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.
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
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.
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
“THE ACCOUNT OF WHICH SAINTS GIVE WHAT KIND OF GRACE AND HEALING FROM GOD AND WHEN THEIR COMMEMORATIONS ARE”
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.