Today we will look at a rather late Greek icon.
Greek popular icons, one finds, have far less variety of subject than Russian icons. Generally only a few patron saints are favored. That does not mean icons of many more saints do not exist, it just means one does not see them nearly as often as those of the popular patron saints and images of Mary and of Jesus.
This is an icon of Stylianos of Paphlagonia, a region in what is now Turkey. No one seems quite sure when this fellow actually lived, which should be a sign of caution to us, a warning flag, as we shall see; accounts place him somewhere in the 4th to 6th century. He is said to have inherited wealth from his parents, but he gave it all away and went to live a monastic life, then a hermit’s life in a cave. Nonetheless, he did not isolate himself from society, but could also be seen going about among ordinary people.
He became known as a healer, with his first cure that of a child. The healing and welfare of children became a major concern to him, and he is said to have begun, with the assistance of other hermits, a refuge for the care and tending of children.
Stylianos also became noted as something of a fertility specialist, after a young woman who could not bear children appealed to him for help. When she conceived and bore a child, that brought even more visitors asking for his miraculous assistance.
The consequence of all this is that Stylianos is regarded as the saint to go to for illness in children, for the ability to bear children, and for the protection of children. He is said to have been a happy and smiling saint, and completely unmercenary.
Unfortunately, in spite of this cheerful tale, Stylianos is one of those saints who likely never actually existed. Researchers in hagiography opine that his name is actually a misunderstanding. The confusion arose, apparently, because there is another saint, Alypios, who was celebrated on the same day on which Stylianos came to be celebrated (November 26). This Alypios was a stylite — a saint who lived atop a pillar, so his name and title were Ἀλύπιος ὁ Στυλίτης — Alypios ho Stylites — and it is the Stylites part that apparently was garbled into a Saint Stylianos. Alypios is said to have lived in Paphlagonia, and had a mother who gave her money to the poor. And strangely enough, Alypios the Stylite also became known as a “fertility” saint and a guardian of children. So it would appear that the very popular saint Stylianos found in so many Greek icons was created by error as a “duplicate” saint cobbled together from the account of Alypios.
But on to the icon.
It is not difficult to recognize icons of Stylianos. He usually holds a child wrapped in swaddling clothes in one arm (this odd practice of binding prevented an infant from moving), as well as a scroll with this inscription:
ΠΑΙΔΩΝ ΦΥΛΑΞ ΠΕΦΥΚΑ ΘΕΟΥ ΤΟ ΔΩΡΟΝ — PAIDON PHYLAX PEPHYKA THEOU TO DORON, meaning loosely “The Protector of Children is a gift from God.”
At the top we see the identifying title inscription: ΑΓΙΟΣ ΣΤΥΛΙΑΝΟΣ (Αγιος Στυλιανός); in old Greek it would be Hagios Stylianos, and in modern pronunciation Ayos Stylianos — “Holy Stylianos” — or as we would say, Saint Stylianos.
The icon depicted puts prayer beads in his other hand, which has the fingers loosely forming the letters IC XC (abbreviating “Jesus Christ”), a position used as a sign of blessing.
The image of Stylianos may vary slighty, with some examples including more than one infant being held, but one swaddled child is the norm.
Now that you know the iconography of Stylianos, you will easily be able to recognize him in this detail from another and even more folkish Greek icon:
The name inscription at left reads:
Ο Αγιος Στυλιανός — Ho Hagios Stylianos — “The Holy Stylianos.” Notice that in writing ος (-os) the painter has added the s as a very small cedilla-like appendage to the bottom right of the letter o. He has also combined the letters Σ (σ = s) and τ (t) at the beginning of “Stylianos,” with the bar of the t placed atop the s.
Here is an 18th century example from Mount Athos: