EASILY AMUSED

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:

It reads:

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:

On the same day, the word of John Chrysostom. The month of April, 18th day:  On the Fear of God, and on How to Stand in the Church of God in Fear and Proper Order, and to Sign your Face with the Sign of the Cross:
Many ignorant people pretend to make the sign of the cross by waving their hands over their face.  They labor in vain, not correctly drawing the cross on their faces, so that their waving makes demons rejoice.  But if you make the sign of the cross properly, placing your hand on the forehead and on the stomach and right shoulder, and then on the left, the angels watch and rejoice to see the true cross represented on their visage.  And the Angel of the Lord also writes down when you enter into the Church of the Lord with fear and with belief.  If who enters the church stands with fear, and with tenderness makes obeisance to the image of God, that one receives forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God; but if without fear, that one will leave having committed a bigger sin.  So, when we come to church, let us stand with fear, awaiting great mercy from God both in this age and the future. To him be praise, now and forever and in the ages of ages.

At the base of the icon is another large text:

It reads:

“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.

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