Who Are the Four Living Creatures?

Who Are the Four Living Creatures?

By: Fr Matthew Attia

On Saturday, 17th November 2018 the Church celebrates the Commemoration of the 4 Living Creatures who carry the Throne of God as seen by St. John the Evangelist,“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do no rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’”(Revelation 4:8-9).

“The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature was like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:7).

The Prophet Ezekiel, whilst in exile in Babylon, saw a heavenly vision depicting the 4 living creatures (Ezekiel 1:4-28). St. John Chrysostom says, “There is nothing like the four Living Creatures in their honour, neither in heaven nor on earth because they are carrying God’s throne. They are created of light and fire. They are very strong and powerful. They appeal to God for the forgiveness of sins of mankind.”

The Fathers of the Church, contemplating on the nature and role of the 4 living creatures emerged with the following interpretations:

1. The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Attributes of God
  • The Man refers to God’s wisdom and knowledge
  • The Lion refers to God’s power and majest
  • The Calf refers to God’s patience and justice
  • The Eagle refers to God’s glory, height and sight
 
2.  The Four Living Creatures= refer to the Four Gospels
  • The Man refers to the Gospel of St. Matthew who commenced his Gospel with the genealogy of Christ as the Son of man
  • The Lion refers to the Gospel of St. Mark who commenced his Gospel with the voice crying in the wilderness
  • The Calf refers to the Gospel of St. Luke who commenced his Gospel with the sacrifices which Zacharias was offering in the temple
  • The Eagle refers to the Gospel of St. John who commenced his Gospel with the divinity of Christ
 
3. The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Redeeming Work of Christ
St. Irenaeus says:
  • The Man refers to Christ’s incarnation and humanity
  • The Lion refers to Christ’s power, courage and victory
  • The Calf refers to Christ’s sacrifice
  • The Eagle refers to Christ’s divinity and ascension to heaven
 
4. The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Sanctification of Human Nature
  • The Man refers to mental sanctification
  • The Lion refers to sanctification of human authority
  • The Calf refers to physical sanctification
  • The Eagle refers to spiritual sanctification
 
5. The Four Living Creatures=refer to Stages of Christ’s Salvation
St. Jerome says:
  • The Man refers to the incarnation
  • The Calf refers to the crucifixion and redemption
  • The Lion refers to the resurrection
  • The Eagle refers to the Ascension
 
6. The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Different Earthly Creatures
St. John Chrysostom says:
  • The Man refers to the human race
  • The Lion refers to the wild beasts
  • The Calf refers to the tamed animals
  • The Eagles refers to the birds
 
7.  The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Living Church of Christ
  • The Man refers to the Bishops
  • The Lion refers to the Priests
  • The Calf refers to the Deacons
  • The Eagle refers to the Laity
 
8. The Four Living Creatures=refer to the Various Forces of the Soul
St. Gregory of Nazianzus says:
  • The Man refers to the gift of logic
  • The Lion refers to the forces of rage
  • The Calf refers to the carnal desires
  • The Eagle refers to the spiritual desires
 
The Holiness of the Sanctuary

Our Orthodox Church, desiring always that her children taste heaven on earth, place the Pantocrator (niche) in the inner sanctuary (before the altar) depicting Christ on the Throne carried by the four living creatures with the 24 priests before Him. The priest offers incense to the two side sanctuaries of the Church saying, “Hail to the sanctuary of our Lord Jesus Christ carried by the Cherubim and the Seraphim.

In the conclusion of the Doxologies of the four Living Creatures we say, “Intercede of our behalf O four Living Creatures, the ministers fervent as fire, that Christ may forgive us our sins.

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