This small pendant has been made after the stylized image of a fish using the technique of hot multicolored enamel.
In ancient times, the fish used to be a symbol of fertility for many different peoples, and with the advent of Christianity it quickly became one of the most important symbols for the first Christians. This occurred due to the Greek spelling of the word “fish”- ІХϴΥΣ. These five letters formed an acrostic that contained the most ancient formula of the creed: Іηϭος – Jesus, Χριϭτος – Christ, ϴϵου – of God, Υιοϛ – Son, Σωτηρ – Savior. Therefore, the image of a fish was first and foremost a symbol of Christ, and, as we shall see, it could point at the main sacraments. In addition, depending on the context, fish could also represent Christians or their souls.
This is confirmed by the Gospel (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17) and by the early Fathers of the Church (2nd century). For example, in the hymn to Christ the Savior, written by St. Clement of Alexandria, we find the following words: “The fisherman who pulls all mortal folk out of the sea of iniquity; the one who ensnares pure fish with the promise of a sweet life”. Similarly, while interpreting the sacrament of Baptism, Tertullian writes: “We are fish, led by our ІХϴΥΣ, we are born in the water and will be saved by none other than staying in the water”. Thus the image of the fish is associated with the sacrament of Baptism.
There were a number of images that drew a connection between the fish and the sacrament of Communion. They employed a well-known parallel between Communion and the miraculous augmentation of the loaves and fishes described in the Gospel (Matt. 15:33-38).
The image of the fish had a prominent presence in the life of the early Christians until the 4th century and occupied a special place as a decoration. According to Duke A. S. Uvarov,
“they cast small fish from bronze and glass, or carved them out of rock crystal, mother of pearl, ivory, or other more or less valuable substances, and wore them on a cord around their necks”. In effect, pendants shaped like fish served as a cross pendant, which for obvious reasons could not be widely used until Emperor Constantine came to power. The fish-shaped pendant represented Baptism and was a sign used by Christians to recognize one another. The prayers for salvation to Christ, which could sometimes be encountered on these pendants and were supposed to play a protective role, could later be seen on crosses.
As a symbol of Christ, the fish carried the same symbolism of Light and Life as the cross. This was expressed through the laconic decorative elements. The theme of Eternal Life was developed through the connection between the fish and the sacrament of Communion, such as when the fish was accompanied by one or more loaves of bread, depicted as a circle with an equilateral cross inside, similar to modern Orthodox Communion bread. The idea of Light, on the other hand, was closely linked for the early Christians with the sacrament of Baptism. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, “Baptism is called illumination, because through Baptism we contemplate the holy and saving light – that is, God”. Therefore, the fish is a symbol of Christ, who is Himself the “light of the world” and “the light of life” (John 8:12), as well as a symbol of Baptism, and can be seen as a symbol of the Divine Light. This meaning is most convincingly confirmed by the numerous clay lamps that were decorated with images of fish or even shaped like fish. The symbolism of light could be emphasized through using decorative elements, such as solar signs, which could later also be encountered on crosses.
You can see many of these traditions reflected on our pendant. In the center there is a circle with a four-pointed cross, which is a symbol of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. To express the idea of light, we have filled the entire free space on the body of the fish with multicolored solar signs in the form of a circle with a dot in the center.
Of course, a fish-shaped pendant can by no means replace a cross pendant today, but it is a miniature sacred ornament that has a long history and profound spiritual content. We hope that it will help us to become at least a little closer to the first Christians – people who lived in a cruel pagan world, but had qualities that we tend to lack: an exceptionally strong faith, inner freedom and capacity for all-conquering sacrificial love.