-NIKS AND -NITSAS: THE “HEALER” ICON

Today’s Marian icon is among the less common.  It is called  Целительница — Tselitel’nitsa — the “Healer.”  Here is a simple rendering:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

This is a good time to make sure you know the significance of two important Slavic suffixes.  In Russian icons, a descriptive name ending in -nik indicates a male who is or does something related to the preceding word.  You can think of -nik  it as meaning loosely “person,” or “guy” in its modern sense, like Simeon Stolpnik — “Simeon the Pillar-guy,” or as having the meaning of English -er as in “hunter”  Again, that is the male suffix.

If dealing with a female, the suffix is -nitsa, as it today’s icon, the Tselitel’nitsa.  целить — tselit’ in Russian means “to heal,” so a tselitelnitsa is a female who heals.

According to the traditional story, the type name dates back to 4th-century Georgia and the time of Nina the Enlightener, who is credited with the conversion of Georgia (the country, not the American state) to Christianity.  That type was kept in the Tsilkani Church in Kartli.

The type that later became popular in Russia, however, has its origin story — like the Marian icon called “Unexpected Joy” —  in the collection of pious writings called The Dew-wet Fleece, by Bishop (and E. Orthodox saint) Dimitriy Rostovskiy (1651-1709).

According to that account, a certain cleric named Vikentiy (Vincent) Bulvinenskiy had the pious habit of pausing, each time he entered or left the church, to kneel before the icon of Mary and say this prayer:

Радуйся, Благодатная! Господь с Тобою! Блаженно чрево, носившее Христа, и сосцы, питавшие Господа Бога и Спасителя нашего!

Rejoice, Favored One!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed is the womb that bore Christ, and the breasts that fed our Lord God and Savior.

“Rejoice, Favored one …” is the Slavic version of “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, etc.”

Now it happened that this cleric fell ill with a terrible and dangerous disease.  His tongue began to decay, and it was so painful that he lost consciousness.  Coming to himself for a moment, he began saying his habitual prayer to Mary, and suddenly a beautiful young man appeared at his bedside, his Guardian Angel.  The Angel called out to Mary, asking her for healing.

Mary suddenly appeared and healed the man.  He arose feeling quite well and went into the church and joined in singing with the choir, much to the amazement of the people.

As you see, the type shows Mary, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, standing by the bed of the ill man.

Many examples of this type have a rectangle of text within the image that tells the story, just as the customary rectangle in the “Unexpected Joy” icon tells the story of that type.  And both begin with a “certain” fellow who has a regular habit of praying to Mary using the greeting of the Annunciation, “Hail Mary, etc.” — and of course both men experience a Marian miracle.

An icon of this type was kept in the Alexeyev Convent in Moscow, and became noted for various supposed miracles in the latter part of the 18th century, which contributed to the spread of the type in Russian iconography of the late 18th-early 20th century.

 

 

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