The Ox and the Ass at the Manger

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ descends from the heavens, welcome Him!
Christ is now on earth, O be jubilant!
Sing to the Lord, the whole earth,
And sing praises to Him with joy, O ye people,
For He has been exalted!

Christmas Canon, 1st Song, Irmos

Nativity Icon

The ox and the ass are two of the most ancient symbols that appear in Nativity icons. In the ancient Church, the ox was a clean, kosher animal representing the Jews. The Jews have the Law of Moses which taught them obedience to God. The ass, on the other hand, was a wilder and untamed animal, representing the Gentiles who do not have the Law. In Christ, the two seemingly opposite groups are united. The Apostle Paul writes: “For He is our peace who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility . . . .” (Ephesians 2:14)

The Nativity Icon shows the newborn Christ in a cave. The color black symbolizes the dark mystery of the human heart. Christ came to bring light to our inner darkness. Hence, we are urged to welcome Christ into our heart. The color black can also be understood as symbolizing the world being shrouded in darkness. Christ has entered into the dark times of our lives bringing comfort and joy, faith and hope.

The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
And for those who sat in the region
and shadow of death
light has dawned.
(Matthew 4:17; cf. Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah’s prophecy of the eschatological dawn was fulfilled when Jesus came preaching repentance and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:17).


Dear Folks,

The year 2023 has been a busy one for me. In my spare time I continue to write articles for the OrthodoxBridge. I hope to post more articles in the near future. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Robert Arakaki