I have mentioned in previous postings how important it is to be able to read icon titles, in particular the titles used to identify each saint. This often makes the difference between identifying a saint in an icon or leaving the saint anonymous.
The saint depicted above is Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΣ in upper case, Ο Αγιος Νικολαος in mixed upper and lower; he is a very common saint, and his inscription should be easy to read for those who have been following the articles on reading Greek icon inscriptions posted here previously.
First comes the title: Ο Αγιος
Then comes the saint’s name: Νικολαος
Notice that Αγιος (Hagios) is abbreviated, and that the -ος (-os) at the end of the name Nikolaos is formed by writing the “o,” then adding the final “s” as a snake-like squiggle attached to the “o.” Nikolaos is just the Greek form of Nicholas. And of course the name Nikolaos is divided, with the Νι- to the left of the halo, and the -κολαος at the right. Such division of names and words to fit the space is very common in icons.
Today I would like to take a look at some of the titles and secondary titles commonly found in the inscriptions identifying saints in Greek icons. These can come in very handy, so anyone who wants to learn to read icon titles in Greek should become familiar with them. I will likely add more as time passes.
First, I want to remind you that the definite articles (the words for “the”) are very significant in the case of saints, so remember them. They are:
Ὁ ὁ : It is pronounced “HO” in old Greek, “O” in modern Greek. It is used for a male. So when you see “HO” at the beginning of the title, you know the saint is male. I have shown it in both upper and lower case letters.
Ἡ ἡ : It is pronounced “HAY” in old Greek, “EE” in modern Greek. By the way, the little accent you see in both ὁ and ἡ just indicates that the vowel is preceded by an unwritten “h” sound, which is dropped in modern Greek pronunciation.
I should also tell you that in Greek words, the secondary accent (not the one that indicates an “h” sound) in a word indicates stress in modern Greek pronunciation. That means, for example, that in the word
the stress in the second word is on the fourth syllable, like this: ar-khi-di-A-konos. You need not remember where the stress goes in saying the word unless you want to try to impress your friends and neighbors, who will probably just want you to shut up or say something sensible for a change. But if you are like me, you will want to know that little fact anyway.
So let’s begin.
First come the two most important titles that precede the name of a saint; they are:
Ὁ Ἅγιος : Ho Hagios: It means “The Holy,” or we can loosely translate it as “Saint”; it is used for MALE saints.
Ἡ Ἁγία : He Hagia: It means “The Holy,” and is used for FEMALE saints.
Sometimes, instead of Ὁ Ἅγιος (Ho Hagios), we will find instead this:
Ὁ Ὅσιος: Ho Hosios: It loosely means “pure” or “pious,” but the important thing to remember is that it is used for MONASTIC saints; so a “Hosios Loukas” is a Loukas (“Luke”) who was a monk.
Similarly its female equivalent is
Ἡ Ὅσία: He Hosia: Used to identify a FEMALE monastic, a nun.
Those are the two most important Greek saint titles to remember. Almost every saint you see will have the name preceded by either Hagios/Hagia or Hosios/Hosia.
Now on to a few more primary and secondary saint titles (I have transliterated them “old style”:
ὁ Μάρτυρας: Ho Martyras; this means a martyr, and you know it is male by the “HO” in front of it.
ἡ Μάρτυς: He Martys: this is a female martyr.
οἱ Μάρτυρες: Hoi Martyres; “martyrs,” used for more than one; In modern Greek οἱ is pronounced “ee.”
ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς: He Megalomartys; a female Great Martyr.
ὁ Νεομάρτυρας: Ho Neomartyras; a male New Martyr.
ἡ Νεομάρτυς: He Neomartys; a female New Martyr.
ὁ Ἱερομάρτυρας: Ho Hieromartyras; a (male) Priest-Martyr.
ὁ Ὁσιομάρτυρας: Ho Hosiomartyras; a (male) Monk-Martyr.
ἡ Παρθενομάρτυς: Ho Parthenomartys; a (female) Virgin Martyr.
ὁ Πρωτομάρτυρας: Ho Protomartyras; a (male) First Martyr.
ἡ Παρθένος: He Parthenos; a female Virgin.
ὁ Ἐπίσκοπος: Ho episkopos; a bishop.
ὁ Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος: Ho Arkhiepiskopos; an archbishop.
ὁ Ἀρχιδιάκονος: Ho Arkhidiakonos; an archdeacon.
ὁ Διάκονος: Ho diakonos; a deacon.
ὁ Ὁμολογητής: Ho Homologetes; a Confessor.
ὁ Μοναχός: Ho Monakhos; a Monk.
ὁ ἀσκητὴς: Ho Asketes; an Ascetic or Hermit.
Ὁ Προφήτης: Ho Prophetes; a male Prophet.
Ἡ Προφήτιδα: He Prophetida; a female Prophet.
ὁ Ἀπόστολος: Ho Apostolos; a (male) Apostle.
ὁ Ἱσαπόστολος: Ho Isapostolos; a male saint “Equal to the Apostles.”
ὁ Θαυματουργὸς: Ho Thaumatourgos; a male Wonderworker, “thaumaturge.”
ἡ Θαυματουργos: He Thaumatourgos; a female Wonderworker.
ὁ Πρεσβύτερος: Ho Presbyteros; a Presbyter, Elder.
ὁ Δίκαιος: Ho Dikaios; “The Righteous,” used for male Old Testament “saints.”
ὁ Ἀνάργυρος: Ho Anargyros; “Without Silver,” meaning “Unmercenary,” used for saints who did not charge money for services.
ὁ Νέος: Ho Neos; “The New,” used to distinguish a later male saint with the same name as an earlier saint.
ἡ νέα: He Nea: “The New,” used to distinguish a later female saint with the same name as an earlier saint.
ὁ νεώτερος: Ho Neoteros; “The Younger.”
ὁ διὰ Χριστὸν Σαλός: Ho dia Khriston Salos, literally “The Through-Christ Fool,” a “Fool for Christ,” a “Holy Fool.”
ὁ Μέγας: Ho Megas; “the Great.”
ὁ Ἔγκλειστος: Ho Engkleistos; literally “the Enclosed,” meaning “The Recluse.”
ὁ Ζωγράφος: Ho Zographos; “The Painter” (used for icon painters, as is the following);
ὁ εἰκονογράφος: Ho Eikonographos; “The Image/Icon Painter.”
ὁ Στρατηλάτης: Ho Stratelates; “The General/Commander.”
ὁ Ἐρημίτης: Ho Eremites; “The Eremite,” “The Hermit.”
Well, that’s sufficient for today. There are of course a few more primary saint titles, and quite a number of secondary ones, but we shall work more on those another time (really, don’t you have anything else to do?).