THAT MYSTERIOUS ANGEL AGAIN…

Today we will look at another cross, but not the usual kind.  We can tell that right away by the presence of the winged angel on it.  But why is the angel there, and who is he?

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

Metal icons often show wear from long use, and the fact that the owners liked to polish them with chalk did not help to preserve surface detail.  That is why we often find fine details on metal icons worn smooth.

The kind of cross shown here had a string or cord through the upper part.  So it is a breast or pectoral cross.

The image at the top is the “Not Made by Hands” type, depicting the face of Jesus on the cloth.  But again, who is the angel?

In spite of wear, one can tell that he carries a long rod (мери́ло — merilo) in one hand, and a mirror (зерцало — zertsalo) in the other.  One might, therefore, expect him to be an Archangel.   But traditionally, this type of cast metal cross of an angel with the crossbar at his head is identified as the Ангел Великого СоветаAngel Velikogo Soveta — the “Angel of Great Counsel.”

We have already seen another “Angel of Great Counsel” type in icons of Jesus as the Blagoe Molchanie — the “Blessed Silence.”  And this metal cross is another form of Jesus as the “Angel of Great Counsel.”  Pectoral crosses of this type are often from the 18th century, though one may find them a little earlier and later as well.

AN EASY ICON TO RECOGNIZE: LET ALL THAT HAS BREATH PRAISE THE LORD

Today’s icon type is based upon a phrase from Psalm 150.

Here it is, from the King James Version, with the relevant phrase in bold type:

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:  http://www.russianicons.net/)

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.russianicons.net)


In Church Slavic the phrase (and the title of this icon type) is:

Всякое дыхание да хвалит Господа.
Vsyakoe duikhanie da khvalit Gospoda

Vsyakoe means “All.”
Duikhanie means “things that breathe.”
And then comes that construction I advised you to remember for your basic knowledge of Church Slavic — da, followed by a verb.  You may recall that it has the sense of “may it be,” “let it be.”  So if we combine that with the next word,
Khvalit — meaning “to praise,” we get the meaning “let praise.”Gospoda of course means “[the] Lord.”

So the meaning of Vasyakoe duikanie da khvalit Gospoda is literally,
“Let All That Breathe Praise the Lord,”
or as it is often rendered,
“Let All That has Breath Praise the Lord.”

And that is the title of this icon type.

At the top, in the starry heaven, we see Jesus enthroned, holding the open Gospels, and surrounded by angels.  Below him, Mary stands at left, with more angels, and at right is John the Forerunner, also with angels.

Below them are rows of saints (note the halos), and below them crowds of more ordinary people (without halos).

Around the stylized hill in the center, with its rather abstract trees, we see flights of delightfully-speckled birds, and on and below the hill is an assortment of various kinds of animals and birds, ending with geese swimming in the pool at the base.

This is an easy type to recognize:  just look for all the birds and creatures.

 

LEFT OR RIGHT, IT’S THE SAME TYPE: THE “LOOK UPON THE HUMILITY” MARIAN ICON

You may recall my recent posting on the icon type “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” a mystic-didactic icon based on the biblical words in Mary called the “Magnificat” in the West, from the Latin version of that text.

You may also recall that in discussing that type, we looked at the whole Magnificat, which begins with these words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden….”

In Church Slavic that is (modern font):

Величит душа моя Господа и возрадовася дух мои о Бозе Спасе моем.
яко призре на смирение рабы своея…
Velichit dusha moya Gospoda i vozradovasya dukh moi o Boze Space moem.
Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya…

The words we want to emphasize today are Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya, which rather literally translated are “For he has looked upon the humility of his female-servant.”

Those words are the source for the title for the Marian icon type we will examine today.  It is commonly called Призри На Смирение — Prizri na Smirenie — “Look Upon the Humility.

In fact if we look at the title of this icon of that type, we find it is just the quote from the Magnificat:

 

The origin story of this Marian icon, which is regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy as one of the supposed “miracle-working” icons, states that it appeared at Stony Lake in the Pskov region, in the year 1420.

It can be recognized by the standing Christ Child (Christ Immanuel), with a globe symbolizing authority in one hand, the other touching Mary’s face or head.  Mary holds a scepter in her other hand.

In most versions of this Marian icon type, the Christ Child stands on the right of the icon, but as painters often got their pattern stencils reversed, in some icons (as in this one) he is found standing on the left.

The little female figure in the left-hand border is СВЯТАЯ ЦАРИЦА ЕЛЕНА — Svyataya Tsaritsa Elena — the “Holy Empress Elena/Helena.

“IN THE GRAVE FLESHLY”: ANOTHER MYSTIC-DIDACTIC TYPE

Lately, I have been discussing the so-called “mystic-didactic” icons.  Remember that mystic-didactic icons illustrate Eastern Orthodox dogma, as well as biblical and liturgical excerpts.  In Russia the “classic” period for this kind of icon was the 16th-17th century.  Today we will look at another “mystic-didactic” icon from that period (17th century).

Here it is:

 

At first glance, it may seem just a random collection of random scenes, but it is not.  It actually illustrates lines from the latter part of the Liturgy of John Chrysostom:

Во гробе плотски, во аде же с душею яко Бог, в раи же с разбойником, и на престоле был еси, Христе, со Отцем и Духом, вся исполняяй неописанный.

Vo grobe plotski, vo ade zhe s dusheiu yako Bog, v rai zhe s razboinikom, i na
prestole buil esi, Khriste, so Otsem i Dukhom, vsya ispolnyayay neopisnnuiy

In the grave fleshly, and in Hades with the spirit as God, and in Paradise with the Thief, and on the throne you were, Christ, with the Father and Spirit, all-filling, unlimited.

Here is how the scenes illustrate it:

In the grave fleshly…

It depicts the standard scene Russians call the “Placing in the Tomb” and Greeks the “Lamentation.”  Jesus lies in the tomb with Mary holding him as his other followers lament.

And in Hades with the spirit as God…

This shows a variant of the old “Descent into Hades” type.  At left is Jesus, who has broken down the Gates of Hades.  In the center is the “Spirit” as a nude, winged angel, and at right is Adam, and behind him Kings David and Solomon.  Some examples eliminate the “Spirit,” and just show the conventional “Descent to Hades” type, which was the original Russian manner of depicting the resurrection of Jesus.

And in Paradise with the Thief…

At right we see John the Forerunner and Kings David and Solomon and others exiting Hades and moving toward Paradise.  At left we see the Gates of Paradise, and inside the Garden is Jesus (at right), an angel, and the Repentant Thief Rakh, holding his cross.  A red six-winged angel guards the gates with a sword.

And on the throne you were, Christ, with the Father and Spirit, all-filling, unlimited.

This depicts Jesus sitting on a throne inside the “Royal Doors” of Heaven.  He is seated with God the Father (at right), and above them is the Holy Spirit as a dove.  They are surrounded by angels.  It is very much a “New Testament Trinity” image.

The “In the Grave Fleshly” type is another of the less common mystic-didactic types, unlike others such as “Wisdom has built Herself a House” and “The Only-begotten Son,” which are frequently seen.

 

ILLUSTRATIVE ICONS: MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD

Near the end of the 15th century, a new trend began in icon subjects.  These new types were not simply depictions of saints, but often rather complex theological compositions of one kind or another, giving visible form to Church dogma or to biblical or liturgical excerpts.  This kind of icon is generally called a “mystic-didactic” icon, meaning it is intended to teach one or another aspect of the “mysteries” of Church dogma by visual representation.

Such icons are often truly a mystery to those who see them for the first time, because it would be quite difficult to understand what they are about, were it not for identifying title inscriptions.

Today we will look at such a complex icon type from the 17th century.  Here, in very condensed vyaz’ form, is its title:

 

It reads:

ВЕЛИЧИТЬ ДУША МОЯ ГОСПОДА  И ВОЗРАДОВАСЯ ДУХЪ МОИ О БОЗЕ СПАСЕ МОЕМЪ
VELICHIT’ DUSHA MOYA GOSPODA I VOZRADOVASYA DUKH MOI O BOZE SPASE MOEM”

Literally,
Magnifies soul my  [the] Lord and rejoiced spirit my in God Savior my

In normal English,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.”

Now if you are familiar with the Bible (which is extremely helpful in the study of icons), you will recognize that as the speech of Mary commonly called the “Magnificat,” found in the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to Luke.

So that is the title of this type:  “MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD.

Here is the icon:

As you can see, there are lots of creatures in it, and several different scenes, intended to illustrate various parts of the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

At upper right, we see the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she will bear a son.  This illustrates “For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden.”

Below that is a large crowd of various kinds of people looking up tward the central image of Mary and her son,  illustrating “ from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”:

 

Here is “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”  We see devils, the large one being the Antichrist.  Some versions show proud monks in Hell for this scene.

Here we see “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”:

On the left side we see monks flying up to Heaven illustrating “And exalted the humble.”

Below that is “He has filled the hungry with good things…”

And below that we see some gloomy wealthy people, alone with their money, illustrating “And the rich he has sent away empty”:

At the very top of the icon we see Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) with ranks of angels, two of whom hold the Scroll of Heaven, with the Sun and Moon on it.

Icons of “My Soul Magnifies the Lord” are not common, but nonetheless one should expect some variation in how the scenes are shown from example to example.

“TO JUSTIFY THE WAYS OF GOD TO MEN”: THE VISION OF TARASIY

In a previous mention of “Vision” icons, I listed the type known as the “Vision of Tarasiy.”  Today we will take a look at that very detailed type through an example from Novgorod, dating to the 16th century.

First, we need to know that in the years 1506 to1508, the great trading city of Novgorod in northwestern Russia (and neighboring Pskov) was severely afflicted by the “Black Death” — the bubonic plague.  Following that, in August of 1508, the large trading area of Novgorod (remember that it was a great trading city with links to Western Europe) was destroyed by a great fire, killing some 2000 people, added to the large numbers who had already died in the Plague.

Those unfortunate events are the basis for the “Vision of Tarasiy” type.  It is based on a legend (found in the Life of St. Varlaam Khutuinskiy, who died in 1192).  It relates that Tarasiy, the sexton of the Transfiguration Cathedral, was in it at prayer one day.   As the legend goes, he saw Varlaam rise up from his tomb, go before the icons, and begin praying, with tears flowing from his eyes.

The risen saint then told Sexton Tarasiy to climb up to the top of the church three times, and look out.  On doing this, Tarasiy on his first climb saw Lake Ilmen towering over the city, threatening to inundate it with flooding.

On his second ascent, Tarasiy saw angels in the sky, shooting fiery arrows down upon the citizens of Novgorod.

On his third ascent, Tarasiy saw a flaming cloud above the city of Novgorod.

Terrified by what he had seen, Tarasiy listened as Varlaam interpreted the vision.  He said that because of the sins of the people of Novgorod, God wanted to flood the city as punishment.  But because of prayers made to Mary (“Mother of God,”) and the intercession of other saints, God decided to be merciful.  He would only send the plague, which would spare those who sincerely repented their sins.  And the plague would be followed by a fire.  All of this, theoretically, was a lessening of the “flood” punishment because of the intercession of Mary with her son Jesus — a notion very much in keeping with the medieval Western Catholic idea that Mary was constantly “staying the vengeful hand” of God.  It shows us why Mary was so popular among Russians — because she was believed to be more merciful and forgiving than God the Father or his son Jesus, and so was the reliable advocate of humans in the severe heavenly court.

(Novgorod State Museum)

In the upper part of the icon, we see the heavenly court, with  Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) seated on the throne, and Christ Immanuel sitting on his lap.

Mary at left and John the Forerunner at right are interceding with God for the city of Novgorod, and along with them various groups of other saints.

In the lower heavenly clouds, we see Tarasiy’s second sight: an army of angels shoots arrows of plague down upon the Novgorodians.  At right, we see the first sight of Tarasiy, the waters of Lake Ilmen looming over and threating to flood the city.  And in the center is the third sight of Tarasiy, the fiery cloud that was to set the city aflame.

If we look closely at the white church on the left, we can see Tarasiy climbing up a ladder to its roof; and we see him depicted twice on the roof, all representing his three trips up.  In the church its iconostasis is visible, as is Varlaam Khutuinskiy talking with Tarasiy.

In the city below, we see the arrows of plague falling on the inhabitants, and angels with books everywhere, looking in them to see the deeds of the inhabitants, deciding who lives and who dies.  There are people in boats on the Volkhov River that flows through Novgorod, and men crossing the wooden bridge on horseback.

vidtar5

The “Vision of Tarasiy” icon type gives us an insight into the pre-modern Russian mind and a way of thinking that lasted right into the early 20th century there (and still in some individuals), which is that disease is a punishment of God for sin, with no knowledge of the part played by germs, viruses, and tainted food and water, and natural disasters also are God’s vengeance for human misbehavior, whether fire or flood or famine.  It was the old (and rather futile) attempt — as Milton wrote — “to justify the ways of God to men.”  It is the world before science, and that is what we see in Eastern Orthodox iconography in general — the world before science.

VISION OF PETER OF ALEXANDRIA

In a previous posting, we looked at a fresco at the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted by the Cretan iconographer Tzortzis Phouka.  Today we will examine another of his works from the same place, and the year 1547.  In Greek and Russian iconography, there are a number of types called the “Vision” of this or that person.  There is the “Vision of Pakhomios,” the “Vision of Tarasiy,” etc. etc.  Today’s example is another of those “vision” types.  It is commonly called “The Vision of St. Peter of Alexandria.”  This type began appearing in churches in the 13th century, though an illustration of it (combining the vision with Peter’s martyrdom) is known from as early as c. 1000, in the Menologion of Basil II, and another illustration is the miniature found in the late 11th-early twelfth century liturgical scroll from the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

First, let’s look at the Greek inscriptions:

We can tell from his garments that the fellow at left is a bishop.  His identifying inscription reads:

Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΠΕΤΡΟC ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΕΙΑC
HO HAGIOS PETROS ALEXANDREIAS
[the] HOLY PETER [of] ALEXANDRIA

You will notice in the inscription several ligatures (joined letters) that we have seen here in previous discussion of Greek ligatures.

The next inscription is a bit more tricky.  Peter is speaking, and what he says is:

ΤΙC CΟΥ ΤΟΝ ΧΕΙΤΟΝΑ CΟΤΕΡ ΔΙΕΙΛΕΝ
TIS SOU TON KHEITONA SOTER DIEILEN
WHO YOUR THE GARMENT SAVIOR TORE

It is a question:  “Who tore your garment, Savior?”

The phrase is found in Vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, written as

Τίς σου τόν χιτώνα Σώτερ διείλεν.
Peter is asking the question of the little guy in the skimpy clothes at upper right.  We can easily identify who this little fellow is from his inscription:
IC XC  — Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”
So the little figure is Jesus, and he answers the question of Peter by saying,
ΑΡΕΙΟC Ο ΑΦΡѠΝ
AREIOS HO APHRON
“ARIUS  THE FOOL”
The small figure with the turban cowering below the feet of the diminutive Jesus is identified by inscription as
ΑΡΕΙΟC
AREIOS
“ARIUS”

Now this is one of those icons having to do with the history of Eastern Orthodox dogma, and the bitter interclerical battle over whether Jesus is God and equal to God the Father, and of the “same substance,” which resulted in the declaration of the First Nicene Council that Jesus is fully God, equal to the Father, “of the same substance.”  However the text upon which this icon is based is another of those fictionalized accounts of saints’ lives, in this case the Acts of Peter of Alexandria.  The relevant portion deals with the answer of Peter to clerics who came to him, asking that Arius be reinstated in the Church:

“For in this night, while I was solemnly pouring forth my prayers to God, there stood by me a boy of about twelve years, the brightness of whose face I could not endure, for this whole cell in which we stand was radiant with a great light. He was clothed with a linen tunic divided into two parts, from the neck to the feet, and holding in his two hands the rents of the tunic, he applied them to his breast to cover his nudity. At this vision I was stupefied with astonishment. And when boldness of speech was given to me, I exclaimed: Lord, who has rent your tunic? Then said he, Arius has rent it, and by all means beware of receiving him into communion; behold, tomorrow they will come to entreat you for him. See, therefore, that you be not persuaded to acquiesce: nay, rather lay your commands upon Achillas and Alexander the priests, who after your translation will rule my Church, not by any means to receive him. You shall very quickly fulfill the lot of the martyr.”

The general idea is that Arius “tore the garment of the Church,” that is, he caused a schism in the Church — the “body of Christ” — by his disagreement with those who believed Jesus to be fully God and equal to the Father, and so Arius was not be be allowed back in the Church.

Peter was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century, and was the person who excommunicated Arius over doctrinal differences in 311 regarding the nature and divinity of Jesus.  Peter was executed on orders from the Emperor Maximian.

Oddly enough, given its subject matter, the type “Vision of St. Peter of Alexandria” became associated with the Eucharistic Liturgy.  That is likely due to the semi-nude image of the 12-year-old Jesus in the “Vision,” reminiscent of the image of the Child Christ lying on the diskos (paten) as the “Lamb of God,” the Eucharistic bread that Eastern Orthodox believe is the body of Jesus.

Here is a 14th century example of the type, from the Gračanica Monastery, Serbia