Here is a 17th century icon given the title “Come You People, Let Us Worship the Three-Hypostatic Godhood.” But if you have been reading here for some time, you will recognize it as basically just a more elaborate version of the New Testament Trinity “Among the Powers,” that is, among the ranks of angels.
In the center we see Jesus at left, God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) at right, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove in the air between them.
The title of this icon is taken from the Stikhera, tone 8, used at the Great Vespers Pentecost service:
Приидите, людие, триипостасному божеству поклонимся, Сыну во Отце, со
Святым Духом: Отец бо безлетно роди Сына соприсносущна и сопрестольна, и
Дух Святый бе во Отце, с Сыном прославляемь: едина сила, едино существо,
едино божество, емуже покланяющеся вси глаголем: Святый Боже, вся
соделавый Сыном, содейством Святаго Духа: Святый крепкий, имже Отца
познахом и Дух Святый прииде в мир: Святый безсмертный, утешительный
Душе, от Отца исходяй, и в Сыне почиваяй: Троице Святая, слава Тебе.
“Come you people, let us worship the Three-hypostatic Godhood; the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit; for the Father before time begot the Son ever co-existing and co-enthroned; and the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified together with the Son; one power, one substance, one Godhood, in whom worshiping we all say: Holy God, who made all by the Son, with the co-operation of the Holy Spirit; Holy Mighty, through whom we have known the Father, and the Holy Spirit came to the world; Holy Immortal, comforting Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”
In the 16th century there was a big controversy over the making and use of such elaborate and symbolic “mystic-didactic” icons as this one and others, among them “In the Grave Fleshly,” “Sophia, Wisdom of God,” “On the Seventh Day God Rested,” “It is Worthy,” the “Symbol of Faith,” the politically propagandistic “Blessed is the Army of the Heavenly Tsar,” and “The Only Begotten Son.” The complaint was that they could not and did not adequately and correctly express the dogmas of the Church, and that their complexity was simply confusing. The leader of the opposition to such icons was a prominent government secretary and “Keeper of the Seal” under Tsar Ivan IV (“Ivan the Terrible”) named Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovatuiy (Иван МихайловичВисковатый). But a Church council in 1554 condemned his views (with some small exceptions), and he consequently repented his “heretical” ideas and fell in line with the decree.
Rather confusingly, there is another and unusual icon type also called “Come You People, Let Us Worship the Three-Hypostatic Godhood.” But this second type also includes images of the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus, the Crucifixion, and the Descent into Hades (Resurrection), so it is easily distinguished from the first type.
At the top we see a “Fatherhood” image in the center, with Mary to the left of it and John the Forerunner to the right. At far left is the youthful Christ enthroned, and at far right the mature Christ enthroned. Angels accompany these three top images, and at the base is a gathering of people worshiping the Trinity.
Today we will take a look at two Eucharistic types — more of those “mystic-didactic” icons that became prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The first is titled “Let All Human Flesh be Silent.” The title is taken from this excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil, used in the Eucharistic celebration on Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in place of the usual “Cherubic Hymn.”
Да молчит всякая плоть человеча, и да стоит со страхом и трепетом, и ничтоже земное в себе да помышляет; Царь бо царствующих, и Господь господствующих, приходит заклатися и датися в снедь верным. Предходят же Сему лицы ангельстии со всяким Началом и Властию, многоочитии Херувими, и шестокрилатии Серафими, лица закрывающе, и вопиюще песнь: Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя.
“Let all human flesh be silent, and let it stand with fear and trembling, and let itself consider nothing earthly; for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes forth to be sacrificed and given as food to the believers; and there go before him the choirs of Angels, with every Dominion and Power, many-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and singing out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
What we see in the 16th century example above is the so-called “Great Entrance,” when the clergy bring the bread and wine to be placed upon the altar. We see the “Three Hierarchs” — Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom and Basil the Great standing by the altar. The procession coming from the left side is led by a deacon with a candle, followed by another holding a chalice (potir in Slavic) and a censer (kadilo in Slavic). Behind him comes a bishop holding a diskos above his head. That is the vessel on which the liturgical bread lies — represented in the icon by the body of Christ Immanuel (Jesus as child or youth). The asteriskos (the open metal support for the covering cloth) that represents the Star of Bethlehem is over it. The last person in the procession holds aloft the aer (vozdukh in Slavic) — the covering cloth that will lie upon the asteriskos (zvezditsa in Slavic) to cover the diskos. In the air above, we see various ranks of angels — cherubim, seraphim, thrones (the names “Dominion” and Power” in the liturgical excerpt represent ranks of angels). We also see other familiar figures, among them apostles and John the Forerunner (with wings), as well as the Repentant Thief Rakh holding his cross. The crowds of people without halos in the foreground represent the “All Human Flesh” that is supposed to be silent. God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) is at upper left, with the Holy Spirit as a dove proceeding from him. The general idea of the icon is that the ranks of angels are present and participating invisibly in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Here is another “Stroganov School” example from the 17th century:
Here is another 16th century example:
And here is a rather more elaborate 17th century version of the same type, showing the ranks of angels separated into different circles, along with many more saints of various kinds:
The other Eucharistic icon type we will look at today is “Who Mystically Represent the Cherubim,” a title which is taken from the so-called “Cherubic Hymn” of the liturgy. This hymn is the one ordinarily sung during the liturgy, but on Holy Saturday it is replaced, as we have seen, by the “Let All Human Flesh be Silent” version.
Иже херувимы тайно образующе,
и Животворящей Троицѣ трисвятую пѣснь припѣвающе,
Всякое нынѣ житейское отложимъ попеченіе.
Яко да Царя всѣхъ подъимемъ,
ангельскими невидимо дориносима чинми. Аллилуіа
“[We] who cherubim mystically represent And to the Life-bearing Trinity the “Thrice Holy” hymn sing, All cares of life let us now put aside So we may receive the Tsar of all, By invisible ranks of angels escorted. Alleluia.”
The “Thrice Holy” hymn is of course the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of Isaiah 6:1-3:
“And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. And seraphim stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
We see the Cherubic Hymn written in Slavic across the top of this example, a 16th century icon from the Annunciation Cathedral in the city of Solvuichegodsk (Сольвычегодск):
In the top circle — surrounded by angels — is the Otechestvo — the “Fatherhood” — showing God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) with Jesus as Immanuel on his lap. Below him is Jesus robed as the Great High Priest, celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy, surrounded by angels and saints. At his far left and far right, angels perform the Proskomedia — the preparation of the bread and wine for the Eucharist. At lower left we see angels forming the procession of the Great Entry, and Jesus again at the lower center. The figures without halos at lower right are said to represent the wealthy Stroganov family, patrons of the Solvuichegodsk Cathedral.
Today’s icon, from the 16th century, is related both to the Deisis sub-type commonly called “The Queen Stands at Your Right,” and to “Sophia, Wisdom of God.” We shall see the relationships on closer examination.
This icon takes its title from the words of Psalm 44 (45 in King James Version numbering), rendered in the KJV as “My heart is inditing a good matter.” When did you ever hear anyone use the word “indite”? In English it means “to compose” But in the Slavic Version it is:
Отрыгну Сердце Мое Слово Благо Otruigny Serdtse Moe Slovo Blago
We can translate it rather literally as:
Gives-forth Heart of-me a Word Good
In normal English,
“My Heart is Uttering a Good Word.”
Oddly enough, the word I translate here as “gives forth” and “utters” commonly means “to belch” or “to vomit” in modern Russian.
The key to the icon lies in the “good Word” mentioned, and if we look at the Greek Septuagint version, it helps us to better see why:
Logon is the accusative form of logos, meaning “word.” You will recall that the first words of the Gospel of John are:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” And you will recall that the “Word” — the Logos — of God in icons is Jesus.
So the Word — the Slovo or Logos in Psalm 44 — is understood in Eastern Orthodoxy to be Jesus — the pre-existent son of God, and the Psalm is therefore considered to signify the “begetting” of the Word — of God the Son — by God the Father.
Let’s examine its various elements, taken from the lines of Psalm 44:
At the top we see Gospod’ Savaof — “Lord Sabaoth,” who is God the Father; and below him is the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.
At upper left, we see King David — called a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy — writing his Psalm:
…глагóлю áзъ дѣлá моя́ Царéви: язы́къ мóй трóсть кни́жника скоропи́сца.
“I declare my works to the king: my tongue is the pen of a quick writer. ”
Seated on the throne in the center of the image is a crowned figure — this is Jesus as the Word uttered by the Father. He holds a scepter in his hand:
That is taken from verse 7:
Престóлъ твóй, Бóже, въ вѣ́къ вѣ́ка: жéзлъ прáвости жéзлъ цáрствiя твоегó.
“Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of righteousness.”
The scroll he holds bears a part of verse 3 of the Psalm:
…сегó рáди благослови́ тя Бóгъ во вѣ́къ.
“...therefore God has blessed you forever.”
At his knees is a quiver of arrows at left, and a bow at right, taken from verse 6:
“Стрѣ́лы твоя́ изощрéны, си́льне…”
“Your arrows are sharpened, Mighty One… ”
At his feet are fallen his conquered enemies, as in the second part of verse 6:
…лю́дiе подъ тобóю падýтъ въ сéрдцы врáгъ Царéвыхъ.
“the nations shall fall under you; they are in the heart of the king’s enemies. ”
The angel at right pours out the oil of anointing upon the head of the Word, as in verse 8:
Возлюби́лъ еси́ прáвду и возненави́дѣлъ еси́ беззакóнiе: сегó рáди помáза тя́, Бóже, Бóгъ твóй елéемъ рáдости пáче причáстникъ твои́хъ.
“You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.”
At left is a Queen (Mary) as in verse 9:
…предстá цари́ца одеснýю тебé, въ ри́захъ позлащéнныхъ одѣ́яна преиспещрéна.
“…the queen stood on your right hand, clothed in robes worked with gold, and arrayed in various colors.”
At right is a church, with people in the doorway, taken from verse 16:
…приведýтся въ весéлiи и рáдованiи, введýтся въ хрáмъ Царéвъ.
“They shall be brought with gladness and exultation: they shall be led into the king’s temple.”
In front of the church are two crowned figures. That at left is John the Forerunner, whose scroll bears the beginning of verse 18 of the Psalm:
сегó рáди лю́дiе исповѣ́дятся тебѣ́ въ вѣ́къ и во вѣ́къ вѣ́ка.
“…therefore shall the nations give thanks to you forever, and forever and ever.”
And at right King Solomon, whose scroll bears part of verse 8 of the Psalm:
сегó рáди помáза тя́, Бóже, Бóгъ твóй елéемъ рáдости пáче причáстникъ твои́хъ.
“...therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.” You will recall that Solomon is the traditional author of the Book of Proverbs, which speaks of Wisdom (Sophia), understood in icons to be Jesus, as in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars.”
The fellow with the red cap at far left is the Prophet Daniel, holding a scroll bearing part of verse 5 of the Psalm:
…и́стины рáди и крóтости и прáвды: и настáвитъ тя́ ди́вно десни́ца твоя́.
“…because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and your right hand shall guide you wonderfully.” Daniel is considered to have foretold the coming kingdom of Jesus, as in Daniel 2:44:
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
Just for reference, here is all of Psalm 44 (45 in the KJV) in Church Slavic:
1. Въ конéцъ, о измѣня́емыхъ сынóмъ Корéовымъ въ рáзумъ, пѣ́снь о возлю́бленнѣмъ.