THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL INSCRIPTIONS

Today, thanks to a reader question, we will take a look at a 14th century icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens.  It represents the Archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies.

{Byzantine Museum, Athens – St. Michael: 14th century – Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Nov 12 2009)

The question asked was, what do the letters in the round mirror (depicted as a transparent sphere here) held by St. Michael mean?

Let’s look at them:

First, we need to know that the letters are Greek, which makes sense, given that it is a Byzantine icon.

The first letter — at the top — is Χ.  It stands for Χριστος — Khristos — “Christ.”
It would be easy to mistake the second letter, at left, for an Α.  But actually it is the letter Δ, which is often found written in this manner in old icons.  It stands for Δικαιος — Dikaios — meaning “Righteous.”
The third letter, at right, is Κ, for Κριτης — Krites — “Judge.”  It is related to our English words “critic” and criticism.”

All together, the letters abbreviate Χ(ριστός) Δ(ίκαιος) Κ(ριτής). — “Christ [the] Righteous Judge.”  It is an expression that recalls the words of John 7:24:

μὴ κρίνετε κατ’ ὄψιν, ἀλλὰ τὴν δικαίαν κρίσιν κρίνετε
Me krinete kat’ opsin, alla ten dikiaian krisin krinete
Not judge according-to appearance, but the rightous judgment judge
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

You may recall that  a variant of this phrase is often found as a Gospel text in Russian icons of Jesus as “Lord Almighty.”

Не на лица судите сынове человечестии, но праведен суд судите: им же бо судом судите, судят вам и в нюже меру мерите, возмерится вам.

“Judge not according to the appearance, sons of men, but judge righteous judgment.  For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure, you shall be measured.”

There is also a title inscription on the Michael icon that we should examine.  It is divided into left and right parts:

At left:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ[ΩΝ]….
HO ARKHON
Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC
HO MEGAS

Notice how the the A and the P (R) are joined, and how the X (KH) in Arkhon is placed above, below a curved line indicating abbreviation.

At right:

…ΜΙΧΑ[Η]Λ
MIKHAEL
…ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
TAXIARKHIS

Notice that the Λ (L) in MIKHAEL is placed above the last two letters.

This title inscription is read with the first line jumping from the left to right side, as does the second, like this:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ(ΩΝ) ΜΙΧΑΗΛ Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
HO ARKHON MIKHAEL HO MEGAS TAXIARKHES

“THE PRINCE MICHAEL THE GREAT COMMANDER”

That title recalls the Old Testament book of Daniel, 12:1, in the Septuagint Greek version:

Και ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ ἀναστήσεται Μιχαὴλ ὁ ἄρχων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ἑστηκὼς ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ λαοῦ σου·
“And in that time shall stand up Michael the great prince, that stands over the sons of your people.”

Thanks to the reader who asked this question, because it helps everyone to advance a bit in the study of icons.

‘TAKE UP YOUR BED AND WALK,” VERSION TWO: TROUBLED WATERS

Yesterday we looked at an icon type in which Jesus heals a paralytic, then tells the man to take up his bed and walk.  Today we will look at another type in which that happens.  Here is an example, a 14th century ceiling fresco from Pech, Serbia:

The title inscription reads:

Х[РИСТО]С  ИСЦЕЛIИАЕТЬ РАССЛАБЛIЕННАГО
Khristos Istsyeliaet Rasslabliennago
“Christ Heals the Paralytic.”

Here is the story as found in John 5: 1-15:

“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.   In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.]  And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he says to him, Will you be made whole?  The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steps down before me.

Jesus says to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk.  And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

The Jews therefore said to him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.   He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said to me, Take up your bed, and walk.

Then asked they him, What man is that which said to you, Take up your bed, and walk?  And he that was healed knew not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

Afterward Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you.

The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.”

For those of you who are interested in the manuscript history of the New Testament, the portion of the text I have put in brackets and bold type — the story of the angel troubling the waters — is missing from the earliest manuscripts.  The earliest Greek manuscript of John in which it appears is 6th century.  It is, however, included in an Old Latin 4th century version.

The tale of the angel stirring the waters of Bethesda is mentioned by Tertullian in chapter 5 of his 3rd century work On Baptism:

If it seems a novelty for an angel to be present in waters, an example of what was to come to pass has forerun. An angel, by his intervention, was wont to stir the pool at Bethsaida. They who were complaining of ill-health used to watch for him; for whoever had been the first to descend into them, after his washing, ceased to complain.

But in the same chapter, Tertullian also warns against evil spirits lurking in waters here and there:

“Are there not other cases too, in which, without any sacrament, unclean spirits brood on waters, in spurious imitation of that brooding of the Divine Spirit in the very beginning? Witness all shady founts, and all unfrequented brooks, and the ponds in the baths, and the conduits in private houses, or the cisterns and wells which are said to have the property of spiriting away, through the power, that is, of a hurtful spirit. Men whom waters have drowned or affected with madness or with fear, they call nymph-caught, or lymphatic, or hydro-phobic. Why have we adduced these instances? Lest any think it too hard for belief that a holy angel of God should grant his presence to waters, to temper them to man’s salvation; while the evil angel holds frequent profane commerce with the selfsame element to man’s ruin.”

The tale of the angel troubling the waters was also mentioned by Chrysostom and Ambrose in the 4th century.  The problem is that the various early manuscripts are rather garbled as to whether the incident is omitted entirely or given only in part.

But back to the iconography.  You will notice in the Pech fresco that the painter has carefully depicted the “five porches.” at the Pool of Bethesda, but has not shown the actual pool.  In some examples we see the pool, while in others we see water pouring into five separate small tanks, or even only one tank.  So there is considerable variation in how the image is presented, but the main elements are the figure of Jesus and the figure of healed man carrying his bed (some show him twice, first lying on his bed, then carrying it).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, the fourth Sunday after Easter is called the Неде́ля о рассла́бленном — Nedelya o rasslablennom (Greek Κυριακή τοῦ Παραλύτου) — Kyriake tou Paralytou), because on that day the liturgical reading is the story of the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.

“TAKE UP YOUR BED AND WALK,” VERSION ONE

In a recent posting, I gave a link for online access (also downloadable for free) to the Bolshakov Podlinnik (here it is again, if you missed it):
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=1

The publisher of that manual was Sergey Tikhonovich Bolshakov (1842–1906), an Old Believer.  As I have said many times, it was the Old Believers who kept the old traditions of Russian icon painting alive long after the State Church had adopted the more realistic western European manner of painting.

Here is an old photo.  Sergey Bolshakov is the fellow with the long forked beard, second from the right:

This pattern is from the Bolshakov manual:

Those of you who are familiar with the New Testament will recognize it as the Исцеление расслабленного в Капернауме — Istselenie rasslablennogo v Kapernaume — “Healing of the Paralytic in Capernaum.”  In Greek the title means the same — Η θεραπεία του παραλυτικού της Καπερναούμ — He Therapeia tou paralytikou tes Kapernaoum.

It is the story found in Mark 2: 1-12:

And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house   And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word to them.

And they come to him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.  And when they could not come nigh to him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, your sins be forgiven you.

But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,   Why does this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?  And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said to them, Why reason you these things in your hearts?  Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Arise, and take up your bed, and walk?  But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, (he says to the sick of the palsy,)  I say to you, Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house.

And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

Do not confuse this type with that of the man healed of paralysis at the Pool of Bethesda — the story given in John 5:1-15.  In each tale, a healed man is told to take up his bed and walk.

 

 

WEDDING AND TEMPTATION

Today we will look at a fresco painted in 1527 at the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, at Meteora in Greece.  Here is an image:

We can see its positioning here, on the upper right-hand wall:

Perhaps you recognize some of the other large images.  To the left of the doorway, we see the “second entry” into Paradise, with Peter at the door, and the Repentant Thief inside, and a soul sitting in the “bosom of Abraham” in the Paradise Garden.  Above the doorway and to its right is a large image of the “Terrible Judgment” — the “Last Judgment.”  But we want to consider the smaller image on the upper left side of the right-hand wall.

Perhaps you have already recognized the depiction.  It is identified by the title inscription at the top:

It reads:

ὉΕΝΚΑ
ΝΑΓΑΜΟC

As is common in Greek inscriptions, the words run together.  We can separate them as:

Ὁ ΕΝ ΚΑΝΑ ΓΑΜΟC

Ho en Kana Gamos
“The in Cana Marriage”

In normal English,
“The Wedding at Cana.”

It depicts the incident recorded in the Gospel called “of John,” 2:1-11:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:   And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus says to him, They have no wine.  Jesus says to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it.  And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

Jesus says to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he says to them, Draw out now, and take it to the governor of the feast. And they took it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and says to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

At left we see Jesus and Mary, identified by their usual inscriptions (abbreviated here) — Meter Theou (“Mother of God”) for Mary, and Iesous Khristos for Jesus, who has the cross in his halo.

To their right, we see a servant filling a jug with the water that is to be miraculously made into wine:

So that is the basic image.  But what is going on at the right side?

The painter has blended the edge of one event into another.  The scene at right is actually a part of a larger type depicting the “Temptation of Jesus” in the wilderness, which chronologically happens right after his baptism by John.

The Gospel called “of Mark” (1:12-13) tells us bluntly and briefly:

And immediately the spirit drives him into the wilderness.  And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

The Greek text says literally,
Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.
“And immediately the Spirit casts him out (ekballei) into the wilderness.”  Ekballei is the same term used for the casting out of demons.

Luke and Matthew, however, embroider the event considerably, and that is what we see in this depiction.  Here is Matthew’s account covering the portions we see in the fresco (the second we see only in part):

Matthew 4:1-7:

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

That is what we see here:  the Devil is telling Jesus to turn the stones into bread:

4 “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And says to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said uto him, It is written again, You shalt not tempt the Lord your God.”

The portion of the image we can see, however, shows only the Devil pointing to the ground.  Jesus is out of the image and to the right, standing higher up on the Jerusalem temple.

You may recall that according to the biblical story, the Devil also tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and offering to give him all the kingdoms of the world.  We find that in the continued Matthew account:

Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And says to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

10 Then says Jesus to him, Get you away, Satan: for it is written, You shalt worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

In this Russian example of the “Temptation,” (a kleimo (“border image”) from an icon of “The Lord Almighty” enthroned, painted in 1682), we see all three of the temptations:

The large image in the foreground shows the Devil (note the tail!) tempting Jesus to make stones into bread.  At upper right, he takes Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple and tells him to cast himself down so angels may save him.  And at upper left, he takes him to a high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world.

Take a close look at the name abbreviation by the head of Jesus in the foreground:

It appears to read IИС ХС for  IИСУС ХРИСТОС.  That extra И in the name of Jesus — making it Iisus Khristos — is the reformed spelling used by the State Church after the Old Believers split off from the State Church   The Old Believers continued to spell the name of Jesus Isus, while the State Church added another letter, making it Iisus.  Oddly, however, the background images of Jesus in this example still have the old IC XC form.

THE PERM OLD BELIEVER ICON PAINTING MANUAL

In a previous posting, I shared a link to online access to the Stroganov Icon Painter’s Manual.  Today I would like to share the link to another and quite interesting old podlinnik (painter’s manual) in the Stroganov Museum.

This manual is identified thus:

Лицевой иконописный подлинник 1829 г. из Пермской Успенской старообрядческой церкви
Litsevoy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik 1829 g[oda] iz Permskoy Uspenskoy staroobryadcheskoy tserkvi

Illustrated icon painting manual,  [of the] year 1829, from the Perm Dormition Old  Ritualist Church.

By “Old Ritualist” is of course meant that it is a church of the Old Believers, who continued the traditional stylized manner of painting long after the State Orthodox Church had adopted the more realistic Western European manner.

As I have told you before, it is important in the study of icons to learn the Church Slavic alphabet and to learn the basic Slavic vocabulary common to Russian icons and podlinniki/podlinniks  You can see how helpful that is in reading this rather fascinating Perm icon painter’s manual.

Here is the image for September 1, the beginning of the old Church year.  This image is not included in the earlier Stroganov manual, through it is described verbally:

As you see, it represents the “Indiction” type, which indicates the beginning of the Church Year through an image of Jesus beginning his ministry by reading from the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (see the earlier posting on this type at: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/the-indiction-which-is-the-new-year/)

The writing on the page reads:

МЕСАЦЪ СЕНТЯБРЬ
Mesats  Sentyabr
MONTH [of ] SEPTEMBER

НАЧАЛО ИНДИКТОУ ЕЖЕ ЕСТЬ
Nachalo Indiktou ezhe est
BEGINNING [of the] INDICTION, WHICH IS

НОВОМОУ ЛЕТУ
Novomou Letou
[the] NEW YEAR

ИМАТ ДНIИ Л
Imat dni 30
Has    Days   30

In normal English,

“The Month of September:
The Beginning of the Indiction, which is the New Year.
[September] has 30 days.”

Here is the link to the main page for the Perm manual:

http://stroganovmuseum.ru/vokrug-stroganovykh/izdaniya/item/81-litsevoj-ikonopisnyj-podlinnik-1829-g

On it you will see two entries (you can click on these links here, if you wish):

Часть 1 (с. 1-104)

Часть 2 (c. 105-216)

Часть (Chast)  means “part,” so the first link is to Part 1, pages 1-104,  and the second link to Part 2, pages 105-216.  Most of the Part 2 illustrations are lightly drawn, but were never fully inked in.

You will also find an alternate entry point with a different format on this link:

https://eikon.piwigo.com/index?/category/548-1829_%D0%B3

At the beginning of the podlinnik is an incomplete alphabetical list giving a saint’s name and where he or she is to be found in the book, which is arranged by month and day of commemoration.  The word числа (chisla) at upper right means “number” (date).

To see how it works, we can look at the second entry on the first index page:

Avvakoum Prorok, Deka[br] B

Meaning,
Avvakoum [Habakkuk], Prophet, December 2

If we look at December 2nd, we find this (the page is for December 1 and 2):

It gives us first the saint for the first (A) day of December:
“Of the Holy Prophet Nahum”

Then come those for the Second (B) day:
“Of the Holy Martyr Ananias of Persia”
“Of the Holy Prophet Avvakum”
“Of Holy Philaret the Merciful”

Notice that the female saint second from right has her name entered last, in smaller letters:
“Of the Holy Martyr Myropia.”

If we look in the halos, there are notations helpful to the painter.  In the halo of the Prophet Nahum, we see the word седъ — syed — meaning “grey.”  So we know he is an older man with grey hair.  By contrast, in the halos of the Martyr Ananias and the Prophet Avvakum, we find the word млад — mlad — meaning “young/youth.”

On another page we find Ису́с Нави́н — Isus Navvin — Joshua, son of Nun — and in his halo and in that of the saint beside him — Feodor Yaroslav Vsevolodovich — we find the word русъ — rus –“Russian” — which means the hair of these saints is to be painted in that light brown to dark blond color common to many Russians.  But in this manual, the colors of the garments are not indicated as they are in the Stroganov podlinnik.

By the way, you may notice that Joshua in Slavic has the same name as Jesus — Isus, as is also the case in the Greek Bible.  The Old Testament Jesus — that is, Joshua — is distinguished by the addition of “Navvin” in Slavic and του Ναυή — tou Naui — “of Nun” in Greek.

Here is the page for December 3-4:

On it we see the Prophet Sophoniya (Zephaniah), “our Venerable Father Sabba Storozhevsky Zvenigorodskiy,” “Holy Martyr Theodora,” “Holy Great Martyr Barbara,” “our Venerable Father John of Damascus,” and so on.  But what I really want you to notice is the entry in red at the bottom of the page:

Д ТРОРУЧИЦЫ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
4  [OF THE ] TROERUCHITSUI PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“4  THREE-HANDED MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

That notation means that December 4th is the day of Commemoration of the icon of Mary called the “Three-handed Most Holy Mother of God.”  In the standard Church calendar, its days are June 28th and July 12th, but here it is placed on the day of John of Damascus, who was associated traditionally with its origin “miracle.” This manual indicates the commemoration of days of supposed “miracle-working” Marian icons with these red entries, but it does not depict these Marian images.  For those the painter had to turn to other patterns outside this book.

I will end this little introduction to the Perm Old Believer podlinnik with this page from November 8, the Sobor Svyatago Arkhistratiga Mikhaila in Prochikh Bezplotnuikh Sil — “The Assembly of the Chief-commander Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers.”

If you are interested in old patterns, you may also wish to look at Nikodim Kondakov’s published collection of icon patterns (volume I is primarily “Jesus” patterns), which you can do at this site:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01000869530#?page=1

On that site, click on the thumbnail pages at left to get the enlarged image on the main screen.  Be sure to look at the patterns from page 156 on.

Those of you who would like to see the 1903 “Bolshakov Podlinnik” online — more properly the Подлинник иконописный — Издание С.Т. Большакова. Под редакцией . А.И. Успенского  — the “Icon Painting Manual — publisher S(ergey) T(ikhonovich) Bolshakov, edited by A. I Uspenskiy” — will find it at the following site:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=1

The Bolshakov Podlinnik is a kind of revised and expanded version of the old Stroganov Podlinnik, using more casual outline drawings taken largely from that earlier manual, and adding a descriptive text (Church Slavic) modified by reference to other old painter’s manuals.  Though the re-drawn illustrations are not artistic, they nonetheless do the job, and the text is very useful for those who wish to learn the vocabulary of the old painter’s manuals, giving verbal descriptions of the various saints and indicating the form and colors of hair and garments.

The descriptions by month begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=37

The illustrations begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=201

One of the sources consulted in the preparation of the Bolshakov manual was the Софийский Списокъ Подлинника Новгородской Редакции XVI Века  — Sophiyskiy Spisok Podlinnika Novgorodskoy Redakstsii XVI Veka — “The Sophia Copy of the Podlinnik, Novogorod Redaction of the 16th Century.”  You will find online access to that text-only podlinnik here:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01007492474#?page=1

Enjoy!

THAT IMAGE AT THE TOP…

A curious reader in Germany asked about the image in my blog “header” — what icon it is from, who the figures are, and what the inscription on the scroll means.

It is a detail from this icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a wider view of the “header” detail:

The saints depicted in it are from upper left (below the angel):
Prepodobnuiy Maron — Venerable Maron
Svyashchennomuchenik Antipa — Priest-martyr Antipas
Prepodobnuiy Sergiy Radonezhskiy — Venerably Sergiy of Radonezh
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Novgorodskiy — Venerable John of Novgorod
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Damaskin  — Venerable John of Damascus.

The scroll held by John reads:

Твоя по-
бедите-
льная деснице [-а]
Боголеп-
но в к-
репости
просла
[-вися: та бо, Безсмертне, яко всемогущая, противныя сотре, Израильтяном путь глубины новосоделавшая.]

It is the Irmos from the Canon of the Resurrection, Ode 1:

Your victorious right arm  in godly manner has been glorified in strength;
[it continues:  for, Immortal One, as almighty it struck the adversary, for the Israelites making the path of the deep anew.“]

The Canon of the Resurrection was written by John of Damascus.

The scroll just below the angel is the Stikhera, tone 2 from the Moleben to the “Joy of All Who Suffer” icon.

Всемъ скорбящимъ радость
и обидимымъ предстателница  и
алчущимъ питательница страннымъ…

Joy of all who sorrow, and intercessor for the offended, and feeder of the hungry, of travelers…
[it continues “… the consolation, harbor of the storm-tossed, visitation of the sick, protection and intercessor for the infirm staff of old age, you are the Mother of God on high, O Most Pure One”]

So that is the origin and significance of the present “header” image on this blog.

 

 

 

WHAT SHALL WE BRING YOU

In previous postings we have encountered the Slavic word sobor, which means “assembly,” but can also mean “council” or even “cathedral.”

There are several icon types having titles beginning with Sobor.  Commonly these are icons depicting a gathering or assembly of persons relating in some way to the main Eastern Orthodox church festival celebrated on the previous day.  The “church jargon” term generally used for such a secondary festival in English is synaxis, which is just the Greek word that Church Slavic translates as sobor.

We have seen in a previous posting, for example, the icon of the Sobor of John the Forerunner — the “Assembly of John the Forerunner” — which is the secondary festival following the major festival of the Bogoyavlenie — The Theophany — which is the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John.

Today we will look at another such icon.  This one is of the sobor celebrated on the day following the Feast of the Nativity — the birth of Jesus.  And this secondary festival celebrates the sobor of Mary, the Собор Пресвятыя БогородицыSobor Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — the “Assembly of the Most Holy Mother of God.”  The earliest-known example of this type dates to the 13th century, and appears to have developed in Serbia.

In the posting immediately preceding this one, we looked at the Marian icon “In You Rejoices,” based on a hymn to Mary.  Similarly, the iconography of today’s image is based on the fourth stikheron (a kind of hymn) of the Great Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus:

Что Ти принесем, Христе, яко явился eси на земли яко Человек нас ради? Каяждо бо от Тебе бывших тварей благодарение Тебе приносит: Ангели – пение; небеса – звезду; волсви – дары; пастырие – чудо; земля – вертеп; пустыня – ясли; мы же – Матерь Деву. Иже прежде век, Боже, помилуй нас».

“What shall we bring you, Christ, who have appeared on earth as man for our sake?  For each creature made by you gives you thanks, bringing:  The angels, their song; heaven, the star.  The Wise Men, gifts; the shepherds, the miracle; the earth, the cave; the desert, the manger; and we the virgin mother.  God, who is before all ages, have mercy on us.”

The two Marian icons — “In You Rejoices” and “Assembly of the Mother of God” are often confused, with the former sometimes even given the title of the latter.  But the two types can be distinguished in that “In You Rejoices” has a domed church as its background, whereas the “Assembly of the Mother of God” is set against a background of hills.  Both images include John of Damascus, which perhaps contributes to the problem, as does both hymns being in the same liturgical service.

The “Assembly of the Mother of God” illustrates elements of the stikheron given above.

In the center we see Mary with the child Jesus. Directly above her is a star (“heaven, the star”).  Beside it are angels (“the angels, their song”).  To her left are the three Magi (“the Wise Men, gifts”).  To her right are shepherds (” the shepherds, the miracle”).  Below we see  Kosmas of Maiyum (Cosmas of Maiuma) and John of Damascus with scrolls bearing hymns.  At left is a figure representing the earth holding the manger (“the earth, the manger) and at right another figure representing the desert (“the desert, the cave”)  In the lower center is commonly a group that varies in composition from example to example and may include singers, a king or kings, patriarchs, etc.

In the icon illustrated on this page, the figure with a scroll standing just above and to the left of Mary appears to be the Prophet Isaiah; this figure is not common in the type.

Here is a pattern for the “Assembly of the Most Holy Mother of God” type from the Perm icon painter’s manual:

(Stroganov Museum)

A common name for this icon type is “What Shall We Bring You.”

It is, of course, also found in Greek iconography, with the text reading:

Τι σοι προσενέγκωμεν Χριστέ, ότι ώφθης επί γης ὡς άνθρωπος δι’ ἡμάς;
What to you shall we bring, Christ, who appeared on earth as man for us;
έκαστον γαρ των ὑπό σού γενομένων κτισμάτων, την ευχαριστίαν σοι προσάγει·
for each creature made made by you gives thanks to you, bringing:

ὁι Άγγελοι τον ύμνον, — The angels the song
ὁι ουρανοί τον Αστέρα, —  The heavens the star
ὁι Μάγοι τα δώρα,  —  The Magi the gifts
ὁι Ποιμένες το θαύμα, — The shepherds the miracle
ἡ γη το σπήλαιον,  — The earth the cave
ἡ έρημος την φάτνην — The desert the manger

ἡμείς δε Μητέρα Παρθένον· ὁ προ αιώνων Θεός ελέησον ἡμάς.
We the virgin mother; the God who is before all ages have mercy upon us.

Here is a 16th century example from the Dokheiariou Monastery on Mount Athos, with the appropriate line above each element of the composition:

tisoiprosenegkomendokh