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?
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 Совета — Angel 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.
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.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.
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. It is sometimes called ХВАЛИТЕ ГОСПОДА С НЕБЕС — Khvalite Gospoda S Nebes — “Praise the Lord from the Heavens,” words taken from Psalm 148:1.
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.
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 areIako 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.
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. A common Russian term for such icons today is богословско-дидактические иконы — bogoslovsko-didakticheskie ikonui — “theological-didactic icons.” 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 found in the latter part of the Liturgy of John Chrysostom, as well as a troparion in the Paschal Triodion (a church service book):
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.
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. A common Russian term for such icons today is богословско-дидактические иконы — bogoslovsko-didakticheskie ikonui — “theological-didactic icons.”
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:
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 (including saints) looking up toward 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 — the “Heavenly Jerusalem,” 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. Now that you understand this old icon, you will also be able to identify and interpret this recent icon of the Velichit Dusha Moya Gospoda type, painted after a 17th century icon of the Yaroslavl School: