The Rila Monastery is the most noted monastic center in Bulgaria.  It burned in 1833, but was then rebuilt between 1834 and 1862.  Its delightfully colorful frescos were completed in 1846.

Here is an interesting example: The inscription (you should be able to read the first three words if you have been following this blog) says, “Holy Archangel Michael Torments the Soul of the Rich Man.” On the image the spelling varies slightly, but we can read it as  С. Архангел Михаил мучит душу богатого — Svyatuiy Arkhangel Mikhail muchit dushu bogatogo.

Michael looks rather glorious in his flowing pastel garments.  But that he is in this scene at all is a bit odd, and it becomes even stranger when we take a look at an earlier painting (c. 1630s) by the Italian Catholic artist Guido Reni:

The main image of Michael in the Bulgarian fresco is obviously ultimately  derived from the earlier image by Reni.  Michael has been given some slight “Orthodox” touches and is simplified in painting technique, but it is the same form overall.

The Reni painting is loosely based on Revelation 12: 7-9 etc.:

7 “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

But in the Rila fresco, the fallen Satan and the Revelation reference is gone, and in their place is the dying Rich Man of the parable in Luke 12: 16:

And he [Jesus]  spoke a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room in which to bestow my fruits?

18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20 But God said to him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?

21 So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Where in Reni’s painting, Michael holds chains in his right hand, in the Rila fresco they are replaced by the little soul of the Rich Man, a half-naked figure clothed only in a loincloth. Michael holds the little soul by its hair.  And though Reni’s Michael has bare legs, the Rila example gives him rosy leggings, called ноговицы — nogovitsui in Russia.

And of course the entire background is different:  gone are the rocks and flames of the Reni painting, replaced by buildings and the Rich Man’s mourners and demons, one of whom holds a bag of money in one hand and a little scroll in the other, with the text “You are mine, O covetous one.”

An engraving mixing the Reni image of Michael with elements found in the Rila fresco was published in Venice in 1811.  Such engravings were a common means by which Western European religious art was transmitted to the Orthodox countries of the East, to Russia, the Balkans, and Greece.

There were also engravings of the subject from Mt. Athos as early as 1807, with an inscription linking the image to the parable of the Rich Man.  One such copper engraving, from 1858, was printed at the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos in Greece:

The title  inscription is in Greek and Slavic.  The Greek reads much as the Slavic:

“The Archangel Michael Chastises the Soul of the Rich Man.”

Now you might think this borrowing of Western European Roman Catholic and Protestant religious imagery into Eastern Orthodox iconography might be very rare, if you are one of those with the delusion of a “pure” Eastern orthodox art.  But it was not.  In Russia and other “Orthodox” countries, and even on Mt. Athos, Western European designs were sometimes used as patterns for icons and frescos.

But now to the matter of how the Archangel Michael, who is not mentioned in the parable of the Rich Man as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, happened to end up in icons and frescos of that parable.

In Orthodox iconography, Michael came to be not only the leader of the heavenly armies, but also the one weighing souls at the Last Judgment, holding the scales that balance a man’s good deeds against the bad.  This latter concept was extended to the “weighing” of the deeds of a man at death, when the soul left the body.  So while in some iconography from the 16th to 19th century, Michael is shown in his armor and with his sword as he stands on the body of the dead man and “weighs” his deeds to determine the fate of the soul, this image also became transferred, in the early 19th century, to images based on the parable of the Rich Man, and that is the version we see in the Rila fresco, though in the Rila example the scales of the earlier form are gone.

In any case, images of Michael either standing on a “generic” dead figure or on the more specific body of the Rich Man were sometimes used on side doors of the iconostasis, primarily in the Balkans.

The theme also relates to Russian icons depicting the “Righteous Man and the Sinful Man,” showing the life and fate at death of a pious man as compared to that of his sinful counterpart.  The “death” portion is depicted in this Russian lubok, circa 1800.  At left is the death of the “Rightous Man.”  At right is the death of the “Sinful Man,” which one may compare with the type of The Archangel Michael tormenting the Rich Man.


In a previous posting, I briefly discussed the Akathist hymn and why its component forms the kontakion and the oikos are part of basic knowledge for the study of icons because one often encounters them as texts in icons. I also mentioned that in addition to the famous “original” Akathist to Mary, there are quite a number of other akathists, not only to Mary as represented in her various icons, but also to various saints, the Guardian Angel, etc.

Today we will look at a very common example utilizing one of these akathists: the icon type known in Church Slavic as Всем скорбящим Радость — Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost — ” The Joy of All Who Suffer,” sometimes given as “The Joy of All Who Sorrow.”  In literature one often sees it in its Russian form, Всех Скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost.

(Courtesy of

According to tradition, it first became noted as a supposed “miracle-working” icon in 1688.  The story is that Evfimiya, sister of Patriarch Ioachim, suffered from an incurable disease.  One day while praying, she heard a voice telling her, “Evfimiya!  Go to the Church of the Transfiguration of my son; there is the image called “Joy of All Who Suffer.”  The church was in Moscow, Evfimiy’s residence.  She followed the instructions of the voice and, the account says, was cured.

What this means for our purposes is that we should not expect icons of this type to be earlier than the end of the 17th century, when the icon first gained fame.  The “Joy of All Who Suffer” is an extremely common Marian type in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The basic image is easy to recognize.  It does, however, vary a great deal from example to example, both in the number and kind of secondary figures around Mary, and in the accompanying inscriptions and the text often found in a rectangle at the base.  So translating the texts on one example does not meet they will match those on another.

The basic image depicts Mary standing crowned in the center in an ellipse or mandorla of light. Sometimes she is alone.  In other images she may hold the crowned Christ Child on her left arm (the “Moscow” form), or he may be omitted (as in the “With Coins” variant). She often holds a scepter in her right hand, or she may gesture toward the Child.

Here is one example that includes a number of the “suffering” as well as the frequently-found angels, but in addition, four saints, and at the top the New Testament Trinity, and the images of the sun and the moon:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

As you see, there is lots of writing on banners; these texts are usually taken (with some variation) from the Akathist to the Joy of All Who Suffer, most commonly from Kontakion 2:

Beholding the streams of wonders which pour forth from your holy icon, O most blessed Mother of God, in that you are the good helper of those who pray, the support of the oppressed, the hope of the hopeless, the consolation of those who grieve, the nourisher of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the chastity of virgins, the guide of strangers, the assistance of those who labor, the restoration of sight to the blind, the clear hearing to the deaf, and the healing of the sick, in you we thankfully sing to God: Alleluia!

Кондак 2
Видяще токи чудес, изливаемыя от святыя Твоея иконы, благая Богородительнице, яко Ты еси молящихся благая помощница, обидимых заступница, ненадеющихся надежда, печальных утешение, алчущих кормительница, нагих одеяние, девственных целомудрие, странных наставница, труждающихся помощь, слепых прозрение, глухих благослышание, больных исцеление, благодарственне вопием о Тебе Богу: Аллилуиа.

Here is a very similar though somewhat later example:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The text at the bottom of this example, as in many others, is this:

We have seen it before in the discussion of the icon type called “O All-Hymned Mother.”  It is the 13th Kontakion of the Akathist prayer/hymn to Mary, the most popular Marian prayer in Eastern Orthodoxy:

О всепетая Мати, рождшая всех святых Святейшее Слово, нынешнее приношение приемши, от всяких напасти избави всех, и грядущия изми муки, вопиющия Ти: Аллилуиа

O all-hymned Mother worthy of all praise, who brought forth the Word, holiest of all Saints, as you receive this our offering, rescue us all from every calamity, and deliver from future torment those who cry with one voice, Alleluia.

As already mentioned, expect considerable variation from icon to icon of this type.  Some versions are very simple, showing only Mary, or Mary with the Christ Child; others add varying numbers of the suffering, along with angels, saints of one kind or another, and at times even a depiction of those in danger on a ship at sea.


I generally avoid using modern icons, but today’s image is an exception, not only because it is very competently painted, but primarily because it is a good example of its type:

(Courtesy of

It is called Вертоград заключенный — Vertograd zakliuchennuiy — “The Garden Enclosed.”

It is a pleasant type, but peculiar because it is known in old Russian painting only from the classic prototype painted in the so-called “Armory School” (Armory Palace — Оружейная палата — Oruzheinaya Palata) — of the Kremlin by Nikita Pavlovets in latter part of the 17th century (1670s).  So even though the original is often seen in icon books, this type is not one you are likely to find an actual icon of except in modern icon painting based on the old example.  So if someone offers you an “antique” icon of this type, you should immediately be suspicious.

The type is based on verse 4:12 from the Old Testament Song of Solomon (Canticle of Canticles):

A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”

Though it was not the original meaning, the phrase is understood in iconography as referring to the perpetual virginity of Mary.  It is likely that the original type was influenced by the motif of the Hortus inclusus (“Garden Enclosed”) found in western European Catholic art and literature from around the beginning of the 15th century.

There are several characteristics that indicate the icon above is a modern painting — a fine example of contemporary work by Diana Arkhipova.  Nonetheless, if we compare it with the original below, we can see it differs only in small details and in coloring:

As you see, it depicts Mary in a rather baroque “Paradise Garden” enclosure, richly dressed and holding the crowned Christ child, as a crown is placed on her head by angels.  The sun is at left, and the moon at right.

In both examples the title reads “Image of the Most Holy Mother of God the Garden Enclosed.”

This image is not among the supposedly “wonderworking” icons of Mary, and does not have a day of commemoration in the Church calendar.


A reader of this site recently asked about an unfamiliar Russian term encountered in a French book on icons.   it is a rather interesting term because it relates to a frequent and important element in old Russian icons — the stylized hills that are found in so many types.  They, together with the “palaces” — the stylized buildings — form the most significant background elements in Russian iconography.

Here is an illustration of a hill in the style of 15th century Novgorod painting:

The word in question is Лещадкиleshchadki, which is also found in the form Лещадка — leshchadka.  It is derived from the singular form лещадь — leshchad, which means a flagstone, slab of stone, or tile.

It is not difficult to see how it relates to iconographic hills.  In old Russian icons, hills were depicted as stylized, stepped mounds, with each step looking like a flagstone or tile. Just how these were depicted changed as time passed, so the manner in which the “steps” — the leshchadka of hills — are painted is a good pointer in dating icons.

A related term is пяточкиpyatochki, meaning “heels.”  That too relates to the “steps” of icons, and comes from the habit in old Russian icons of painting the  upper ends of the “steps” with rounded shapes that look like the heels of feet.  You can see the “heels” in the illustration on this page.

In English, we can just call these two elements of hill painting “steps” and “heels.”

The shapes that were combined to make the surreal hills in old Russian icons really do look like slabs of rock or large tiles.  By the time we get to the “Stroganov” icons and those later painted in the village of Palekh, these slabs of stone — these “steps” — get smaller, and begin to look more like clusters of little wooden shingles, as in this illustration in the style of 18th century Palekh painting:

The illustrations on this page are from the book Стилистические традиции искусства Палеха — Stylistic Traditions of the Art of Palekh, by Н. М. Зиновьев — N. M. Zinoviev.






Here is the image portion of a Russian icon:


The inscription tells us this fellow is СТ АНОФРИИ ВЕЛИКИЙ.  I hope you know by now that СТ abbreviates Svyatuiy, meaning “Holy,” which is the Slavic term for a male saint.  The second word in the title is a little off in its spelling.  The writer wrote it as he pronounced it, but it should be written ОНУФРИЙ — Onufriy.  He is the saint the Greeks call Onouphrios (Ὀνούφριος).

The third word in the title inscription is ВЕЛИКИЙ — Velikiy — meaning “[the] Great.”  So this icon depicts “Holy Onouphrios the Great” if we use the Greek form of the name.  In Latin form it is Onuphrius.

As with many Eastern Orthodox saints, there is much uncertainty regarding Onufriy and his authenticity.  He supposedly lived in the 4th century, but that date is uncertain.  As Holweck says, the account of his life is a “medieval romance,” and it is not sure that he ever actually existed.  Someone supposedly named Paphnutios wrote the account of him, but no one is quite certain which Paphnutios this was.

The story is that Paphnutios went out into the desert to look for hermits, wanting to see if others led a more holy life than he.  After four days he came across a dead ascetic in a cave, and buried him.  Several days later he came across another cave, and a living ascetic named Timotheos, who had been in the desert 30 years.  After meeting him, Paphnutios paused at a monastery for rest, then continued his search.  After wandering again for some 17 days he came to some hills, and saw a strange figure approaching him, an ascetic with a long beard, dressed only in leaves.  The sight so frightened Paphnutios that he ran away and up a hill, but the ascetic called him back and explained that he was a hermit who formerly had been a monk in a monastery, and that he had lived alone in the desert for some 60 years.  He dwelt in a cave, living on the dates from a nearby palm, and drank water from a spring.  Onufriy regularly received the Eucharist from an angel, who conveniently showed up each Saturday and Sunday.

After a supper of bread and water that appeared miraculously in the cave at sunset, Paphnutios learned that Onufriy was about to die.  The old man said that God had brought Paphnutios to him just at that time in order to bury him.   Onufriy blessed him, and died.  After his  death Paphnutios covered Onufriy in fabric torn from his clothing, and because the ground was too hard to dig, placed his body in a gap among the rocks.

As soon as this “burial” was accomplished, the cave in which Onufriy had lived collapsed, the date palm withered, and the spring dried up.

This unconvincing tale is rather typical of hagiographic accounts of desert ascetics, but at least the names of Onufriy and Paphnutios appear to be based on actual Egyptian names.

It may seem strange to us that Eastern Orthodox believers depicted and prayed to so many saints who either never existed at all or whose lives were so heavily fictionalized that little or nothing that is certain can be said about them, but before the 20th century what the Church taught in Russia was generally just accepted without question.  The odd thing is that even now in the 21st century, when literacy is widespread and so much more is known, many still do not bother to question or investigate the long list of Eastern Orthodox saints.

Onufriy/Onouphrios/Onuphrius is considered a patron of those in captivity.  The now seldom-used English name Humphrey is a later form of Onuphrios, and his veneration was found also in the Catholic West, where he was a patron saint of weavers.