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:
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):
“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.
5 Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6 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.
7 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:
8 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;
9 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:
It reads IИС ХС for IИСУС ХРИСТОС. That extra И in the name of Jesus — making it Iisus Khristos — tells us that this is a State Church icon painted after the Old Believers split off from the State Church (or we could say the State Church split off from the traditions of the previous old belief because of the changes instituted by Patriarch Nikon in the mid 1600s). The Old Believers continued to spell the name of Jesus Isus, while the State Church added another letter, making it Iisus. But this icon is old enough to be still painted in the traditional manner, instead of in the more realistic “Western” manner quickly adopted by the State Church.