Prepare yourself.  This is a long one.

Today we will look again at the  “Major Festivals” icon type.  These commonly have the Resurrection type in the center, surrounded by icons for each of the major church festivals.  Commonly there are usually twelve festivals shown with the central Resurrection image, but some examples, like this one, show sixteen:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

First, let’s look at the central Resurrection type, which in this form is quite common in icons by the 19th century:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

At the top is the title, Voskresenie Khristovo, “The Resurrection of Christ.”

This Resurrection type includes several scenes.  Let’s look more closely:

Here we see the Repentant Thief, called Rakh in Russia, as he comes to the Gates of Paradise.  There he is stopped by a cherub (Russians use the plural “cherubim” for the singular) with a flaming sword; but when Rakh shows his cross, the angel allows him to enter.  At left we see Rakh inside Paradise, conversing with the Old Testament persons Enoch and the Prophet Elijah.


Here the Zhenui Mironositsui — the “Myrhh-bearing Women — Come to the tomb and see an angel sitting upon the stone that has been rolled away from the entrance.


Here “the Lord” has commanded the angels to bind Satan.


Here Jesus appears after his resurrection to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.


It was common in late icons of the Resurrection to include both the “Western” and the traditional Eastern forms of the Resurrection.  Here is the “Western” form, Jesus in a mandorla of light above his tomb.


Here is the earlier Resurrection type, called “The Descent into Hades.”  Jesus, having broken down the Gates of Hades,  grasps the old Testament Patriarch Adam by the hand as Eve and other Old Testament figures are freed from Hades and begin their ascent to the Gates of Paradise.  Hades is commonly pictured in later icons such as this one as a great beast with mouth wide open, an image borrowed from Western Europe.

I have already discussed the surrounding feast day icons in a previous posting, so now let’s move on to a variation on the Major Festivals Icon:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

As you can see, the painter has added a sequence of additional images from the “Passion of Christ” cycle around the central Resurrection image.  And he has abbreviated the Resurrection type, not only leaving out the appearance of Jesus to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, but also leaving out the Thief Rakh (Rakh Razboinik) outside the Gate of Paradise, but he has nonetheless shown Enoch and Elijah within.  You will notice other omissions as well.

Here is a closer look:

And now let’s look at the “Passion” images, each identified by inscription:


The inscriptions on this top four (left to right) are:

1. “The Mystic Supper,” known as the “Last Supper” in Western Europe.

2.  “The  Lord Washes of the Feet of the Disciples”

3.  “The Prayer of the Cup of our Lord”

4.  “The Betrayal by Judas of our Lord”

Here are the two middle images on the right:

5.  “The Bringing to Pilate of our Lord”

6.  “The Placing of the Crown of Thorns”

Here are the bottom images:

7.  “The Carrying of the Cross of our Lord”

8.  “The Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ”

9.  “The Removal from the Cross of our Lord”

10.  The Placing in the Tomb of our Lord”

And here are the images in the center of the left side:

11.  “The Bringing to Caiaphas of our Lord”

12.  “The Scourging at the Pillar of our Lord”

Let’s take a quick look (well, maybe not so quick) at another “Major Festivals” variant image:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

We can see that the central Resurrection image is very similar to the first we examined:


Let’s look at individual scenes again.  First, here is Rakh at the Gate of Paradise and inside Paradise with Enoch and Elijah:


And here is the scene of the Myrrh-Bearing Women (Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary) seeing the angel at the tomb.  But notice that just to the right of the women is an additional scene found in some examples.  The inscription tells us what it is:

“Peter Comes to the Tomb and Sees the Linen Clothes Lying.”  It is Peter entering the tomb of Jesus and finding the empty linen graveclothes:

Below the Myrrh-Bearing Women, we see the scene identified by inscription as “The Lord Commands the Angels to Bind Satan and to Beat Him Mercilessly”:

Here is this icon’s version of the “Descent into Hades.”  Jesus, standing on the fallen Gates of Hades, grasps Adam by the hand as Eve bows, and behind her stand the Old Testament righteous women Rachel and Sarah:


And here is a look at the “Jesus Appears to his Disciples at the Sea of Tiberias” scene.  We see the apostles John and James (Iakov) in the boat, and Peter has jumped into the sea to get quickly to Jesus on the shore:


Finally, we will end today’s discussion with a look at four of the bottom images in the third “Major Festivals” icon variant.  Perhaps you noticed that they do not seem to fit with the rest in the outer border.  You are right; they do not.  They were probably added at the request of the customer who ordered the icon.  Let’s take a closer look (and no doubt you are glad that we are finally near the end of this posting):

First, here is the image at bottom left.  You probably recognize him as one of the most popular of Russian saints.  His title inscription at left reads Svyatuiy Nikolae Chu[dotvorets] — “Holy Nicholas the Wonderworker.”  And by the way, the little guy at lower left is one of the Four Evangelists in the outer corners of this icon (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); this one is Mark:


Yes, we have finally reached the last images.  Here they are:

The two saints at left are identified by title inscriptions as

1.  Svyatuiy Svyashchenomuchenik Kharlampiy — “Holy Priest-Martyr Kharlampy” (Kharalampios)

2.  Svyatuiy Veliko Muchenik Ioann Voin’ — “Holy Great Martyr John the Warrior”

The third image is a well-known Marian icon:

3.  Pecherskiya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “The Pecherskaya Most Holy Mother of God.”  She is shown with saints Antoniy Pecherskiy and Feodosiy (Theodosius) Pecherskiy standing beside her.

4.  Svyatuiy Prepodobnuiy Sergiy Radonezhskiy Chudotvorets –“Holy Venerable Sergiy of Radonezh, Wonderworker.”  Sergiy is another of the most popular Russian saints.  He is shown here standing at the tomb of his mother Maria and father Kirill, both of whom became monastics.  They had asked him to wait to become a monk until they had both died.

I could talk in much greater detail about the icons shown here, but even the most enthusiastic readers of information on icons can only endure so much at a given time.

Now you can lean back, rest your eyes, perhaps sip a nice cup of herbal tea, and wonder why you ever got involved with icons and their interpretation.



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