A REASONABLE LOOK AT THE “INCREASE OF REASON” ICON

There are many icons of Mary in Russian Orthodoxy that are considered chudotvornaya, “wonder-working,” “miracle-working.”  A peculiarity of some of these icons is that they are believed to “specialize” in treating certain ailments.  There is one, for example, to help women in childbirth.  There is another believed to be effective in problems of the mind, whether mental infirmity or helping students perform well in their studies.

An example of the latter is the icon type known as Прибавление ума — Pribavlenie Uma, “Increase of Reason” often translated simply as “Addition of Mind.”

"Increase of Reason" icon

“Increase of Reason” icon

The Church Slavic title written at the top of this icon reads, “Image of the Most Holy Mother of God, Ever Virgin Mary Increase of Reason.”

The peculiar thing about this particular icon type is that, like certain others, it was actually borrowed into Russian Orthodoxy from a western European Roman Catholic image, in fact a very well-known statue in Italy known as “Our Lady of Loreto.”  We have already seen that the Buddha found a place in the Calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church under the name St. Ioasaph; in this case an Italian Roman Catholic statue has found a place in the list of Russian Orthodox “wonder-working” icons under the name “Increase of Reason.”

As anyone who has read the group of pious stories known as the Golden Legend knows, the history of saints and images is filled with all kinds of fanciful and imagined and heavily-embroidered stories, and this particular icon goes back to such an imagined story in its Roman Catholic version, which turns out to be quite like the stories one finds in Eastern Orthodoxy about the origins of Marian icons.

When it comes to images and paintings of Mary, there is always the frequently encountered tale that this or that image or painting was created by the evangelist Luke.  That is in fact the story that became attached to a blackened image of Mary and the Christ Child that was kept in the shrine of Loreto in Italy.  Of course such stories have not a wisp of scientific or historical support, but they served to enhance the importance of such images for pilgrims, and were avidly repeated.

The original Loreto statue was thus one of quite a number of art works attributed by fancy to St. Luke.  And even more enhancing was the story that the chapel in which the Loreto image was kept was the original house of Mary, the same one in which she had met the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, the same one in which Jesus grew up; and that it had been carried through the air to Italy (with a long pause in Croatia) all the way from Palestine in the 13th century, to avoid its falling into the hands of Saracens (these were the times of the Crusades).  The house was said to have been seen by shepherds, carried in the sky by the hands of angels.  That is very reminiscent of tales told of icons, such as the appearance of the Tikhvin icon, seen by fishermen as it moved miraculously through the air over a lake in northern Russia toward its destination.

To make a long story short, the “Increase of Reason” icon is a painted version of the old, blackened statue of Mary and her child that was kept in the supposed house of Mary in Loreto, Italy.  The icon reproduces not only the appearance and garments of the image, but even the shape of the niche with side columns in which the image was kept.  That is easy to see when one looks at photos of the Loreto shrine and its image.

The present-day Loreto image in Italy, by the way, is a copy of an earlier image destroyed by fire in 1921.

David

THE NEW TESTAMENT TRINITY

If you talk to the “true believers” in modern Eastern Orthodoxy (who are often enthusiastic  Protestant converts), they will frequently tell you that Russian Orthodoxy does not paint icons of God the Father shown as an old man.  But that is just doctrinal theory, not the reality of Russian icon painting, and as you know, we deal in reality here rather than in  theories or wishful thinking about icons.

The truth is that the painting of icons of God the Father as an old man has a history in the Russian Orthodox Church of at least some 600 years; such depictions became increasingly common, until by the 18th and 19th centuries there were countless icons in existence featuring God the Father.  They are found in all the Eastern Orthodox countries, from Greece to Bulgaria and Serbia to Russia.  They were (and are) seen in  in churches, in monasteries, and of course in the home.

When the Council of Moscow decreed in 1667 that “the image of Lord Sabaoth shall no longer be depicted or made into an icon, because no one has seen Lord Sabaoth, that is, the Father, in the flesh,” it made not the slightest difference to icon painters or to Eastern Orthodox worshippers.  They painted and venerated what their fathers had painted and venerated.

We need not go into all the theological quibbles over this matter, because our concern here is not with what this or that person thinks icon painters should have done, but with what they really did; and what they really did was to paint images of Lord Sabaoth — God the Father — in huge numbers over the centuries.

Today I would like to take a look at such an icon, which goes under the general name “The New Testament Trinity.”

Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com

Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com

The painter, however, has given this icon its own title, written at the top in condensed form, meaning in very decorative cyrillic calligraphy, with words abbreviated and some letters written in smaller form as superscription above the larger letters.  In Russian this ornate style of writing is called Vyaz, from the verb meaning to join or tie together.

The inscription on this example, expanded into normal cyrillic form, looks like this:

It is a line from the Simvol Verui — the “Symbol of Faith,” which is the Russian term for the Nicene Creed; it reads, “He ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right [hand] of the Father,” which perfectly describes what the icon depicts — Jesus sitting in Heaven at the right of God the Father (Gospod’ Savaof / Lord Sabaoth).

The Father is shown with his typical long beard and eight-pointed halo (termed a slava — a “glory” in this case).  The eight points symbolize the seven days of Creation and an added eighth day — the Day of Eternity.  The Holy Spirit is seen as a dove above the Father and Son, which is how he is described at the baptism of Jesus in the New Testament.

Above the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a gathering of archangels and angels.  We see Michael (Mikhail), Gabriel (Gavriil), Uriel (Uriil), Yehudiel (Yegudiil), Selafiel (Salafiil), Raphael, and a number of others each identified only as “Angel of the Lord”

God the Father — Lord Sabaoth — holds a scroll, as we see in this closeup:

Photo courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com

It is a Church Slavic quote from Ezekiel 33:11, and it says, “I do not want the death of the sinner, but that he should turn from his way and live.”  In more modern form it is:

Не хочу смерти грешника, но чтобы грешник обратился от пути своего и жив был.

Here is an illustration from a menaion printed in Moscow under the direction of the “Holy Governing Synod” in the reign of Catherine the Great in 1784:

New Testament Trinity (courtesy of Jacksonsauctioncom)

New Testament Trinity
                                                                                                                (courtesy of Jacksonsauctioncom)

As you see, it depicts the Holy Spirit as a dove at the top of the circle, with Jesus on the left and “Lord Sabaoth” on the right — God the Father depicted as an old man.

By the way, aside from the fact that this illustration comes from a book authorized by the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1721-1918, it is also  obvious that this illustration is not from an Old Believer book because it uses the IHC abbreviation for the name Jesus, something the Old Believers considered a sign of heresy, keeping to the traditional IC abbreviation.

So remember, as a student of icons, go with what painters actually painted, with historical reality, not with what religious enthusiasts say they should have painted.

David