If you are a long-time reader here, you will recall that the “appearance” of something — whether an icon or a vision — is a yavlenie in Russian icon terminology. And you may recall from a past posting that there is also the related form yavisya, meaning “appeared.”
That should help you with today’s icon. Here it is:
Let’s look at the title inscription:
As you see, it abbreviates some words with certain omitted letters written above the line as superscript letters. If we add all missing letters, it reads (modern Russian font):
ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ
There are certain forms of letters to note in the original:
You should recall that the above letter — written like an I and an A together — is one of two ways of writing the sound ya in Church Slavic. The other form is like a capital A with a vertical line descending from the middle of the crossbar. Both are represented in the modern Russian font by Я. Note also that when it appears at the end of the first word, yavisya, it appears like this:
That is because the left I of the IA combination is made much smaller, and inserted into the space in the preceding letter, C. Together, these form –sya.
Also note that in the name Aleksandr, the following Slavic letter is used for the –ks– sound, like our x in English Alexander. In the modern Russian font it would be written as КС
Finally, the second part of Alexandr’s name — Svirskiy — is written here in the “to” form as Svyerskomu, using that convenient letter for –ye– that was dropped from the modern Russian font:
Don’t be surprised that the writer chose the ye sound instead of the normal i sound to write Svirsk– as Svyersk-. Such variations in spelling are not unusual in icons. And notice that the Р (r) in Svyersk– is written smaller and above the letter.
So, all together the title inscription is:
ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДОБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ
YAVISYA SVYATAYA TROITSA PREPODOBNOMU ALEKSANDRU SVYERSKOMU
Appeared Holy Trinity Venerable-to Aleksandr Svyersk
Or in normal English,
“THE HOLY TRINITY APPEARED TO VENERABLE ALEXANDER SVIRSKIY.”
Note the dative (or “to” form) suffixes on Prepodobn–omu, Aleksandr–u and Svyersk–omu.
If we look above Alexandr’s head (he is the fellow kneeling at the right in the image), we see his name written:
It appears as:
So much for the title. But what is this icon type about?
The three angels at left are the members of the Holy Trinity –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — though they are not distinguished as to which is which:
And, of course, here is Alexandr Svirskiy:
Alexandr Svirskiy (1448-1533) was one of the monks of the northern Russian forests — the so-called “Northern Thebaid.” He is called Svirskiy because he settled some 12 miles east of Lake Ladoga, in the vicinity of the Svir River, which runs between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga. There he led an ascetic and rigorous life. It is said that in 1508 an angel appeared to him, telling him to build a church and a monastery. He did not do so. Later, the angel again appeared, repeating the instructions. Again he did not. Finally (here again is the “third time is the charm” motif we find repeatedly in these old tales of saints and icons) the Trinity appeared to him as three men in shining garments, each with a staff in hand, telling him to build a monastery and a church in the name of the Holy Trinity (Svyataya Troitsa). This of course recalls the appearance of Yahweh, manifested as three men, to the patriarch Abraham on the plains of Mamre, according to the Old Testament story in Genesis 18.
That is the traditional account of the origin of the Trinity Cloister at what is now called the Alexandr Svirskiy Monastery (Александро-Свирский монастырь). A body said to be that of Alexandr, and reputed to be “incorrupt” and to manifest miracles, was returned to that monastery in 1998.