Today we will look at an icon type that, while sometimes found as an element in other icons, is also seen on its own.
Here is an example of its frequent use as part of an icon of the Страшный Суд — Strashnuiy Sud in a Balkan fresco — the “Terrible Judgment,” which in the West is generally called the “Last Judgment” or the “Second Coming.”
Let’s look more closely at the central portion relevant to today’s discussion.
At left and right are two angels. That on the left, with the “M” above his head, is Mikhail/Michael. That on the right with the “Г” is Gavriil/Gabriel.
In the center is a table on which is a cushion and a book, and behind it a cross flanked by the symbols of the Passion of Jesus, the spear at left, and the reed with a sponge at right. On the little footstool below the table is a footstool on which are the four nails used to crucify Jesus.
Atop the cushion on the larger table is a dove that oddly enough bears the cruciform halo peculiar to Jesus, and confirming that, we see the abbreviation IC XC just above it — signifying Isus Khristоs in Slavic (Iesous Khristos in Greek) — “Jesus Christ.” The dove’s feet rest on the Book of the Gospels. Ordinarily in this type, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, but the painter of this icon seems to have not quite grasped that, so gave it the cruciform halo and inscription abbreviation for Jesus. The dove can be understood as the presence of the Holy Spirit as paraclete with the Church until the return of Jesus — his representative in a sense. There is also a cloth (sometimes obviously a garment) as the mantle of Jesus — frequently in royal purple,
Parts of this composition have a double meaning. The large table is both a throne and an altar (prestol — the Slavic word for an Orthodox altar — means “throne.” The book on it is both the Gospel book commonly found on Orthodox altars, but it also represents the book of Revelation 5:1:
“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.”
And it also represents the presence of Jesus.
The identifying inscription of this composition is just below the main crossbar:
Note that in the actual inscription, the “E” in the first word is written with the old Slavic letter pronounced “ye”:
The final IE in the second word is written as the old Slavic compound letter pronounced “IE” (ee-ay):
We will use the more standardized form УГОТОВАНИЕ ПРЕСТОЛА — Ugotovanie Prestola. Ugotovanie means “preparation, making ready”; Prestola is the “of” form of Prestol, meaning “throne.” So this type is called “The Preparation of the Throne.”
In Psalm 88:15 of the Church Slavic Bible (89:14 KJV), we find:
Прáвда и судьбá уготóванiе престóла твоегó: ми́лость и и́стина предъи́детѣ предъ лицéмъ твои́мъ.
Pravda i sudba ugotovanie prestola tvoego; milost i istina predeidete pred’ litsem’ tvoim’
“Justice and judgment are the preparation of your throne; mercy and truth shall go before your face.”
And in Slavic Psalm 9:8-9 (9:7-8 KJV):
И Госпóдь во вѣ́къ пребывáетъ, уготóва на сýдъ престóлъ свóй: и тóй суди́ти и́мать вселéннѣй въ прáвду, суди́ти и́мать лю́демъ въ правотѣ́.
“And the Lord forever endures, he has prepared his throne for judgment: and he will judge the world in justice, the peoples in uprightness.“
Here is a very basic form of the type:
The title inscription above it reads (the two sides join together):
That is a rather phonetic variant of the correct spelling:
In modern Greek the title is pronounced “Ee et-ee-ma-SEE-ah.
Here is a slightly more detailed mosaic version:
note the addition of what appears to be the crown of thorns to the axis of the cross. In other examples it is a laurel wreath of victory. The spelling used here is yet another variant:
In this fresco version from the monastery of Dečani, the “Preparation” has become a throne carried by angels:
There is a Gospel book lying on the cloth on the throne, and all together the image forms a kind of Deisis variant, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right. The two figures below are sometimes found in “Preparation” images. They are Adam and Eve, and should not be confused with Mary and John the Forerunner. If you look at the first image in this posting, you will again see Adam (at left) and Eve (at right) below the angels.
If we look more closely at the image, we can read its inscription:
or as we more normally find it in Russian literature,
It means, of course, the second coming of Jesus, and the angels are bringing out the throne to prepare it for the Last Judgment. Here the Gospel book on the garment represents the presence of Jesus, and the crown on the cross is a laurel wreath.
In the example found at the Church of Saint Paul “Outside the Walls” (San Paulo fuori le muri), we see yet more variation:
Looking more closely, we find that the laurel wreath generally found on the cross is here placed on its own stand to the left of the spear, and at right beside the sponge on a reed, we see a Eucharistic symbol — the chalice. It holds three nails of the crucifixion (instead of four as found in the earlier example). In some versions this chalice becomes a two-handled vessel placed on the footstool, and it may or may not have the nails within it. Being a Roman church, in this mosaic the scrolls held by the angels are in Latin. That at right reads GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO (“Glory to God on High”) and that at left “ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS (“And on earth peace to men.”)
The use of an unoccupied throne as the symbol of a ruler is very ancient, and long predates Christianity.