Christian Symbols: the Fish
Part of a series about symbols of religious significance
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2008)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider the meaning of one of the symbols of Christianity - the fish.
Preparation and materials
- Have available an image of the fish symbol and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at: https://tinyurl.com/yy767qnr
- Talk to the children about the variety of signs that can be found around the school. These may include teachers’ names on doors, ‘No entry’, ‘Please walk along the corridors’, and so on.
Ask the children what these signs are for.
- Explain that the religion of Christianity has various symbols associated with it. These symbols are important to the Christian faith for different reasons.
- Ask the children to imagine that they wanted to tell a friend something without anyone else knowing. Ask them for ideas as to what they might do. Answers will probably include whispering, speaking quietly, miming and writing it down.
- Explain that today, you are going to tell the children about a secret sign that Christians in the past used to let each other know that they were followers of Jesus.
- Ask for three volunteers who can think up a secret sign so that they can pass a message from you to the rest of the children. Whisper the message to each child in turn and see if they can convey the message to the other children without speaking.
The messages could be:
Ask all of the children to stand up.
Ask them to pull a funny face and then put their hands on their heads.
Ask the children to turn to the person on one side of them and smile, and then turn to the person on their other side and smile.
- Show the image of the fish symbol or draw the fish symbol on a board.
Explain to the children that the fish was an early symbol of the Christian faith, and it is still used today. It can sometimes be seen on the back of cars to show the car owner’s Christian faith.
- When the Christian Church began, there were many people in authority who were unhappy about it. This meant that Christians often had to keep their beliefs secret, to stop them getting thrown in prison or harmed in some way.
They came up with the idea of the fish as a secret sign. If they met someone new, they would draw a single arc in the sand. If the other person completed the fish shape by drawing the second arc, they knew that they had met another Christian. If the other person did not draw the second arc, they were probably not a follower of Jesus.
- Ask the children why they think the sign of a fish was used.
The fish is thought to have been chosen by the early Christians for various reasons.
The shape of an arc is simple to draw, but would not arouse suspicions for an unbeliever – they would simply assume that the Christian was making patterns in the sand with a stick.
Also, the Greek word for ‘fish’ is ‘ichthus’. In Greek, this is an acrostic for ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour’.
Another reason could be that Jesus chose several fishermen to be his disciples and spent a lot of time on the water or by the Sea of Galilee. He called his disciples ‘fishers of men’.
Time for reflection
We are fortunate that in this country, we can choose to follow Jesus. In many countries, people don’t have the freedom to decide which religion they want to follow.
Let’s pause for a moment and appreciate living in a country that allows us freedom of choice. Let’s also remember those who are not so fortunate.
We are glad that in this country, we can make choices about so many things.
Please help those people all over the world who have to keep their beliefs secret from others.
Thank you that you see us on the inside and know what goes on in our hearts.
‘He’s got the whole world’ (Come and Praise, 19)