One sometimes encounters “Russian” icons from the 19th or early 20th century that are actually from Greece, in particular from the most famous monastic center there, Mount Athos. Such icons often bear title inscriptions in Greek, but may have an additional “dedicatory” inscription on the back in Russian.
Today’s icon is a good example of this. It is from the latter quarter of the 19th century, and says in Russian on the back not only that it bears a blessing from the Russian Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos, but it also includes the name of the person for whom it is intended, and a date.
Here is the image, a gathering of saints:
It is well painted, and shows a strong Western influence, common on Mount Athos at that time.
You will recall from an earlier posting that the faces of Eastern Orthodox saints in icons are for the most part (though not all) generic. They are distinguished by changing the hair on the head, by whether a beard is added or not, and if it is, by the size and shape of the beard, and of course by the hair color in general. They are also distinguished by the kind of garments worn and by objects held. That is why, if one looks closely at icons of multiple saints, one can see that faces of many of them are as similar as those of twins. A painter would have his common forms in painting the face of young male saints, of young female saints, and perhaps variations for the faces of older saints, and he would use these over and over again.
This icon is particularly useful for those practicing the reading of Greek name inscriptions. It differs from many older icons in that it uses only Greek lower-case letters. Let’s take a look.
Here are the saints on the left side:
The painter has placed the names of the saints above the two rows, ordered by row; and he has also helpfully placed the first letter of the saint’s name in each halo. So we can see that the saints in the upper row are:
ο αγιος θεοδωρος τυρων
Ho Hagios Theodoros Tyron
The Holy Theodore Tyron
“Tyron” means “Recruit.” He is a soldier.
Remember that Ho Hagios is the masculine form.
η αγια παρασκευη
He Hagia Parskeue (Paraskevi)
The Holy Paraskeva/Paraskevi
Remember that He Hagia is the feminine form And υ in later Greek is often pronounced as “v.” You will notice that I sometimes transliterate the Greek letter η as “e,” sometimes as “i.” In Classical Greek it had more the “e” sound (some say “ey” as in English “hey,” and in Modern Greek it sounds like “ee.”
ο αγιος παντελεημων
Ho Hagios Panteleimon
The Holy Panteleimon
This is the unmercenary physician.
ο αγιος ευσταθιος
Ho Hagios Eustathios
The Holy Eustathios
Notice how the writer has combined the “s” and the “t”
ο αγιος χαραλαμπος
Ho Hagios Kharalampos (Kharalambos)
The Holy Kharampos
In modern Greek, the “mp” combination is pronounced as “b.”
ο αγιος απ θωμας
Ho Hagios Ap[ostolos] Thomas
The Holy Apostle Thomas.
Obviously the writer has abbreviated “Apostle”
There is another saint below the left rows. Here he is:
His inscription reads:
ο αγιος κυρικας
Ho Hagios Kyrikas
The Holy Kyrikas
The writer has used a variant spelling. The more common spelling is Κήρυκος — Kyrikos.
This is the boy saint said to have been martyred in Roman times with his mother Ioulita, with whom he is usually shown. In Russian iconography, “Kirik and Oulitta” as they are called there, were very popular saints, particularly among the Old Believers. Kyrikos holds a cross as a symbol of his martyrdom.
You can see that in my transcriptions, I have not included the “diacritical marks,” the little marks above the letters. Let’s look again at Kyrikos:
You can see that there is a little mark above the first o that looks like a right-facing apostrophe. This is the so-called “rough breathing” in Greek, which means simply that in Classical Greek, one would pronounce an “h” before it, making it Ho which is the way I have transliterated it. But in later and modern Greek, the “h” is dropped in actual speech.
You can see also that above the first α in αγιος, there are TWO marks. The first is the “h” mark (“rough breathing”), and the second, written as ‘, indicated where the stress is placed in the word. Modern Greek generally ignores the “h” mark, but keeps the stress mark that indicates which syllable is emphasized. So the Greek title of Kyrikos in this icon is pronounced O A-yos KY-rikos in Modern Greek, But Ho HA-gios KY-rikos in Classical Greek. I generally use the Classical Greek transliteration because it tends to be less confusing for readers.
Let’s look at the saints on the right:
η αγια μαρινα
He Hagia Marina
This is the Marina who is said to have given the Devil a beating.
ο αγιος τρυφων
Ho Hagios Tryphon
The Holy Tryphon
Tryphon is the saint often depicted with a falcon or a goose.
ο αγιος στεφανος
Ho Hagios Stephanos
Note how again the writer has combined the letters “s” and “t” in Stephanos.
ο αγιος γεωργιος
Ho Hagios Georgios
The Holy George
This is George the warrior saint who is said to have slain the dragon.
ο αγιος δημητριος
Ho Hagios Demetrios
The Holy Demetrios
Demetrios, like George, is a warrior saint.
The saint in the second row, at left and just below the arm of the central cross, holds a ring in his hand and has this title above his head:
ο αγιος ιωσηφ μνησ
Ho Hagios Iosef Mnes[teras]
The Holy Joseph Betrothed
This is Joseph, husband of Mary, from the Christmas Story. In Eastern Orthodoxy his full title is Ο Αγιος Ιωσηφ Ο Μνηστηρας Της Παρθενου — Ho Hagios Ioseph Ho Mnesteras Tes Parthenou — “[The] Holy Joseph the Betrothed of the Virgin.” As you see, the writer has abbreviated Mnesteras here.
And finally, in the center of the icon is a simple crucifix with the IC XC abbreviation for Iesous Khristos, “Jesus Christ,” and at its top the letters IΝΒΙ, abbreviation the superscription [Ο] Ιησους ο Ναζωραιος Βασιλευς των Ιουδαιων — [Ho] Iesous ho Nazoraios Basileus ton Ioudaion — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Now you have had your Greek name-reading practice for the day. Reward yourself with something good to eat.