THE SEALING OF THE TOMB

It is not hard to tell that this icon dates to the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.  That is when this kind of geometrical pattern was common in icon borders.  We can also tell it was not an expensive icon when made.  It is in a heavily Westernized style, rapidly painted, with very simple forms in strong and repeated colors

The inscription at the base — which varies from example to example — reads here:
GROBYE GOSPODEN — “The Tomb of the Lord”

The subject of the icon is not a common one, and examples tend to be very late and to look much the same.

Here is another icon of the type, painted with more sophistication and care, though also in a heavily westernized manner.

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

The inscription on this example is “The Placing of the Seal on the Stone.”

Both icons depict the event recorded in Matthew 27:

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate,

63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

65 Pilate said to them, You have a watch: go your way, make it as secure as you can.

66 So they went, and made the sepulchre secure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

It is common for the tomb in these examples to look like it is behind doors, upon which the seal is being placed.   Two Roman soldiers are sitting beside the entrance to the tomb, while the two Jewish fellows are standing, one placing the seal.

In the background of the first image we see Joseph of Arimathea and the “Myrrh-bearing Women” looking on.  In the second icon they are Joseph of Arimathea, John “the Theologian” (looking uncharacteristically old here for the event), the “Mother of God” (Mary) and Mary Magdalene.

Now interestingly, the Gospel called “of Matthew” (no one knows who wrote it; the original manuscripts are anonymous) is the only one of the four Gospels to tell the story that a  Roman guard was placed at the tomb, and that a seal was put upon it.  Matthew is also the only Gospel to include that those watching the tomb were frightened by an angel coming down from Heaven, who rolls away the stone from the tomb entrance and sits upon it.

There is, however, another account of a guard placed at the tomb, found in the rather extravagant extra-biblical Gospel of Peter, which says that seven seals were placed on the tomb:

8. But the Scribes and Pharisees and elders, being assembled together and hearing that the whole people murmured and beat their breasts, saying, If these exceeding great signs were wrought at His death, see how righteous He was – the elders were afraid and came to Pilate, beseeching him and saying, Deliver to us soldiers, that we may guard His sepulchre for three days, lest His disciples come and steal Him away, and the people suppose that He is risen from the dead, and do us mischief. So Pilate delivered unto them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to guard the tomb; and with them there came elders and scribes to the sepulchre, and having rolled a great stone, the centurion and the soldiers, and all who were there together placed it at the door of the sepulchre; and they spread upon it seven seals, and pitched a tent there and kept guard. Now when it was morning, at the dawning of the Sabbath, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the country round about to see the sepulchre, how it has been sealed.

9. Now on the night when the Lord’s Day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard by two and two in a watch, there was a great voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend form thence with much light and draw nigh unto the tomb. And the stone which had been cast at the door rolled away itself and made way in part, and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in. The soldiers, therefore, when they saw it, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they were also there keeping watch); and as they told the things that they had seen, again they see three men coming forth from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, and a cross following them; and the head of the two reached the heaven; but that of Him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, Thou didst preach to them that sleep; and a response was hear from the cross, Yea.