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The Road to Emmaus

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PCM518 Package of 25 icon holy cards


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Chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel tells the familiar story about two of Christ’s disciples, one named Cleopas, who encounter a mysterious stranger on the road to the town of Emmaus. They only recognize Him as Jesus when they break bread together at the evening meal. This original icon by Sister Marie-Paul intriguingly portrays the unnamed disciple as a woman.

Icon holy cards are 3" x 5", a convenient size for use as gifts or bookmarks. The backs are blank except for a faint colophon at the bottom, leaving plenty of room for custom imprinting with your own message.

Image Origins

The vivid story of two discipleís encounter with the Resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus is found in chapter 24 of Lukeís Gospel. The scene has often been rendered in western European art. The painting, "Supper at Emmaus" by Caravaggio is particularly famous. However, icons of this very familiar story are rare. The image we have reproduced for you here is an original by Sister Marie-Paul and is especially unusual in that one of the disciples is female. There actually is excellent scriptural and traditional evidence for identifying the unnamed disciple as a woman. The man is named as Clopas or Cleopas (Luke 24:18). Elsewhere, a woman named Mary (often called "the other Mary" to distinguish her from Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene) is named as the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). Still elsewhere, this Mary is identified as the mother of the Apostle James the Less and Joses (Mark 15:40). So the most likely companion for Clopas on the Road to Emmaus would be his wife Mary, who had been a witness to the Crucifixion and to the empty tomb (Mark 16:1).

Theology and Symbolism

When a story is told in iconography, it is quite common to have multiple scenes exist in juxtaposition within the same image. Here, we see Jesus and the two disciples walking along amid mountainous terrain on the left, and the same individuals seated around the evening table at Emmaus on the right. The overall background and border of the icon is covered (in the original) with gold leaf. Gold is used in icons to represent the divine light of Godís revelation, chosen because of its value, freedom from tarnish, and its metallic ability to enrich and transform light in a manner so different from pigment. The words written at the top of the icon are an unusual translation of Luke 24:32.

Jesus is dressed in classic ancient Greek robes, a tunic of red, symbolic of His humanity and His blood sacrificed for us, covered by a robe of dark blue, symbolic of the heavenly mystery of His divinity. On his right sleeve is a band of mixed red and gold threads, an ancient Byzantine symbol of royalty and signifying Christís role as King of the Universe. Jesusí head is surrounded by a gold halo inscribed with a cross and the Greek letters omega, omicron, and nu. They spell "ho on," Greek for "Who Am," the name of God used in Exodus 3:14. The halo is used in iconography to indicate sanctity, and only Christís is inscribed with a cross. On the left, Jesus holds a scroll, symbolizing the Word of God which He is communicating to the disciples. On the right, He breaks the bread as He prepares to share it with them.

The background scenery is rather crudely drawn and lacking in detail. This is deliberately done in icons to focus the viewerís attention on the important aspects of the story. The furniture in the scene on the right is also represented in rather schematic form. In fact, the stool Jesus is seated upon appears to have shorter legs in front than in back. Rather than employing the more realistic technique of perspective drawing, iconographers frequently use "inverse perspective" to draw the viewer into the scene.

By the time that Luke wrote his Gospel sometime between 63 and 80 AD, the liturgy of the Eucharist was well developed and this story has an obvious parallel with it--an explanation of scripture followed by the Eucharistic meal. The discipleís eyes were opened to the reality of the Risen Christ with the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35).

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