The Icon of the Ancient of Days:

Patristic, Liturgical, and Historical Evidence



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Patristic Evidence: Is the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 a Vision of the Father?


Hippolytus (c. 170 – c. 236 A.D.)


"I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and was brought near before Him..."…  He showed all power given by the Father to the Son, who is ordained Lord of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and Judge of all."

(From: St. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, ANF vol. 5, p. 209)


In “The Ancient of Days: Patristic and Modern views of Daniel 7:9-14, by

Wilfred Sophrony Royer, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 45:2 (2001), p 139 we read:


“One of the earliest patristic commentators on the Book of Daniel, Hippolytus (ca. 170 – 236) writes that the Ancient of Days “is for Daniel, nothing more than the Lord, God and Master of all, the Father of Christ himself.


This citation differs from the reading found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers Series, which reads:


“"And came to the Ancient of days." By the Ancient of days he means none other than the Lord and God and Ruler of all, and even of Christ Himself, who maketh the days old, and yet becometh not old Himself by times and days.  "His dominion is an everlasting dominion." The Father, having put all things in subjection to His own Son, both things in heaven and things on earth, showed Him forth by all as the first-begotten of God, in order that, along with the Father, He might be approved the Son of God before angels, and be manifested as the Lord also of angels." (From: St. Hippolytus, Fragments of Commentaries, ANF vol. 5, p. 189)



There is a footnote in the article to explain this discrepancy:


“Hippolytus, Fragmenta in Danielem (PG 10:684); critical edition in G.N> Bonwetsch, Hippolytus Werke, vol. I: Die Kommentaire zu Daniel and zum Hohenliede (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1897), 212.  The text found in J.P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca is based on a pre-critical edition that mistakenly omitted the important word pater (“Father”) from Hippolytus’ statement.”


The Treatise Against the Heretic Novation

(Often Attributed to St. Cyprian of Cathage)

(ca. 255 A.D.)


“Like things to these also says Daniel: "I beheld a throne placed, and the Ancient of days sat upon it, and His clothing was as it were snow, and the hairs of His head as it were white wool: His throne was a flame of fire, its wheels were burning fire. A river of fire came forth before Him: thousand thousands ministered to Him, and thousand thousands stood before Him: He sat to judgment, and the books were opened." And John still more plainly declares, both about the day of judgment and the consummation of the world, saying, "And when," said he, "He had opened the sixth seal, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as of blood; and the stars fell to the earth, even as a fig-tree, shaken by a mighty wind, casteth her unripe figs. And the heaven departed as a book when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved from their places. And the kings of the earth, and all the great men, and the tribunes, and the rich men, and the strong men, and every slave, and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the caverns of the mountains; saying to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall upon us, and hide us from the sight of the Father that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: because the day of destruction cometh; and who shall be able to stand?" (ANF, Vol. V, p. 663).



                                 Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 350)


"And Zechariah says: "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, just, and having salvation; meek, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass."  Him Daniel describes as "the Son of man coming to the Father," and receiving all judgment and honour from Him." (The Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5, Chapter 20, ANF vol. 7, p. 448)


Lactantius (c. 240 – c. 320 A.D.)


"But when he had made arrangements with His disciples for the preaching of the Gospel and His name, a cloud suddenly surrounded Him, and carried Him up into heaven, on the fortieth day after His passion, as Daniel had shown that it would be, saying: "And, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days." (The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 21, ANF vol. 7, p. 123)


"...and then at length, on the fortieth day, He returned to His Father, being carried up into a cloud.  The prophet Daniel had long before shown this, saying: "I saw in the night vision, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days; and they who stood beside Him brought Him near before Him.  And there was given Him a kingdom, and glory, and dominion, and all people, tribes, and tongues shall serve Him; and His power is an everlasting one, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which

shall not be destroyed."  Also David in the 109th Psalm: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." (The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, Chapter 47, ANF vol. 7, p. 241)


"But the prophet comprises both His advents in few words.  Behold, he says, one like the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.  He did not say, like the Son of God, but the Son of man, that he might show that He had to be clothed with flesh on the earth, that having assumed the form of a man and the condition of mortality, He might teach men righteousness; and when, having completed the commands of God, He had revealed the truth to the nations, He might also suffer death, that He might overcome and lay open the other world also, and thus at length rising again, He might proceed to His Father borne aloft on a cloud.  For the prophet said in addition: And came even to the Ancient of days, and was presented to Him.  He called the Most High God the Ancient of days, whose age and origin cannot be comprehended; for He alone was from generations, and He will be always to generations.  But that Christ, after His passion and resurrection, was about to ascend to God the Father, David bore witness in these words in the 109th Psalm: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." (The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 12, ANF vol. 7, p. 111)


St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315 – 386 A.D.)


        Commenting on the clause in the Creed which states that Christ shall come again to judge the living and the dead, St. Cyril writes.


"The Son of Man shall come to the Father, according to the Scripture which was just now read, "on the clouds of heaven," [Daniel 7:9] drawn by a stream of fire [Daniel 7:10], which is to make trial of men. Then if any man's works are of gold, he shall be made brighter; if any man's course of life be like stubble, and unsubstantial, it shall be burnt up by the fire. And the Father "shall sit, having His garment white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool" [Daniel 7:9].  But this is spoken after the manner of men; wherefore? Because He is the King of those who have not been defiled with sins; for, He says, I will make your sins white as snow, and as wool, which is an emblem of forgiveness of sins, or of sinlessness itself. But the Lord who shall come from heaven on the clouds, is He who ascended on the clouds; for He Himself hath said, And they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XV, NPNF2, Vol 7, page 110).


“So there will be present at the judgment in that day, God, the Father of all, Jesus Christ being seated with Him, and the Holy Ghost present with Them; and an angel’s trumpet shall summon us all to bring our deeds with us.  Ought we not then from this time forth to be sore troubled?” (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XV, NPNF2, Vol 7, page 112).


Rufinus (c. 345 – 410 A.D.)


        The Creed tells us that Christ ascended into the heavens and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come again in glory to Judge both the living and the dead.  In his commentary on the Apostles Creed, Rufinus writes:


“Now let us shew briefly, if you will, that these things were foretold by the Prophets. You will yourself, since you are so minded, gather together more from the ample range of the Scriptures. The Prophet Malachi says, "Behold the Lord Almighty shall come, and who shall abide the day of His coming, or who shall abide the sight of Him? For He doth come as the fire of a furnace and as fuller's soap: and He shall sit, refining and purifying as it were gold and silver." But that thou mayest know more certainly Who this Lord is of Whom these things are said, hear what the Prophet Daniel also foretells: "I saw," saith he, "in the vision of the night, and, behold, One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, and He came nigh to the Ancient of days, and was brought near before Him; and there was given to Him dominion, and honour, and a kingdom. And all peoples, tribes, and languages shall serve Him. And His dominion is an eternal dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed." By these words we are taught not only of His coming and judgment, but of His dominion and kingdom, that His dominion is eternal, and His kingdom indestructible, without end; as it is said in the Creed, "and of His kingdom there shall be no end." So that one who says that Christ's kingdom shall one day have an end is very far from the faith” (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, NPNF2, Vol. 3, p. 556).



St. John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407 A.D.)


        St. John Chrysostom is a particularly significant Father in this discussion.  One finds many liturgical and Patristic quotes in which the infant Christ is spoken of as the Ancient of Days (this issue will be discussed further when we get to St. Dionysius the Areopagite, and one also find St. John Chrysostom speaking in this manner:


"What can I say? What can I utter? For the wonder stuns me: the Ancient of Days became a child. He who is seated upon a high throne and carried aloft is placed in a manger." (2nd Homily on the Nativity, EPE, vol. 35, p. 472. as quoted by George Gabriel).


It should be noted that this is not a commentary on the vision found in Daniel 7, and this is clearly demonstrated when one looks at the following citations in which St. John Chrysostom actually does discuss who the Ancient Days was in that passage.  In his commentary on Daniel, St. John says, this prophet "was the first and only one [in the Old Testament] to see the Father and the Son, as if in a vision"  (In Danielem (PG 56:231-233)).


        Elsewhere St. John makes the following comments on the question of visions of the invisible God in the Old Testament:


“No man hath seen God at any time." By what connection of thought does the Apostle come to say this? After showing the exceeding greatness of the gifts of Christ, and the infinite difference between them and those ministered by Moses, he would add the reasonable cause of the difference. Moses, as being a servant, was minister of lower things, but Christ being Lord and King, and the King's Son, brought to us things far greater, being ever with the Father, and beholding Him continually; wherefore He saith, "No man hath seen God at any time." What then shall we answer to the most mighty of voice, Esaias, when he says, "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up" (Isa. vi. 1); and to John himself testifying of Him, that "he said these things when he had seen His glory"? (c. xii. 41.) What also to Ezekiel? for he too beheld Him sitting above the Cherubim. (Ezek. i. and x.) What to Daniel? for he too saith, "The Ancient of days did sit" (Dan. vii. 9.) What to Moses himself, saying, "Show me Thy Glory, that I may see Thee so as to know Thee." (Ex. xxxiii. 13, Ex. xxxiii 13 partly from LXX.) And Jacob took his name from this very thing, being called3 "Israel"; for Israel is "one that sees God." And others have seen him. How then saith John, "No man hath seen God at any time"? It is to declare, that all these were instances of (His) condescension, not the vision of the Essence itself unveiled. For had they seen the very Nature, they would not have beheld It under different forms, since that is simple, without form, or parts, or bounding lines. It sits not, nor stands, nor walks: these things belong all to bodies. But how He Is, He only knoweth. And this He hath declared by a certain prophet, saying, "I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes by the hands of the prophets" (Hos. xii. 10), that is, "I have condescended, I have not appeared as I really was." For since His Son was about to appear in very flesh, He prepared them from old time to behold the substance of God, as far as it was possible for them to see It; but what God really is, not only have not the prophets seen, but not even angels nor archangels. If you ask them, you shall not hear them answering anything concerning His Essence, but sending up, "Glory to God in the Highest, on earth peace, good will towards men." (Luke ii. 14.) If you desire to learn something from Cherubim or Seraphim, you shall hear the mystic song of His Holiness, and that "heaven and earth are full of His glory." (Isa. vi. 3.) If you enquire of the higher powers, you shall but find7 that their one work is the praise of God. "Praise ye Him," saith David, "all His hosts." (Ps. cxlviii. 2.) But the Son only Beholds Him, and the Holy Ghost" (15th Homily on the Gospel of John).


Note that the Ancient of Days vision is cited as an instance in Which God was seen, but not in his very essence.  And if one doubts who the Ancient of Days is (or who was seen in all of the other Old Testament Theophanies mentioned), St. John identifies the "He" he has been talking about when he says that only the Son and the Holy Spirit behold Him as he is in His essence.


St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 110


Let us, however, resume once more our theme. The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand. Do you see the equality of status? Where there is a throne, you see, there is a symbol of kingship; where there is one throne, the equality of status comes from the same kingship. Hence Paul also said, “He made his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire. But of the Son: Your throne, O God, is forever.” Thus, too, Daniel sees all creation in attendance, both angels and archangels, by contrast with the Son of Man coming on the clouds and advancing to the Ancient of Days. If our speaking in these terms is a problem for some, however, let them hear that he is seated at his right hand, and be free of the problem. I mean, as we do not claim he is greater than the Father for having the most honorable seat at his right hand, so you for your part do not say he is inferior and less honorable, but of equal status and honor. This, in fact, is indicated by the sharing of the seat.


Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus 393 –457


                Blessed Theodoret’s comments make clear that what the Prophet Daniel saw in the Ancient of Days was a symbolic form of the Father, and was not a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ.


It is fitting for us to know that God is incorporeal, simple, and without form and that he admits no circumscription. Although it pertains to his nature not to be able to be circumscribed, very often to help us he makes use of visions, whenever he wills. And one can see that he appears to Abraham in one way, to Moses in another and to Isaiah in yet another; likewise he showed Ezekiel still a different appearance. Therefore, whenever you see the variety of revelation, do not think that God has many forms, but rather listen to God as he speaks through the prophet Hosea: “I multiplied the visions, and I was proclaimed symbolically by the prophets” (Hosea 12:10). He said, “I adopted likenesses,” not I appeared. He fashions in a vision however it suits him. So too blessed Ezekiel, whom he had seen to consists of God and fire, added as he narrated the vision, “These things are an image of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28), And he did not say that he had seen the Lord or even the Lord’s glory but rather something resembling the glory of the Lord. (Commentary on Daniel 7:9-10. PG 81:1421; WGRW 7:187; Ancient Christian Commentary, OT, Vol. XIII: Ezekiel, Daniel, p. 229f).


St. Ephraim the Syrian ca. 306 – 373

 Selected Works, Vol II. p. 511:


For when [God whom we have called] a mirror was incapable of old age, and the (Jewish) people incapable of the truth, He took to Himself old age for the instructing of the faithless: and since king and old man and child were become effeminate, He put on old age; as a venerable old man did He judge those iniquitous persons who were effeminate in sin. The Being that waxeth not old put on old age to teach by parables concerning His Son and His Beloved. By the mask of old age He shewed His Fatherhood to teach that He hath a Son, the Son of Man, Whom Daniel saw standing before the Ancient of Days, Who did away with mortal kings, and made Himself a King in the Son of the King Immortal. If it had been One only that was sitting, then had there been one seat; but for this reason he saw not one seat, but seats. He shewed that there was an Assessor with Him, and a Son to the Ancient of Days. The thousand thousands whom Daniel saw, them alone did he see standing: to the Son of Man he did not ascribe standing, because He is not a minister.


St. Epiphanius ca. 310 – 403

Panarion Vol. III


14,3 This Father, Son and Holy Spirit has always vouchsafed to appear in visions to his saints, as each was able to receive [the vision] in accordance with the gift which had been given him by the Godhead. This gift was granted to each of those who were deemed worthy, sometimes to see the Father as each was able, sometimes to hear his voice as well as he could. (4) When he said by the mouth of Isaiah, “My beloved servant shall understand,” this is the voice of the Father. And when Daniel saw “the Ancient of Days,” this is a vision of the Father. And again, when he says in the prophet, “I have multiplied visions and been portrayed by hands of the prophets,” this is the voice of the Son. And when, in Ezekiel, “The Spirit of God took me” and “brought me out unto the plain,” this refers to the Holy Spirit.



St. Augustine (354 –430 A.D.)


“I do not know in what manner these men understand that the Ancient of Days appeared to Daniel, from whom the Son of man, which He deigned to be for our sakes, is understood to have received the kingdom; namely, from Him who says to Him in the Psalms, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee; ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance; and who has "put all things under His feet." If, however, both the Father giving the kingdom, and the Son receiving it, appeared to Daniel in bodily form, how can those men say that the Father never appeared to the prophets, and, therefore, that He only ought to be understood to be invisible whom no man has seen, nor can see? For Daniel has told us thus: "I beheld," he says, "till the thrones were set, and the Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened," etc. And a little after, "I saw," he says, "in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Behold the Father giving, and the Son receiving, an eternal kingdom; and both are in the sight of him who prophesies, in a visible form. It is not, therefore, unsuitably believed that God the Father also was wont to appear in that manner to mortals” (On the Trinity, Book II, Chapter 18, NPNF1, Vol. 3).


St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444)


“Behold, again Emmanuel is manifestly and clearly seen ascending to God the Father in heaven… The Son of Man has appeared in the flesh and reached the Ancient of Days, that is, He has ascended to the throne of His eternal Father and has been given honor and worship…” (Letter 55, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 77, Washington: CUA Press, 1987, pp. 28, 29).


“"What is the meaning of 'he came unto the Ancient of Days' (Dan. 7:13)? Perchance it means coming to a place? But how could this be, it is stupid. The Divine would not be located in a place for it fills all things. What, then, is the meaning of 'he came unto the Ancient of Days?’ Plainly, it means that the Son came to the glory of the Father. And where is this seen? He [Daniel] speaks again and says the following, 'To Him was given honor and the reign.' For He heard the Father saying, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’.”(St. Cyril of Alexandria, PG 70, 1461B. Translated by George Gabriel)


It is important to note that St. Cyril too sees this vision as referring to the session to the right hand of the Father that we affirm in the Creed – which is the same connection we have seen the other fathers make on this passage.


Blessed Theophylact (c. 1050 – c. 1108 A.D.)


Quoting Matthew 26:64: ""Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming upon the clouds of heaven."  He is speaking to them from the prophecy of Daniel who said, "I saw one coming as the Son of Man upon the clouds."  For since they thought that He was deluded, as He appeared to them in humble form, He said, "You shall see Me then coming in power and seated with the Father."  "Power" here means that of the Father, and the Son of Man will be coming not from earth but from heaven" (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, House Springs MO: Chrysostom Press, 1992, p. 236).


Commenting on the parallel in Mark 14:62: “He says, “as the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power of the Father.”  For power” here means the Father.  At the second coming He will come in His Body, so as to be seen and recognized by those who crucified Him” (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 128).


St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359)


“He was both God and man, Son of man and Son of God. As man He received the inalienable kingdom from God the Father, as Daniel saw and announced beforehand: “I beheld till the thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days did sit, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which shall not be taken by any other king” (Daniel 7:9; 7:13-14 LXX). – Homily 14:11


Dionysius of Fourna (ca. 1734)


“The painting of holy images we take over not only from the holy fathers, but also from the holy Apostles and even from the person of Christ our only God… We therefore depict Christ on an icon as a man, since he came into the world and had dealings with men, becoming in the end a man like us except in sin. Likewise we also depict the Timeless Father as an old man, as Daniel saw him clearly….” (The Painters Manual. 87 (This is a standard Orthodox text on Iconography “compiled on Mt. Athos, Greece from 1730-1734 from ancient sources by Dionysius of Fourna)).



Bishop Theophilos of Campania (1749–1795)


“Entering into the sanctuary, the Bishop kisses the holy icons, revealing that through [Christ] we come to be loved by the Father. With his entry into the Holy Bema, one Bishop fulfills the type of that which the great Paul says, that Christ did not enter into anything constructed by human hands, but into heaven itself, in order to appear before the Father for us. And this was like arriving at the Ancient of Days and standing before Him, according to Daniel the Prophet, and receiving the same authority and honor, and the Kingdom: namely, the glory which he had before He became a man as well, which He petitioned as man when He was still here, saying, "and now glorify me, Father, with the glory which I had beside yourself, which I had beside you before the world came to be" (The Explanation of the Divine Liturgy).


St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain (c. 1749 – 1809 A.D.)


“We must note that since the present Council [the Seventh] in the letter it is sending to the church of the Alexandrians pronounces blissful, or blesses, those who know and admit and recognize, and consequently also iconize and honor the visions and theophaniae of the Prophets, just as God Himself formed these and impressed them upon their mind, but anathematizes on the contrary those who refuse to accept and admit the pictorial representations of such visions before the incarnation of the divine Logos (p. 905 of Vol. II of the Conciliar Records) it is to be inferred that even the beginningless Father ought to have His picture painted just as He appeared to Daniel the prophet as the Ancient of Days.  Even though it be admitted as a fact that Pope Gregory in his letter to Leo the Isaurian (p. 712 of the second volume of the Concilliar Records) says that we do not blazon the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet it must be noted that he said this not simply, but in the sense that we do not paint Him in accordance with the divine nature; since it is impossible, he says, to blazon or paint God’s nature.  That is what the present council is doing, and the entire Catholic Church; and not that we do not paint Him as He appeared to the Prophet.  For if we did not paint Him at all or portray Him in any manner at all to the eye, why should we be painting the Father as well as the Holy Spirit in the shape of Angels, of young men, just as they appeared to Abraham?  Besides even if it be supposed that Gregory does say this, yet the opinion of a single Ecumenical Council attended and represented by a large number of individual men is to be preferred to the opinion of a single individual man.  Then again, if it be considered that even the Holy Spirit ought to be painted in the shape of a dove, just as it actually appeared, we say that, in view of the fact that a certain Persian by the name of Xanaeus used to assert, among other things, that it is a matter of infantile knowledge (i.e., that it is a piece of infantile mentality or an act of childishness) for the Holy Spirit to be painted in a picture just as It appeared in the semblance of a dove, whereas, on the other hand, the holy and Ecumenical Seventh Council (Act 5, p. 819 of the second volume of the Conciliar Records) anathematized him along with other iconomachs from this it may be concluded as a logical inference that according to the Seventh Ecum. Council It ought to be painted or depicted in icons and other pictures in the shape of a dove, as it appeared… As for the fact that the Holy Spirit is to be painted in the shape of a dove, that is proven even by this, to wit, the fact that the Fathers of this Council admitted the doves hung over baptismal founts and sacrificial altars to be all right to serve as a type of the Holy Spirit (Act 5, p. 830).  As for the assertion made in the Sacred Trumpet (in the Enconium of the Three Hierarchs) to the effect that the Father out not to be depicted in paintings and like, according to Acts 4, 5, and 6 of the 7th Ecum. Council, we have read these particular Acts searchingly, but have found nothing of the kind, except only the statement that the nature of the Holy Trinity cannot be exhibited pictorially because of its being shapeless and invisible”  (The Rudder, pp 420-421 (this is from the admittedly awkward and somewhat flawed translation of D. Cummings, but there is no other translation that is available in English to my knowledge).


Many of the above quotes were discovered thanks to an article by Vladimir Moss on this subject.


        There is only one patristic source that references Daniel 7, and can possibly be understood as teaching that the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 is the Son:


St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339 – 397)


"Let Him [Jesus] therefore stand in your midst, that the heavens, which declare the glory of God, may be opened to you, that you may do His will, and work His works.  He who sees Jesus, to him are the heavens opened as they were opened to Stephen, when he said: "Behold I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."  Jesus was standing as his advocate, He was standing as though anxious, that He might help His athlete Stephen in his conflict, He was standing as though ready to crown His martyr. Let Him then be standing for you, that you may not be afraid of Him sitting; for when sitting He judges, as Daniel says: "The thrones were placed, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of Days did sit."  But in the eighty-first [second] Psalm it is written: "God stood in the congregation of gods, and decideth among the gods."  So then when He sits He judges, when He stands He decides, and He judges concerning the imperfect, but decides among the gods.  Let Him stand for you as a defender, as a good shepherd, lest the fierce wolves assault you" (Letter 63:5-6, NPNF, vol. 10, p. 457).


It is not at all clear here that St. Ambrose was focusing on the distinct person of the Son in this passage, as opposed to speaking more generally of God.  It is also clear that he is not focusing on Daniel 7, but rather alluding to it, and does so with reference to the final judgment… not to the incarnation.  For more on this passage, click here.  Even if this text is taken as proof that St. Ambrose believed the Son to be the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7, we still are left without a patristic commentary explaining what it would mean for the Son of Man (who is without question Jesus Christ) to come before Himself (as the Ancient of Days), and then to bestow upon Himself the Kingdom and dominion.  And furthermore, to make for a Patristic consensus one would need to find more than one Father with this understanding of the text.



Commentary on related passages of Scripture


“Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation, as this passage has it: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." Here the [Scripture] represents to us the Father addressing the Son; He who gave Him the inheritance of the heathen, and subjected to Him all His enemies. Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord” (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter VI).





Liturgical Evidence: Who is the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7?


The Octoechos, Tone 5, Midnight Office Canon to the Holy and Life Creating Trinity, Ode 4, first troparion:


"Daniel was initiated into the mystery of the threefold splendour of the one Dominion when he beheld Christ the Judge going unto the Father while the Spirit revealed the vision." HTM Pentecostarion (which includes this text from the Octoechos), p. 270


Μυείται τής μιάς Κυριότητος, τό τριφαές ο Δανιήλ, Χριστόν κριτήν θεασάμενος, πρός τόν Πατέρα ιόντα, καί Πνεύμα τό προφαίνον τήν όρασιν.  Ωδή δ' πλ. α', ΤΟ  ΜΕΣΟΝΥΚΤΙΚΟΝ




St. Dionysius the Areopagite


Early on in his treatise On the Divine Names, St. Dionysius explains his understanding of how names that refer to the Divine Nature, which all the persons of the Trinity share in common are applicable to all three persons:


”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.” (Chapter 2, On the Divine Names)


And so, for example though the Scriptures tend to use the term “Lord” in reference to the Father, or the Son, it is also justly applied to the Holy Spirit:


"But, that the whole Deity holds the Lordship over the whole, one can scarcely say, as I think how many

times, in reference to the Paternal Deity, or the Filial, the word "Lord "is repeated in the Word of

God, as applied to Father and Son. But the Spirit also is Lord." (same chapter)


Among these Divine Names, St. Dionysius includes the title “Ancient of Days”, which as he explains, refers to God’s Eternality:


"Chapter 10: Concerning Sovereign Lord, "Ancient of days" in which also, concerning Age and Time.




THE time, then, is come for our discourse, to sing the God of many Names, as "Sovereign Lord," and as "Ancient of days." For He is called the former, by reason that He is an all-controlling basis, binding and embracing the whole, and establishing and supporting, and tightening, and completing the whole. Continuous in itself, and from itself, producing the whole, as it were from a Sovereign root, and turning to itself the whole, as to a sovereign parent stock, and holding them together as an all-embracing basis of all, securing all the things embraced, within one grasp superior to all, and not permitting them, when fallen from itself to be destroyed, as moved from an all-perfect sanctuary. But the Godhead is called Sovereign, both as controlling and governing the members of His household, purely, and as being desired and beloved by all, and as placing upon all the voluntary yokes, and the sweet pangs of the Divine and Sovereign, and in dissolvable love of the Goodness itself,




But 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.




But we must, as I think, see from the Oracles the nature of Time and Eternity, for they do not always

(merely) call all the things absolutely unoriginated and really everlasting, eternal, but also things imperishable and immortal and unchangeable, ' and things which are in like fashion, as when they say, "be ye opened, eternal doors," and the like. And often they characterize the things the most ancient by the name of Eternity; and again they call the whole duration of our time Eternity, in so far as the ancient and unchangeable, and the measurement of existence throughout, is a characteristic of Eternity. But they call time that concerned in generation and decay and change, and sometimes the one, and sometimes the other. Wherefore also, the Word of God says that even we, who are bounded here by time, shall partake of Eternity, when we have reached the Eternity which is imperishable and ever the same. But sometimes eternity is celebrated in the Oracles, even as temporal, and time as eternal. But if we know them better and more accurately, things spiritual are spoken of and denoted by Eternity, and things subject to generation by time. It is necessary then to suppose that things called eternal are not absolutely co-eternal with God, Who is before Eternity, but that following unswervingly the most august Oracles, we should understand things eternal and temporal according to the hopes recognized by them, hut whatever participates partly in eternity and partly in time, as things midway between things spiritual and things being born. But 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.


What is important to note is that St. Dionysius uses the term as a description of the Divine Nature, but nowhere does he comment on Daniel 7 here.  This broader usage of the term is what we observed in the usage of St. John Chrysostom when speaking of the infant Christ, whereas when commenting on Daniel 7 he makes clear that the “Ancient of Days” is specifically the Father.  Thus, there is no contradiction in the writings of St. John, and no contradictions between the liturgical hymns of the Meeting of the Lord or the Nativity that speak of the Ancient of Days becoming a child and the Patristic consensus on Daniel 7 which sees the Ancient of Days there as being clearly the Father.


Icons of the Ancient of Days


The Wonderworking Kursk Icon depicts the Father as the Ancient of Days. 


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This is the Kursk Icon without its metal cover:


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Here is a page from the Utrecht Psalter, Psalm 109 (110) which begins with “The LORD said unto my Lord, sit Thou at my right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool…” (This is the verse in which you asserted the Son speaks to Himself, and then sits at His own right hand).


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The Psalter depicts the Son sitting at the Right handof the Father, and it dates from the 820 to 840 AD:




This Icon dates from 1020 A.D. and comes from (pre-Norman) England, and also depicts the Son

sitting at the right hand, along with an unusual but obvious depiction of the Holy Spirit:


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A 15th Century icon from Russia:


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Rublev’s Trinity Icon

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The Stoglav Council not only approved of Rublev's icon, but mandated that it be inscribed with the words "Holy Trinity".  Even the council of 1666-7 confirmed this decision.  So there can be no question but that this is an icon of the Holy Trinity in some sense -- obviously not in the sense that the invisible Godhead is depicted.  St. Ambrose speaks of this as having been a type of the Holy Trinity.


The services of the Church confirm this:


“Of old thou didst clearly manifest Thyself unto Abraham in three Hypostases, one in the essence of

divinity; and in images thou didst reveal the utter truth of theology.  Thee do we hymn with faith, the three Sunned God who alone hath dominion.:  Octoechos, Tone 1, Midnight Office Canon, Ode 3.


“As a sojourner, Abraham was vouchsafed mystically to receive the one Lord in three Hypostases,  made manifest in the forms of men.”  Octoechos, Tone3, Midnight Office Canon, Ode 6


Just to cite two examples.  And so, if we can accept this as icon of the trinity because it depicts a type of theTrinity, why can we not also depict the Ancient of Days as a type of the Father.


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The Holy Trinity: an Orthodox wall painted icon at the ceiling of the entrance (πρόστωον) Vatopedion Monastery at Agion Oros (Mount Athos), Greece.