It is not always easy to distinguish certain types of icons. Sometimes a type is close enough to simply blend into another, and then what do we call it?

You are all very familiar with the extremely common “Lord Almighty” (Gospod’ Vsederzhitel) type of Jesus — the one the Greeks call the Pantokrator:

(Courtesy of

But how do we classify an icon like the one below? It has the “Lord Almighty” inscription at the sides of the image of Jesus, but there is also another inscription at the base identifying this as a “sub-category” icon — an icon that has become famous under its own name.

Now icons of Jesus as “Lord Almighty,” but depicted to the upper breast, and with the Gospel book crowded in between his shoulder and neck, are generally called the “All-merciful Savior / Спас Всемилостивый / Spas Vsemilostivuiy, but also sometimes called the “‘Boris and Gleb’ Savior / Спас Борисогле́бский / Spas Borisoglebskiy, or the Romanov Savior / Спас Рома́новский / Spas Romanovskiy. That is because the town of Tutaev in Yaroslavl Oblast, where the original icon of this type was kept in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, was formerly known as Romanov-Borisoglebsk.

Here is an old photo of the icon:

There are several conflicting accounts of its origin, with one saying it washed up on the banks of the Volga River (the motif of a miracle-working icon that comes “floating on the water” is common). Another says it was painted by Dionisiy Glushitsky (1363-1437). For our purposes, however, we only need to know how to recognize it and distinguish it as a sub-category of regular “Lord Almighty” icons.

But as we have seen, the example depicted below (I repeat the photo here) is an “All-Merciful Savior” type with its own name:

It is known as the “Moskvoretskiy Savior”/ Спас Москворецкий / Spas Moskvoretskiy, after the place where the icon for which it is named was originally kept by the Moscow River near the Kremlin. Later the icon was kept in the chapel of the “All Merciful Savior” on Moskvoretskaya street in Moscow, seen on the right of the street in this old photo:

Perhaps you noticed that the Moskvoretskiy icon shows Jesus blessing with the “two-fingered” sign characteristic of the Old Believers. But keep in mind that it was the common Russian blessing form prior to the split between the Old Believers and the State Russian Orthodox Church in the middle of the 17th century. So sometimes it is found on icons used by the State Church that are copied after a prototype painted before the schism.

Now to confuse matters even more, there are icons very much in the form of the “Savior of Smolensk” type that are also sometimes called the “All-Merciful Savior,” like this one:

They are not very common, however, so though one should be aware that they exist, it is more important to recognize the “non-standing” type above that looks more like the usual “Lord Almighty” icons but has the Gospel book crowded up between the shoulder of Jesus and his head. And of course always pay attention to title inscriptions.

The inscription at the bottom of this icon is a quote from Luke 8:48:

Вера твоя спасе тя: иди в мире / Vera tvoya space tya: idi v mire
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”


Icons called “wonderworking” are not limited to images of Mary.

Here, for example, is the Malo-Chernetchinskiy (Мало-Чернетчинский) icon of Jesus, also called the Спас Кро­воточивый / Spas Krovotochivuiy — literally the “Blood-flowing” Savior, but in more normal English, the “Bleeding Savior.” It takes its name from the village of Malaya Chernetchina (Малая Чернетчина), not far from the Russian border. Today it has been combined with the village of Tokari, and both now go under the Tokari name.

Examples are painted in a “Westernized” manner, generally in oil paints, and that is not surprising, given that icons of this type are mostly found in Ukraine. Late Ukrainian icons (except for those of the Old Believers) tend in general to be Westernized in appearance.

The icon depicts Jesus standing in a blood-filled basin, with the wounds of the Passion flowing both into cups held by the angels and into the basin. In some examples he wears the crown of thorns.

The origin story of the supposed “wonderworking” icon is another of those with what I call the “It came to me in a dream” motif. In other words, the tale says that the icon was discovered because of a dream. In this case, it was that of a peasant woman living in Mala Chernetchina named Anisya Panchenko. In the fall of the year 1887 she became very ill. Then she dreamed that an icon in the basement of the Church of All Saints, which formerly had been a part of the Dormition Monastery, would heal her. She heard Jesus speaking these words:

«Приходите сюда, молитесь и веруй­те, буду исцелять вас от всякой болез­ни».
“Come here, pray and believe, and you will be healed of all illnesses.”

The basement of the church was a messy place, filled with rubble and debris, snakes and bats, an unlikely place for an icon to be. Nonetheless, the icon was found there, and as these stories go, Anisya was healed.

Of course word of this soon got around, and people began visiting the image — so many that it was locked away for a time, until official Church approval was given for it to be available to the public. Then it became an even bigger draw for pilgrims.

Icons under this name are variable. Some include the angels, some omit them. Some have an inscription near the thorn-crowned head of Jesus:

Аз есмь хлеб животный, иже сшедый с небе­се: аще кто снесть от хлеба сего, жив бу­дет во веки ….

“”I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever ….” (John 6:51);

Аще не снесте плоти Сына Человеческаго, ни пиете кро­ве Его, живота не имате в себе»

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53).

And there are even examples that resemble the “Mystic Winepress” icons of Jesus (Iisus Hristos – Viţa de vie — “Jesus Christ the Grapevine,”) often found on Romanian glass icons. Images in this form are often called Христос в точиле / Khristos v Tochile — “Christ in the Winepress.”

In any case, as one might guess, the imagery of these icons can be traced back to the influence of Western European Roman Catholicism on the art of Ukrainian icons in the 17th century.


Here is a pleasant and rather folkish Greek triptych icon:

(Courtesy of

Here is the central image:

It is a Deisis — an icon of Jesus enthroned in heaven, with Mary approaching him from the left, and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) from the right, to ask favors on behalf of humans.

In this example, Jesus is depicted as “Great High Priest,” robed like a bishop, with a bishop’s crown, omophorion (the stole around his neck), and epigonation (the diamond-shaped flat object against his left knee).

He blesses with his right hand, his fingers forming the Greek letters IC XC for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ” in Greek. He holds the Gospels in his left, opened to this text from Matthew 25:34:

Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμέ[νην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.]

Deute hoi eulogemenoi tou patros mou, kleronomesate ten hetoimasme[nen humin basileian apo kataboles kosmou].

“Come, you blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared [for you from the foundation of the world]”

The left wing of the triptych shows Ho Hagios Basileos/“Holy Basil” at the top, And Ho Hagios Georgios/”Holy George” below him.

In the right wing are Ho Hagios Sabbas/”Holy Sabbas” at top, and below him Ho Hagios Demetrios/”Holy Demetrius.” As you know by now, both George and Demetrius are noted warrior saints in Eastern Orthodoxy, and the two are often depicted together.

I have discussed each of the four saints in the wings in previous postings. You will find them in the archives (don’t forget there is a search box on the upper right side of the page).


Hi again, Iconoholics. I am still fighting with the new WordPress formatting system and the new operating system on my computer, so the postings may look a bit odd for a while (or maybe they always did, but look even more odd now).

Anyway — today we will briefly examine an icon type very familiar to old readers — so for them it will just be an exercise in the “repetition is the mother of learning” policy. For new readers — and they seem to keep coming and subscribing here for some inexplicable reason — I should probably add a warning message to the subscription link:


Yes, that is from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Abandon All Hope, You Who Enter.

Be aware that once you begin the study of icons, there is no end — unless you can somehow break the addiction.  Good luck with that.

Anyway, here is the icon:

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(Courtesy of

The title inscription — instead of being at the top of the icon where it is usually found — is placed just above the main crossbeam in this example:

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The inscription reads:


In normal English, “Image of the Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

On the signboard above the head of Jesus is the superscription borrowed from the biblical account:  I N TS I — which abbreviates the Church Slavic words for “Jesus (I) of Nazareth (N), King (TS) of the Jews (I) — Isus Nazoryanin’ Tsar Iudeiskiy.

The IC XC abbreviation at the ends of the crossbeam is the Greek Ιησούς Χριστός / Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”

Now we come to the inscription below the crossbeam. It is the standard


“We Honor [literally “bow before”] Your Cross, Lord/Master, and Praise Your Holy Resurrection.”

You can see there is some abbreviation.

In the halo of Jesus is the standard inscription HO ON — “The One Who Is” — the equivalent of the King James Old Testament title of God, “I Am That I Am.” In Russian icons, however, the order of the letters and the form of at least one of them is changed, thus making different interpretations possible, particularly among the Old Believers.

Then come the “K” and “T” abbreviations for

КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear,” and ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod, with the sponge at its top.

Below that are the letters НИ КА for NIKA — meaning “He Conquers” in Greek. That is one of the standard Greek inscriptions kept in Russian icons.

Now we come to the final inscriptions on and below the cross:

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They are:

At the base of the upright we see these letters:

М  Л
Р  Б

They abbreviate




[The] Place [of the] Skull Paradise Became

In normal English, “The Place of the Skull became Paradise.”  Lobnoe is often more loosely translated as “Execution” or Judgment,” but Mesto Lobnoe refers to the place commonly called Calvary in English, from the Latin Calvariæ Locus, “Skull Place.”

That leads us to the final two inscriptions.

At the sides of the base of the cross are the letters

Г  Г

They abbreviate

“Hill [of] Golgotha”

“Golgotha” ultimately derived from the Aramaic Gagultâ, meaning “skull.”
Remember that Church Slavic (like Russian) has no “th” sound, so it is replaced with the “f” sound.

Just below the base of the cross is an opening in which lies a skull.  This follows the tradition that the Crucifixion happened at the center of the earth, and that was supposedly where the biblical first man, Adam, was buried.  So the skull is that of Adam.  And at the sides of the skull are the letters

Г  А

… abbreviating:


“[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM”

Some Crucifixion icons have a little plant at the base, a sprout of new life.

Here are the persons standing at left:

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They are: Svyataya Mariya Magdalina — “Holy Mary Magdalene,” Svyataya Marfa (“Holy Martha”) and the MP ΘΥ — abbreviating Greek ΜΗΤΗΡ ΘΕΟΥ / Meter Theou — “Mother of God,” i.e. Mary, mother of Jesus. That is another of the standard Greek titles kept in Russian icons.

At right are these figures:

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They are Svyatuiy Ioann” Bogoslov — “Holy John the Theologian” and Svyatuiy Login” Sotnik — “Holy Longinus the Centurion.”

At upper left is Solntse — “The Sun”:

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And at upper right is Luna — “The Moon.”

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Traditionally in Crucifixion icons, the sun is darkened, and the moon has become “as blood” — red.

Finally, at top center, is Gospod’ Savaof”— “Lord Sabaoth” — that is, God the Father.

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You would not believe how long it took me to get this simple posting done in the new formatting system and on my new computer. But at least you got your “fix” for the day.


Well, it finally happened. I opened my blog site to write a couple of days ago, and found the WordPress format had changed. And I discovered — to my horror — that my old computer could not deal with the new format. That meant I could no longer post these endless, tiresome messages about icons, unless I coughed up the cash to buy a new computer with the new software my old computer and software cold no longer handle.

The result is that I reluctantly and with great sorrow opened my wallet, and after the moths had flown out, I took enough money to buy a new computer yesterday, so now I can post on this blog site again. Yes, that means you will have to endure even more postings on Icons and Their Interpretation.

Given that the computer I am typing this on (while reclining, a first ever for me with a computer) is my first laptop, you are likely to see some oddly-formatted postings for a while. And I am going to have to find how to use images on this new software — which is why there is no new photo at all in this posting — and such photos are essential to an icon blog. I hope to quickly learn how to add photos before my next posting (the laptop software functions differently than my now unusable desktop).

So, today’s posting is a very basic trial run on my new laptop, minus new photos for now. So don’t worry. Eventually things will get even worse.


(Courtesy of

Here is a quick summary of some of the most common icon myths. All are explained further by past postings in the archives.

Are the statements in bold type accurate?

  1. The first Christians painted and used icons.

    No. There is no evidence that the first Christians painted or used icons for veneration. Though there is archeological and literary evidence of Christian art around the beginning of the the 3rd century, there is no evidence for the painting and use of venerated icons as they later became known in Christianity.

2. There are icons of Mary painted by St. Luke.

No. There is no evidence that any icon of Mary attributed to Luke dates to the 1st century. All are later, most much later. And of course there is no evidence that Luke or any other Christian of New Testament times painted or used icons.

3. Icons are “written,” not painted.

No. That mistake is the result of a misunderstanding of language. In Greek and in Russian, the words for “paint’ and “write” were the same. The same word was used for both, and context determined which was meant. In English, however, we have distinct words for “write” and “paint,” so in English, icons are painted, not “written.” Saying to “write” an icon is a mistake new immigrants might make, but not once they learned correct English.

4. Icons are “windows to heaven.”

No. They are windows only into how a particular religion and culture chose to depict its traditional religious figures.

5. Icons depict saints accurately.

No. Most of the images of saints depicted in icons are entirely imaginary and often simply generic images distinguished only by the style and color of hair, the presence, absence or shape of beards, And the kind and color of garments worn. So when people venerate — for example — an icon of St. John (by tradition apostle, evangelist, and theologian), they are venerating an imaginary image of John that became standardized in painting at some point in history. Even the depictions of Jesus and Mary are imaginary.

6. “Stylized” icons — that is, icons depicting saints with stylized rather than realistic features and proportions — were always the way icons were painted in Eastern Orthodoxy.

No. Stylization of figures in icons is a tradition that developed over time in Eastern Orthodoxy, but was not always used. In Russian icons, for example, stylization was common prior to the separation of the State Church and the “Old Believers” in the middle of the 17th century, but after that, the State Church began using more and more realism in the painting of icons. The Old Believers were, in general, the preservers of stylization in icon painting after the 17th century. Most people do not realize that a great many of the stylized icons they consider so characteristic of Eastern Orthodoxy today were actually painted by Old Believers who considered the State Orthodox Church (the “Russian Orthodox Church”) to be heretical.

7. Icon painters never signed their completed icons.

No. Many icons — even some going back centuries — were signed by the painter, both in Greek icon painting and in Russian. There are countless examples of old signed icons.

8. Icons were never painted for money.

No. Icon painting developed into a big business. For example, there was a vigorous trade in icons painted by Cretan icon painters and sold to buyers in the Venetian Republic. Icon painting in Russia was a huge business, and prices were charged according to the size, complexity, and quality of the icon.

9. The saints and events painted in icons were real and historical.

No. Some saints actually existed and some never existed. Even in the case of historical saints, their lives and actions are often partly, heavily, or even entirely fictionalized. Some icon saints — like St. Joasaph/Josaphat, were actually borrowed from non-Christian traditions, in that particular case from the life of the Buddha. The events depicted in icons are often as fictional as fairy and folk tales.

10. All icon depictions of Mary — including those on so-called “wonder-working” icons — originated in Eastern Orthodoxy.

No. A number of Marian icons — including some classified as “wonder-working” — were actually borrowed from the Roman Catholic tradition. And many icons in general were painted after models copied from Western European Catholic or Protestant religious engravings.