Ancient of Days
This term, Ancient of Days comes from Prophet Daniel 7:13-14 which says,
“I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin."
Who is the Ancient of Days
St. Dionysius includes the title "Ancient of Days" in his treatise "On the Divine Names", and as such applies the title to the Godhead:
- Now, this, we have thoroughly demonstrated elsewhere, that always, all the God-becoming Names of God, are celebrated by the Oracles, not partitively, but as applied to the whole and entire and complete and full Godhead, and that all of them are referred impartitively, absolutely, unreservedly, entirely, to all the Entirety of the entirely complete and every Deity. And verily as we have mentioned in the Theological Outlines, if any one should say that this is not spoken concerning the whole Deity, he blasphemes, and dares, without right, to cleave asunder the super-unified Unity.
Of the meaning of the title "Ancient of Days", St. Dionysius says:
- ...Almighty God is celebrated as "Ancient of days" because He is of all things both Age and Time,--and before Days, and before Age and Time. And yet we must affirm that He is Time and Day, and appointed Time, and Age, in a sense befitting God, as being throughout every movement unchangeable and unmoved, and in His ever moving remaining in Himself, and as being Author of Age and Time and Days. Wherefore, in the sacred Divine manifestations of the mystic visions, He is represented as both old and young; the former indeed signifying the "Ancient" and being from the beginning, and the latter His never growing old; or both teaching that He advances through all things from beginning to end,----or as our Divine initiator says, "since each manifests the priority of God, the Elder having the first place in Time, but the Younger the priority in number; because the unit, and things near the unit, are nearer the beginning than numbers further advanced. ...Almighty God we ought to celebrate, both as eternity and time, as Author of every time and eternity, and "Ancient of days," as before time, and above time; and as changing appointed seasons and times; and again as being before ages, in so far as He is both before eternity and above eternity and His kingdom, a kingdom of all the Ages. Amen.
In Eastern Orthodox Christian hymns and icons, the Ancient of Days is identified with God the Son, or Jesus Christ. This is because the Old Testament is always explained in the light of the New Testament, and in the Revelation Chapter 1 we read:
12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! (Rev. 1:11-18, NET).
- «The Ancient of Days became an infant». St. Athanasius of Alexandria. (Homily on the Birth of Christ).
- "For it is His humanity that he names son of man." St. Athanasius of Alexandria, (Epistle to Antiochus)
- "But if he was a man honored as God because of a conjunction with God, Daniel would have said he saw one coming on the clouds like the Son of God, but rather says this, namely, like the Son of man." St. Cyril of Alexandria, (Epistle to Anastasius, Alexander, Martinian, John...No.55.30)
- "Daniel saw a type and image of what was to be in the future, i.e., the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly man so He could be united with our nature." (St. John of Damascus, On Div. Images, 3.26)
- "In the likeness of a son of man, he foresees the incarnation of the Only-begotten One." St. Ammonius, (P.G. 85, l380A)
- "But what can I say? For the wonder astounds me. The Ancient of Days Who sits upon a high and exalted throne is laid in a manger." St. John Chrysostom (Homily on the Saviour's Birth).
- "Let the earth bow down, let every tongue sing, chant, and glorify the Child God, forty-day old and pre-eternal, the small Child and Ancient of Days, the suckling Child and Creator of the ages." St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Homily on the Presentation of the Lord)
- "The just Symeon received into his aged arms the Ancient of Days under the form of infancy, and, therefore, blessed God saying, ‘Now lettest Thy servant depart in peace...’" St. Methodius of Olympus (P.G.18, 3658)
- "Thou hast borne incomprehensibly the Ancient of Days as a new Child Who showed us new paths of virtue upon the earth..." Teotokion, 1st Ode of Friday Matins in the 5th tone.
- "Thou hast borne the Ancient of Days as a new Child unto us..." Theotokion, 8th Ode of Tues. Matins in the 6th tone.
- "Thou hast surpassed the laws of nature, O pure Daughter, in bringing a new Child upon the earth Who is both the Lawgiver and the Ancient of Days..." Theotokion, 8th Ode, Matins, 5th Sunday of Lent.
The Ancient of Days depiction
Eastern Christian art will sometimes portray Jesus Christ as an old man, the Ancient of Days, to show symbolically that he existed from all eternity, and sometimes as a young man to portray him as he was incarnate. This iconography emerged in the 6th century, mostly in the Eastern Empire. It was declared by the Russian Orthodox Church at the Great Synod of Moscow in 1667 that the Ancient of Days was the Son and not the Father.
- Cartlidge and Elliott, 69-72
- The Tome of the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667 A.D.), Ch. 2, 43-45; tr. Hierodeacon Lev Puhalo, Canadian Orthodox Missionary Journal