Here is an icon of one of the “special needs” saints, Kharlampiy. The Greeks call him Χαράλαμπος — Kharalambos. He was considered the fellow to pray to for protection from plagues and fevers, etc. As with the old pre-Christian gods, it was considered risky not to properly commemorate him, because he was likely to take revenge for the slight by releasing the plague on you.
The image shows Kharlampiy in the center, and at the sides are four scenes from the traditional account of his martyrdom in the 3rd century.
We are looking at Kharlampiy today for a different reason, however. We want to to translate the Church Slavic title at the top of the icon. The little image in the center is the icon type known as the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which I have discussed in a previous posting.
The first word is slightly worn, but nonetheless we should be able to determine that it is an abbreviation (see the horizontal curved line above it that tells us so?).
The obvious letters in it are ОБР –OBR. The O is the old “omega” form, this letter:
If you were paying attention yesterday (didn’t you have anything else to do?), you will recall that ОБ and Р are the first three letters of the word oбразъ — obraz — meaning “image.”
Yesterday we also looked at some useful Church Slavic words based on the root cвятъ — svyat — meaning “holy.” The next word in Kharlampiy’s inscription is another of those “svyat” words. It is slightly abbreviated here as СВТИТЛЯ —SVTITLYA. In full, the word is СВЯТИТЕЛЯ — SVYATITELYA. This is an “of” form of the word Святитель — Svyatitel. It means “archpriest,” but it is also often used for “bishop.” You can see that Kharlampiy is wearing a bishop’s stole or omophorion. So here we can translate it as “bishop.” The word svyatitel is related to the verb that means “to make holy, to consecrate.” And of course a bishop is consecrated in a special ceremony.
I hope you noticed that when I type Church Slavic, I put it into a modern Russian font that is basically the same as Church Slavic except for a few letters. One of those letters is the Russian Я, pronounced “ya.” But if you look at the inscription on the icon, you will see that the letter used looks very different. It is the Church Slavic form of “ya”, shown here in upper and lower case:
There is also another Church Slavic letter that has the same “ya” sound. It looks like this:
Sometimes writers of Slavic inscriptions use one form, sometimes the other. But in the modern Russian font, both of these are represented by Я.
Now let’s look at the last word in the inscription. It is the saint’s personal name, and it is written in full:
ХАРЛАМПИЯ — KHARLAMPIYA
You can see that for the final letter, the writer has used the second form of the Church Slavic “ya”:
This name, like the word SVYATITELYA preceding it, is in the “of” form. You can see that both have a -ya ending to show this. In its normal form, it would be written as ХАРЛАМПИЙ — KHARLAMPIY.
Now let’s put it all together to translate the title inscription:
ОБРАЗЪ СВЯТИТЕЛЯ ХАРЛАМПИЯ — OBRAZ SVYATITELYA KHARLAMPIYA
“Image [of] Bishop Kharlampiy”
Even though both Svyatitelya and Kharlampiya have the ending indicating they are in the “of” form, we only need to use “of” once when translating into English. And we can also add the word “the,” which as you know, Church Slavic does not have. So we can give the English meaning of this icon inscription as:
“THE IMAGE OF BISHOP KHARLAMPIY”
So you see, reading Church Slavic inscriptions is not difficult. It is just that in learning a bit of Church Slavic, we have to keep in mind that it is one of the most useless languages in existence for most anything practical except reading icon inscriptions — and we can hardly even call that practical now, can we? But what practical person is likely to read this site? Or for that matter, write it?