbol has been retained in the Orthodox Church even after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks (1453) and can be found on vestments, sacred utensils, icons, and also the marble floors of churches.

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