Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sanctuary Sights and Senses: Alpha, Omega, and IHS

The following is the fourth installment of my bulletin insert series:

Α Ω / IHS - Each of these letters can be found in variuos places in the sanctuary and the church. For example, the Α Ω are seen on the children’s altar/table and the one in Calvary Chapel. IHS is also seen on both, as well as the clothes under the flower vases in the sanctuary. IHS is often seen on crosses. But what do these letters mean?

Well, first, they are Greek letters. The Α Ω are the letters, alpha and omega. They corospond to the sounds made by the English A and long O. However, in terms of placement in the alphabet, they corospond to the English A and Z. That is, they constitute the first and last letters of the alphabet.

That is significant, because in the Book of the Revelation Jesus says, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8); and “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Thus, these letters are symbols of Christ who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

IHS are letters that are sometimes mistakenly thought to mean “In His Service.” However, these letters are the Greek letters iota, eta, and sigma. They are also shown as IHC (the “C” being an older form of sigma), or sometimes with a “Σ” (the contemporary form of sigma) . Sometimes there is a horozontal line above the letters indicating that they are an abbreviation. Often, when shown in lowercase, the “h” is used to form a cross. These three letters are the first three letters (as well as the first two and last letter) in the Greek spelling of JESUS (IHCOYC, or IHSOYS, or ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). Thus, they are an abbreviation for Jesus.


Information gathered from the following resources:

McGee, Ratha Doyle. Symbols: Signposts of Devotion. Nashville. The Upper Room. 1962.

Whittemore, Carroll E., Ed. Symbols of the Church. (Revised Ed.). Abingdon P. 1987.

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