It is almost too ridiculous to mention, but some Internet sites actually use this image, from the Serbian Vysoki Decani Monastery, as “proof” of early visitations by aliens from space. They tell the gullible that the two odd figures at far upper left and right are “flying saucers” piloted by space men, with one following the other across the sky.
Anyone who knows the basics of Eastern Orthodox iconography, however, should recognize that those two images are just stylized representations of the sun (at left) and the moon (at right).
The sun and moon have long been common additions to icons of the Crucifixion, and this is very obviously a Crucifixion icon.
At left is the sun, which is commonly personified by placing a face within it, or sometimes, as here, the body as well. You can see that aside from the rays emanating at left, the image of the sun has a round shape.
Here is the moon, with another little figure within to personify it. It has the shape of the crescent moon. Two stars are added to show the connection with night.
Here is a 13th century Macedonian example from the Church of St. Nicholas near Prilepe, again showing the sun personified at left and the moon personified at right of the crossbeam.
The inscriptions below the standard IC XC for “Jesus Christ” are:
Above the crossbeam: He Staurosis/”The Crucifixion:
On the crossbeam: “The King of Glory”
By the figure at left of Jesus: “Holy John the Theologian”
By the soldier figure at right of Jesus: “Holy Longinos the Centurion”
And here is a 16th century example from the St. Nicholas Church at the Toplički Monastery in Macedonia, again showing the personified sun at left and the personified moon at right above the crossbeam:
If we look at this 12th century Novgorod icon, we see the same personification of sun (left) and moon (right), this time with just the faces showing. And beside them, in Church Slavic, is written “Sun” and “Moon.” Identifying them by title is very common in Crucifixion icons.
The Vysoki Decani Crucifixion follows the biblical accounts, but the Novgorod example is more an icon of veneration of the cross, which is shown empty. Above it are seen Cherubim at far left and right, and closer to the top crosspiece are two Seraphim holding ripida, the ceremonial fans used in the liturgy.
At left, identified by inscription, is the Archangel Mikhail (Michael) and at right the Archangel Gavriil (Gabriel). Michael holds the spear of the Crucifixion, and Gabriel holds the reed with a sponge atop it.
In the opening in the hillock just below the cross (which is decorated with a simple wreath of victory), is a skull — by tradition the skull of Adam, who was supposedly buried at the precise spot where the Crucifixion later took place. Eastern Orthodoxy is filled with such mythic traditions, theologically symbolic rather than actual history, though many “believers” took them quite literally, and some still do.
So now you know. Those are not flying saucers manned by aliens, just elements common in medieval to modern icons of the Crucifixion — simply the sun and moon. They are taken from the Gospel called Matthew, chapter 24:29:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Also Luke 23:44-45:
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
And it derives also from the following, which account for why in many icons of the Crucifixion, the sun is painted in a dark color such as blue, and the moon is painted red:
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
Sun and moon are thus present in icons of the Crucifixion to signify that it is an event of cosmic importance.
The sun and/or moon personified are found in other icon types as well. Here is the sun personified (at left) as a winged angel — from a sun-moon pair in an image from a “Terrible Judgment” fresco at Dechani in Serbia:
But no flying saucers.