One encounters many icons that show two or more saints that seem to have been randomly thrown together, but of course originally they were not random. They were either the “name” saints of members of the family who owned the icon (called a семейная икона — semeinaya ikona — “family icon”) or sometimes a combination of “name” saints and saints chosen because they were specialists in helping with certain things (patron saints, as they are called in the West).
Here is a typical example of such an icon:
Let’s look at the inscriptions:
That at left reads:
ПР(Д) ИОАСАФЪ ЦАРЕВИ(Ч). The letters in parentheses are superscript (written above) letters. So in full, the inscription would read transliterated:
PREPODOBNUIY IOASAF TSAREVICH
You already know that Prepodobnuiy (literally “most like”) is the title used for a monk saint. Ioasaf (or Ioasaph) is his name. And Tsarevich is his secondary title. It means literally “Son of the Tsar,” which can be either “Son of the Emperor” or “Son of the King.” Here it means “Son of the King,” or more loosely, “Prince.”
Now who was this fellow, shown as a monk here? Well, if the painter had had more space, he would have added an additional word, like this:
Прп. Иоасаф Царевич Индийский
Prepodobnuiy Tsarevich Indiyskiy
That last word — Indiyskiy — means “of India.” So this saint is “Venerable Ioasaf, Prince of India.”
Now if you have read every posting in the archives (well, maybe you have nothing else to do), you will recall from an earlier article that the saint named Ioasaf, Prince of India has a very interesting origin. He was actually originally not a Christian saint at all. He was, in fact the Buddha. When the story of his early life came west on the Silk Road, spread by Buddhist missionaries, it was taken up in the Christian West and modified to make the “Prince of India” a Christian saint. So, as I always say, the official Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar actually commemorates the Buddha in a “Christian” guise.
There are two ways of depicting Ioasaf. The first is to show him robed as a King, often with his fictional advisor Varlaam (Barlaam); the second is to show him after he became an ascetic, robed as a monk, which is how he is depicted in this icon. However he is shown, his icons make interesting conversation pieces because of Ioasaf’s unusual Silk Road origins.
The middle figure in the icon is:
СВЯТЫЙ АГГЕЛЪ ХРАНИТЕЛЬ
Svyatuiy Angel Khranitel’ — “Holy Angel Guardian,” or in better English, “The Holy Guardian Angel.” This is a generic figure representing the guardian angel that is believed in Eastern Orthodoxy to accompany each believer. He is often shown with a sword to demonstrate his power to protect. The Guardian Angel is a very common figure both in icons and as a border image.
The third saint in this icon, the one at right, is:
ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ СИМЕОНЪ СТОЛПНИК
Prepodobnuiy Simeon Stolpnik — “Venerable Simeon the Pillar-guy,” or as it is usually translated, “Venerable Simeon Stylites.” Simeon (died 459) did exist. He was one of those wild and odd Middle Eastern ascetics. In his case, he chose to live atop a pillar in Syria, supposedly to get away from crowds of people (no, that’s not likely to attract attention). He stayed atop his pillar for some 37 years, and of course made such a spectacle of himself that he attracted even larger crowds of people, and became quite famous, a celebrity in his day.
Now why were these particular saints chosen for this icon? The Guardian Angel served an obvious purpose as a daily protector. As for Simeon, today he is often considered the fellow to pray to in order to bring back those who have left the Church (he must be very busy with the numbers leaving these days), but it is more likely that he was chosen for this icon simply because he is the name saint of someone named Simeon.
As for Ioasaf, he too was chosen because he was the name saint of a person involved with the icon. Given that there is no female saint depicted, we may reasonably assume that this icon was painted for two brothers in a family, brothers named Ioasaf and Simeon, and that the Guardian Angel in the center was expected to represent the guardian of each of the brothers.
At the top of the icon is a small depiction of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus — the image, according to legend, that was created when Jesus pressed his wet face against a cloth.