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.

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