The Descent of the Dove

Genesis 8:4-21

Today we see the end of the flood, and watch as Noah and his family, together with all living creatures, disembark from the ark and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. We also see the key role played by the dove in searching out dry land as it went ahead of the assembled company.

The dove is an important bird in Scripture and is rich in symbolic meaning. Not only is it a symbol of peace, but the Fathers remind us that the Holy Spirit descended on the Lord in the form of a dove at His baptism. Saint Bede the Venerable writes,

Not only the human beings but also the living things which the ark contained, and also the very wood from which the ark was made, prefigure us members of Christ and of the Church after our reception of the washing of the waters of regeneration. Through the anointing of the sacred chrism may we be signed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and may He deign to keep it inviolate in us who Himself gave it to us, Jesus Christ our Lord who with the almighty Father in the unity of the same Holy Spirit lives and reigns for all ages. Amen.

Or, as Saint Maximus of Turin puts it,

The very dove that once hastened to Noah’s ark in the flood now comes to Christ’s Church in baptism.


A Reading from the Book of Genesis 8:4-21:
And in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him any more.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh – birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth – that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth by families out of the ark.

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”