A reader asked me about this rather unusual image, which we might call the “Rejoicing Demons” type for convenience:
It is an Old Believer image, as we can tell from the kind of lestovka (prayer rope) the man depicted in the center is holding in his left hand.
The image has a rather extensive text in the outer border.
Some people mistakenly connect this type with the so-called “Hell Icons” that were rumored to have existed in old Russia — icons first painted with an image of a devil or devils, then painted over with a conventional religious image, to trick believers who would then unknowingly be sending their prayers before the icon to devils instead of to God. This, however, is not at all a Hell Icon. Instead it is simply a didactic icon intended to teach what was considered to be proper religious behavior.
In the image, we see a man beset by three demons. One sits on his head, and holds a banner:
ТУТЪ МОЯ РАДОСТЬ И ВЕСЕЛИЕ МОЕ
TUT MOYA RADOST I VESELIE MOE
“Here is my joy and my merriment.”
Obviously the demons are very happy — but about what?
Well, that is answered in the longer text in the outer border. It is a teaching on how to correctly make the sign of the cross on one’s self in church. And that, of course, is why this is a didactic icon.
The long border text is from the Church lectionary called the Prologue. Here is what it says:
At the base of the icon is another large text:
“Maxim the Greek wrote thus: If anyone frantically represents the sign of the cross, at that waving demons rejoice.”
There is also a very small inscription at the base, saying that “This picture was painted on an ancient icon.”
So, to sum up, this type is a teaching and cautionary image, showing a man in church who crosses himself carelessly by just making a hasty waving with his right hand instead of properly “drawing” a cross, and so the demons are all over him, really rejoicing about that.
Apparently demons are very easily amused.