On looking through the site archive, I was surprised to find I had not yet posted about one of the most interesting (and far-fetched) hagiographic tales pictured in icons —  in Russian icons, specifically.  That is the story of Антоний РимлянинAntoniy Rimlyanin — Antoniy the Roman.  Here he is, standing on his floating rock on the Volkhov River:

His story relates that he was born in Rome in 1067, some 13 years after the official separation of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Anthony, who came from a well-to-do pious family that favored the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint, is said to have known Greek and to have studied the Greek Fathers in his teens, and at age 17 or 18 — after he lost his parents — he gave part of his inheritance to the poor, and put the remainder of the wealth — gold and silver and church implements, it is said — in a barrel that he threw into the sea.  Then he became an Orthodox monk, and is said to have lived in one of the “desert” monasteries — some say among the hills — for some 20 years, though just where the monastery was located is vague.  In any case, Antoniy was not happy in Rome, where it was said the “Latins” tried to convert Orthodox holdouts to the Roman Catholic view.  Because of this, his monastic brethren dispersed, and he went to an isolated beach near the Tiber where he began a rigorous ascetic regimen by fasting and praying on a large rock for a little over an entire year.

Then — in 1105 or 1106 (the dates in these accounts are rather uncertain) — there was a huge storm that ripped the rock from the beach, and Antoniy along with it.  Both the stone and he were pulled into the sea, where the stone supposedly miraculously floated, carrying Antoniy on the waters all the way to the far North of Russia, and up the Neva River to Lake Ladoga, and from there into the Volkhov river and up it to the village of Volkhov, near Novgorod.  There the floating stone stopped on the day of commemoration of the Nativity of Mary — September 5, 1106,  The amazed locals rushed to inform bishop Nikita of the bizarre arrival, and Nikita then went to the Volkhov River, where he saw Antoniy still standing there on his rock.

Now supposedly Antoniy did not understand the language of the local Novgorodians, and had no idea where he was.  But eventually he is said to have met a fellow in Novgorod who knew Russian, Greek and Latin, and told Antoniy where he had ended up.  And in Volkhov Antoniy founded a Monastery in the name of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.  He is said to have floated on his rock on the sea from Rome to the Novgorod region in two days (some say three).  In any case, a journey from Rome to Novgorod in those days would have required at least half a year.

In the following year, Antoniy told some fishermen who were not catching much to go out and try again.  They were reluctant, so he offered them a silver coin, with the condition that what they caught would be given to Mary.  So they threw their nets again, and this time they snagged, along with some fish, a barrel that turned out to be the very barrel Antoniy had thrown into the sea near Rome, containing the portion of his inherited treasure not given to the poor.  Anthony let the fishermen keep the fish.  They did not want to give up the barrel, but it is said he took them to court, and there they were unable to identify the contents of the still-sealed barrel, while Antoniy could easily describe what was in it — gold, church vessels, silver — and such things.  So with his recovered treasure he is said to have bought the land and begun the building of a wooden church and monastery.  The church was later was replaced by stone construction between 1117 and 1119.  The laying of the foundation stone is recorded in the Chronicle of Novgorod.  Though long heading the monastery without a title, in 1131 Bishop Nikita officially made Antoniy Hegumen (Abbot) of the monastery, and on August 3, 1147, Antoniy died (as recorded in the Novgorod Chronicle; but some say in 1142).

The accounts of the life of Antoniy the Roman began appearing in the 2nd half of the 16th century, possibly based on earlier writing.  Antoniy’s successor as Abbot — a fellow named Andrei — is said to have written the first life in the middle of the 1100s.  But of course as we can see from the fantastic tale of his trip from Rome to Novgorod, the account of his life as passed down to us is not exactly historically reliable.

The veneration of Antoniy as more than a local phenomenon apparently really got under way in the Novgorod region in the late 1500s.  In 1597 an official service to Antoniy as saint was created, and the usual miracles were attributed to him and to his stone, which was believed still to exist.

That, essentially, is the legend of Antoniy Rimlyanin — Anthony the Roman.

Here is a map showing the region of the legend.  The large body of water at the top is Lake Ladoga (Ладожское Озеро).  At the bottom of the lake and to the left is Санкт-Петербург — Saint Petersburg, where the Neva flows into the Baltic Sea.  Just on the other side of the little “bump” of land to the east of St. Petersburg is the mouth of the Volkhov River, which flows north from Lake Ilmen (Озеро Ильмень) at the base of the map.  The town of Volkhov is visible not far south from the mouth of the Volkhov (Волхов) River.

Now it is not difficult to see that to get to Volkhov by sea, one would have to go from the mouth of the Tiber near Rome, into the Tyrrhenian Sea, across the Mediterranean Sea to Gibraltar, into the Atlantic Ocean, and up past Portugal, France, and Britain, around Denmark and into the Baltic Sea to the entrance to the Neva River at St. Petersburg, up it to Lake Ladoga, then down the Volkhov to — well, the town of Volkhov.  That’s quite a trip by rock.

In the icon on this page, Antoniy is carrying the white church he had constructed at Volkhov.

The cathedral church still exists — though somewhat modified — as we see in this photo:

In the vestibule of the cathedral, the stone on which Antoniy supposedly floated to Volkhov is still shown.  It is said to have been discovered (rather conveniently) by Hegumen Benjamin in the middle of the 16th century, which as we know, is about when the veneration of Antoniy really got under way.  Before that time, he had been honored only as a local saint.

(Source: http://www.grad-petrov.ru/broadcast/xviii-vek-nanes-traditsionnoj-drevnej-russkoj-kulture-takoj-zhe-udar-kak-i-vojna/)

We cannot really tell what fragments of history may remain in this extravagant tissue of fanciful legend. A real Antoniy does seem to have existed as a monastic founder in the North, but just who he was and precisely where he was from is not known.  Some think he was possibly a missionary monk sent from the Pecherskaya Lavra in Kiyev — perhaps a Greek-speaking Italian from Calabria, or perhaps just known as “the Roman” because he was from somewhere in what had been the Roman Empire.  Remember that even Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire were once known in Islam as “Rum” — Rome.

That is part of the negative side of the extravagant legends we find in the lives of the saints:  they obscure the real people and events behind them (when there were real people, which is not always the case).  We do know that the Novgorod region in those days was an international trading center, with people from many countries visiting and passing through.  Novgorod was a very important city on the Varangian Trade Route that passed from Scandinavia into the Neva River, into Lake Ladoga, up the Volkhov to Novgorod, and from there all the way to Kiyev and Constantinople.  So it would have been quite possible for a foreign “Roman” of some description to have traveled along this route to the Novgorod Region in the 12th century.

Not, however, by floating rock.

Here’s an icon of Antoniy showing various incidents in his life, including throwing his barrel into the sea, his journey on the rock and meeting with the Novgorodians, the retrieval of his treasure barrel, and so on:



Look in any Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, and you will find, in the month of September, the commemoration of two saints with the same name — Babylas.

They are celebrated on the very same day (September 4th), and both are bishops.  Further, both are said to have been martyred with a number of youthful disciples.

If we look in the Stroganov Painter’s Manual, we find both saints depicted, with “Moses the God-seer” (the Old Testament Moses) shown between them:

At left is Babylas of Antioch, and his martyred three disciples standing before him.  And at right is Babylas of Nicomedia.  His martyred disciples are not shown, because there were 84 of them!

Now the interesting thing about these two fellows is that the second one — Babylas of Nicomedia — is entirely fictional.  He never existed.  That he appears in all the Eastern Orthodox lists of saints is due to a misreading.

Here is how it came about:  Apparently an account of the life of Babylas of Antioch described it as:

Αθλησις του ἁγίου Βαβύλα καὶ των σὺν αὐτω παίδων
Athlesis tou hagiou Babyla kai ton syn auto paidon
“The Struggle of the holy Babylas and the youths with him.”

The problem seems to have arisen when the text referring to  Babylas of Antioch — instead of using the full word παίδων/paidon — “boys/youths,” instead abbreviated the word as ΠΔ–“PD.”  Now you will know that in Greek, as in Church Slavic, letters were also used as numbers.  The fellow reading the manuscript failed to recognize it as an abbreviation of paidon, and instead read it as the number 84.  Π = 80,  Δ =4.

So suddenly, where there had been one 3rd century St. Babylas martyred with three youths, there was now a second 3rd century Babylas martyred with 84 youths.  A suitable life was cobbled together for  him (including dialogue!), and voila!  There were now two saints Babylas where before there had been one.

As I have said many times, the calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and consequently its icons as well, are filled with fictions, and one should be careful not to just accept them as history, though Orthodox “church” sites inevitably present them as such.


Today we will look at an icon of the type generally known as the “Fruits of the Passion of Christ.”  Such icons are not common, and are generally  found as Russian examples from the latter part of the 1600s to the first third of the 1800s.  Here, however, is an icon from the Greek-speaking region that appears to be dated 1827:

(Photo courtesy of Benoit Harang)

The “Fruits of the Passion” type is the central image in this triptych, with the left and right wings depicting the different icon type known as the “Communion of the Apostles.”

The “Fruits of the Passion type” represents the benefits believed to have resulted from the crucifixon of Jesus.

(Courtesy of Benoit Harang)

The cross is shown as a blossoming “tree of life.”  Angels in the blossoms just above the crossbar hold symbols relating to the Passion, such as the crown of thorns, the pillar and scourge, and so on.  Among them is a “Not Made by Hands” depiction of Jesus on a cloth, which is actually out of place given its role in Eastern Orthodox Tradition, where it is not passion-related; but it reveals the Western influences that led to this type, because the depiction of Jesus on a cloth as the “Veil of Veronica” does relate to the Passion narrative in Roman Catholic tradition.

At left is a pillared church — representing the founding of the Christian Church.  In it stand the Evangelists Luke, Mark, Matthew and John.  A hand reaches down from a flower blossoming on the left end of the cross, and bestows a crown upon the “Church.”

Another hand reaches down from a blossom on the right side of the cross, and with a sword strikes down Death, who appears in the form of a skeleton.

At the top of the image is the Heavenly Jerusalem.  A hand reaches up from a blossom at the top of the cross to open the door to the Heavenly Jerusalem.  The hand commonly holds a key.

At lower left the dead are seen rising from their graves in the Resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus, and at lower right another hand reaches out of a blossom and strikes with a hammer at the image of Satan, shown in the form of a monster chained to the foot of the cross, and holding Judas in his grasp.  They, in turn, lie within the even larger mouth of Hades, depicted as a huge devouring monster.

The sun and moon are shown at upper left and right, as is common in “Crucifixion” icons.

Inscriptions on icons of this type vary.  This example has four scrolls near the hands of Jesus, but only those on the right are easily legible:


There we find these words:
 …Καί λογισθείς ἐν τοῖς νεκροῖς τόν ἐκεῖσε τύραννον ἔδησας..
“And you were numbered with the dead and there bound the tyrant…”
That is a line from the Greek Orthodox Matins for Great Friday.  So it is possible that the damaged inscription on the left side is what comes just before that line:
Τό χειρόγραφον ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ διέῤῥηξας, Κύριε…
“You tore up their manuscript [that is, a legal document with charges] on the cross, Lord…”
If that assumption is correct the scrolls all together would read:
Τό χειρόγραφον ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ διέῤῥηξας, Κύριε. Καί λογισθείς ἐν τοῖς νεκροῖς τόν ἐκεῖσε τύραννον ἔδησας…
In the modern Orthodox liturgy in English, that is rendered more loosely as:
“On the cross you destroyed the legal bond against us, O Lord.  You were reckoned with the dead and there did bind the tyrant…”
Icons of this “Fruits of the Passion of Christ” type (in Slavic Плоды Страданий Христовых — Plodui Stradaniy Khristovuikh) appear to have their origin in a Western-influenced engraving by Vasiliy Andreev that appeared in Moscow about 1682:

 As an engraving, it is given the title Распятие с чудесамиRaspyatie s Chudesami — “Crucifixion with Miracles.”  We can see that aside from the more numerous inscriptions, the engraving and the Greek icon shown above are very much the same.  On the Russian version, the text just below the crossbeam reads:

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  It is from 1 Corinthians 2:2.
A detail shows us an angel at left catching the blood of Christ in a chalice, with the instruments of the Crucifixion shown in a round medallion.  The angel at right has a medallion with the ladders of the crucifixion.
 At the top we see “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father — and the Holy Spirit as dove below him.  They are over the Heavenly Jerusalem, whose gates are being opened by the hand that reaches up from the cross, and holds a key:

At left is the new-founded Church with the Four Evangelists, with the hand reaching down from the cross with a crown:

Here Death, riding a white horse, is struck by a hand reaching down from the cross, wielding a sword:

You will recall that Death represented as a skeleton or corpse on a white horse is also found in the “Only-begotten Son” icon type.

Here is Satan holding Judas in the maw of Hades:

Finally, here are the two wings of the triptych shown at the top of the page.  As mentioned previously, together they form the “Communion of the Apostles” icon type:


Though painted in a very traditional manner, this icon shows again that there never was an Eastern Christian art without outside influences.  Even the earliest Christian depictions were heavily reliant on images prevalent in the Greco-Roman art of the time.

Over the years the art of the Russian Church was influenced by images from the Catholic and later even Protestant West of Europe.  This influence only increased with the great change in Russian Orthodox State Church painting that came after the break with the Old Believers in the middle of the 17th century.  By the end of that century, State Church art went one way, while the Old Believers maintained the traditional stylized manner of painting.

This Western influence brought new depictions into Russian Orthodox iconography.  One of these was the “Coronation of the Mother of God” — the Коронование Богородицы — Koronovanie Bogoroditsui, which came into Russian iconography via the Catholic-influenced art (including book engravings) of Ukraine.


Here is the inscription at the top:

It reads:



The “Coronation of the Virgin” image had been found in the art of the Catholic West since the 13th Century.  It was often combined with the “Assumption.”  In Russian Orthodox art, images of the death of Mary are depicted as the “Dormition” (Uspenie) — and for centuries, there was no “Koronovanie”  type in Orthodox art — no “Coronation.”  But in the 18th and 19th centuries, such icons became increasingly common, and were sometimes depicted — as in the West — in a “Dormition” icon with the “Coronation”  added in clouds above it.  Here is an example — the central image of an icon painted in 1694 by Kirill Ulanov (Кирилл Уланов) for the Pokrov Church in Moscow:

Gradually, however, icons of the “Coronation” without the “Dormition” scene became more common, like the first example on this page.

When the “Coronation” type first began to appear in Russian iconography, some were unhappy because it seemed to import a distinctively Roman Catholic teaching into Eastern Orthodoxy.  But as you may recall, there is a type of Deisis icon commonly called “The Queen Stands at Your Right,” in which Mary is shown crowned and in royal robes.  It applies the Old Testament phrase from the 44th Psalm to Mary as “Queen”:

“…the queen stood by on your right hand, clothed in garments wrought with gold, and arrayed in various colors...”

Of course that text originally had nothing to do with Mary at all, but it did provide a handy excuse for the adoption of the “Coronation” image into the icon repertoire by Russian Orthodox painters.



Here is a print of the Marian icon type — another of those from Mount Athos — called Gerondissa (Γερόντισσα):

Now at Mount Athos, the place is filled with old tales, and there is a legend about one thing or another practically around every corner.  As for this icon, its origin story is not lengthy:

An elderly hegumen at the Pantokrator Monastery on Athos felt that his end was quickly nearing.  He wanted to receive communion before he died, but the priest performing the liturgy was going too slowly for the old man; he worried he might die before he received the bread and wine.  So he asked the priest to hurry it up a bit.

The priest, not surprisingly, did not feel like rushing things, so he kept on at the same pace.  But suddenly, the tale relates, a stern voice came from the icon of Mary telling the priest in no uncertain terms to do as the old hegumen had requested.  Hearing this, the priest quickened the pace, and the old fellow was given communion before he died.  Because of its association with the welfare of old people, the icon was given the title Gerondissa, which means “Eldress” or more loosely “Abbess.”  In Slavic it would be Старица/Staritsa, the feminine form of Starets or elder, but Russian icons of the type keep the Greek form of the name as Герондисса.

As you see, the icon depicts Mary standing, with hands outstretched.  But notice the jug on the floor at left.  It is an important part of the Gerondissa type, even though it has nothing at all to do with the story just told.

The jug appears to be overflowing with water, but it is not water — it is olive oil.  The “overflowing jug” element of this icon type is derived from another legend associated with the Gerondissa icon.  It relates that in the 1600s there was a famine.  The oil jugs kept in the monastery pantry were empty.   The hegumen asked all the monks to pray fervently to Mary for aid.

Then a stream of oil was noticed, flowing from the pantry.  When the monks looked inside, they saw that oil was continuously flowing from one of the jugs, pouring over its rim and out across the floor.  That miracle story is the reason for the “overflowing jug” in icons of the Gerondissa.

There are other stories associated with the image.  An account says that in the 11th century, one of the Saracens who attacked the monastery wanted to break the icon up and use the splinters to light his pipe, but Mary blinded him.   And so the icon was thrown down a well, where it remained for 80 years.  The blind Saracen, before his death, told relatives about the icon, and hoping for an improvement in his afterlife, he asked them to go to the Athos Monastery and to show the monks where the icon was to be found.  They retrieved it and took it into the church.




This icon from Palekh — painted at the end of the 1700s-beginning of the 1800s — depicts one of the traditional appearances of the Arkhangel Mikhail/Michael.  We can tell which one it is not only from the form of the image — which shows an angel with sword drawn, standing before a kneeling man in armor and helmet — but also from the inscriptions.  The image of Gospod’ Savaof — Lord Sabaoth — God the Father in the clouds at upper left, is of course not present in all icons of the type.

The inscription by the angel reads: СВЯТЫЙ АРХИСТРАТИГЪ МИХАИЛЬ — Svyatuiy Arkhistratig Mikhail — “Holy Arkhistrategos Mikhail/Michael.”  Arkhistrategos (ἀρχιστράτηγος) is the Greek word — borrowed into Slavic — for “Chief Commander.”  It is given to Michael because he is considered the commander of the heavenly armies of angels.

The inscription by the kneeling soldier is:  СВЯТЫЙ ИСУСЪ НАВИНЪ — Svyatuiy Isus Navin — “Holy Jesus/Joshua [of] Nun.”  In Greek, the names Joshua and Jesus are the same, so this Isus Navin is the Old Testament Joshua, son of Nun — or in Greek, Ιησούς του Ναυή  — Iesous tou Naue.  Notice that the Palekh icon uses the Old Believer spelling for Jesus:  Isus, not the State Church spelling Iisus.

There is a long inscription at the base of the icon.  It is (with slight variation) the text of the Old Testament account (Joshua 5:13-15) describing the event depicted:

Иисусъ воззрев очима своима, виде человека стояща пред ним, и мечь его обнажен в руце его.  И рече ему Иисусъ, наш ли еси, или от сопостат наших? Он же рече ему: аз архистратиг силы Господни, ныне приидох семо. И Иисусъ паде лицем своим на землю и поклонися ему, и рече: господи, что повелеваеши твоему рабу? И рече архистратиг Господень: иззуй сапог с ногу твоею: место свято есть.

“Jesus/Joshua lifting his eyes, saw a man standing before him, and his sword drawn in his hand.  And Joshua said to him, are you for us or from our enemies?  He however said to him:  I am the Commander of the Powers [armies] of the Lord, now come here.  And Joshua fell on his face on the earth and did obeisance to him, and said, Lord, what do you command your servant?  And the Angel of the Lord said:  Take off the shoes from your feet; this place is holy.”

It is an easily recognizable image, no matter the style in which it is depicted.  Here is a Greek manuscript illustration of the same event:




This very well-painted icon depicts one of the miracles traditionally attributed to St. Nikolai/Nicholas of Myra:

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

The title inscription at the base identifies it:

It reads:


The story relates that in the region of Antioch there lived a pious man named Agrik/Agkrikos.  Every year on the day of commemoration of St. Nicholas, he would go to the church consecrated to St. Nicholas and pray, then return to his home and have a big dinner for his friends, relatives, and beggars.

It happened that one year, when the day to honor Nicholas came, he told his son Vasiliy/Basileios/Basil — who was aged 16 — to go to the church and pray to Nicholas and attend the liturgical services, while the father stayed home to prepare for the customary dinner.

While the son was at Matins at the church, it was attacked by Saracens, who captured the son and took him to the island of Crete.  There, because he was an extremely beautiful lad, he was made the cupbearer of the Muslim Prince.

The parents were grief-stricken, so sorrowful with weeping that they neither attended church nor commemorated Nicholas for two years.  Even into the third year they kept this up, until finally in the third year, on the day before St. Nicholas was to be commemorated,  the father said to his wife that it was no use to weep; they should go to the church with oil and candles and pray to St. Nicholas for their son.  So again they attended on St. Nicholas Day, prayed fervently to Nicholas, and came home to have the customary guests for the special annual dinner.

While everyone was seated at the meal, the dogs in the yard began to bark loudly.  Agrik sent his servants out to see what was happening.  When they returned, they said they saw no one, and nothing at all.  But the barking not only continued, but got worse, so Agrik himself went to investigate.  He was surprised to see a handsome young man in saracen clothes standing outside, holding a container of wine in his hands.  Agrik, walking toward him, recognized his own son.  The puzzled boy told him he did not know what had happened.  He had just been pouring wine into the cup of the Muslim Prince on Crete,  when suddenly the lad felt someone grab his hand, and he was carried off by St. Nicholas as though in a whirlwind, and then found himself outside his own home.

Now if you are a regular reader here, you will know it is not unusual in Eastern Orthodox hagiography for stories or parts of stories to be recycled from saint to saint.  So perhaps you immediately recognized that the tale of the boy carried off to become a cupbearer, and saved and brought home by a Saint, is essentially the very same “rescued boy” motif that we find in the hagiography of St. George.  You will find it in this previous posting:

And here, again, is the iconographic image of the boy being rescued by St. George, with the wine pitcher still in his hand.

We can look back even farther for the more ancient origin of this tale.  In Book 20 of Homer’s Iliad, we find these lines (233-235):

Τρωὸς δ᾿ αὖ τρεῖς παῖδες ἀμύμονες ἐξεγένοντο, Ἶλός τ᾿ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης, ὃς δὴ κάλλιστος γένετο θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων· τὸν καὶ ἀνηρείψαντο θεοὶ Διὶ οἰνοχοεύειν 235κάλλεος εἵνεκα οἷο, ἵν᾿ ἀθανάτοισι μετείη.

And from Tros again three matchless sons were born, Ilus, and Assaracus, and godlike Ganymedes, who was born the most beautiful of mortal men; wherefore the gods caught him up on high to be cupbearer to Zeus by reason of his beauty, that he might live with the immortals.”

Yes, the abduction, in ancient Greek mythology, of the youth Ganymede, who because of his great beauty was made cupbearer to Zeus.

Here is a closer look at the father (and mother) seeing their son standing outside with St. Nicholas:


Here are the dinner guests, and a barking dog out in the yard: