I have talked often about a term relating mostly to Marian icons: явление — yavlenie. It means “appearance.” Specifically, it means when an icon later held to be “wonderworking” in Eastern Orthodoxy first first appears miraculous. That is a significant point. It is not when the icon first appears in the usual sense, but when it first appears to be miraculous.
So an icon may be known for many years, but it is only when it shows itself to be miraculous (in Eastern Orthodox belief), “wonderworking” — chudotvornaya — that it is said to have “appeared.”
Today’s icon is such an image. It was kept in the Monastery called Vatopedi on Mount Athos, which is a mountain of monastics in Greece, a mountain believed to be the property and under the protection of Mary. Traditionally, women are not allowed on Athos.
The icon was of Mary and the Christ Child. It was not considered particularly special until the day when it is said to have “appeared.” According to the origin story, it did not look as it once did after its appearance. The figures of Mary and Jesus within it are believed to have changed their positions, making the icon look quite different. If that seems strange to you, well, strange is the stuff of which “appearance” stories are made.
Here is the icon, called the OTRADA ILI UTYESHENIE, “JOY OR CONSOLATION,” as the title on it tells us. One may find either or both titles on an image of the type. It is also called (in Russia) the Vatopedskaya (“of Vatopedi”) icon, and in Greece it is called the Paramythia, the “Consolation” icon.
In the example above, only the central image follows the type of the original icon. The images of Genadios at left and of John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right are additions.
As I was saying, the origin story relates that the icon did not originally look as it does now.
The traditional account says that in the year 807, a gang of pirates landed near the Vatopedi monastery and hid in the bushes, waiting for morning, when the gates would be opened. Then they could rush inside, subdue the monks and plunder the place. Matins had ended, and the Abbot was praying, as was his daily custom, before an icon of Mary.
Suddenly he heard a voice telling him not to open the monastery gates that day, but instead to go to the walls and disperse the robbers. He looked about to see where it was coming from, and to his amazement, he saw that the images of Mary and the child Jesus within the icon had come to life. But as he watched, he saw the child Jesus stretch out his hand to cover his mother’s mouth, saying severely, “No, my Mother, do not tell them; let them be punished.”
Mary, however, grasped her son’s hand, and holding it away from her mouth, turned her face from it and repeated the warning to the Abbot.
At once all the monks were called, and they were told what Mary had said. The monks were surprised to see that the positions of the Mother and Chld in the icon had changed, and they went to the walls and dispersed the pirates. And so the monastery was saved.
This icon type is characterized by Mary holding the hand of her son away from her mouth in the supposed “new” position of the icon figures.
The motif of the merciful Mary saving humans from the wrath her son — “staying the hand” of Jesus — is very much in keeping with the general beliefs of both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians in the Middle Ages, and partly accounts for the high veneration in which Mary was held.
In this particular example of the Otrada type, the image of Genadios at left bears not only his title inscription, but also these words:
“He heard a voice from the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God: “Do not open the gates of the monastery today.”
Examples of this icon type began to appear in Russia in the 19th century.
For the most part, snakes are images of evil in icons. You may be surprised to learn, however, that on the Greek island of Kefalonia, not only is there a Greek Orthodox ceremony and local festival involving snakes, but there is also an icon of Mary associated with snakes and called “wonderworking.” There are even more recent versions of the image that include painted snakes. Such images are called by the type name Παναγία η Φιδούσα, — Panagia i Phidousa or Παναγία η Φιδιώτισσα — Panagia i Phidiotissa “The All-Holy One of the Snakes.” They are also sometimes called the Langouvardiotissa, after the name of a church.
The original supposedly “wonderworking” icon is said to have “appeared” when villagers living on a hill saw a tree aflame higher up the slope. When they investigated, they found an icon of Mary leaning against the burnt stump of the tree. Thinking this remarkable, they took the icon down to their village and placed it in the church for veneration. The icon, however, was not there the next morning. It was found again back up the slope, leaning against the burnt stump. Returning it once more to their village church, they locked it in. But it disappeared again, in fact three times in all. This convinced the villagers that the icon did not want to be in their church, but instead wanted a new church built for its home on the site of the burnt stump. This notion of a Marian icon that keeps returning to a certain location is a common motif in icon origin stories.
As for the snakes associated with the image, it is said that a convent for nuns was constructed near the new church. in 1705, pirates came to the island to loot and pillage, and the nuns feared for their safety. They prayed to Mary to protect them, and what happened next varies according to which version of the legend one hears. In one version, Mary turned the nuns into snakes. In the other version, she sent snakes to encircle the convent, and when the pirates arrived, they were so frightened by the snakes that they left the convent and the nuns unharmed.
On Kefalonia, the so-called agiofida — “holy snakes” — are associated with the villages of Arginia and Markopoulo. Arginia is the higher of the two, and it has a spring of water that apparently creates a damp course down the ravine to where the church at Markopoulo stands. In any case, it is the annual appearance of the snakes at the Markopoulo church that receives most publicity, though both villages hold festivals to mark the event, which has become a tourist attraction. The snakes are actually a kind of European Cat Snake classified as Telescopus fallax. They have a roughly cross-shaped mark on their heads, which of course only adds to popular tendency to see the miraculous in their annual appearance in the villages.
The snakes begin to appear in the villages roughly around August 5th-6th and 15th. These correspond, in the Greek Orthodox Church Calendar, to the period from the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus (August 6th) to the Feast of the Dormition of Mary (August 15th). The story is told that originally the snakes would come on their own and slither into the Church at Markopoulo and crawl up to the icon of Mary to venerate it at that time each year. The present-day reality is that when the snakes begin to appear in the vicinity (and people even go searching for them), they are gathered up and physically carried into the church and placed on the icons, and people like to have their photos taken with the snakes twined around their arms. It is said that many snakes used to come to the church, but that the numbers of snakes appearing have lessened over the years. Nor do they always appear, and popular belief is that it is a bad sign when they do not.
If one reads accounts of the phenomenon on various Eastern Orthodox web sites, one finds that they generally credulously accept the appearance of the snakes as a miraculous event. Some even say that the venomous snakes will not harm humans until after the liturgy is finished on the day of the Dormition of Mary. But scientists say that in any case, the kind of snake involved is not harmful to humans because the fangs are located in a position (“back-fanged”) that makes any danger unlikely.
The tendency to see such events as “miraculous” rather than as natural phenomena (such as, for example, natural migratory behavior) lies in the readiness of “believers” to say, “There is no explanation for it; it must be miraculous,” while the more rationally inclined (myself included) will say that scientific research would reveal the true and natural nature of such events. Usually when unusual events are “unexplained,” the reason is that either they have not been sufficiently investigated, or else the “miraculous” explanation gets more publicity than the less “mysterious” scientific explanation, or else there is insufficient evidence upon which to base an investigation. But Eastern Orthodoxy has always preferred tales of miracles to the simplified form of the Occam’s Razor dictum: The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
We have previously seen a lion associated with St. Gerasimos/Gerasim in icons. Today we will take a look at a Greek icon of St. Mamas, whose iconography also includes a lion. In Russia he is called Mamant.
The painter does not seem to have been troubled that he made the the head wildly out of proportion with the body.
Let’s take a look at the inscriptions. First, there is the title inscription of the saint:
It is separated into three widely-spaced parts. Beginning at upper left, it reads:
ΟΑΓ — That abbreviates Ο ΑΓΙΟC —HO HAGIOS— “The Holy.”
ΜΑΜΑC — That is the saint’s name, MAMAS
Ο ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟC — HO THAUMATOURGOS — “The Wonderworker.”
So put together, the title inscription reads:
HO HAGIOS MAMAS HO THAUMATOURGOS — “[THE] HOLY MAMAS THE WONDERWORKER”
Second, there is the inscription on the hand from Heaven at upper right:
ΧEΙΡ ΚΥ — That abbreviates ΧΕΙΡ ΚYRIOY — KHEIR KYRIOU — “THE HAND OF THE LORD.”
It is helpful to know, as part of basic Greek icon reading vocabulary, that KURIOS means “Lord,” and KURIOU means “of the Lord.”
Now that you know icon titles are often abbreviated with parts separated, you should be able to easily read the title inscription on this fresco of Mamas from the Dokheiariou Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece:
Yes, it reads H]O [H]A[GI]OS MAMAS — “[THE] HOLY MAMAS.” The “-GI-” in Hagios is written above the letters OA, and the -OS ending is written below.
In both of these images, Mamas carries a sheep as he rides on the lion’s back.
Anyone familiar with the old Russian podlinniki — the painters’ manuals — knows that the description of Mamas/Mamant comes almost at the beginning, because his day of commemoration is September 2, and the old Russian Church Year began on September 1st. But who, exactly, according to the hagiography upon which icons are based, was he?
First we must keep in mind that, as in the case of many old saints, his story is highly fantasized; it is quite variable, and unreliable as history. His category as a saint is Martyros in Greek, and in Slavic it is Muchenik — “Martyr”:
That of course, is what is depicted in the image above; the martyrdom of Mamas.
Let’s look closer at the inscription:
ΜΑΡΤΥΡΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ = MARTURION TOU
ΑΓΙΟΥ ΜΑΜΑ[Ν] = HAGIOU MAMA]N]-
ΤΟC = -TOS
MARTYRION TOU AGIOU MAMANTOS, meaning “MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY MAMAS.”
Did you notice that like the word KURIOS (Lord), the word AGIOS changes its form when it is used with the word TOU, meaning “of”? “The Holy” (for a male) is HO HAGIOS; but “of the Holy” becomes TOU AGIOU
But back to his largely fictionalized and variously-told life story:
Mamas was a boy born in Paphlagonia. His parents, Theodotos and Rufina, lived in Gangra, and were Christians imprisoned in Caesarea for their faith. Both died in prison, but the mother managed to give birth to Mamas before her death.
Mamas was taken and raised by a rich Christian widow named Ammia. His name is said to be derived from his calling her “Mama” (actually, Mamas was a rather common name in those days). The boy Mamas became an evangelizer among the people, converting them to Christianity. That brought him to the attention of the authorities, and he was arrested and tortured under the persecution of the Emperor Aurelian. An attempt was made to drown him, but he was rescued by an angel, who told him to live on a mountain. There he befriended wild goats and deer, and survived on goat milk and doe milk, from which he also made cheese that he distributed to the poor. He lived the life of a shepherd.
Eventually, however, a group of soldiers came to where he was living. He gave them milk to drink and told them who he was. He was arrested and tortured and thrown to wild beasts in the arena, but the beasts became peaceful and would not harm him. His death finally came at age 15 when he was stabbed with a trident — some say by a pagan priest, in 275 c.e., and that while wounded, he managed to get to a cave, where he died.
The “lion” motif appeared in later accounts of his life, and it is variable. Some say that while living on the mountain, he was called before a judge for not paying taxes. On the way, a sheep chased by a lion ran across his path. Mamas saved the sheep and the lion became docile, allowing Mamas to ride him to court, carrying the sheep. Mamas gave the sheep to the judge, who forgave him his non-payment of taxes (which accounts for Mamas being the patron saint of tax evaders). Others say that after the soldiers found him, he told them he would meet them in Caesarea, and arrived riding on a lion. In either case the lion-riding motif, which in his iconography dates to at least the 6th century, is obviously as fictional as that of the slaying of the dragon by St. George.
From the sources, it can easily be seen that the story of the saint varies in a confused manner in the time, arrangement, place, and nature of events in his life, depending on which source one consults, but that is not unusual in the legends of saints.
In the Church Calendar, Mamas is called Mamas of Caesarea, but that is not the Caesarea of the Gospels. Instead it is the city of Kayseri in modern-day Turkey. Nonetheless, the people of the island of Cyprus have quite a different tradition that takes Mamas out of the 3rd century and puts him on Cyprus in the 12th, saying he lived as a hermit in a cave near the town of Morphou. Mamas is particularly popular on Cyprus, being considered something of a national patron, and there are some 60 Cypriot churches dedicated to him. His earliest churches appeared in Cappadocia.
Mamas is also considered the patron of shepherds, sheep and goats, etc. He is sometimes depicted simply as a martyr holding a cross or a palm branch, but his most appealing icons are those that show him riding the lion, with a sheep at one hand and a shepherd’s staff in the other.
By the way, for anyone who did not catch the reference in the title, it is to the Monty Python movie The Life of Brian. In the movie, Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Mount, and people far back in the crowd cannot clearly hear what he is saying. When Jesus gets to “Blessed are the peacemakers,” the dialogue of these people goes like this:
“What was that?”
“I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.'”
“Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?”
“Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”
Today we will look at another of the famous so-called “miracle-working” icons from Mount Athos, the strictly male monastic mountain found on a peninsula jutting into the Aegean sea in Macedonia, northern Greece. There are 20 monasteries on what is known as the “Holy Mountain,” and the whole place is considered the “property” of Mary, who is its spiritual abbess.
The Athos “wonderworking” icons became popular in Russia as well, though the Greek Orthodox do not seem to have the same fondness for “wonderworking” icons originating in Russia, which are far greater in number.
As you can see, this rendering of the Athos icon Dostoino est “It is Fitting” shows the influence of Western European art, not the traditional old Russian stylization. In fact Russian icons of the Dostoino est type in general are painted in the more “Italianate” manner. The reason is that the “It is Fitting” icon did not gain popularity in Russia until the second half of the 19th century, long after the State Orthodox Church had adopted western European realism following the schism with the Old Believers:
The origin story of this icon type relates that the icon, in the 10th century, was kept in the cell of a priest and a novice living not far from Karies. On June 11, in the year 980, the priest went to attend an all-night vigil at a Karies church, leaving his novice alone to perform his own worship service there in the cell.
As day darkened into night, the novice heard a knock at the door. Opening it, he found a stranger, also a monk, standing there. The stranger asked to spend the night in the cell, and the novice consented. When the time to perform the service came, both the novice and the stranger went before an icon of Mary that at that time was called “Miluiushaya,” “Merciful.” When they reached a certain point in the service, the novice intoned the Marian hymn, “More Honorable Than Cherubim.” But suddenly the stranger began to sing, in the sweetest voice, a hymn to Mary that the novice had never heard:
“It is truly fitting to bless you, O Birthgiver of God,
You the ever-blessed, and most pure, and mother of our God.
More honorable than cherubim,
And incomparably more glorious than the seraphim,
Who without corruption gave birth to God the Word,
You the true Theotokos, we magnify you.”
(Достоино есть яко воистину блажити Тя Богородицу,
Присноблаженную и Пренепорочную, и Матерь Бога нашего!
Честнѣйшую Херувимъ, и славнѣйшую безъ сравненiя Серафимъ,
безъ истлѣнiя Бога Слова рождшую,
сущую Богородицу Тя величаемъ!)
And then the stranger finished by adding “More Honorable than Cherubim.”
The novice was amazed, and said that he was accustomed to singing only “More Honorable Than Cherubim.” Neither he nor his ancestors were familiar with the stranger’s hymn. He asked the guest to write it down. But when the stranger asked for pen and paper, the novice replied that he had none. So the stranger requested instead a slab of stone. The novice brought one and gave it to the him, and he began to write upon it with his finger, and the stone softened at his touch like wax, forming the words of the new hymn.
When he had finished writing, the stranger said, “From now on, sing it thus, you and all Christians.” Then suddenly he vanished in a flash, and the novice realized that the sweet singer had been an angel. Tradition considers the angel to have been the Archangel Gabriel. And so the “Miluiushaya” icon was given a new name, the beginning words of the stranger’s hymn, Axion estin (in Greek) and it Church Slavic it is Dostoino est — “It is Fitting.”
Now let’s read the icon. First, there is the image of Lord Sabaoth, God the Father, at the top:
He is surrounded by winged heads, very “Western” images of cherubs. The white ray extending downward from his mouth shows that he is breathing forth the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. At left is the Archangel Mikhail (Michael), and at right the Archangel Gavriil (Gabriel). In the left rectangle is the standard abbreviation MP (Meter/Mother) and at right the second part of Mary’s title, ΘΥ (Theou/of God). This title is commonly found on all icons of Mary, whether Russian or Greek.
The scroll in the hand of the Christ Child (Christ Immanuel) has a text often held by Immanuel in various icons:
It bears the words of Luke 4:18, taken from Isaiah 61:1:
ДУХЪ ГОСПОДЕНЬ НА МНЕ ЕГОЖЕ РАДИ ПОМАЗА МЯ БЛАГОВЕСТИТИ НИЩЫМЪ ПОСЛА МЯ… Dukh gospden na mne egozhe radi pomaza mya blagovestiti nishchuim posla mya…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me…. ”
Now let’s take a look at the scroll found at the base of the image, an addition to the basic image that tells the viewer something about the original icon and of this particular copy:
The scroll reads:
“Before this wonderworking icon the holy Archangel Gabriel sang ‘It is fitting that truly we should bless…’ etc. It was kept on the Holy Mountain Athos at the Protaton Church; it [meaning the copy] was sent with the blessings of the Russian Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos to the Alexeiev-Arzamas Convent.”
Arzamas is located in the Nizhniy-Novgorod Oblast in Russia.
The title of the “It Is Fitting” icon is found variously translated into English as “It Is Meet,” “It is Worthy,” etc.
For completeness, here is the “Axion Estin” hymn in Greek:
You should also be aware that there are more elaborate icons, quite different from the example above in appearance, that are also given the Dostoino est title, but they are less common. Here is a 16th century Russian example:
When students of icons first begin their studies, they find something confusing among icons of Mary — images that look very much the same but have different titles.
The reason for this is that when an icon becomes famous as a supposed “wonderworking” (chudotvornaya) image, many copies are made of it in an attempt to psychologically share the power of the image. For the most part, these copies are not considered wonderworking in themselves. But occasionally one of these copies will suddenly be said to show miracle-working properties too, and if this is taken seriously and the icon gets a reputation for being miraculous, it will be given its own name. In some cases this is the title of the original icon plus the name of the new icon (usually taken from its place of its “appearance” or circumstances surrounding its “appearance)”.
You will recall that in speaking of Marian icons, the “appearance” (yavlenie) of an icon is the time when it first manifests itself as (supposedly) wonderworking. The icon may have been known earlier or stored in a church for a long time, but it is only when it first begins to show itself as miracle-working that it is considered to have made its “appearance.”
So, in the case of “twin” icons — that is, the original miracle-working icon and its later miracle-working duplicate, each will have a different date of “appearance,” and each will have a slightly different name.
To see how this works, let’s look at the very well-known Marian icon type called the “Smolensk” (Smolenskaya/Smolenskia) image:
The original Smolensk image is said to have been brought from Byzantium to Chernigov at the time when the Greek Princess Anna married Vsevolod of Chernigov in the year 1046. It was given to the Smolensk Cathedral in 1101. Because it is one of a number of icons that were attributed (falsely) to St. Luke, it was considered wonderworking very early. It was a “palladium” icon invoked for victory at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, during the Napoleonic invasion. It ranks among the highest of Russian “wonderworking” icons, so countless copies of it have been made over the years and are still being made.
In this particular copy, you will notice that the background is not painted, but is ivory-white. There are two main reasons for icons having such a background: first, in genuinely quite old icons, one finds such an “ivory” background because it was originally gold-leafed. Due to countless dustings and wipings over the decades, the soft gold was gradually worn away by the wiping cloth, revealing the bare gesso beneath. The other reason an icon may have an ivory background is that in the 18th and 19th century, a very big market developed for old icons painted before the Church Reforms of the Patriarch Nikon in the 17th century. This market catered to the Old Believers, who after the resulting schism, considered icons of the State Orthodox Church heretical. There are always humans ready to make a fast ruble, so the practice of faking old, pre-Nikonian icons to sell to the Old Believers began. To make some of these icons look old, the fakers would imitate the aged ivory backgrounds of the authentic icons by leaving the backgrounds bare and artificially aging them (this is one good reason to buy from reliable and informed dealers, if authenticity is a concern).
But back to the subject of “twin” icons. Let’s look at this Smolensk-type “twin.”
It is a copy of a “Smolensk” copy that was kept in the Church of St. Georgiy (George) in the town of Vuidropusk ( Выдропуск) in the 15th century. Its origin story relates that the church caught fire and burned down. But in the ashes and rubble of the fire, the “Smolensk” copy was found lying face down, and when it was turned over it was seen to be still in good condition, with only some scorching on the reverse side. This was considered a miraculous event (people seldom looked for rational explanations in those days), and so the icon “appeared” as a result of the fire.
In the 15th century the people of Novgorod, the great trading city in the north of Russia, were very involved in business with western Europe. Partly as a result of this, they wanted to become more politically and economically connected with the “Latins,” that is, with the Roman Catholics of the West. This was not at all to the liking of the Russian Great Prince Ivan III, who to prevent it, invaded Novgorod in 1471. Now the village of Vuidropusk, where the “Smolensk” copy was kept, was in the Novgorod region. Among the invaders was a boyar from a Murom family, and he came to the Church of St. George in Vuidropusk and, finding the icon, took it back with him to Murom, where it was placed in the Cathedral of Nicholas the Wonderworker.
Some time later, the boyar rudely insisted that the priest hold a prayer service before the icon. There was a reading of these words from the Gospel of Luke, 1:56:
“And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.”
Then as the singers began to sing Слава Тебе, Господи, слава Тебе (“Glory to you, O Lord, Glory to you”), there came suddenly a great whirlwind; thunder growled, the church shook, and its roof opened up. The icon of Mary rose up and vanished from the church. At that same time of day, a peasant named Flor was out sowing flax in the fields near the village of Vuidropusk. It was a clear and sunny weather, but suddenly he was surprised to see a powerful whirlwind passing through the fields and going in the direction of the village church. When he finished his work at the end of the day, he told the villagers about it.
The Church of St. George, because of the invasion, was in a poor state, with only the sexton going there each evening to burn incense before the icons. When he went to the church that evening, he found the “Smolensk” image copy that had been stolen by the boyar lying face down on the altar. Of course, as these stories go, the boyar was very sorry for having taken the icon, and he resigned from the military and went on a pilgrimage to Vuidropusk in shabby clothing, in penance for his evil deed. And of course the point of the story is that, as in the quote from the Gospel, Mary in her icon “returned to her own house,” the Church of St. George in Vuidropusk. It all sounds very medieval, but remember that Russia in these days was largely illiterate, and it was easy for fantastic stories to spread (as they still do, even in a more literate Russia).
There is more to the story of this image, but that will give you a good picture of the fanciful origin stories of such icons.
Now, as to the difference in titles for such images, here is how it works:
The original Smolensk image, because it depicts Mary holding the Christ Child on one arm while gesturing toward him with the other hand, is classified under the generic title “Hodigitria.” This is a Greek word meaning “Way-Shower,” so Mary is gesturing toward Jesus, “The Way.”
There are, however, many icons of the Hodigitria form, so an individual “miracle-working” icon is given its own name, as in the case of the “Smolensk” image of Mary. A copy of such a secondary image that then manages to become known as also “miracle-working,” is then given its own title, often combined with the title of the “miracle-working” original. For example, the Vuidropusk copy of the “Smolensk” image is then called the Smolenskaya-Vuidropusskaya, including both names. A painter may leave out the “Smolensk” part and title the icon only by its individual name, “Vuidropusskaya,” as on the icon pictured here (actually it is written Vuidropusskiya, using the Church Slavic ending; -skaya is the Russian ending). In full, the title on this icon is Obraz Vuidropuskiya Bogoroditsui — “Image of the Vuidropusk Birthgiver of God”
So, in listings of presumed “wonderworking” Marian icons, one often finds copies or versions of the Hodigitria type, such as the “Smolensk” image, listed thus:
Have you ever wondered why there are so many icons with what seem to be randomly-selected saints? There are many reasons why particular saints were chosen by the individual having the icon painted. Some saints are there because they are “name saints” of members of the patron’s family or of the family to whom the icon was presented. Some are saints favored in a certain locale. But there are also some saints included because they are believed to help with particular problems such as disease, fires, childlessness, and so on.
Here is the image portion of an icon depicting six major “feast days” of the Orthodox Church: The Theophany (Baptism of Jesus), The Entry into Jerusalem, The Transfiguration, The Dormition, The Raising of Lazarus, and The Elevation of the Cross.
In the center is an image of the Blagoe Molchanie, “The Blessed Silence” icon of Jesus depicted in angelic form.
But what I want to emphasize today are the six saints depicted in the lower left and right rectangles, because every one of them is what I like to call a “special needs” saint, one of those traditionally believed to deal with specific problems:
At left are Moisei/Moses “the Moor” (Ethiopian), Prophet Ilia/Elijah, and Martyr Vnifantiy/Boniface;
at right are Venerable Sergiy/Sergei, Priest-Martyr Antipiy, and Venerable Paisiy/Paisios.
Moses deals with drinking problems (alcoholism); Elijah deals with rainfall (or its lack) and storms; Vnifantiy, like Moses the Moor, deals with alcoholism.
Sergiy’s specialty is help in learning to read and write; Antipiy takes care of tooth problems, and Paisiy is approached by those worried about those suffering after death without repentance.
They are just a few of the many “special needs” saints one finds in icons.
There is even a specific icon type, though examples are rather scarce, that one might at first mistake for a calendar icon because it shows rows (usually four) of various saints. But in this case it is actually a “special needs” icon, depicting those saints (and usually four Marian icons) to whom believers turned for what Roman Catholics call “special intentions,” that is, saints to whom traditional Eastern Orthodox believers prayed to solve specific problems and difficulties. Here is an example:
Such icons usually bear a long title inscription with some variation of:
СКАЗАНИЕ, КАКИМ СВЯТЫМ КАКИЕ БЛАГОДАТИ и ИСЦЕЛЕНИЯ ОТ БОГА ДАНЫ И КОГДА ПАМЯТЬ ИХ БЫВАЕТ
SKAZANIE, KAKIM SVYATUIM KAKIE BLAGODATI I ISTSELENIYA OT BOGA DANUI I KOGDA PAMYAT’ IKH BUIVAET
“THE ACCOUNT OF WHICH SAINTS GIVE WHAT KIND OF GRACE AND HEALING FROM GOD AND WHEN THEIR COMMEMORATIONS ARE”
Here is another Russian example of the type:
As I have written before, when Christianity came to power in the Roman Empire and beyond, and the old gods were forbidden, the powers attributed to those gods in helping ordinary people were transferred to Christian saints, who comprised, in a sense, the new pantheon.
Here is a list of the main saints (and images) one is likely to find in such a “special needs” icon. I do not expect you to find it interesting reading, but it comes in handy as a reference tool when looking at and interpreting icons:
1. THE TIKHVIN image of the Most Holy Mother of God:
For protecting the health of children.
2. THE KAZAN IMAGE;
For recovering sight in blind eyes.
3. THE FEODOROV IMAGE;
For relieving women in difficult birthgiving.
4. THE UNBURNT THORNBUSH IMAGE;
For protection from fires and lightning.
5. THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL;
The victor over adversaries
6. THE ARCHANGEL GABRIEL;
THE messenger of divine mysteries.
7. The ARCHANGEL URIEL;
The enlightener of darkness.
8. THE ARCHANGEL YEGUDIEL;
Confirms those who labor (workers).
9. THE ARCHANGEL SELAFIEL;
Prays to God for humans.
10. THE ARCHANGEL RAPHAEL;
The physician of human ailments.
11. THE ARCHANGEL BARACHIEL;
Giver of divine blessings.
12. JOHN THE FORERUNNER;
For head ailments (because he was beheaded).
13. APOSTLE JOHN THE THEOLOGIAN;
For learning icon painting (because in his gospel the Word became flesh).
14. APOSTLE PAUL;
For the protection of children from death (because he brought a young man named Eutychus, who fell from a window, back to life)
15. PROPHET ELIJAH;
For lack of rainfall and for good weather (because of his fiery ascent to heaven).
16. BISHOP NICHOLAS OF MYRA, WONDERWORKER;
For rescue from drowning and misfortunes in water.
17. PRIEST-MARTYR ANTIPIY, BISHOP OF PERGAMUM;
For healing tooth problems.
18. BISHOP NIKITA OF NOVGOROD, WONDERWORKER;
For protection from fire and lightning (like the Unburnt Thornbush image).
19. PRIEST-MARTYR VLASIY, BISHOP OF SEBASTE;
For deliverance of livestock from disease.
20. ARCHPRIEST MEDOST, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM;
For deliverance of livestock from disease (like Vlasiy).
21. PRIEST-MARTYR KHARLAMPIY;
For protection from sudden death.
22. PRIEST-MARTY KIPRIAN/CYPRIAN;
For protection from evil charms/spells.
23. MARTYR ARCHDEACON LAVRENTIY (Lawrence);
For healing eye problems (like the Kazan image).
24. GREAT MARTYR GEORGE THE VICTORY-BEARER;
For protection of flocks from devouring beasts.
25. RIGHTEOUS SIMEON THE GOD-RECEIVER;
For the protection and health of children.
26. GREAT MARTYR PANTELEIMON;
For the healing of human ailments.
27. GREAT MARTYR NIKITA;
For deliverance of children from birth defects.
28. MARTYR MINA (MENAS) OF EGYPT;
For the healing of eye problems.
29. MARTYR LOGIN (LONGINUS) THE CENTURION;
For the healing of eye problems (see also Lavrentiy and Mina and the Kazan image).
30. MARTYR KONON THE GARDENER
For healing children from smallpox.
31. MARTYR VNIFANTIY (BONIFACE);
For deliverance from alcoholism.
32. MARTYRS FLOR AND LAVR (Florus and Laurus);
For deliverance of horses from illness.
33. MARTYR IOANN (JOHN) THE WARRIOR;
For the finding of stolen and lost things.
34. GREAT MARTYR EKATERINA (CATHERINE);
For freeing women from difficult birthgiving.
35. GREAT MARTYR VARVARA (BARBARA);
For protection from sudden death.
36. MARTYR IUSTINA (JUSTINA);
For protection from evil charms/spells (see also Kiprian).
37. MARTYR FOMAIDA;
For deliverance from “prodigal” passion (lust).
38. UNMERCENARY KOZMA AND DAMIAN (COSMAS AND DAMIAN), WONDERWORKERS;
For “enlightenment of the mind” (education) and literacy (see also Sergiy of Radonezh).
39. VENERABLE ONUFRIY (ONUPHRIOS) THE GREAT;
For protection from sudden death (see also Varvara and Kharlampiy).
40. VENERABLE PAISIY (PAISIOS) THE GREAT;
For deliverance from suffering of those dying without repentance.
41. VENERABLE NIFONT (NIPHONT/NIPHON);
For the driving out of evil spirits.
42. JOHN OF DAMASCUS;
For the learning of church singing (see also Roman the Melodist).
43. VENERABLE ROMAN (ROMANOS) THE MELODIST;
For the learning of church singing.
44. VENERABLES ZOSIM/ZOSIMA AND SAVVATIY OF SOLOVETSK, WONDERWORKERS;
45. VENERABLE IOANN THE MUCH-SUFFERING;
For deliverance from prodigal passions (lust; see also Fomaida, Moise Ugrin), and Martinian.
46. VENERABLE MOISEI (MOSES) THE HUNGARIAN (UGRIN);
For deliverance from prodigal passions (lust).
47. VENERABLE MOISEI MURIN (THE ETHIOPIAN);
For deliverance from alcoholism (see also Vnifantiy).
48. VENERABLE SERGIY (SERGEI) OF RADONEZH;
For education and literacy.
49. VENERABLE MARON;
For diseases of trembling and shaking.
50. MARTYR FOTINI THE SAMARITAN;
For diseases of trembling and shaking (see also Maron).
51. GREAT MARTYR ARTEMIY (ARTEMIOS);
52. VENERABLE ROMAN THE WONDERWORKER;
For infertility and childlessness.
54. VENERABLE IPATIY (HYPATIUS) OF RUFINUS;
For infertility and childlessness (see also Roman the Wonderworker).
55. PRIEST-MARTYR SADOF/SADOPH;
For protection from sudden death without repentance (see also Paisiy the Great for similar).
56. VENERABLE MAROF/MAROPH;
For the driving out of evil spirits (see also Nifont).
57. VENERABLE MARTINIAN;
For deliverance from prodigal passions (lust).
58. MARTYR FEODOR/THEODOR TIRON/TYRON;
For the finding of stolen and lost things (see also John the Warrior).
59. GREAT MARTYR TRIFON/TRYPHON;
For protection of geese, and for aiding falconers.
This does not exhaust the “special needs” listings, but these saints are those most generally found in icons.
Here is a rather standard image of the “Lord Almighty” icon type, but made unusual by the addition of “special needs” saints in the outer border: