Depending on whether you want to learn to actually READ icons or not, you will either find this posting quite interesting or else unutterably boring. In any case, here we go.
Today we will look at a Greek-inscribed image of a rather generic-looking saint called in Greek Ὁ Άγιος Ιωαννίκιος ο Μέγας ὁ εν Ολύμπω/Ho Hagios Ioannikios ho Megas Ho en Olympo — “[The] Holy Ioannikios the Great, the-one in Olympus.” You may also find him as Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ὁ Μεγάλος/Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos — Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos. You will recall that Hosios is the Greek title for a male monk-saint — the equivalent of the Slavic Prepodobnuiy, which is customarily loosely rendered as “Venerable.” And ho Megalos here has the same meaning as ho Megas — “the Great.”
In Russian iconography he is called Преподобный Иоанникий Великий/Prepodobnuiy Ioannikiy Velikiy, which means simply “Venerable Ioannikios the Great.”
It is not so much the saint that interests us today as reading his inscriptions, which are good practice. Here is his image:
If you have been a faithful reader of this site (you all are, aren’t you?), then you will easily be able to translate the title inscription. Here is what we see at top left:
That is obviously a common abbreviation for Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC/Ho Hagios, “The Holy.”
Below that we find:
ΙΟΑΝΝΙΚΙΟC/IOANNIKIOS, the saint’s name. Notice that the second letter of the name is the old form of the letter Omega, but I have used the common modern form in representing it.
At right we see:
— which you have probably already read as HO MEGAS and have translated as “The Great.”
Now we come to the interesting part — the scroll inscription. As you already know, saints in icons speak through scrolls, just as cartoon characters speak through cartoon bubbles. Here is the inscription:
It reads (with spaces added, ligatures separated, and abbreviations completed in lighter type):
Ἡ ΕΛΠΙΣ ΜΟΥ Ὁ
ΜΟΥ Ὁ ΧΡΙCΤΟC CΚΕ
ΠΗ ΜΟΥ ΤΟ
ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΤΟ ἉΓΙ
From past reading here, you already should know several of the words — those I have put in bold type here:
HO ELPIS MOU HO
MOU HO KHRISTOS SKE-
PE MOU TO
PNEUMA TO AGI-
Here are those you don’t know, with their definitions:
We can read the whole inscription like this:
Ho Elpis mou ho Theos;
Kataphyge mou ho Khristos;
Skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion
The Hope of-me the God;
Refuge of-me the Christ;
Protection of-me the Spirit the Holy
And in normal English — the way we would translate it — it means:
My Hope is God;
My Refuge is Christ;
My Protection the Holy Spirit.
This inscription — which is a common inscription on icons of Ioannikios — is a variation on what was said to be a frequent prayer of his:
Η ελπίς μου ὁ Πατήρ, καταφυγή μου οὙιός, σκέπη μου το Πνεύμα το Ἁγιον, Τριάς Ἁγία, δόξα σοι.
He elpis mou ho Pater, kataphyge mou o Huios, skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion, Trias Hagia, doxa soi.
The help of-me the Father, refuge of-me the Son, protection of-me the Spirit the Holy, Trinity Holy, glory to-you
In normal English,
“My help is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”
In Eastern Orthodoxy, it has become a Trinitarian prayer that is often inserted into longer prayers.
Let’s look now at a late printed icon of Ioannikios that is inscribed in both Greek and Church Slavic:
We see his title written beside his head, first in Greek, then in Church Slavic, both of which you should now be able to read. But what about his scroll text?
As we shall see, it is nothing to worry about. It reads (I am using a modern Russian font):
ще мое Сын,
покров мой Ду-
х Святый, Тро-
Upovanie moe Otets, pribyezhishche moe Suin, pokrov moy Dukh Svyatuiy, Troitse Svyataya, slava Tebye.
“My hope is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”
So it turns out to be precisely the same inscription — with a slight lengthening — that is common on Greek icons of Ioannikios — only here in Church Slavic.
If you can endure a bit more of this, we should probably take a look at another Greek inscription on a fresco of Ioannikios:
You will easily recognize the triliteral abbreviation at left as Ho Hagios — “The Holy,” but it is the rest of the title inscription that concerns us here:
Though a bit worn, we can fill it in as reading:
IOANNIKIOS HO THAUMATOURGOS
“IOANNIKIOS THE THAUMATURGE/WONDERWORKER
“Thaumaturge” is just the word borrowed into English from Greek, but in Greek it means simply “Wonderworker,” someone who works miracles.
So we see that there is another title for Ioannikios the Great: “Ioannikios the Wonderworker.”
As for the hagiographic life of this Ioannikios, some say he was born in 754 or 755, others in 762 — in Bithynia, in Asia Minor. As a boy, he tended his parents’ pigs, and was illiterate. He joined the army, and is said to have been an Iconoclast (an opposer of the use of icons), but later in life converted to the opposite belief, becoming an Iconophile (an advocate of icons). Troubled by the slaughter he saw in battle, he left the army and became a monk at the Antidion Monastery on Mount Olympus.
As a monk, he was said to have miraculous abilities, and could levitate and become invisible. He predicted when a number of people would die. He had power over wild animals, and could overcome snakes and dragons (the dragon part alone tells us that as with all Eastern Orthodox hagiography, we should maintain a healthy skepticism).
He is said to have died in 846 c.e.