A SAINT WHO WAS A DEVIL: JOSEPH OF VOLOKOLAMSK

The 16th century was an important but troubled time in Eastern Orthodoxy.

You will recall that Constantinople — the chief city of the Eastern Orthodox world — had fallen to the invading muslim Turks in 1453.  In the view of the Russians, that was the punishment of God — destroying the “Second Rome”  And the Russian monk Filofey wrote the defining phrase of the future in a letter of praise to the Russian Tsar Vasili III (1479-1533): in 1510:

“For two Romes have fallen, the third stands, and a fourth there shall not be.”
ꙗ҆́ко два̀ ри̑ма падо́ша, а҆ тре́тїй стои́тъ, а҆ четве́ртом не бы́ти.

Filofey held that the Latin Christianity of Rome had fallen into false doctrine and the arms of the Devil; Constantinople, for its sins, had fallen to the Turks; so the new center of the “true” Christian world — he thought — was now Muscovy (Russia), with Moscow at its head.  Filofey said the Tsar was the only earthly emperor over Christians, centered in Moscow at the Uspenskiy (Dormition) Church, and that all Christian kingdoms would finally fall — according to the prophetic books — to the Russian Empire.

We see here the mixture of Church and State that has plagued Eastern Orthodoxy through its history.  It was believed that the Tsar received authority from God both to rule the empire and to protect the Orthodox Church.  The Tsar was the “icon of God” — the visual representative of God on earth.

Now there was in Russia at this time a very devout monk named Nil Sorskiy (after the Sora River, where he settled).  He had learned the mystical meditation system called Hesychasm, and had even spent time in the Greek monastic center, Mount Athos.  In Russia he formed a community based on the Athos skete or “hermitage” model, which had a dwelling for the “elder” —  the spiritual guide — and his disciples lived around him.  Here is an old illustration of Nil and his community:

They spent their time in religious pursuits, and those who came to them for counsel helped to support them.  This system began to spread, and soon a number of such ascetic communities existed, which became collectively known as the Заволжские старцыZavolzhskie startsui — the “Trans-Volga Elders.”

The kind of monasticism Nil and his followers advocated stood in stark contrast to the conventional monasticism existing in Russia at that time.  The Russian monasteries were then holders of vast tracts of land, including whole villages of peasants that were virtual slaves to the monasteries, because the monasteries owned the land, the crops and animals, and had slave master rights over the poor peasants — all supposedly by the authority of God and Tsar.

That leads us to another noted (or notorious) monk of this time — Iosif Volokolamskiy — Joseph of Volokolamsk.  Here is an icon of him:

The inscription reads:

ПРЕПОДОБНЫ ИОСИФЪ ВОЛОКОЛАМСКИЙ
PREPODOBNUIY IOSIF” VOLOKOLAMSKIY
“Venerable Joseph of Volokolamsk.”

Joseph — also known as Joseph Volotskiy — was the abbot of the Volokolamsk monastery (where he insisted on absolute obedience), and a severe opponent of a religious movement in Russia that became known as the so-called “Judaizers.”  They criticized the wealth of the Russian Orthodox Church and its monasteries, did not accept the doctrine of the Trinity, nor the divinity of Jesus or the veneration of icons, and rejected the formal clergy of the Orthodox Church in favor of selected elders.  Their services were held in homes rather than church buildings, and consisted of reading and singing verses from the Bible and Psalms.  They worshiped on Saturday instead of Sunday, and taught the children of peasants to read and write.  They wanted a return to a simple form of spirituality and service.

All of this infuriated Joseph, who was something of a control freak.

In 1503 there was a church council (synod) at Moscow to decide what to do about the “Judaizer” movement.   Joseph was a leading voice there, and his solution to the “Judaizer” controversy was simple; he said they should be declared heretics, then arrested, then burned to death.  He reminds me of the Protestant Reformer Jean Calvin, who was also a control freak and had Michael Servetus, who disagreed with him on the doctrine of the Trinity, burned at the stake in Geneva.  Nonetheless, in Eastern Orthodoxy, Joseph is considered a saint, commemorated in the Church calendar, and venerated in icons.

Those who shared the views of Nil Sorskiy stood up to Joseph at the council, saying that only God had the right to judge, and that no one, Church or State, had the right to punish them.  Nil held that if one wanted to convince the Judaizers, one should do so by forgiveness and by living a holy life as an example.

Joseph was unrelenting.  His views on the Judaizers gained the upper hand at the council, and so he eventually succeeded in having their leaders imprisoned and burned alive — some in Moscow, some at Novgorod.

Nil Sorskiy had also opposed Joseph on another important issue — the matter of the wealth of the monasteries.  Because he was opposed to the monastic accumulation of wealth, land, and virtual slave peasants, Nil and those who supported his views became known as the “Non-possessors” or “Non-acquirers.”  They felt that monastic wealth was contrary to a monk’s life of spirituality, work, poverty, and contemplation.

Those like Joseph, who favored monastic wealth and property, were known as the “Possessors” or “Acquirers.”  He felt that the wealth and lands of the monasteries were part of the order that God wanted to exist in the world, and that the monasteries needed such wealth to do their appointed work.  To Joseph, those who would take away the wealth and lands of the monasteries were opponents of God’s order, and thus heretics.

One “Non-possessor” was a nobleman become monk named Vassian, who challenged the “Possessor” viewpoint:

“Where in Gospel tradition, the Apostles, and the Fathers are monks ordered to get populous villages and enslave peasants to the brotherhood? …. We look to the hands of the rich, fawn on them slavishly, flatter them to get some little village from them. … We wrong, rob and sell our brother Christians; we torture them with scourges like wild beasts.”

But again, it was Joseph of Volokolamsk and the “Possessors” who won.  It is paradoxical that both the murderous Joseph of Volokolamsk and the more merciful Nil Sorskiy became saints of Russian Orthodoxy.  But Eastern Orthodoxy has a long history of glossing over contradictions and paradoxes — the reasons for which are often unknown or forgotten by the average “believer.”

Advertisements

THE PASSION AND JUDAS — A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE

This icon depicts fourteen scenes from the pre-Crucifixion “Passion” (Stradanie) of Jesus:

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

Though it does not bear an overall title, the little inscriptions by each image identify the various scenes.  As is common in icons, one begins at the upper left corner, moves right, then back to the left side and across again.  Let’s get a quick overview of the images:

Here, “the Jews consult to kill Jesus Christ”:

Here Judas (at left) betrays Jesus to the Jews for 30 pieces of silver:

Here Mary (standing before the other two Marys) implores Jesus “Not to enter Jerusalem”:

Jesus delivers his mother into the keeping of Mary and Martha:

Here is the “Mystic Supper” — the “Last Supper” of Jesus with his disciples:

Here is the “Washing of the Feet” — Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  Note that Judas, just to the left of the kneeling Jesus, has no halo because of his betrayal of Jesus, in this and other scenes:

Here Judas receives his 30 pieces of silver and informs on Jesus to the Jews:

Here is the “Prayer of the Cup,” the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Here Jesus tells his sleepy disciples to watch and pray:

Here Judas comes with the soldiers who are to arrest Jesus:

Here Judas gives the kiss that identifies and betrays Jesus to the soldiers:

Here the soldiers take the identified Jesus, as Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus:

Here the soldiers bring Jesus before the Archpriest Annas:

Here Annas questions Jesus as Peter denies knowing him three times:

Having done that, let’s focus on one particular fellow in this visual narrative:  Judas.  He is the little guy at left in this image, without a beard.  We see his name written above is head:  IЮДА — IOUDA — “Judas.”

Here he sits at the table of the “Last Supper”:

Judas is easily identifiable at the table, because he has NO HALO; and again, his name is written above his head.  He sits in the foreground between Peter at right, and Bartholomew at left.

Now there is something significant to note in this little image.  You will often hear it said (and read in books) that saints in icons are never shown in a complete side profile.  Well, you can see for yourself, from this image, that it is not always true.  We here see saints Bartholomew, Peter, and Andrew in full side profile.

Now oddly enough, Judas not only causes trouble for Jesus in the story of the passion, but he also has caused, and still causes, a good deal of trouble for biblical scholars, because he is something of a confusing mystery.

Some believe that Judas had no historical reality, but was a fictional creation in early Christian writing.  Why might one believe that?

You may recall that in 66 c.e there was a major revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman authorities at Jerusalem.  This began the Roman-Jewish war, which last from 66 until 73 c.e.   Near the beginning of this revolt, the Romans plundered the Temple in Jerusalem, which only incited further rebellion, and Jewish rebels not only defeated a Roman military legion but also slaughtered some 6,000 Romans.  The matter came to an end with the taking of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius (son of Emperor Vespasian) in 70 c.e. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and the last resistance was wiped out at the fortress of Masada in 73 c.e.

Needless to say, Jews were not popular among Romans during this time.  And early Christianity — which was just getting under way — was not yet clearly distinguished from the other segments of belief and antagonistic factions among the Jews.  After the destruction of the Temple, Christians differed from other Jews in believing that the reason for that destruction was the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah;  non-Jesus-accepting Jews, on the other hand, believed the reason was failure to observe the Torah.

How does all this relate to Judas?  Well, the name Ιουδα — Iouda — (Judas) given the betrayer of Jesus in the New Testament — is just the Greek spelling of the Hebrew name Yehudah — Judah.  In short, a “Jew” (Yehudi) is one from the Tribe of Judah — and the Jews in general are Yehudim (plural form).  So the name “Judas” can be understood to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole in the New Testament — so goes the theory, which posits that this was an early Christian way of taking the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans and putting it on “the Jews,” from whom the Christians now wanted to distance themselves.

The earliest Christian writings in the New Testament are those of Paul.  And in all his writing, Paul never mentions that Jesus was betrayed by someone named Judas.  In fact he nowhere says that Jesus was specifically “betrayed.”  In the King James Version, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:23:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…”

The Greek word translated “betrayed” by the KJV translators in the 17th century, however, is παρεδίδετο (paradideto), which means “handed over,” rather than specifically “betrayed.”  So Paul — the earliest Christian writer — never mentions Judas, nor does he say specifically “betrayed.”

The theory, then, is that “Mark,” (actually the anonymous writer of the Gospel we call “of Mark) when writing after Paul, decided to introduce a character into the story of Jesus who not only betrayed him, but who could be understood as a representative of the Jewish people as a whole (“Judah”) — again, to take the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans, and put it on the Jews.  This decision, so the theory goes, was the New Testament root of the Antisemitism that has caused so much trouble over the last two millennia.

There is much more to this theory, which includes reference to Old Testament texts that look to have provided details of the “betrayal by Judas” story, including the thirty pieces of silver — but I will leave further investigation to those interested in this matter.  It takes us too far afield from iconography.

And speaking of iconography, where else do we find Judas in Eastern Orthodox icons?  We find images of his hanging of himself (actually, Matthew 27:3-8 says he hanged himself, while Acts 1:16-19 says he fell in a field and split himself open) in monastic frescos such as this one from the Gelati Monastery in Georgia (the country, not the state):

The other icon type in which we find Judas, you may recall, is that of the “Terrible Judgment,” which shows the naked Judas sitting in the lap of Satan in Hell:

Often he is shown — as here — still with his bag of silver still in his hand:

THE ASSEMBLY OF THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL

In an earlier posting on the icon type of the “Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonae,” I mentioned that there was a tendency in early Christianity to worship angels.  In an attempt to control it, or at least to put it under the authority of the main Church, there was a third-century Council of Laodicea in Phrygia.  It stated in its Canon 35 that Christians were not to avoid the regular church services by going away instead to call upon angels. Though there is some question as to the precise interpretation of this, we can nonetheless see how strong the veneration of angels was at this time by the making of this law (it was also forbidden by this council to join in prayer with “heretics” or “schismatics”).

“Assembly” in Church Slavic is Sobor.  It is applied to liturgical celebrations in honor of a saint or saint involved in an event, often one celebrated on a preceding major feast day.  The Sobor (Greek Synaxis) of the Archangel Michael, in the Orthodoxy Church calendar, took place on November 8th.  Sobor is also the word used for a cathedral and for a Church council.

It was believed that at the end of time — on the day of the “Last Judgment,” there would be a council of all the “heavenly powers” — the angels.  Because this was at the “end of time,” it was seen symbolically as the end of the old creation and the beginning of the Eighth Day — the “day of Eternity.”  That is why in old Church writings the Last Judgment is sometimes referred to as the “Eighth Day.”

It was considered appropriate, then, that the Church festival celebrating the angelic gathering would also be on an “eighth day,” so it was set on the eighth day of the ninth month (November 8th), which at that time would have been measured from the beginning date of March 1.

That leads us to today’s icon.

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

Let’s look at the title inscription:

It is so long that to see it more clearly, it is best to divide it in halves.  Here is the beginning:

It reads:

СОБОРЪ СВЯТАГО АРХИСТРАТИГА МИХАИЛА…
SOBOR” SVYATAGO ARKHISTRATIGA MIKHAILA…
“ASSEMBLY [of the] HOLY CHIEF-COMMANDER MICHAEL…

Here is the ending:

…И ПРОЧИХ НЕБЕСНЫХ СИЛЪ БЕЗПЛОТНЫХЪ
….I PROCHIKH NEBESNUIKH SIL” BEZPLOTNUIKH
…”AND OTHER HEAVENLY POWERS BODILESS”

Putting all that together and in normal English, it is:

“THE ASSEMBLY OF THE HOLY CHIEF-COMMANDER MICHAEL AND THE OTHER BODILESS POWERS”

You will recall that Michael is traditionally considered the commander of the heavenly armies, and “bodiless powers” means the various ranks of angels, which are considered to be without physical bodies — but rather with “spiritual” bodies.  In Greek iconography this type is often called Η Συναξις των Ασωματων — He Synaxis ton Asomaton — “The Assembly of the Bodiless.”

At left we see the Archangel Michael:

At right is the Archangel Gabriel:

The center of the image is balanced by the unidentified (in this example) central angel, who holds two mirrors, that at left with the abbreviation for Jesus (IC) and that at right with the abbreviation for Christ (XC).  He has the typical curly ribbon ends at his ears that signify divine hearing.  It is noteworthy that the arrangement of the angels varies from example to example.  In some, this central angel is identified as Michael, with the two angels in the foreground being Gabriel at left and Raphael at right.  In others, Raphael is the central angel.  In examples with the foremost angels identified, often the names added to these are the archangels Iegudiel, Selaphiel, Uriel, and Barakhiel.

Below him, in a ring of Seraphim (traditionally Seraphim are red, but often artists reversed the colors, making them blue, and Cherubim red) is the image of Christ Immanuel, the Son born eternally of the Father, again with the IC XC abbreviation and the standard HO ON abbreviation in Greek,  signifiying “The One Who Is.”

The red angel at the base of the circle is identified by inscription as:

ХЕРУВИМЪ
KHERUVIM
“CHERUBIM”

It is a peculiarity of Russian iconography that the plural form is used for the singular with both cherubim and seraphim, which accounts for the monks (and nuns) named “Seraphim.”  In many examples, this red lower central angel is identified as СЕРАФИМЪ — Seraphim.

In English, the icon type “Assembly of the Archangel Michael and Other Bodiless Powers” is often called simply the “Synaxis of the Archangel Michael,” the term synaxis being borrowed from the medieval Greek for a “gathering,” often specifically a religious gathering for the celebration of the Eucharist.  This type is also sometimes called simply the “Synaxis of the Archangels.”

Here is another example of the type, which we can tell from its style dates from the late 19th-beginning of the 20th century:

soborarkhmikh

As mentioned earlier, this example has Mikhail (Michael) as the central angel (Archangel); in the left foreground is ГАВРИИЛЪ — Gavriil — Gabriel, and behind him left to right, [И]ЕГУДИИЛЪ — Iegudiil — Iegudiel and  СЕЛАФИИЛЪ — Selafiil — Selaphiel.  At right foreground is РАФИИЛЪ — Rafiil — Raphael, and behind him УРИИЛЪ — Uriil — Uriel and БАРАХИИЛЪ — Barakhiil — Barachiel.  The red central angel at the base is identified as a СЕРАФИМЪ — Serafim — Seraphim, and the title of the blue angels at each side is divided between them: ХЕРУ-ВИМИ — Kheruvimi — Cherubim.  The title, rather squeezed in at the top, is given as  СОБОРБ АРХ[АНГЕЛА] МИХАИЛА —  SOBOR ARKHANGELA MIKHAILA — “The Council of the Archangel Michael.”  So this shows the gathering or council of the Archangels — the АРХАНГЕЛЪСКИЙ СОБОР — Arkhangelskiy Sobor.

In the following example, Raphael is the central angel:

In each hand he holds a disk:

On each is written the abbreviated word СВЯТЪ — SVYAT — meaning “Holy.”

A CROSS IN PINK

In previous postings I discussed Russian crosses and their inscriptions in considerable detail, so if you were paying attention, today’s image will present no serious problems.  It is a relief-carved and painted wooden cross, probably from around the end of the 18th-early 19th century.  It should give you a useful review of cross inscriptions.

Again, from the previous postings you should be able to recognize that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross.  We can tell that from the presence of “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father — at the top of the crucifix, and also the presence (though partly hidden by the halo) of the letters ИНЦИ.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Can we further identify this cross?  Again, if you were paying attention the the previous articles on crosses and their inscriptions, that should be possible.  A major clue is not only the traditional painting style used on the figure of Jesus, but also what is found at the top of the cross.  Let’s look more closely:

There are two important elements here:  the image of “Gospod’ Savaof” — “Lord Sabaoth,” that is, God the Father, and second the presence of the ИНЦИ abbreviation (though it is partly hidden by the halo of Jesus).  These together tell us that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross — that segment of the Old Belief who kept the notion of the priesthood.  You will recall that when Lord Sabaoth is replaced by the “Not Made by Hands” image,  and the inscription is also absent on such a cross, it is likely to be a “Priestless” Old Believer cross.

Though you should know the inscriptions on the cross by now if you are a regular reader here, we will go through them again just to make sure:

At the top of the cross, we see the carved inscription:

Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ
TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”

Just below that is the painted inscription:

КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОК-
ЛОНАЕ-МСЯ
В[ЛАДИ]КО И С[ВЯА]ТОЕ В[О]СКРЕСЕ-
НИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ

KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM

Meaning,

“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”

We see the usual Gospod’ Savaof inscription by God the Father, and with him we see the darkened sun and the moon that has become red as blood, identified like this:

At left:
С[О]ЛНЦЕ
SOLNTSE
“Sun”

At right:
ЛУНА
LUNA
“Moon”

Each of the two flying angels has the abbreviation АГ — AG — abbreviating Ангел Господен –Angel Gospoden — “Angel of the Lord.”

Just below them, we see the abbreviated superscription on the cross, the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).

Along the upper part of the main crossbeam, we find the partially-abbreviated inscription that is really the title of the type:

РАСПЯТИЕ ГОСПОДА БОГА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА
RASPYATIE GOSPODA BOGA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD GOD JESUS CHRIST.”

You can easily recognize the large carved abbreviation IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,”   Remember that while the Old Believers use the Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]; “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.

Now let’s look at the lower portion:

We see divided from left to right the painted inscription:

С[Ы]НЪ Б[О]ЖIЙ
SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”

And carved in large letters, again jumping left to right, is the Greek word НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”

With the carved images of spear and sponge on a reed, we see we see by the spear the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod.

Below that are the two letters:

Г  Г

They abbreviate

ГОРА ГОЛГОФА
GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”

By the skull — traditionally that of Adam, the mythical first man, buried on the site of the crucifixion, we see the identifying letters:

Г  А
abbreviating
ГОЛОВА АДАМА
GOLOVA ADAMA
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM

And finally, right at the bottom, we find these carved letters:

МЛ  РБ

They abbreviate

МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ РАЙ БЫСТЬ
MESTO LOBNOE RAI BUIST’

“The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”

It is finding little variations on the usual common themes that helps to make the study of icons enjoyable, so it is interesting to see this wooden cross with its rosy pink background and the two very folkish plants sprouting at the sides of the cross.

ANOTHER “WOUNDED” ICON: THE ANDRONIKOV IMAGE

There are some Marian icons that one recognizes easily and immediately (if one is generally familiar with Marian icons), and one of these is the “Andronikov” icon — Андрониковская — Andronikovskaya, also called the  Греческая- Андроникова — Grecheskaya-Andronikova — the “‘Greek’-Andronikov” image.

Here is a typical example, which though lithographed, is nonetheless an old presentation icon from about 1900, set into a silver and also velvet frame.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Russian examples of this icon commonly date from the latter 19th-early 20th century.  It is recognized easily by the distinctive crown worn by Mary, and by the slight inclination of her head to the right.

At the bottom of the image was a knife case containing a bone-handled steel knife, said to have been used by a Turk in attacking the image, causing a cut on the neck which bled; the wound is visible in copies of the image.  This notion of an icon bleeding when cut is one of the standard old motifs we encounter in these often fanciful origin stories, which again reflects how icons were traditionally regarded in pre-modern thinking — as persons that could move about on their own volition and even bleed.

It is said that the original icon (yes, it is another of those wishfully but falsely attributed to the hand of St. Luke) was a family icon of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1297-1341).  He is said to have given it to a monastery on the peninsula of Monemvasia, which was in the southern Greek region then called Morea, but more classically known as the Peleponnese.

In 1821 when the Ottoman Turks attacked Greece, the head of the monastery fled with the icon to the city of Patras.  He bequeathed the icon to a relative who happened to be the Russian Consul General, N. I Vlassopoulos.  The Consul General’s son, A. N. Vlassopoulos, sent the icon in 1839 to Odessa and on to the Emperor of Russia, Nikolai Pavlovich (Nicholas I, ruled 1825-1855). For almost thirty years it was in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, then several years in the Trinity Cathedral, and in 1877 it was taken to the Kazan Convent near the town of Vuishny Volochok, in Tver Province.  There it was placed in a special kiot (icon case) in the monastery church.  A special gathering of pilgrims used to be held before it three times a year.

In 1984 the Andronikov icon was stolen, and its whereabouts remain unknown.

The Greek inscription on the image begins Η ΚΥΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚΟΥ ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟΣ  — He Kyria tou andronikou autokratoros …  “The Lady of Andronikos, Autocrat…,” referring to Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, the donor to the Monemvasia monastery (the icon is sometimes also known as the “Monemvasia” icon). Αυτοκρατορος — Autokratoros — “autocrat” was the title used by Byzantine emperors, somewhat the equivalent of the Latin Imperator — “Emperor.”