In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, the Church remembers the “Holy Forefathers” of Jesus Christ; in other words, the Old Testament Saints who preceded Christ in the flesh, prophesized His coming, or prefigured Him. In iconography, the Old Testament Saints can appear by themselves, in scenes from their lives, or – like here – in anachronistic compositions.
In the left bottom corner is Adam, the original forefather of Jesus’ humanity, and all of us. He gestures to the figure in the bottom centre, the Patriarch Abraham, holding a child symbolizing the promise made to him – that even as an old man his progeny would be numbered as the “stars in the sky” and “the grains of sand on the seashore”. To confirm the fulfillment of this prophecy, the child himself gestures to his left, where Abraham’s grandson Jacob stands holding a cloth containing his twelve sons: the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Flanking Abraham is Enoch and Isaac, hands raised in a sign of humility. Along the top, from left to right, stands the prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist King David, the Prophet Daniel amid the Three Holy Youths, Aaron the Levite, and Joshua. Being well-known for their prayerful attitude and faithfulness to the Torah, the Three Holy Youths, Daniel, and Aaron all wear kippahs topped with phylacteries. Below Aaron is his brother Moses, also wearing kippah and phylactery.
On the left wearing a crown of authority is the last of the Hebrew judges, Samuel. Besides his name being inscribed in his halo, Samuel is easily recognized by the golden horn he holds, used to anoint the first two kings of the nation of Israel: Saul and David.
Below Samuel is Jeremiah, holding a scroll of his own prophecy, as is the Prophet Zechariah on the far right or Jeremiah. Zechariah is also holding the seven-branched Menorah, a common liturgical ornament of the Temple, which this prophet helped to rebuild. To the right of Zechariah is Righteous Noah, considered a pre-figuration of Christ, and holding the Ark of Salvation, a pre-figuration of the Mother of God, who held within her our Salvation. To the left of Jeremiah is a pre-figuration of John the Baptist: the Prophet Elijah. Like the Saint who came after him, Elijah is recognizable by the coat of animal hair which he wears.
Flanked by a pre-figuration of John the Baptist and the Theotokos on either side, the figure in the centre can only be an Old Testament pre-figuration of Jesus Christ. That figure is the “Royal Priest”, the King of Salem, the person who came distributing bread and wine, and the person to whom Abraham, the Patriarch of the Hebrews gave tithes: Melchizedek.