I have mentioned before that Nikolai/Nicholas is one of the most common icon saints, and also one of the easiest to recognize. Here is a well-painted example from the year 1908:
One of the things that always amused me about icons of Nicholas is that his head down to the lips is a circle. Have you noticed that? Look at it:
To paint Nicholas, all the iconographer had to do in beginning was to make a large circle for the main part of the head, and then add a smaller, partial circle to the base of that for the bearded portion.
The smaller, lower circle is sometimes not quite so obvious, either because of the shaping of the beard added over it, or because the painter was a bit more adventurous. But if we look at the following example, the lower portion of the face (with beard) is quite obviously just a smaller circle imposed upon the larger to form the structure of the face of Nicholas:
Now let’s return to the first example. As you know, Nicholas is known in Russian iconography as Nikolai Chudotvorets — “Nicholas the “Wonderworker.” A “wonder” (чудо/chudo) is a miracle. It is the Slavic equivalent of Greek θαύμα/thauma, so in Greek a wonderworker is a θαυματουργός/thaumatourgos. We can see that Chudotvorets (Чудотворец) title written on the right side of the image:
One often finds little variations in spelling (usually phonetic), such as the use here of Ю (the “iu” sound) instead of У (the “oo” sound) — often written as the combined o and у:
You will remember that in this “Nicholas of Velikoretsk” type, Jesus is seen at left with the Gospel book he gave to Nicholas, and Mary at right with her donation, his bishop’s stole (Russian omofor, Greek omophorion).
Now this Nicholas icon (the first example shown on the page) is painted considerably “fancier” than most. And the inscription, instead of calling Nicholas Svyatuiy (Holy) Nikolai Chudotvorets, instead uses the Greek equivalent Άγιος/Hagios, though the rest of the title is written in Church Slavic.
Not only that, this icon in giving the standard Gospel text for Nicholas on the book he holds, actually identifies it in smaller letters at the top of the text, which is rather unusual in such icons. It says on the left page:
Еvангелiе от луки
Evangelie ot luki
Gospel of/from Luke
And on the right:
зачало к д е
Zachalo k d e
Зачало/zachalo in Church Slavic means literally “beginning,” but it also has the sense here of an extract or quote from the Bible. It is the equivalent of the term pericope (pronounced puh-RI-cuh-pee) used in biblical studies.
But what about the к д (we can omit the “e” for now)? Well, as you may recall, Church Slavic letters can also be used as numbers. And note that on the icon, there is a curved line above the кд. That means it is to be read as the number 24. The problem, however, is that the text given is not from Luke 24, but rather is Luke 6:17. So did the writer of this icon text get it wrong? No, because here he is not going by the verse numbering of the Bible, but rather by the numbering of Gospel excerpts from the Lectionary, the book of readings to be used at various services during the Church year. This is one of those tricky little things about icons involving the complex Eastern Orthodox liturgical books, and believe me, that subject gets really boring fast, so no need for details here. Just remember that in the Eastern Orthodox Church services, there is another numbering system for Gospel texts other than that found in the Slavic Bible. And in that system, this common Lukan excerpt is “Zachalo/Pericope 24″:
Here is how it is arranged on the pages (with a literal translation).
Во время оно At time that
ста Исус на ме- stood Jesus on [a] pl-
сте равне и ace level and
народ ученик crowd of disciples
Его, и множе- of him, and a multi-
-ство много -tude of many
людей от всея people of all
Иудеи и Иерусали- Judea and Jerusale-
ма, и помория -m, and the coast
Тирска и Сид[онска]…. of Tyre and Sid[on]…..
The date inscription is found at the base:
It is given in an imitation of much earlier writing. It says:
“This holy image was painted in the year 1908, the month of February, finished on the 15th day.”