In our ongoing discussion of how the Church treats the Ark of the Covenant, we have covered a lot of ground. We have examined the Old and New Testaments, apocryphal works, the writings of the Holy Fathers, and Liturgical treatment of the Ark. In this installment, we will discuss how the Ark is portrayed in the iconography of the Church. This will be the final installment in which we explore concrete examples. Subsequent posts will focus on a discussion of the impact of what we have learned.
Iconography depicting the Ark almost universally incorporates an emblem of the Theotokos upon the Ark itself. In the 16th century icon of the exaltation of the Ark by Master Theophane of Crete above, you see a circular emblem depicting the Theotokos both on the end of the Ark and at the end of the table upon which the Ark rests. You can see a closeup of the emblem on the Ark at right.
In the icon below depicting Uzzah dying, you can again see the emblem of the Theotokos on the end of the Ark. Uzzah is lying on the ground off to the side of the Ark after he incorrectly touched the Ark. To the left, King David dances before the Ark.
In the apse above the altar of Holy Theophany Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado (my home parish), is an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos depicted in her role as Ark. Portrayed in the photo below, you can see the angels on either side, just as they were in the Mosaic Ark, along with the Mother of God in the center. Just as in Moses’ time God’s presence rested on the mercy seat above the Ark, His presence sits upon His mother. The icon is located immediately above the high place in the sanctuary just as the Old Testament Ark resided in the most holy place of the temple.
The photo on the right from the Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church in Chicago quite stunningly and very unambiguously illustrates this typology, representing the divine presence as the radiant circle in the heart of the virgin, just as she bore and bears the Word of God within her. This circle is where the Holy Eucharist is reserved.