BREAD AND BLOSSOMS

In the previous posting we took a look at the apocryphal source of a scroll text of  the “Forefather” Melchizedek.  Here he is in a 14th century fresco from Grachanitsa, Serbia:

His name inscription reads:

ПРВЕДНИ МЕЛЬХИС[Е]ДЕК
PRAVEDNI MEL’KHISEDEK
“RIGHTEOUS MELKHISEDEK

The writer has used a phonetic spelling of Pravednuiyраведный), and has omitted one “e,” and has written the Д (d) above and smaller than the other letters.

Melchizedek looks much the same here as in most depictions, with his grey hair, long beard, a crown on his head and in his hands a tray with loaves of bread in it.  He is most frequently shown — as here — without a scroll, though occasionally he holds one, as we saw in the previous posting.

The bread is taken from Genesis 14:17, in which Melchizedek brings out to Abraham bread and wine before he blesses him.  In Eastern Orthodox doctrine, this is thought to be a prefiguration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which supposedly becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

There is a rather similar image from the same place and date of another Old Testament figure, Aaron.  He is titled here:
ПРОРОКЬ ААРОНЬ
PROROK’ AARON’
“PROPHET AARON”

This is the Old Testament Aaron, brother of Moses, and first Levite priest.  In Numbers 17 it is said that a controversy over which tribe was to become priestly was settled when — unlike the rods of other tribes — that of Aaron miraculously sprouted overnight:

8 And it came to pass, that in the morning Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.

The obvious distinctions between the two fresco images above — aside from name titles of course — are that while Melchizedek holds a container with loaves of bread, Aaron holds a blossoming rod and a golden vessel in which a rolled scroll is seen.

All three, oddly enough, are Marian symbols found in the Akathist hymn, which says of Mary:

Rejoice, O mystical rod that blossomed — the flower that will never fade.

Rejoice, … golden jar containing the manna which sweetens the senses of the devout.

Rejoice, scroll on which, O pure one, the Word was inscribed by the Father’s finger.

If you look closely at the golden vessel Aaron carries, you will see the image of Mary on the side of it.

A comparison is often made in Eastern Orthodox theology between the priesthood of Aaron — as the first Levite priest — and that of Melchizedek — who was not a Levite.  The New Testament book of Hebrews declares Jesus to be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek — not of the temporal Levitical priesthood:

For he testifies, You are a priest forever after the order of Melkhisedek.  (Hebrews 7:17)

Now you can go to your friends and ask, “Do you know how to tell the difference between Melchizedek and Aaron?”  And they will look at you strangely and say, “Tell who from who?  What are you talking about?  Get a life!”

 

ABRAHAM THE BARBER

Here is a Russian icon that appears to be from the Forefathers tier of an iconostasis:

We can tell from the inscription that it depicts
СВЯТЫЙ ПРАОТЕЦ МЕЛХИЗЕДЕКЪ
SVYATUIY PRAOTETS MELKHIZEDEK
“Holy Forefather Melchizedek”

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure, because while there is so little information about him in the Bible, he is nonetheless a part of significant doctrinal understanding of Jesus in the New Testament.

We first find him the the Old Testament, where he appears in Genesis 14:

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth loaves and wine, and he was the priest of the most high God. 19 And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, who made heaven and earth, 20 and blessed be the most high God who delivered your enemies into your power. And Abram gave him the tithe of all.

Next in Psalm 109 (110 KJV):

1 The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. 2 The Lord shall send out a rod of power for you out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies. 3 With you is dominion in the day of your power, in the splendors of your saints: I have begotten you from the womb before the morning. 4 The Lord swore, and will not repent, You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.

And we find him in the New Testament book of Hebrews, which makes a rather lengthy and wordy connection of Melchizedek with Jesus in chapter 7 — too long to include here.

In the icon, we see Abraham wearing a crown and omophorion (the stole around his neck), holding a tray on which are loaves of bread.

What I want to note today, however, is found in the odd scroll text given him here:

It says basically that God sent Abraham to Melchizedek to “cut my hair” — Ostrizhe vlasui moy.

“Cut my hair”?  There is nothing whatsoever about Abraham cutting Melchizedek’s hair in the Bible.  But as you all should know by now, when information was lacking — whether in the Bible or out of it — people just made things up.  There are apocryphal writings in which Abraham cuts Melchizedek’s hair — the so-called “Apocrypha of Melchizedek.” One version of the story is found in the Byzantine-Slavic  text Palea Historia — “Old [Testment] History.”

The tale, which has variations, relates basically that Melchizedek was one of two sons of a king of Salem.  The king asked him to bring oxen to sacrifice to the gods, but Melchizedek tried to convince his father to sacrifice instead to the God of Heaven.  His father was unhappy, and decided to sacrifice Melchizedek to the gods instead.  Melchizedek prayed to God that the city and its worshippers and idols would be destroyed, and God caused an earthquake that swallowed up all the city and its people.  Melchizedek went to Mount Tabor, where he lived as an ascetic hermit on wild plants and water.  However, God sent Abraham to find Melchizedek — who by that time had hair down to his feet and very long nails.  Abraham met Melchizedek and cut his long hair and trimmed his nails.  Melchizedek and Abraham then worshipped the “most high God,” and Melchizedek blessed Abraham.

So that is how the scroll in today’s icon has Melchizedek oddly saying that Abraham “cut my hair.”

There is a cave chapel on Mount Tabor that in Medieval times was often considered by pilgrims to be the dwelling of Melchizedek.

HOW TO TELL A MALE FROM A FEMALE

How to tell a male from a female?  Well, you probably already know how to do that with humans, so that is not my topic today.  Instead it is how to tell a “Male” cross from a “Female” cross.

This applies specifically to what is called a нательный крест/natel’nuiy krest — literally an “on-body” cross, so named because it is worn around the neck and under the clothes and against the skin.  This is the cross that every Russian Orthodox believer is expected to wear on a cord around the neck for life.  It is never supposed to be removed, but if for some extenuating circumstance one must remove it, then a special prayer must be said.

When we speak of “Male” and “Female” crosses, we are speaking of terminology that was used among the Old Believers — that group from which the State Orthodox Church separated in the middle of the 17th century.  Before that time ALL Russians were “Old Believers,” but with the changes instituted by Patriarch Nikon, the Russian Orthodox Church split into two main factions — those who kept the old ways, and so were called “Old Believers” or “Old Ritualists,” and those who accepted Nikon’s changes and became the majority State Russian Orthodox Church.

It is important to keep in mind that while in this discussion I am speaking primarily of the practices among the Old Believers, research has shown that the on-body crosses of the Old Believers were widely used by ordinary members of the State Church between the 17th and 19th centuries as well, perhaps due largely to their availability.   So while one may speak of an Old Believer-style cross, one cannot always be certain that any particular cross was worn by an Old Believer and not by a member of the State Church.  One can be more certain of making that distinction in the case of pectoral crosses worn by State Church clergy, which were more likely to follow the accepted revisionist State Church iconography.

Now, on to how to distinguish a “Male” on-body cross from a “Female” cross:

A “Male” cross (мужской крест/muzhskoy krest)  — also known as a “straight” (прямой/pryamoy) cross —  is an eight-pointed “Golgotha” cross with sharp corners.  It is traditionally worn by a male.  Here is an example:

Note that even though the “outer” cross may be four-pointed (one vertical and one horizontal beam), an Old Believer casting will always have the “true” cross depicted inside it, which in the Old Belief is the eight-pointed cross (one vertical beam, one large horizontal beam, one small “titulus” horizontal beam, and one angled “footrest” beam).  They believe this was the form of the supposed “true” cross said to have been discovered in Jerusalem by St. Helena/Elena.

It is also important to note that an on-body cross in the Old Believer tradition will never show the body of Jesus on the cross.  The cross will be bare.  The reason is that it was believed when one depicted the body of Jesus on it, that made the cross an icon, and the on-body cross without the body of Jesus is not considered an icon, but rather a symbol.  It was thought that to wear an icon under the clothing was wrong because it was like wearing a “pagan” amulet.  The Old Believers could quote the words of St. Basil, who said that anyone who wore an icon like an amulet must be forbidden communion for three years (Всякий, носящий на себе в качестве паданки какую-либо икону, подвергаться должен отлучению от причастия на три года).

Further, a traditional Old Believer on-body cross will have the ЦАРЬ СЛАВЫ/TSAR SLAVUI inscription at the top, and not the IНЦI, / I N TS I — which abbreviates the Church Slavic words for “Jesus (I) of Nazareth (N), King (TS) of the Jews (I) — Iisus Nazoryanin’ Tsar Iudeiskiy, which was adopted into State Church Orthodoxy in the 17th century.  The omission of that inscription is apparently due to the Pomortsui/ Поморцы Old Believers — a “priestless” group — who held that the use of Pilate’s mocking title for Jesus was one of the “novelties” introduced by Patriarch Nikon, whom they considered a heretic.  Similarly, they refused the use of the dove to represent the Holy Spirit.  The Feodosiyevtsui/феодосиевцы Old Believers also used the Tsar Slavui inscription up into the 19th century.

An Old Believer on-body cross will also have the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,” and may have the СЫНБ БОЖИЙ/SUIN BOZHIY abbreviation as well.  You can see that the above example is typical in showing the so-called “Golgotha Cross,” represented as on Mount Golgotha, and we see by the spear the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod.  Note also the NIKA — “He conquers” inscription.  The skull of Adam is visible at the base in this example.  This example also has — just above the main crossbeam — the abbreviations for КРЕСТЪ ХРАНИТЕЛЬ / KREST KHRANITEL’ — “The Cross is the Protector ….”, the beginning words of a common inscription on the reverse of countless large cast metal “icon” crosses:

Krest’ Khranitel’ Vsei Vselennei — [The] Cross [is] Protector of All the World
Krest’ Krasota Tserkovnaya  — [The] Cross [is the] Beauty of the Church
Krest’ Tsarem’ Derzhava  — [The] Cross [is the] Might of Kings
Krest’ Vyernuim’ Utyverzhdenie  [The] Cross [is the] Comfort of the Believers Krest’ Angelom Slava — [The] Cross [is the] Glory of Angels
Krest’ Besyom Yasva — [The] Cross [is the] Plague of Demons

Also important is the inscription on the reverse side of Old Believer on-body crosses, which in the case of most will be the “Let God arise…” text:

ДА ВОСКРЕСЕНЕТЪ БОГЪ И РАЗЫДУТСЯ ВРАЗИ ЕГО И ДА БЕЖАТЪ ОТЪ ЛИЦА ЕГО ВСИ НЕНАВИДЯЩЕЙ ЕГО…

Da Voskresenet’ Bog’ i Razuidyutsya Vrazi Ego, I da Byezhat’ Ot’ Litsa Ego Vsi Nenavidashchey ego…

Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomy Krestu — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”

So that is the “Male” cross.

The “Female” cross (женский крест/zhenskiy krest) — also called a “leaf” (листик) cross — is recognized by its rounded outlines in contrast to the sharp corners of the “Male” cross.  It is traditionally worn by a female.  Here is an example.

First, the front:

Notice the twining foliage around the edges.  In the Old Belief, that is considered symbolic of the traditional role of women as expressed in Psalm 127:3 (128:3 KJV):

Жена твоя, яко лоза плодовита в странах дому твоего
Zhena tvoya, yako loza plodovita v stranakh domu tvoego
“Your wife is as a fruitful vine at the sides of your house…”

As you can see, the face has a number of abbreviations.

At the top we find:

Ц С for Царь Славы/Tsar Slavui — “King of Glory”
IС ХС for  Исус Христос/Isus Khristos — “Jesus Christ”
С Б for Сын[ъ] Божий/Suin Bozhiy — “Son of God”

In many antique Old Believer crosses, that is the extent of the inscriptions on the face.  However, some have an additional inscription, like the one illustrated.  Above the crossbeam is:

РАСПЯТ БЫСТЬ/Raspyat Buist’ — “[He] was crucified …

And below the crossbeam we find a date in Cyrillic letter numbers.  It may be given as:

[҂]ЄФЛД ЛЕТО     МАРТА  Л

In that case the significance of the joined crossbeam inscriptions is:

РАСПЯТ БЫСТЬ [҂]ЄФЛД ЛЕТО МАРТА  Л
[He] was crucified 5534 Year March 30

There was an old system of dating held by Julius Africanus and supported by Hippolytus of Rome.  In it, the Creation of the World supposedly took place 5,500 years before the birth of Jesus, on March 30.  By one old view, Jesus lived 33 years and was crucified also on March 30, making the date of his crucifixion 5533 (҂ЄФЛГ) in that chronology, but here it is given as 5534 (ЄФЛД), making him — one would think — 34 years old (in this inscription Є (5) was apparently used in place of the correct А to signify the number 5,000). However some hold that Jesus was born in December of 5500, and given that one ancient chronology began the year on March 1, Jesus would have died on March 30 in the year 5534.  There is much uncertainty involving date variations on old 0n-body crosses, and the reasons for these varying dates on Old Believer crosses are still not fully understood.  It is best in translating to just go with what is on the cross, recognizing that odd variations may reflect errors and misunderstandings or differences of opinion in early chronologies.

One example is that we sometimes we find “Female” Old Believer on-body crosses with this inscription below the crossbeam in place of the [҂]ЄФЛД year date:

КД ЛЕТО     МАРТА Л
24  Year         March 30

There is a lot of controversy about it, because the “24 year” part is thought to make no sense.  The general consensus of opinion at present seems to be that at some point this incorrect year date was mistakenly used on a cast on-body cross, and then the same pattern was copied uncritically and repeatedly, resulting in quite a number of old crosses bearing that confusing date.

As mentioned previously, further odd variations in the date letters are sometimes found, and given the confusion surrounding them, it is not surprising that a great many Old Believer female crosses eliminate the Crucifixion date inscriptions entirely, and instead have above the crossbeam:

IC     XC  for “Jesus Christ”

And below it:

СНЪ БЖIЙ for Сынъ Божий/Suin Bozhiy — “Son of God”

Reverse:

Instead of the common “Let God arise…” text, this example uses the text:

Господи, Iсусе Христе, Сыне Божий, благослови, и освяти, и сохрани мя силою Живоноснаго Креста Твоего.
Gospodi, Isuse Khriste, Suine bozhiy, blagoslovi i osvyati i sokhrani mya siloiu [zhivonosnago kresta tvoego].

The version actually written on this cross reverses two of the last three words, writing instead:

… креста живоноснаго т[воего]

kresta zhivonosnago tvoego.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, bless and sanctify and protect me through the power of your life-giving cross.”

Now as for the matter of dating Old Believer on-body crosses, it is often very difficult, because the same styles were used in the 18th and 19th centuries — some even from the 17th century onward.  The State Orthodox Church, by contrast, is at present much more variable in the styles of crosses being worn, with some obviously showing western European influence and using iconographic variants that would not at all be acceptable to traditional Old Believers.

Now you know how to distinguish a “Male” Old Believer on-body cross from a “Female” on-body cross.  Will it change your life, or get you a date on Friday night?  Probably not, but you can be certain to bore your friends and relations with this esoteric knowledge.

THE “THREE JOYS” ICON

Poor Joseph.  Everyone seems to want to push him into the background.  Mary is the mother of Jesus, but people generally avoid referring to Joseph as the father — whether biological or adoptive.  Instead, in Russian Orthodoxy he is commonly referred to as Иосиф Обручник/Iosif Obruchnik — “Joseph the Betrothed.”

All this in spite of the fact that the two discrepant genealogies of Jesus found in the gospels called “of Matthew” and “of Luke” both oddly trace the descent of Jesus through Joseph.  And in his book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman writes:

…in virtually every instance in which Joseph is called Jesus’ father or parent, various scribes have changed the text in such a way as to obviate the possibilities of misconstrual.

The scribes who copied the early manuscripts of the Gospels seem not to have known how to deal with Joseph, given the rise of the veneration of Mary and the evolution of the doctrine of her perpetual virginity.

Nonetheless, Joseph does appear in icons, though usually not alone (some modern icons depict him so more frequently).  He of course appears in icons of the Birth of Jesus, but he also appears in a Marian icon type called Трехъ Радостей / Trekh Radostey — “The Three Joys.”  Here is an example:

Mary and the child Jesus are in the center, Joseph is on the left side, and on the right — in this example — is John the Theologian.  That is a bit odd, because customarily the figure on the right in this icon type is John the Forerunner, so it appears that this is a variant that arose because at some time, a painter made an error.  And when an error is made, others are likely to copy it.

That John the Forerunner (the Baptist) should be on the right is all the more certain because the “Three Joys” icon from which later examples descend was said to have been brought from Italy near the beginning of the 18th century.  And in Italian art, paintings depicting  Mary and the child Jesus along with Joseph and the young John the Forerunner are very common.  So this icon is another of those adopted into Russian Orthodoxy from Roman Catholic art.

It is likely that because the figure on the right is depicted as a young male, some painter saw an image of it and the first name Ioann/John — and thought it was Ioann Bogoslov — John the Theologian (John the Apostle) instead of Ioann Predtecha — John the Forerunner (the Baptist).

The four border images in the above example are not a part of the icon type, but are “family” images added:  The Guardian Angel, Paphnutios, Antipas, and Catherine.

The rather vague origin story associated with the icon says that when brought from Italy, the original was given to a priest of the Trinity Church in Moscow.  A noble lady fell on hard times:  her husband was exiled, her estate was taken, and her son was made a captive.  She prayed to Mary, and then dreamed she heard a voice telling her to find the icon of the Holy Family and to pray before it.  The woman searched through Moscow churches, and eventually found the icon hanging in the porch of the Church of the Life-giving Trinity.  She prayed before it, and then her husband was returned, her estate was restored, and her son was freed.  Because of these “three joys,” the icon received its name, though perhaps it was originally associated with the three figures in the icon.  The tale of the unnamed noble woman and her three losses and restorations all sounds suspiciously dubious, but then that is often the case with icons and their traditions.

The “original” icon is said to have been a copy of a painting of the Holy Family by the Italian artist Raphael, so it is interesting to see how an icon that once looked like this …

… is sometimes transformed into an icon painted in the traditional, stylized manner of old Russian icons, like the pleasant example at the top of this page.

 

 

 

THE ODD COUPLE

Here is a rather folkish icon with a significance that is not immediately apparent:

(Historical Museum, Sanok, Poland)

The top inscription —

— tells us that it depicts “Holy Prophet Iliya and Enokh”

Well, we already know that Iliya is the Prophet Elijah from the Old Testament, and Enokh/Enoch is the mysterious fellow of whom we read in the Book of Genesis 5:21-24:

And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:  And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”

The common interpretation of this is that Enoch lived for 365 years, and then God took him alive up to heaven.  He did not die.

Now considering that many centuries lay between the time when Enoch was supposedly on earth and the time of the Prophet Elijah, why would they be placed together in an icon?

Well, oddly enough there is a belief in Eastern Orthodoxy that Enoch and Elijah will be forerunners of the Second Coming of Jesus and the Last Judgment.  Each was supposedly taken up to heaven, so never died.  And each is supposed to return to earth in the period of turmoil and upheaval preceding the Second Coming.   It is believed they will call for repentance and warn of the Second Coming, but they will not be heeded, and will be killed just before Jesus comes; but after three days they will both be resurrected.

Even though the names Enoch and Elijah are not actually mentioned in it, this text from Revelation /the Apocalypse 11:3-12 is used in Eastern Orthodoxy to support the notion that the two will return to earth in the last days:

And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.

These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.

And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not allow their dead bodies to be put in graves.

10 And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

11 And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up here. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.

It is not surprising that the words These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy” reminded people of the Prophet Elijah, because in the Bible he was said to have the power to withhold rain:

1 Kings 17:1
“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”

And James 5:17:
“Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.”

In the icon, Enoch/Enokh sits on a rock at left, with his name written just to the right of his face:

Elijah/Iliya sits in his desert cave at right, with his name written to the left of his face.  A raven above and to the left of him brings Elijah food in its beak, in keeping with 1 Kings 17:2-6.  It is a scene often used in icons of Elijah.

But what is written on the open book Elijah holds on his knees?  Let’s look:

Well, if you suffered through my previous posting on Elijah, it should look partially familiar.

The first words are these, from 1 Kings 19:10, which we saw previously:

Ревнуя поревновах по Господе Бозе …
Revnuya porevnovakh po Gospde Boze …
“I have been very jealous for the Lord God…”

However the whole text is not quite the same.  Instead, the version in this icon reads:

Ревнуя поревновах по Господе Бозе моемъ азъ оуснухъ …
Revnuya porevnovakh po Gospde Boze moem az ousnukh …
“I have been very jealous for the Lord my God; I lay down …”

Sometimes one finds such peculiar variations in scroll texts.

 

 

 

ELIJAH “WITH THE LIFE”

Here is a simply-painted Russian icon in the style of the 17th century, apparently re-set later into a new panel — a practice not uncommon.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Any identifying inscriptions that once may have existed are now gone, but nonetheless we can identify the type, because it is more commonly found as a border image in icons of the Prophet Elijah “with the life,” that is, with scenes showing incidents from his story.  That enables us to identify the icon above as the Prophet Elijah raising/resurrecting the widow’s son — an account found in 1 Kings 17:17-24.

We ordinarily see many icons of the “Fiery Ascension of the Prophet Elijah” icon type, but examples showing Elijah “with the life” are not as frequent, so that gives us a good excuse to look at one.

Here is a very detailed icon of the Yaroslavl School, painted in the year 1678 by the noted artist Semyon Spiridonov (Семён Спиридонов — 1642-1693/95), often given the added appellation Kholmogorets (Холмогорец) because he was born in Холмогоры/Kholmogorui.  It has 26 border scenes from the life of Elijah:

(Yaroslavl Museum of Art)

In the center we see the Prophet Elijah standing with face turned up to the left, where we see Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) in the clouds.  The eyes of Elijah are nonetheless directed toward the viewer.  Elijah is shown in the slightly forward-bending posture, with face almost but not completely in profile, which I mentioned in a previous posting was popular in icons of the 17th century.


Bordering that central image all around is a Vyaz text in gold letters, beginning at upper left: it is read left to right across the top, then top to bottom down the right side, then top to bottom down the left side, and finally left to right across the bottom.  It is — with slight variations and omissions — the text I have placed between each segment here:

Top:

Во плота ангел, пророков основание, вторый предтеча пришествия Христова,

Right 1:

Илиа славный, свыше пославый Елисееви благодать недуги отгоняти

Right 2:

и прокаженные очищати, темже и почитающим его точит исцеления.

Left 1:

Пророче и провидче великих дел Бога нашего, Илие

Left 2:

великоимените, вещанием твоим

Bottom:

уставивый водоточныя облаки, моли о нас Единаго Человеколюбца.

Now what is all this text?  Well, it is a troparion and kontakion in praise of the Prophet Elijah, who is commemorated in the Russian Orthodox Church on July 20/August 2.

Here it is again in Church Slavic and an English translation:

(Troparion, tone 4)

Во плота ангел, пророков основание, вторый предтеча пришествия Христова, Илиа славный, свыше пославый Елисееви благодать недуги отгоняти и прокаженные очищати, темже и почитающим его точит исцеления.

An angel in the flesh and cornerstone of the prophets, second forerunner of the coming of Christ, /
Glorious Elijah sent grace from on high to Elisha, to dispel diseases and/
to cleanse lepers.  Therefore, on those who honor him he pours forth healings.

(Kontakion, tone 2)

Пророче и провидче великих дел Бога нашего, Илие великоимените, вещанием твоим /уставивый водоточныя облаки, моли о нас Единаго Человеколюбца.

Prophet and seer of the mighty works of our God, reknowned Elijah, /
by your command you held back the water-pouring clouds; pray for us to the only/
Lover of mankind.”

As for the border scenes, those are:
Top, left to right:

1.  A certain man predicts to Elijah’s father the birth of a son.
2.  The birth of Elijah; The angels swaddle Elijah in flames.
3.  The miracle of the appearance of the Godhead to Elijah.
4.  Elijah denounces King Ahab.
5.  The Prophet Elijah in the wilderness.
6.  The Lord sends Elijah to Zarephath.
7.  Elijah meets the widow at Zarephath.
From this point the sequence alternates from side to side:

8.  Elijah works the miracle of the undiminishing flour and oil in the widow’s house.
9.  Death of the widow’s son.
10.  Miracle of the resurrection of the widow’s son by Elijah.  This is the same scene as in the icon at the top of the page.
11. The Lord sends Elijah to Ahab with an appeal to repent; meeting of Elijah and Obadiah.
12.  Elijah and Obadiah reprove Ahab for the corruption of Israel.
13.  Elijah denounces the priests of Baal.
14.  The sacrifice of the ministers of Baal.
15.  The sacrifice made by Elijah is acceptable to God.
16.  Elijah kills the priests of Baal.
17.  Jezebel’s ambassador hands her threat to Elijah.
18.  Elijah hides in the desert and is fed by an angel.
19.  Elijah in the desert; the voice of the Lord directs him to Damascus.
Now the bottom row:
20.  Elijah calls Elisha to prophetic ministry.
21.  Elijah denounces Ahab for the vineyard of Naboth.
22.  King Ahaziah sends messengers asking for healing in the sanctuary of Baal.
23.  Elijah sends heavenly fire on the army of Ahaziah.
24.  Elijah predicts the death of Ahaziah.
25.  Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan on dry land.
26.  The fiery ascension of Elijah to heaven.
If you did not abandon reading this lengthy posting out of severe boredom long ago, I am going to inflict one last bit of information on you.
Perhaps you noticed — if you are familiar with the Bible — that the incident of Elijah as a newborn infant being swaddled in fire by angels is not found anywhere in the Old Testament.  Instead, it is a from an account by Epiphanius of Cyprus (c. 310-403), who tells that when Elijah was born, his father — who is given the name Sobach/Sabah — saw a vision in which the baby was swaddled in flames by angels, who also fed him with fire.  On consulting an oracle at Jerusalem, the father was told the vision signified that his son would dwell in light and judge Israel by fire and sword.
Well, I thought that was the last bit of information I would include in this posting.  But as soon as I finished it, I received an email question from a reader asking about the meaning of the scroll inscription commonly found in many icons of Elijah, such as this one:
(Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve of history, architecture and art)

The partially abbreviated inscription is taken from 1 Kings 19:10. I have put the portion on the scroll in bold type:

И рече Илиа: Ревнуя поревновах по Господе Бозе Вседержители, яко оставиша Тя сынове Израилевы:

I reche Ilia:  Revnuya porevnovakh po Gospode Boze Vsederzhiteli, yako ostavisha Tya suinove Izrailevui.

“And Elijah said: ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord God Almighty, that the sons of Israel have forsaken you.'”

In Russian folk belief, it was wise not to offend Elijah, because he could burn your crops by lightning or wither them by withholding rain.

Now stop reading.  Take a rest.  Have a snack.  Go for a walk.

David

ANOTHER OTECHESTVO

In previous postings I discussed variations on the Otechestvo — the “Fatherhood” — or to use a Latin-derived term — the “Paternity” icon.

Here is another example:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

God the father has the eight-pointed slava — “glory” — in his halo that signifies the seven days of Creation as well as the eighth day — the Day of Eternity.  Christ Immanuel is on his breast, along with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove — so this is also a “Trinity” icon.

It has a rather grand gold-washed riza in the neoclassical style.  That it adds a lot to the grandeur of the icon may be seen if we look at the icon with the cover removed:


The abbreviated inscription at the top reads (with missing letters added):
ГОСПОДЬ САВАОФЪ
GOSPOD’ SAVАOF”
“LORD SABAOTH”

That is the standard name given God the Father in Russian Orthodox iconography.

If we look at the blessing hand, we can tell from the position of the fingers that, in spite of the very traditional style of painting, this is not an Old Believer icon.

If it were, the thumb and last two fingers would touch.  As it is, it forms the IC XC letters abbreviating “Jesus Christ.”