Early Christians used a wide variety of symbols to express their faith. At times, these symbols provided a sort of secret language among believers. When a Christian met a stranger, he could draw one-half of the ichthys or “Jesus fish” and wait to see if the stranger would complete the drawing. Christian symbols include the Chi-Rho, Alpha and Omega, anchor, fish, cross, dove, six-point star, pelican and others.
You may see the symbol of a pelican in a church and wonder which Bible stories feature these large water birds. Pelicans are mentioned in the Bible, but that's not why you see them in churches. Look closer. The pelican seen feeding her young is bleeding. This is an illustration of self-sacrifice. It is said that in times of famine, a mother pelican will pierce her own chest to feed her young. The story of the pelican pre-dates Christianity but was used in the early church to illustrate the blood shed by Christ Jesus to save the world.
*Mary Helen Marigza is a lifelong United Methodist, a past missionary with the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society, and a current member of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Marigza created a set of Christian Symbols out of recycled church window glass to tell people about the meaning behind common religious symbols.
Find more symbols at UMC.org/ChristianSymbols.
This video was first posted on January 14, 2021.