AxiosOrthodoxal news and traditionsWhy do we need pectoral icons?

Why do we need pectoral icons?

Many Orthodox Christians wear around their necks not only a pectoral cross, but also small pectoral icons of the Mother of God or of some saints. These miniature images, made of silver or gold, are placed next to a cross, or on a separate chain. When did this type of icons appear? What is the point of wearing them? Are there any church rules for wearing those icons? Why can we assume that «Pandora» was worn during the times of Kievan Rus? Answers to these questions, as well as everything that you need to know about pectoral icons, we have collected in our article.


The history of the medallions with images of icons is inextricably linked with the emergence of the Christian icon veneration in general. The early Christian symbols of Fish, which symbolically carried the mention of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, can be considered as a specific prototype of such icons. Thus, in Greek, the first letters of the phrase “Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior” (“Iesus Hristos Teos Ios Sotiros”) together formed the word “Fish” (“Ihtis”). There is a version that body icons became popular among Christians in the era of iconoclasm, when it was forbidden to keep icons in the house. For violation of the law there were imposed severe penalties. Therefore, believers began to wear the pectoral icons, which they reached for secret prayer at home. Pectoral icons were small; they could not be seen by others and could be easily hidden from prying eyes. And since the heresy of iconoclasm was very long, pectoral icons became firmly established in the folk tradition and remained in church practice. Although it should be noted that there are no church rules that would oblige believers to wear pectoral icons.

Thus, as we can see, the main purpose of wearing pectoral icons is to pray in front of them at any free time. You should not consider the these images a kind of amulets that will protect you from all evil. This is a pagan approach to such things. In Christianity, it is not the icon itself that plays an important role, but the faith and zeal of the person praying before her. If the pectoral icon is worn only as a piece of jewelry, and not an image for prayer, then from a theological point of view it will not carry any meaning other than aesthetic.

Pectoral icons came to Rus after baptism, but were originally used as colts - metal pendants that were attached to the headdress of women of Kievan Rus on a chain. The word "kolt" comes from the Ukrainian "koltky" or "kovtky", that is, "earrings." The kolts were made of gold or silver, painted and then attached to the blueprint of a headdress on the forehead. Kolt’s paintings contain many traditional floral ornaments, religious subjects and icons. In fact, with their sets of kolts, noble women in Rus showed their status, their heavenly patrons, and their own character traits. Kolts with images of saints are found in many treasuries of the period of early Kievan Rus.

Later, in the XII - XIV centuries, kolts lose their former distribution and give way to pectoral icons. The reason lies in the loss of stability in the state: first, inter-strife, and then the Mongolian yoke, which were accompanied by robbery and violence, forced the population not to wear their expensive jewelry in public. Pectoral icons of that period contain images of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as various types of icons of the Virgin Mary. Initially, these were Byzantine icons such as “Oranta” or “Odigitria”, but from the end of the 12th century local icons appeared, such as the image of the “Sign” of the Most Holy Mother of God. Since then, the wearing of pectoral icons has become a pious custom in our land. After 1917, during the Soviet godless power, this tradition was lost. For the open wearing of a cross or a pectoral icon, you could be put under the prison sentence or at least had a lot of trouble at work.

Nowadays, the tradition of wearing pectoral icons is reviving. Believers, along with a pectoral cross, wear icons of their holy heavenly patrons or images of icons of Our Lady that are honored by them. Today, there are many options for the design of pectoral icons, but when choosing your image for yourself, do not forget that the main thing is to pray in front of it every day, even with the shortest prayer.


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