The Six Days
(Russia, eighteenth century)
Russia, probably Palekh; end of the eighteenth century; 49 x 39.5 cm
The icon of the “Six Days” was inspired by the liturgical weekly cycle of prayers – Šestodnev (Шестоднев, Six Day period), while also depicting the individual days of the creation of the world. This theme has been known since the sixteenth century, but did not spread to a greater extent in Russia until the eighteenth century. “Six days”, or the so-called “Hexameron,” is a description of the creation of the world by God, outlined in the first two chapters of Genesis. The Bible verses create sacred poetry that show readers the essence of God's work. It consists of a teaching about the beginning of the world and its meaning.
Description of the Icon
The six smaller kleymas (клейма, small icons) at the top of the icon depict scenes that are ideologically associated with the creation of the world, with the central icon of Deésis, and with crowds of all the saints. Above them is the inscription “the Six days of the creation of the world”.
Church holidays referring to the prayer cycle of the days of the week are placed vertically in the other six kleymas, three on either side of the icon. From the viewer's perspective, the top left is Sunday – The Descent into the Underworld. Opposite is Monday - the Assembly of Archangel Michael and the Heavenly Forces. Beneath the icon of the Descent into the Underworld is Tuesday - The Beheading of the Venerable Head of the Holy Prophet John the Baptist. Opposite is Wednesday – the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin. Below Tuesday is Thursday - The Washing of the Feet of the Apostles by Jesus Christ. Under the Annunciation is Friday - the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The seventh day is Saturday - the remembrance of all saints. It is located as a central icon with the icon of Deésis and a crowd of saints. Saturday is the day of the rest of the Creator and is also called the Saturday of All Saints. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:2).
The centre of the whole icon, as well as the iconostasis in the temple, is the composition Deésis. This enlarged Deésis is thematically composed of two parts. Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, blesses with both of his hands, with an eight-pointed aureole, the symbol of eternity, at the top. He is sitting on the Thrones in a white robe with red Seraphim in a golden circle, another symbol of eternity, from which red triangles with the symbols of the four Evangelists emerge towards all the cardinal points of the world. The Lord of Hosts is surrounded by a choir of archangels and saints. This section resembles the heavenly liturgy.
The second part depicts the composition Deésis reminiscent of the Last Judgment. The incarnate Word of God, the Logos - the Only Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ is sitting on the throne. He has a halo with an inscribed cross and the Greek letters Ѡ Ѻ N, meaning his name around his head – “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). He introduced himself in this manner to Moses in a burning bush under Mount Sinai. The Son of God is dressed in a golden robe, which is a sign of divine glory. He is blessing with his right hand and holding the open Gospel in his left. He is completely surrounded by the blue aureole of the Celestial Forces. The throne with a base has seven pillars symbolizing God's wisdom. “Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars.” (Proverbs 9:1) The Mother of God, John the Baptist, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and numerous saints and heavenly angels are interceding in a praying position to Christ in humility, beseeching for mercy for people.
Paradise is under the cope of heaven. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is in the middle, strewn with fruit which is delicious to eat, beautiful to look at, and tempting to know (see Genesis 2:9). It grows up out of the earth and touches the sky. The tree is planted on a hill with the abyss of hell below it. It resembles Golgotha. A serpent is coiled around the tree trunk and gives fruit to a woman. God is showing the tree to Adam and Eve through an angel on the left and forbids them to eat fruit from it. The cunning serpent managed to deceive Adam and Eve, however, and they violated God's command. An angel casts the grandparents out of paradise on the right. The artist placed crowds of saints in paradise. There are faces of holy women, faces of the apostles, and faces of all the saints on the left hand side. Holy children can be seen in the middle below. Faces of the beatified, faces of the martyrs and faces of all the saints are on the other side.
The following text is on the bottom border: “Come all you faithful, we will celebrate the glorious remembrance of all the saints with spiritual songs. Let us call together the Baptist of the Saviour, the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs, the like and the holy women, the entire church of the God-loving and let us sing together: Blessed Christ, our God, at their intercession give peace to the churches, victory over the enemies of the people of the Christian faith.”
For many Church Fathers, the six days of creation were an inspiration to admire God, who prepared everything for the human race and cares for everything. Saint Basil stands out among them, who in his 9 homilies On the Six Days of Creation admires God's care for the world. He refers to St. Paul, who writes that God can be known by reason from created things. “Let us glorify the Supreme Artificer for all that was wisely and skilfully made; by the beauty of visible things let us raise ourselves to Him Who is above all beauty; by the grandeur of bodies, sensible and limited in their nature, let us conceive of the Infinite Being Whose immensity and omnipotence surpass all the efforts of the imagination.” (Basil the Great, Hexaemeron, Homily I)