“HOLY WEEK” ICONS

There is a group of related icons that are associated with the liturgical texts of “Holy Week,” the annual celebration of the Passion and death of Jesus.

The first is shows Jesus after his scourging, wearing a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, hands tied at the wrists, the crown of thorns on his head, and a long reed in one hand.  This image has long been known in the West by the Latin name Ecce Homo — “Behold the man,” the words of Pilate when presenting Jesus to the crowd.

Greek examples of the type often bear those same words, only in Greek as  Ίδε ο άνθρωπος — Ide ho Anthropos.  We see that Greek inscription (in upper case) at the left side of this late 19th century print from Mount Athos.  The words are run together as:
ΙΔΕΟΑΗΘΡΩΠΟC.  At right, to cater to another group of customers, is the same inscription in Church Slavic:  СЕ ЧЕЛОВЕКЪ — Se Chelovek — “Behold the Man.”

It is important to know, however, that this type is generally known in Greek Orthodoxy by a different title:  Ο Νυμφίος — Ho Nymphios — meaning “The Bridegroom,” Jesus being considered the bridegroom of the Church.  This “Bridegroom” title comes from a troparion in the Bridegroom Matins service of “Holy Week.”

«Ιδού, ο Νυμφίος έρχεται εν τω μέσω της νυκτός, και μακάριος ο δούλος, ον ευρήσει /γρηγορούντα. Ανάξιος δε πάλιν ον ευρήσει ραθυμούντα. Βλέπε ουν, ψυχή μου, μη τω ύπνω κατενεχθείς, ίνα μη τω θανάτω παραδοθείς και της βασιλείας έξω κλεισθείς. Αλλά ανάνηψον κράζουσα· Άγιος, Άγιος, Άγιος ει ο Θεός ημών, διά της Θεοτόκου ελέησον ημάς».

Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and happy is the servant whom he finds awake.  Unworthy, however, the one whom he finds indolent.  See therefore, my soul, that sleep does not overcome you, so that you be not handed over to death and be shut out of the Kingdom.  But alert, cry:  Holy Holy, Holy are you our God, through the Mother of God have mercy on us.”

That troparion, in turn, is derived from the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25, which begins:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

Greek examples one commonly sees of the Nymphios/Bridegroom type are generally 19th century or later.

Another Passion-related type is the image found often in older icons, called Η Ακρα Ταπεινωσις — He Akra Tapeinosis — “[the] Extreme Humility.”

This type shows the body of Jesus upright, with the spear and sponge of the Passion.   Russians call it Царь Славы — Tsar Slavui — “[the] King of Glory.”  Here is a Russian proris’ — a painter’s pattern — of that image, which would be reversed on the actual icon:

You may recall that “Tsar Slavui” is also part of the standard inscription found on Russian icons of the Crucifixion.  This title is also often found on Greek icons of the Crucifixion, sometimes on the signboard at the top of the cross as ΟΒΣΛΤΔΞ, abbreviating  Ό Βασιλεύς της Δόξης — Ho Basileus tes Doxes — “The King of Glory,”  and sometimes written in full on or near the main crossbeam.

Russian iconography generally prefers adding Mary to this type; she holds the body of Jesus, upright from the waist in a stylized stone sarcophagus.  With Mary added, the preferred title in Slavic becomes  Neruiday Mene Mati — “Weep Not for Me Mother”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Russians generally classify it as a Marian image, which accounts for the title inscription on the above icon:  Neruiday Mene Mati Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “The ‘Weep Not for Me’ Most Holy Mother of God.”

The “Weep Not” title is taken from the liturgy for Holy Saturday (celebrated as the day after the crucifixion):

«Не рыдай Мене, Мати, зряще во гробе, Его же во чреве без семени зачала еси Сына: возстану бо и прославлюся и вознесу со славою, непрестанно яко Бог, верою и любовию Тя величающия».

Weep not for me, Mother, seeing in the tomb the son, conceived without seed in the womb,  For I shall arise and be glorified, as God I shall exalt with glory unceasing those who with faith and love magnify you.

This “Weep Not for Me” type is essentially a variation on the Greek Η ΑΠΟΚΑΘΗΛΟΣΙΣ — He Apokathelosis —  “The Removal [from the Cross],” in which Mary grasps the body of Jesus as it is taken down.   in fact some Greek examples in this general form — have He Apokathelosis as the title inscription.   The Western European (Roman Catholic) equivalent of the “Weep Not for Me, Mother” is the Pietà — not quite the same, but related.  

There is another “Holy Week” type one should be aware of, because it is found not only in painted icons, but also in needlework on fabric as a liturgical object used in the Good Friday and Holy Saturday services.  Such an elaborately embroidered cloth is called an Epitaphios, or in Russia a Плащаница — Plashchanitsa.

The title of this type is Ο ΕΠΙΤΑΦΙΟΣ ΘΡΗΝΟΣ — Ho Epitaphios Threnos — “The Lament [threnos] Over [epi-] the Tomb [-taphios/taphos].”  In English it is often called simply the “Lamentation.” Here is an example by Theophanes the Cretan, found at the Stavronikita Monastery on Mt. Athos.  The Ο Επιτάφιος Θρήνος title is just above the main crossbeam:

It is interesting to compare it with the earlier Italian fresco (1305) by Giotto, of the same event:

lamentationedigiottodibondone

In spite of its much earlier date, the Giotto image seems more full of genuine emotion than the Stavronikita image, less “hieratic” –and a precursor to the Renaissance.

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