Here is a 14th century fresco from the Grachanitsa Monastery in Serbia:

Though presented in a very formal manner, it depicts the New Testament tale found in Luke 24:13-35.  The story relates that on the same day the tomb of Jesus was found empty (“Resurrection Sunday), two disciples were on the way to the village of Emmaus.  Early Greek manuscripts of “Luke” vary in the distance given Emmaus from Jerusalem, with some saying 60 stadia  — the equivalent of nearly seven miles, while others give 160 stadia — a figure closer to 18 miles.

On the way, they met a person they did not recognize, who asked what the two were talking about.  They told him of Jesus, about the crucifixion, and that some women who had gone to his tomb had seen a vision of angels, who said Jesus was alive.

In the Gospel tale, only one of these disciples is identified by name — Kleopas/Cleopas.  There was much speculation about the identity of the other disciple, with some giving his name as Simeon, son of Kleopas, others suggesting it might have been Nathaniel or Nicodemus, or even perhaps it was a female — the wife of Kleopas.  But in Eastern Orthodox iconography, the other disciple is generally identified as Luke the Evangelist himself.    That is why in this detail, we see Kleopas at left, and the figure at right is shown with the characteristics traditionally given Luke in icons:

In the first image above, the person they meet on the road is Jesus in his customary form.

The central image of the same fresco shows the two disciples sitting at a table in Emmaus.  It depicts Jesus breaking the bread, which in the New Testament tale is the  moment when the two disciples suddenly recognize him.  Then he vanishes:

In another fresco however — this time from the Dechani Monastery in Serbia (also 14th century) — we find something different:

Here the central image — tucked between the seeing of the empty tomb by Peter and the supper at Emmaus — is of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  But in this version, the Jesus they meet is not shown in his conventional form.  Instead we see the image of Jesus called “In Another Form.”

We get a better look at that little-known manner of depicting Jesus in the “Supper at Emmaus” segment:

As you can see, this image does not look at all like the conventional depictions of Jesus.  The “Jesus in Another Form” iconographic type is discussed in this earlier posting:


The only other place in the New Testament where we find a tale of two disciples meeting a man on the road to Emmaus is in the “longer ending” added later to the Gospel called “of Mark” after verse 16:8, which is where the oldest manuscripts of Mark end with the story of  the frightened women running from the tomb.  That “longer ending” version of the story (Mark 16:12-13) says only:

After that he appeared in another form to two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.  And they went and told it to the rest; they did not believe them.”

Now interestingly, this brief account contradicts, in one particular, that in Luke:33-34.  As we see, in the “longer ending” Mark account, when the two “Emmaus” disciples return to the rest, they tell them of the meeting with Jesus. but “they did not believe them.”  The two were not believed by the “rest” in Jerusalem.

This is how it happens in Luke:

“And they [the Emmaus disciples] rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together and those that were with them saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon.'”

So in the Luke account the “rest” in Jerusalem do not doubt the story of the Emmaus disciples, but add their own confirmation by saying that Jesus is truly risen, and has appeared to Simon.

At far right in the Grachanitsa fresco at the beginning of this posting, we see the two Emmaus disciples telling their story to the “rest” in Jerusalem.


You may remember the tale associated with the popular Greek female saint Irene Chrysovolantou — that the Apostle and Evangelist John sent her — via some sailors — three apples from Paradise.  You will find the story here:


This motif of the three apples from Paradise is also found in the hagiography of the saint depicted in this fresco from Meteora:

We can see enough of his title  inscription to translate it:

At the top is the usual Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC  — Ho Hagios abbreviation, meaning “[the] Saint.” Here it is represented by just the three letters O A Γ.

Then comes the name of the saint, written here as


When we join the parts, it forms Euphrosinos, but it is more commonly written as Ευφροσυνος  —  Euphrosynos.

Notice the ligature (“joining”) of the letters E and Υ (E and U in English) as:

If we look to the right of his head, we find his secondary title:

It reads


The common spelling of this is Ὁ ΜΑΓΕΙΡΑC — HO MAGEIRAS, but as we know from past experience, Greek spelling on icon images often varies, though the pronunciation is usually much the same.

HO MAGIROS/MAGEIRAS — means “the cook,” so we have identified this saint as “Euphrosynos the Cook.”

The tale associated with him — his “hagiography” — relates that he worked as the cook in a kitchen in a monastery.  He took a lot of abuse from the other monks (as cooks often do from those they serve), but through it all he remained patient and humble, though the others did not think much of him.

Now as the tale goes, a priest in the monastery wanted to know what life was going to be like for the “righteous” in the next world.  He prayed fervently for God to show him.

One night the priest had a dream.  In it, he found himself in Paradise, and who should he see there but the abused cook from his own monastery kitchen!  He was quite amazed, and asked Euphrosynos how he managed to be there.  The cook replied that it was just through the goodness of God.

Surrounded by all the beauty of the Garden of Paradise, the priest asked the cook if he might have something from Paradise to take back with him.  The cook picked three juicy apples from a tree, wrapped them in a cloth, and gave them to the priest.

The priest woke suddenly when the semantron (that “gong” board used in old monasteries) was struck.  He found himself in his own room, still thinking of his strange dream.  But he smelled a wonderful fragrance, and found something wrapped in a cloth beside him.  When he opened the cloth, he found there the three apples the cook had given him in Paradise.

The priest hurried to the cook, and when he found him, he asked him where he had been the night before.  The cook replied simply that he had been where the priest had been.

The excited priest went off to tell the rest of the monks about what a holy person the cook they were always complaining about really was, but when the monks went to honor him, he was nowhere to be found, and they never saw him again.  All that was left were the three fragrant apples from Paradise.  Whoever ate them was healed of all physical problems.

Now if we look more closely at this story, we find it is severely lacking in details.  The story does not say when it happened, or precisely where.  Some say it happened in a monastery in Palestine, others say Alexandria in Egypt, and still others say it happened in a monastic community on Mount Athos in Greece.  It is just a kind of pleasant folk tale, the religious equivalent of a fairy tale (which many lives of saints actually are), and it served much the same purpose, both entertaining and teaching a lesson.

Now you know why icons of Euphrosynos picture him holding a branch with three apples on it.  And you also know why icons of Euphrosynos the Cook are commonly found in Greek monastery kitchens, and in many ordinary Greek restaurant and home kitchens as well.  Euphrosynos has become the patron saint of Greek cookery.

We have one more little detail to notice — the little cross with letters on the garment:

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that IC XC abbreviates Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ,” and the NK abbreviates the Greek word NIKA, meaning “He Conquers.”



It is not surprising that the physical features of images of the bulk of Eastern Orthodox saints found in icons are simply imaginary.  Though there are some saints (like Seraphim of Sarov) whose icons bear a reasonable likeness of their actual physical appearance in life, the features of most icon saints were just “made up” at some point, leaving us with generic figures distinguished largely by the kind of garment worn, as well as by the shape, length, and color of hair and of beard (when present).  So we are left with imaginary images of a great many saints, identified specifically by the title inscription given to each depiction.

It is as though one were to decide to make a picture of the famous King Arthur of British legend.  We might decide to give him neck-length dark hair, make him a young man, clean-shaven.  We could then give him a crown, and put the title “King Arthur of the Britons” on the image to distinguish it from all other images of young, clean-shaven, dark-haired men wearing crowns.  Then if we were to say, “This is how Arthur is to be painted from now on,” it would be much the same as with icons.   These imaginary, generic icon depictions became standardized by being passed down over the years, though one still finds some disagreements in painter’s manuals on how this or that saint is to be painted.

Here is a fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted in 1547 by Tzortzis Phouka:

The title inscription tells us this is Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΜΑΚΑΡΙΟC Ὁ ΡωΜΑΙΟC — HO HAGIOS MAKARIOS HO ROMAIOS — “[The] Holy Makarios the Roman.”  His life is vaguely placed in the 4th to 5th century.

His name Makarios means “Blessed” in Greek.  But in iconography, Makarios can often mean confusion, because there were at least twenty saints by that name, and sometimes not only bits of their lives but also their representation in icons can become rather confused.

To give you an idea, here is a portion of another depiction — also a fresco:

It looks like the very same person, doesn’t it?  We even see the title Ὁ [Ἁ]Γ[ΙΟ]C ΜΑΚΑΡΙΟC — HO HAGIOS MAKARIOS — “HOLY MAKARIOS.”  But if we stop there, we will be mistaken, because what follows “Makarios” in the title inscription identifies him as Makarios Ὁ ΕΓΥΠΤΙΟC — HO EGYPTIOS — “The Egyptian.”  This Makarios is said to have lived in the 4th century.

Well, Makarios the Egyptian — also known as Makarios the Great — is not the same as Makarios the Roman.  We must also be careful to distinguish Makarios the Egyptian — who is also known as Makarios the Great — from his contemporary Makarios the Alexandrian, who obviously was an Egyptian too, but not THE  Makarios the Egyptian.

Now to confuse matters even further, though Makarios the Great/the Egyptian is often depicted as here, with a long beard and covered in hair, just like the first image of Makarios the Roman — Makarios the Great/the Egyptian may also be found in quite a different form, in a monastic habit.  There is even an icon type showing him standing with a “cherubim” (cherub), an incident from the hagiographic story of his life:

Because of this scene, even though the Greek inscription on the icon identifies him only as Ho Hagios Makarios, we know this is intended to be Makarios the Egyptian/Makarios the Great.

Similarly, there is an icon type of Makarios the Roman, depicting him with an element that identifies him specifically as “the Roman” just as clearly as the “Cherubim” identifies Makarios the Egyptian/the Great.  Here it is in an 18th century icon from the Skete of St. Anna on Mount Athos:

We see this Makarios — called Makarios ho Romaios here — “Makarios the Roman” — sitting in his cave with two lions.  Those two lions are the identifying element from his hagiography (aside, of course, from the ho Romaios in his title inscription).

But there is yet more confusion.  We have just seen Makarios the Roman with his lions, but there is another Makarios the Roman who has nothing to do with lions, and is from a much later date.  He is Makarios/Macarius the Roman “of Novgorod,” who is said to have died in northern Russia in 1550.  His icons show him much the same as other monastic founders of that region.  So now we have to distinguish this later Makarios the Roman “of Novgorod” from the earlier Makarios the Roman “of Mesopotamia.”

All of this is just to give you an idea of how easily things may be confused in iconography, and how careful one must be when identifying saints in icons, particularly when part or all of a title inscription may be missing.  Icon painters sometimes made mistakes, confusing one saint with another of the same name, and so in general, the best thing to do is to go by the title inscription — the name written by the saint, rather than strictly by the physical appearance.  When a title inscription is missing or incomplete, it is often impossible to identify a saint simply by appearance — except in the case of the most distinctive saints.




Here is an icon of another stolpnik — stylite — another “pillar guy,” one of those men who lived atop a pillar as an ascetic practice.  This fellow, however, is Russian.

The title inscripton above him reads:

“Holy Venerable Nikita Stylite.”

Nikita had a rather miserable life, which I will summarize later in this posting.  But first I want to point out that by the last years of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th, icon painting in Russia was seriously threatened by the development of chromolithography — the printing of images in multiple colors — which permitted the printing of icon images on both tin and on paper.

Chromolithography — instead of using a single stone with an image engraved on it — used multiple stones, each engraved with the portion of the image corresponding to the required color of ink.  As the paper was printed by one stone after another, the image aquired a new color from each.  To achieve the desired tones and shading, as many as several dozen stones might be used to print one image.

To the average Russian, it was much less expensive to buy a printed icon than a painted icon.  And given that painted icons were essentially copies of rather standardized images — copies of copies of copies of copies — it seemed that icons and mass printing were an ideal combination.  Buyers no longer had to rely on a monochrome or hand-tinted print; now they could have printed images in color, which became quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, and hung in many homes of ordinary people — often framed behind glass.

Before the advent of chromolithography, Western European prints — in the form of engravings or woodcuts — already had a substantial influence on Russian religious art from the latter part of the 17th century, when the traditional stylized manner kept alive by the Old Believers began to be abandoned by the State Church in favor of the more “realistic” art of Western European Protestants and Catholics.  The effect of such prints on icon painting only increased in the 18th century.

Black and white lithographic printing — printing from an engraved stone — was developed in Germany in the late 18th century, and spread to Russia, where both lithographed and chromolithographed paper religious images began to appear in the 1830s-1840s.  Lithographs of one kind or another were printed as early as 1858 in the icon painting village of Mstera, at the workshop of the one-time serf Ivan Aleksandrovich Golyshev (И.А. Голышев — 1838—1896), which produced until about 1885, when it gave way to larger printing companies that began producing chromolithographed paper icons en masse from about 1870 — factories such as that of Efim Ivanovich Fesenko (Ефим Иванович Фесенко — 1850–1926) in Odessa, which produced the icon of Nikita shown above.

Fesenko also printed a number of other icon types — all in the “Westernized” style adopted by the State Church, which by the late 19th century looked very much like religious images produced by Catholics in Western Europe. To our eyes, they look quite bland and saccharine.  Fesenko, by the way, managed to survive into the Soviet Era, and was made permanent director of what had previously been his own printing company, after the government nationalized it.

Another prominent chromolithographer of icons in Odessa at that time was the firm of Vilgelm/Wilhelm Til (Вильгельм Тиль), whose 1881 Catalog declared that with its publication, his firm had set itself the task to “make its products available — even at the farthest distance — to each and all wishing to buy for little money the representations of holy icons of worthy workmanship, and in full accord with the writings of the Orthodox Church, in that the greater part of the images are taken from icons in Russian monasteries and churches.

It added:

For 22 years there has been an institution in Odessa — closely known by many nearby rich monasteries, but hardly known to our village [rural] clergy. This firm is known by the name V. Til and Company.  It manufactures images of holy icons, for the most part copies of wonderworking [icons] — of various sizes, at a price accessible to every Orthodox Christian.”

So by the later years of the 19th century, chromolithography — lithographed images in multiple colors — had greatly expanded in Russia, and was just the latest trend in what had become a long tradition of borrowing from the West in icon art.

That was followed by the application of chromolithography to printing on tin rather than paper — the kind of metal icons produced by the famous Moscow firm of Jacquot and Bonacœur (in Russian Жако и Бонакер / Zhako i Bonaker), examples of which are still found on the antique icon market today.  Those colorful images, which had a richer appearance than chromolithographs on paper,  drew even more customers away from painted to printed icons, and the business of the traditional hand-painted icon workshops declined sharply.  The painters could not easily compete, and some began turning to cheaply-painted icons in an attempt to somehow stay in business.

So threatened was the long tradition of Russian icon painting, that in 1900 Tsar Nicholas II established a special committee for its preservation, the Комитет попечительства о русской иконописи / Komitet popechitel’stva o russkoy ikonopisi — “Committee for Guardianship of Russian Icon Painting.”  It had three objectives:

  1.  The banning of printed icons;
  2.  The printing of podlinniki — painter’s manuals — to preserve the old traditions of how saints and scenes were depicted.
  3.  The establishment of workshops for the teaching of icon painting.

It was too little too late. The printed icon business had become well-established and heavily patronized in Russia.  To bring out the big guns, the “Holy Governing Synod” of the Russian Orthodox Church attempted to ban the printing of icons in monasteries and churches, and even attempted to stop the sale of the tin icons of Jaquot and Bonaker.  They failed miserably.  For ordinary Russians, it was a matter of economics.  Printed icons, whether on paper or tin, were much less expensive than painted icons, and easily served the same purpose.  When one considers icons not as “art” but as religious implements made for a purpose, there is no difference.

The icon painting workshops continued their severe decline into the last days of the reign of Tsar Nicholas, and then came the blow that finished them off — the rise of the Russian Communist State.  That is when some of the old icon painters turned to other ways of making a living, like those of Palekh, who began to paint laquerware boxes with colorful images taken from fairy tales or from “Socialist life.”  As a general rule of thumb, the old period of Russian icon painting may be considered to have ended in 1917, though of course some icons were still painted later, here and there.

In 1944 the making of printed icons under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church began again, this time with silk-screened images — a process which lends itself easily the creation of icons, which had originally been painted by a system of layering colors much like that followed in silk screening.  And of course the revival of religious art — including painted icons — only increased with the fall of Communism.  Today Russia produces painted icons, printed icons, and silk-screened icons — among other kinds.  But the world has changed, and so has Russian culture.

Let’s look more closely at another icon printed by Fesenko, one of those included in his album of such chromolithographs.  Here is the Sobor Svaytuikh Semi Arkhangelov — the “Assembly of the Seven Archangels”:

It depicts the Archangels with their symbols (which may vary from icon to icon):
Michael with a sword, Uriel with a flame, Raphael with a lily and lantern (but traditionally a vessel of medicaments), Gabriel with a chalice (traditionally a blossoming lily), /Seraphiel/Selaphiel with a crown (traditionally with hands crossed in prayer), Yegudiel with hands crossed in prayer (traditionally with a crown; in some icons a whip is added), and Barachiel with flowers/roses, (traditionally on a white cloth).

If we look at the printing at the base, we see the title of the image, but we also see other information typical of such prints:

Оть С. Петербургского Духовного цензурного Комитета печатать дозволяется. С.-Петербургь, 3 Октября 1897 г.  Архимандрить Клименть. Хромолитография Е. И. Фесенко вь Одесе.
Собственность издания Хромолитографии Е. И. Фесенко вь Одесе

It means essentially:
“Printing approved by the St. Petersburg Spiritual Censorship Committee.  St. Petersburg, 3rd October, year 1897.  Archimandrite Kliment.  Chromolithography of E. I. Fesenko in Odessa.
Print property of the Chromolithography of E. I. Fesenko in Odessa.”

We see the approval of the censorship board, the place of approval, the date of approval, and the name of the approving cleric, as well as the name of the printer and place of publication.  So religious publications in Tsarist Russia — even prints — were subject to review by the censorship committee of the Synod, the authority at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at that time.  Such censorship was rather like the “Imprimatur” found in books approved for printing by Roman Catholic authorities declaring them free of material contrary to approved doctrine.

Now let’s turn back to the fellow in the first image above — Nikita the Stylite.

According to tradition, Nikita was born in Pereslavl Zalesskiy in the 12th century.  He grew to become a violent and cruel tax collector, keeping a substantial portion of what he rapaciously took for himself.  That went on for years.

One day Nikita went to church, and there he was thunderstruck when he heard spoken the words of Isaiah 1:16-17:

Измыйтеся, (и) чисти будите, отимите лукавства от душ ваших пред очима Моима, престаните от лукавств ваших.  Научитеся добро творити, взыщите суда, избавите обидимаго, судите сиру и оправдите вдовицу….

Wash yourselves, and become  clean; remove the evil of your souls from before my eyes; cease from your evil.  Learn to do good, seek judgment, rescue the oppressed, judge the orphan and plead for the widow.”

He could not sleep that night.  The next morning, he decided to get the matter off his mind by throwing a party for his friends.  But when his wife was preparing food, she saw the meat running with blood, and when it was put in the cooking pot, she was horrified to find a bloody foam on the top, and then a human head popped up in it, along with an arm and a leg.  She ran to Nikita, and when he looked, he saw the same thing.  He realized that his evil ways as a plundering tax collector had been murder for the people.

He then went to the Nikitskiy Monastery not far from Pereslavl.  There he confessed his evil deeds with tears, but the hegumen was not certain of his repentance.  So he told Nikita to show his sincerity by standing at the Monastery gate, telling all who passed by of his evil deeds.  Nikita agreed to this, and began carrying out his penance.  He declared his evil ways to all passing, for three days.  Then he went to a dirty, swampy place, took off all his clothes, and sat down naked in the mucky water, praying to God.  When the hegumen sent a monk to check on him, he found Nikita sitting in the swamp, covered with mosquitoes and blood.

Viewing that as a sign of sincere repentance, the hegumen took Nikita into the monastery and made him a monk.

Once he had become a monk, Nikita became fanatical about it, spending sleepless nights in prayer and fasting.  He had terrifying visions, which he interpreted as the wiles of the devil, and so he made the sign of the cross and called on the Great Martyr Nikita for aid.  It is said that through all of these privations and prayers, Nikita gained the ability to work miracles, and he became noted locally as a healer.

Prince Mikhail of Chernigov suffered from a kind of paralysis … and when he heard about the abilities of Nikita, he ordered that he be taken to see him.  The tradition relates that on the way,  the retinue met a monk who said he was from Nikita’s monastery.  Mikhail asked the monk about the supposed wonderworker, and the fellow replied that Nikita was just a fake — a deceiver.

After the Prince had continued some distance farther, he met another fellow who told the Prince he was wasting his time going to see Nikita.  Nonetheless, the Prince proceeded, and when his retinue neared the monastery, he ordered a tent erected, and sent a boyar to the monastery to inform them that he wanted to see Nikita.

Before the boyar arrived, a monk appeared to him — blind, and holding a shovel in his hands.  He said that Nikita had died, and that he had just buried him.

Now the boyar was a clever fellow, and realized that these different  men who were trying to obstruct the visit of the Prince to Nikita were all just a demon taking on different forms.  So he spoke a prayer that made the demon stand immovable just where he was, while the boyar went on to see Nikita, who was living atop a pillar.  He told him of the Prince’s affliction, and Nikita gave him his staff to take to the Prince.  When the Prince held the staff, he was able to stand wand walk on his own legs to see the saint.

When Nikita was told about the mischievous obstructing demon, he commanded the demon to stand motionless before his pillar, where everyone could see him, for three hours (notice the common “three” motif here?).  After the time was up, the demon swore an oath that he would never do evil again, and vanished.  The Prince made a rich gift to the monastery, and returned home.  Nikita continued to work miracles of healing, and his fame grew.

Some relatives came to see him to ask for help.  They saw that Nikita had burdened himself by wearing chains to which three crosses were fastened, as penance.  Now these chains had been worn to a shining condition by constant rubbing against Nikita’s body, and the relatives, seeing this, mistakenly thought they were made of silver.  They made an evil plan to steal them.  So they came by night to Nikita’s pillar, killed him, wrapped his chains and crosses in a canvas, and absconded.  So Nikita died violently on the 24th of May, 1186.

The next morning a cleric discovered the body and informed the hegumen, who found it still warm and emitting a fragrance.

The robbers, meanwhile, had reached the Volga River.  When they opened their cloth to look at the chains, they were so disgusted to find them merely polished iron that they threw them in the river, not far from the Monastery of St. Peter near the city of Yaroslavl.

The next night a monk from the St. Peter Monastery, named Simeon, noticed three brilliantly-shining pillars not far from the shore, reaching from earth to heaven.  When he told the arkhimandrite, he — together with the head of the city and a crowd of people — went to the river bank.  As they did so, they saw the chains miraculously rise to the surface of the water, and float like dry wood to the shore.  Seeing this, they took the chains, and singing hymns, set off with them toward the city.  On the way they met a lame man, who was healed when touched by the crosses on the chains.  They worked more healing miracles, and later Nikita himself appeared to Simeon, telling him that the chains should be placed on Nikita’s coffin.  So they were taken from Yaroslavl to Pereslavl and placed in the tomb with Nikita’s body.

Now as we can see, this all forms a kind of folk tale, which is typical of the stories of the Eastern Orthodox saints.

We should take a look at the scroll held by Nikita, showing his most common inscription:

It reads:



Ruler Christ, Tsar, forgive me, a fallen one; raise the one lost in vice from the excrement of sin.