From Orthodox America
Symbols are an important part of our faith and are very evident within our churches. The icons; the altar, the icon-screen, the candles, and even the vestments of our priests are all symbols of various types. Each holds a meaning that must be understood if the symbol is to touch our lives with more than its mere external appearance.
An ordinary egg, for example, is a symbol of the Resurrection of our Lord. On the Feast of Pascha, we bless baskets of food containing, among other things, eggs. Just as the egg appears to be lifeless, so too did the body of Christ appear to be a mere corpse. But just as the egg can contain life, so does Christ contain the life we receive through His Resurrection! This is the meaning for using the egg as a symbol of Resurrection.
Another common symbol of the Resurrection is the lily. It blossoms from a dry and lifeless-looking bulb into one of the most beautiful flowers of God's creation. Jesus Himself speaks of the lily in His Sermon on the Mount when He says that "not even Solomon, in all of his splendor, was attired like one of these." This is the beauty from lifelessness that no king on earth could ever hope to match.
An ancient bird from Greek mythology, the phoenix, has been incorporated as a symbolic form of the Resurrection in many Orthodox churches. Mythology describes how the bird fell to earth and burned, and yet from its ashes arose another bird. Christ's life in an earthly form was destroyed through the Crucifixion, but a new and more glorious life came about as a result of His Resurrection. The idea of resurrection, in analogy to the tale of the phoenix, is depicted visually in icons showing an eagle rising out of a flame.
The peacock is a symbol of antiquity often found upon the walls of the ancient catacombs of the early Church. The bird was used as a symbol because the peacock has an unusually beautiful tail. Each year, however, the bird loses its beauty during the molting season to such an extent that the apparent intrinsic worth of the bird is greatly diminished. Yet the value of the bird is enhanced as the molting season comes to an end and a new and more beautiful tail appears. In the eyes of men, the mystery, the awe, the greatness of Christ is enhanced countless times over through the Resurrection.
An even more common and certainly much more familiar example of the Resurrection is the existence of the Orthodox Church itself. The community of the faithful would not exist at all had it not been for the miracle of the Resurrection. Thus the Church, the peacock; the phoenix bird, the lily and the egg are all reminders of the greatest event in history. We should seek to grow in awareness and appreciation of this event, being reminded of it again and again through the use of the symbol, a means of communication and understanding.