BOWING AND SCRAPING IN GREEK

As mentioned in a previous posting, the characters commonly called “The Three Wise Men” in the West are known as Magoi in Greek and Volsvi in Slavic.  Here they are in a fresco:

Let’s take a look at the Greek inscriptions

The first two should be easy for you.  They are:

ΜΡ ΘΥ and ΙωCΙΦ

As you already know, ΜΡ ΘΥ abbreviates Meter Theou — “Mother [of] God”, and you should be able to easily recognize the second as the name IOSIF — JOSEPH — with the first I written above and as a part of the letter ω.

Next comes this inscription:

As is usual, the words are not separated, but all run together.  When we separate them, we get:

Ἡ ΠΡΟCΚΥΝΗCΗC ΤΟΝ ΜΑΓΟΝ
HE PROSKYNESES TON MAGON

He, you will recall, is the feminine form of “the” in Greek.
Proskyneses is a phoneticized spelling of the Greek word common in the Bible and church literature, proskynesis (προσκύνησις).  Greek inscriptions often confuse Η (e) and Ι (i), because in later spoken Greek they both were pronounced as “ee.”

Prokynesis means to bow or prostrate yourself as a sign of respect or abnegation.  It began as an eastern custom in the royal court of Persia, and was adopted by Alexander the Great as the means of showing honor to him, though previously the Greeks had regarded proskynesis as something done only before a god or goddess.  Proskynesis — which could originally have been as mild as a kiss (pros means “toward,” kyneo means “kiss”) varied in its nature, and whether it was just a kiss or a bow or a full prostration on the ground (“kissing the ground”) depended on the status of those meeting.  The bow or prostration was a sign of obeisance or submission — and, in the case of a deity, of worship.

In the Gospel called “of Matthew” (no one knows who really wrote it; the earliest manuscripts are anonymous), we find this in 2:1-2:

Τοῦ  δὲ  Ἰησοῦ  γεννηθέντος  ἐν  Βηθλέεμ  τῆς  Ἰουδαίας  ἐν  ἡμέραις  Ἡρῴδου  τοῦ  βασιλέως,  ἰδοὺ  μάγοι  ἀπὸ  ἀνατολῶν  παρεγένοντο  εἰς  Ἱεροσόλυμα  λέγοντες  Ποῦ  ἐστιν    τεχθεὶς  βασιλεὺς  τῶν  Ἰουδαίων;  εἴδομεν  γὰρ  αὐτοῦ  τὸν  ἀστέρα  ἐν  τῇ  ἀνατολῇ  καὶ  ἤλθομεν  προσκυνῆσαι  αὐτῷ. 

“Now when Jesus was born in Behtlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying “Where is the one born King of the Jews; for we have seen his star in the East and are come to give him obeisance.”
Obeisance here is proskynesai — to perform proskynesis in front of him].

The King James translation commonly translates proskynesis as “worship,” so in that version the Magi say,
Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

So that is what we have in the fresco inscription:

Η ΠΡΟCΚΥΝΗCΗC ΤΟΝ ΜΑΓΟΝ
HE PROSKYNESES TON MAGON
“The Proskynesis [Obeisance] of the Magi.”

There is a lot of discussion in theological circles over whether the writer of Matthew intended to indicate the proskynesis of the Magi as that done to show honor to a king (as would make sense here), or whether proskynesis before a deity was intended (if Matthew considered Jesus to be a deity).  In any case, proskynesis was something done before a deity, a ruler, or it could even be before a highly-respected person, as a show of the performer’s subordinate status.  In Eastern Orthodox Church usage, proskynesis is done before icons and relics of the saints.

You may recall the common inscription on Russian crosses:

“We honor [bow before] your cross, Lord, and praise your holy resurrection.”

In the Greek liturgy of John Chrysostom, we find it as:

Τὸν Σταυρόν σου, Χριστέ, προσκυνοῦμεν καὶ τὴν ἁγίαν σου Ἀνάστασιν ὑμνοῦμεν καὶ δοξάζομεν·

Ton stauron sou Khriste proskynoumen kai ten hagian sou anastasin hymnoumen [praise in song] kai doxazomen.

“Your cross, Christ, we proskynoumen [perform proskynesis before] and your holy resurrection we hymn and glorify.”

On to the last inscription.  It is:

ΟΙ ΜΑΓΥ ΑCΤΡΟΛΟΓΟΥΝΤΕC

This again has a phonetic spelling in ΜΑΓΥ (Magy), which should be ΜΑΓΟΙ (Magoi).  Here again, in later Greek oi and y have the same “ee” sound when spoken.  But we should understand the inscription as:

ὉΙ ΜΑΓΟΙ ΑCΤΡΟΛΟΓΟΥΝΤΕC
HOI MAGOI ASTROLOGOUNTES
“THE MAGI ASTROLOGERS.”

We see in the fresco that one of the Magi is looking up in the sky, where the Star of Bethlehem would be.

In the next posting, we will take a closer look at who the Magi (Magoi) were, and trace their development in Christian art and icons.

 

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DEATH OF KING MIHAI (MICHAEL) OF ROMANIA

KING MIHAI OF ROMANIA

OCTOBER 25, 1921 -DECEMBER 5, 2017

This morning I read the news that King Mihai  — the last king of Romania — died in Switzerland, aged 96.  It is the end of an era.  He lived in exile for much of his life.  With his death, it appears that the time of monarchy in Romania has reached its final end.

He was the grandson of Queen Marie of Romania (shown at left in the photo below, with Mihai in the middle and Queen Helena — his mother — at right) and King Ferdinand.  He lived through a very difficult and tumultuous period for Romania, and was finally forced out by the Communists on December 30, 1947.

Here is the old Romanian National Anthem from the period of the monarchy:

SHCHEDRYK

Yes, I know this has only a geographic relation to icons, but nonetheless it is a pleasant way to begin the holiday season.  Here is an animated version of the Ukrainian New Year song — which has in recent times become a Christmas song — Shchedryk (Щедрик).  You probably know it in the Western version as the “Carol of the Bells.”

Si, io sape que isto habe solmente un connection geographic con iconas, ma nonobstante il es un modo placente pro comenciar le saison festive.  Aqui se trova un version animate del canto Ukrainian del Anno Nove — que recentemente deveniva un canto de Natal — Shchedryk (Щедрик).  Vos lo cognosce probabilemente in le version occidental — “Le Carola del Campanas.”

 

UN ICONA COMMUN, UN INSCRIPTION DIFFERENTE

Hodie nos va vider un icona Russe.  Le typo es multo commun, ma le inscription non es.  Como vos sape, le typo es Gospod’ Vsederzhitel — “Le Domino Omnipotente”:

Today we will look at a Russian icon.  The type is very common, but the inscription is not.  As you know, the type is Gospod Vsderzhitel — “The Lord Almighty.”

Le digitos del mano dextere forma le signo de benediction le qual usa le Credentes- Anciane.
The fingers on the right hand form the blessing sign used by the Old Believers.

Que nos vide le inscription sur le libro:
Let’s look at the inscription on the book:

Il dice:
It says:

Не убоися малое стадо яко благоизволи Отецъ вашъ дати вамъ царство небесное Продадите  имения ваша и далите  нищимъ Сотвори[те себе]….

Ne uboisya maloe stado; iako blagoizvoli otets vash dati vam tsarstvo nebesnoe.
Prodadite imyeniya vasha i dadite nishchim.  Sotvori[te sebye]….

Non time, grege parve, pro que il place tu patre dar te le regno del celo.  Vende lo que tu possede, e da lo al pauperes. Fac[e pro vos]….

“Fear not, little flock, because it pleases your Father to give you the Kingdom of Heaven.  Sell what you possess, and give it to the poor.  Mak[e for yourselves]….”

Istos parolas veni del evangelio nominate “secun Luka,” 12:32-33.
These words come from the Gospel called “according to Lukee,” 12:32-33.

E ora un question importante:  Quante de vos pote leger e comprender iste articulo?
And now an important question:  How many of you can read and understand this article (the non-English version)?

LONG HAIR AND LOOSE WOMEN

This icon type — the Akhtuirskaya — is one of the so-called “miracle-working” Marian icons.  Its origin story relates that it “appeared” on the 2nd of July, 1739, when a priest named Vasiliy Danilov was out cutting grass with a new scythe near the Pokrov Church at the village of Akhtuirka.  It is said he saw the icon lying before him in the grass, shining with a brilliant light.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Icons of the Akhtuirskaya (Akhtyrskaya) type are commonly painted in the more realistic manner of the State Church, given that the icon “appeared” after the Old Believers — the more traditional painters — had separated.  It was officially placed among the recognized “miracle-working” Marian icons by the so-called “Holy Governing Synod” of the Russian Orthodox State Church in 1751.

The type is unusual in that Mary is usually shown with long, uncovered hair.  That is a sign that the image was adopted from Western European art, because in Eastern Orthodoxy, uncovered and long hair is usually found on “loose women” or reformed prostitutes.  That is why in most Marian icons, she is shown with the maphorion covering her hair.  But Roman Catholic art had no such stigma.  Occasionally one will find an icon of the Akhtuirskaya in which Mary has been given a headcovering.

Let’s look at the inscription:

It reads:

Истинное ображение и мера Ахтырския икона Богоматериия
которая явилась въ 1739м году июля 2m дна

Istinnoe obrazhenie i myera Akhtuirskiya ikona Bogomateriiya
kotoraya yavilas v 1739m Godu Iiulya 2m dna

The true representation and measure of the Akhtuirskaya icon of the Mother of God
which appeared in the 1739th year, July, 2nd day.

Note that the date here uses the Western European numbering system instead of the old Cyrillic letter-numbers.

The Akhtuirskaya type is easy to recognize.   Mary is at left, with hands in the prayer position.  Her head inclines toward the image of the crucified Jesus at right, which is usually set on a base of hills.  The image of Mary is customarily much larger than, and out of proportion with, the Crucifixion in this type.

THE BIBLE ON A BOARD

Here is a Russian icon of the Crucifixion, as the title at the top,  РАСПЯТIЕ ГОСПОДНЕ — RASPYATIE GOSPODNE — “CRUCIFIXION OF THE LORD” tells us.   But as you can see, it is not only of the Crucifixion.  There are many secondary scenes included.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The main image, of course, is the Crucifixion:

At the very top is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which indicates this is likely a “Priestless” Old Believer image.  Below it is the cross, bearing several of the usual inscriptions — IC XC for Jesus Christ, “King of Glory,” “Son of God,” “We Honor (lit. bow before) Your Cross, Lord, and Praise Your Holy Resurrection,” and NIKA — “[He] Conquers.”  Soldiers at left and right raise the spear and the sponge atop a reed.

We see the sun and moon.  Below the sun is the inscription СОЛНЦЕ ПОМЕРЧЕ — SOLNTSE POMERCHE — “The Sun Darkens….”  And below the moon is ЛУНА В КРОВЬ ПРЕЛОЖИСЯ  = LUNA V KROV PRELOZHISYA  “The moon becomes as blood.”

At the left of the cross is the “Eden” story, showing the creation of Adam and Eve, their eating of the forbidden fruit, and being cast out of the garden:

At upper right is Noah, with the dove returning after the “worldwide” flood:

At left is the Tower of Babel — a scene not often found in Russian icons:

At right again is the sea monster vomiting up Jonah:

Then we can look to the left for the scene of Joseph having been cast into the pit by his brothers (Genesis 37:23-24).  He is called ИОСИФЪ ПРЕКРАСНЫЙ — Iosif Prekrasnuiy — “Joseph the Beautiful.”

Also on the left side, we find the birth and circumcision of Jesus:

Next — at left — we find the “Meeting in the Temple,” the reception of Jesus by the aged Simeon and the Prophetess Anna:

At right we see the baptism of Jesus by John:

Beside it is the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness:

Above that we see the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the healing of the infirm man at the Pool of Bethesda:

At lower right is the “Mystic Supper” — the “Last Supper.”

Moving back up to the right side of the Crucifixion, we see the removal of Jesus from the cross, and the placing in the tomb:

At the base of the Crucifixion we see the skull of Adam.  According to tradition, he was buried in the same place where Jesus was later crucified, and the blood ran down upon the bones.  Tradition also says that King Solomon once found the skull exposed, and out of respect for the Forefather Adam, had it covered up with stones, as seen here.   To the left of that scene is the “Western-style” Resurrection image that came into Russian iconography late, and running along the bottom and up the right side is the “Descent into Hades,” the traditional depiction of the Resurrection used in Eastern Orthodoxy.  The lower right scene in this image is the resurrected Jesus meeting his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias:

Next we move all the way to the top of the left side for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles…

And the final image — at bottom left — is the Dormition of Mary:

Because it essentially shows the basic images of the whole tale of the so-called “Plan of Salvation,” this icon could have truly been a “Bible of the poor,” as church images used to be regarded for the illiterate — except that an icon this detailed, and with so many scenes and persons, would have been rather expensive to buy when it was new — so a poor person could not have afforded it.

UNEXPECTED GUESTS: A DETAILED OLD TESTAMENT TRINITY ICON

Many “Old Testament Trinity” icons are very basic, showing only the three angels who appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre in the Old Testament story.  Rublyov’s famous Old Testament Trinity is a good example:

In later icon painting, things became more elaborate.  Some painters liked to show much more of the story, as in this example:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

First, let’s look at the title:

It reads:

СВЯТАЯ И ЖИВОНАЧАЛНАЯ ТРОИЦА
SVYATYA I ZHIVONACHALNAYA TROITSA
“[The] HOLY AND LIFE-GIVING TRINITY.”

Zhivonachalnaya means “to initiate or begin life — to be the source of life.”  But we can translate it loosely into English as “life-giving.”

At upper left Abraham has met the angels and is bringing them home (here “home” is one of the stylized buildings called “palaces” in Russian iconography, rather than the biblical tent):

In the next image, he washes the dust from the feet of his angel guests:

On the right side, dough is being kneaded to make bread for the visitors:

At left, a calf is being slaughtered to provide meat for the angels (not a very angel-friendly thing to do, one would think now):

At lower center is the main image, with the angels seated at a table, and Abraham and his wife Sarah waiting on them:

 

Finally, at upper right we see Abraham and his wife seeing the departing guests off.

Here is the major portion of the story as related in Chapter 18 of Genesis in the King James Version:

And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.  And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.

There is an interval in which the angels predict that Sarah will have a son, and then the guests arise and begin to leave, but Abraham goes with them a short way, to see them off.  As he does so, he is told about the problems in Sodom, makes a deal, and then the angels leave and Abraham returns home.

In the structure of the story, it is made clear that the three angels are really manifestations of Yahweh, the god of Israel.  That is why in later Christian thought, the three angels came to represent the concept of the Trinity.

Here is the same icon with a silver and gilt riza dated 1881 placed over it:

It bears a porcelain plaque reading simply Svyataya Troitsa — “Holy Trinity.”