Kiyev in the modern Ukraine was the center of the old Kievan state of Rus, and a focal point for the promulgation of Eastern Orthodoxy in medieval times. Kiyev (Kiev) was also the site of a major monastic community founded in the 11th century, the Monastery of the Caves, the Pecherskaya Lavra. It was a center of both piety and fanaticism, and a number of its inhabitants were later declared to be saints.
The two most noted figures associated with the Pecherskaya Lavra are the monks Antoniy and Feodosiy. Antoniy, born in Chernigov, went to Mt. Athos in Greece and became a monk there. He was sent back to Kievan Rus to help in the conversion of its people to Eastern Orthodoxy. Instead of joining any of the existing Greek monasteries, he instead decided to live in a cave dug in the side of a hill. There he became noted for his ascetic lifestyle, and others joined him, among them Feodosiy, who had come from his home in Kursk. As the community grew, Antoniy moved to a new cave not not far away, while Feodosiy remained in the old location. In both locations, the number of monks increased, living in the so-called coenobitic manner. Today’s icon had its origin in the Kievan Pecherskaya Lavra. It is called the Pecherskaya-Svenskaya:
The origin story of the icon relates that it was painted by St. Antoniy, who is said to have learned icon painting from Byzantine artists working in the church at Kiyev.
In it we see Mary enthroned and holding her son at center. At left is St. Antoniy (Anthony) and at right St. Feodosiy (Theodosios) Each holds a scroll. The scroll of Antoniy often reads:
Молю убо вы, чада, держимся воздержания и не ленимся. Имамы в сем Господа помощника
Moliu ubo vui, chada, dershimsya vozderzhaniya i ne lenimsya. Imamui v sem Gospoda pomoshchnika
“I pray you therefore, children, hold to abstinence and do not be lazy, you shall have in all the help of the Lord.”
The scroll of Feodosiy often begins:
Владыко Господи Боже Вседержителю, tворче всея твари видимых и невидимых,…
Vladuiko Gospodi Bozhe Vsederzhiteliu, tvorche vseya tvari vidimuikh i nevidimuikh…
“Ruler Lord God Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible —
Be aware, however, that other inscriptions are sometimes used on the scrolls of the two saints in the Svenskaya type.
Now, to confuse matters, there is another “Pecherskaya” icon type that also shows Antoniy and Feodosiy, but in this case the two saints are kneeling before the enthroned Mary and Jesus, one saint on each side, usually holding prayer ropes instead of scrolls.
If you have been reading this site carefully (you have, haven’t you?), then you should be able to read the title of the icon, and you should be able to tell whether it is an Old Believer or a State Church icon.
The title of the image is: ПЕЧЕРСКИЯ ПРЕС[ВЯ]ТЫЯ Б[ОГОРО]ДИЦЫ — Pecherskiya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui, “[The] Pecherskiya Most Holy Mother of God.” The title is usually given in its Russian form, Pecherskaya, in icon books and other literature.
So there are two major variants of the Pecherskaya type:
- In the “standing” type — the Pecherskaya ‘Svenskaya’ type — (also called Свенская-Печерская — Svenskaya-Pecherskaya and Kievo-Pecherskaya) Antoniy and Feodosiy stand, holding scrolls, at each side of Mary, who is seated on a throne, the Christ Child on her lap Mary’s hands are on her child. Some examples add two angels (though they more properly belong to the second type), some do not.
- In the regular Pecherskaya type, Antoniy and Feodosiy kneel at the sides of the enthroned Mary with her child, usually holding prayer ropes, and two attending angels often stand at the sides of Mary enthroned, though sometimes the angels are omitted. In this type the hands of Mary rest on the shoulders of Antoniy and Feodosiy.
The “kneeling” type of Pecherskaya icon was very popular in the Ukraine, and there it is often found painted in the folk manner. In the example shown here, it is of course painted in the Westernized manner, and therefore would be a State Church and not an Old Believer icon.
Please be aware that it is common to find these two icon types confused, with some mistakenly calling the “kneeling” Pecherskaya icon type the “Svenskaya-Pecherskaya.” The confusion arises because both have the same saints, Antoniy and Feodosiy, both have Mary seated with her child, and both have the “Pecherskaya” name, though the added word “Svenskaya” properly qualifies and distinguishes the “standing” type.
The student of icons should also be aware that there are some icons — far less common — that combine the basic image of either of the two types listed above with two or more additional saints; in such versions, Antoniy and Feodosiy may either stand holding scrolls or kneel with prayer ropes. Because of the additional saints from the Pecherskaya Lavra pictured with them, such an icon is generally referred to as the “Pecherskaya with Kievo-Pecherskaya Wonderworkers,”
Now perhaps you are left wondering, as one reader did, why the first type is called not just “Pecherskaya,” but also “Svenskaya.” Where did the “Svensk-” part come from?
Well, the traditional story told about this icon tells us. It is said that Prince Roman Mikhailovich of Chernigov lost his sight. He had heard of miracles done by the icon of Mary at the Pecherskaya Lavra, so he sent a messenger to ask that the icon might be brought to him in Bryansk, in hope of a cure. The Archimandrite of the Lavra sent the icon, in care of a priest, who travelled on the Desna River. During the journey, the boat carrying the icon stopped suddenly. Those traveling in the boat decided to then spend the night on the Svin River, and the boat began moving again. So they went on shore and stayed for the night on the Svin River, which means “Swine River,” a few miles from Bryansk. When morning came they went to the boat to pray before the icon, but it was gone. The searched for it, and climbed a nearby mountain. There they found the icon in the branches of an oak tree (you will recall that this “icon in a tree motif” is found in other such origin stories.
This was seen as a miracle, and when Prince Roman Mikhailovich was notified that the icon had stopped there, he travelled to the place where the icon was found in the tree.
Prince Roman prayed before the icon and his eyes began to be healed, so the tale goes, but only partly; so he prayed again, and his vision was said to have gotten better. So a prayer service was held before the icon. Then the Prince had the trees in that place cut down, and used them to build a church in honor of the Dormition of Mary. The oak in which the icon was found was cut down also, and from its boards other icons were made for the church, as well as other church objects. Eventually a monastery was built there. The icon is said to have been kept at this monastery since 1288.
But what about the “Svenskaya” name of the icon? Well, as we have seen, the icon was said to have gone of its own volition to an oak tree on a hill above the Svin River, and a monastery was later erected there too. You will recall that icons deciding themselves where they will be and going there of their own volition is also a common motif in these old stories.
Now they could hardly call the monastery built on the site the “Monastery of Swine,” after the name of the Svin River, nor could they call the icon that manifested its will there the “Most Holy Mother of God of Swine,” so they did a euphemistic change to the name, calling it “Svenskaya” instead of “Svinskaya,” — “…of Svensk” instead of “…of Swine.”
So that is the story. The “Svenskaya” name comes from the Svin River. And that is the second name of the “standing” Pecherskaya type as well as the name of the Svenskaya Monastery built there.