There are some troubling and morally disturbing stories in the Bible.  Among these is the account of Job.  In it, Yahweh (Lord Sabaoth in icons) plays an abhorrently cruel game with one of the “sons of God” called “The Accuser,” using human lives as pawns.

Here is a remarkably intricate icon.  If we look at the abbreviated Vyaz title inscription —



— we see this icon represents Житие Праведного Иова Многострадального/Zhitie Pravednogo Iova Mnogostradal’nogo — “[The] Life of Venerable Righteous Job [the] Much-suffering.”  That is, of the Old Testament eponymous character in the Book of Job.

(State Historical Museum, Moscow)

The Hebrew text relates:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh, and the Accuser also came among them.”  (Job 1:6)

“The Accuser” (or “Adversary” — ha Satan in Hebrew) — later became a proper name — “Satan.”  The Greek Septuagint translation — the Bible used by the early Christians — presents it like this, with an interpretive rendering:

Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἡ ἡμέρα αὕτη, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἦλθον οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ Θεοῦ παραστῆναι ἐνώπιον τοῦ Κυρίου, καὶ ὁ διάβολος ἦλθε μετ᾿ αὐτῶν.

“And it happened on that day, and behold, the angels of God appeared before the Lord, and the Devil came with them.”

The game is set up like this:

“And Yahweh said to the Accuser, ‘From where have you come?’  And Satan answered, ‘From roaming on the earth, and from walking up and down.’  And Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a man perfect and upright, and one that fears God (ha Elohim) and avoids evil?'”

The Accuser replies essentially, “Sure, of course he fears you.  But that is because you have protected him and made him very prosperous and wealthy.  But take all that away, and he will curse you to your face.”

Yahweh basically replies, “He is in your power.  Go and do to him whatever you want, just don’t harm him physically.”

At the very top of the icon, we see “the Accuser” as he was later understood in Christianity as Satan — the Devil — a very dark, winged figure with a tail, standing before Lord Sabaoth (God the Father), who is seated on his throne in heaven

The Accuser gets to work right away.

First, Job’s oxen and asses are stolen, and his servants killed.
Then fire falls from heaven and burns up Job’s sheep and his shepherds as well.
Job’s camels are stolen, along with more servants.
Then a great wind arises, collapsing the house in which Job’s seven sons and three daughters are, killing them all.

Faced with all this, Job ritually laments, but does not blame God.

The icon depicts Job’s herds and servants here and there, and at lower left the house collapsing and killing all his children.

So Job goes from being very wealthy, as shown here —

to losing all his possessions and his children.

The Accuser returns again to Yahweh, who once more asks if he has seen how great God’s servant Job is.  The Accuser says basically, “Sure, but that is because you have not harmed him physically.”  So Yahweh tells Satan to go and afflict Job’s body, just not to kill him.

The Accuser — empowered by God to test Job — then covers Job’s body with sores.  Job takes to sitting on a manure pile outside the city.  His wife, now reduced to poverty, comes to him and tells him to curse God and die.  But Job will not.

Much of the Book of Job is taken up with long and rather tedious — though at times poetic — monologues as well as dialogues between Job and three friends who all give their opinions on his situation and how he should react.

The long tale ends with Job acknowledging the horrible things God has done to him, but nonetheless not cursing God, saying essentially, “Well, that’s God for you — he does what he wants, and his actions are incomprehensible, so who am I to complain?”

Thus Yahweh wins the bet with the Accuser, and once more he gives Job herds, flocks, and servants, and he even gives him seven more sons and three more daughters to replace those he has (through the Accuser) killed.  So Job is back to being wealthy, with lots of new children to give him descendants.

It is an odd ending, and given the vagaries and uncertainties of interpreting the Hebrew text, some think that Job finally repents of thinking God unjust, while others think he still considers God completely unfair but nonetheless will not curse him, and so is rewarded with replacement of his lost possessions (as if new sons and daughters somehow make up for the old being killed, not to mention the dead servants and animals).

The text of Job is rather stylized and repetitious, but it has given English literature  — through the King James translation — some notable quotes, among them:

“Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (5:7)

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (13:15)

” I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” (19:20 — adapted as the title of a Thornton Wilder play)

Herman Melville’s great and dark novel Moby Dick also borrows a line near its end, applying it to Ishmael, the only survivor of the crew of the whaling ship Pequod.  It is repeated four times in Job 1 by messengers who come to tell Job of the terrible catastrophes that have befallen him:

“And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

There is yet something to consider.  How did the Accuser — sometimes rendered as Adversary — one of the “Sons of God” in Job — come to be later known as Satan, “the Devil”?  This was a development over time.  In the Hebrew Bible, he is usually called “ha Satan” — “The Accuser/Adversary,” — describing what he does rather than being used as a proper name.  He was certainly not the cosmic opponent of God that one later finds in the New Testament.

Satan — the Devil — appears gradually over time as the functions of Yahweh — the Old Testament god — become divided.  Originally Yahweh was the one who caused both good and evil, so there was no place for a cosmic opponent:

“I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I am Yahweh.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“Is the trumpet blown in a city and the people are not afraid?  If there is evil in a city, has not Yahweh done it?” (Amos 3:6)

This view eventually raised the same problem discussed in Job:  God (Yahweh) as the source of both good and bad — doing both good and evil, according to whim.  This problem of how Yahweh could be both good and evil — like a dysfunctional father — seems to have bothered people, because over time the Bible texts take this split personality and divide it between two beings — Yahweh and Satan.  We can see this by examining two accounts of the same event, one earlier, one later.

In 2 Samuel 24:1 we read:

And again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (This refers to a census of the people, which it was considered wrong for David to number; so Yahweh is inciting David to do an evil deed.)

The later (by centuries) account of the same event in 1 Chronicles 21:1, however, says:

“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”

So in the earlier account, the angry Yahweh incites David to take a census of Israel and Judah.  But in the later account, the inciting of David is done by Satan, now used as a proper name (Satan, not “ha Satan“).

We find the earlier used of the term satan as meaning an adversary in 1 Samuel 29:4:

“But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him, and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man go back, that he may return to his place where you have assigned him, and do not let him go down to battle with us, or in the battle he may become as an adversary [le satan] to us”

The first time we find mention of an adversary (satan) who is not a human is in Numbers 22:22-35, the very peculiar tale of Balaam and the talking ass.  In it, the prophet Balaam is riding his ass, but the ass refuses to continue on the path because it is blocked by an angel of Yahweh standing with drawn sword:

“But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the Yahweh took his stand in the way as an adversary [le satan] against him.” (22:22)

The ass sees the angel, but Balaam does not, so he repeatedly beats the ass — who finally says,

“What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” The ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”

Here is an image of Balaam and his ass and the angel — a detail from a 14th century “Jesse Tree” fresco in the Dechani Monastery in Serbia:


A very strong influence on Hebrew belief concerning the change from Yahweh as the source of both good and evil to a cosmic conflict between a good God and an evil Satan was likely Persian Zoroastrianism, which appeared around 600 b.c.e.  In it, God (called Ahura Mazda) is all good; the evil in the universe comes from Ahriman, his supernatural opponent.  Not surprisingly, both Job and Chronicles are dated to roughly the same period as the popularity of Zoroastrian belief.

To make a long story short, the evolution of Satan as a cosmic opponent takes a big leap during the period between the Old and New Testaments, and by the time we get to the New Testament, we find Satan as the very embodiment of evil, with demonic minions in his service.  In the Apocalypse (Revelation of John), we find mention of a heavenly war in which Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels, and the latter are defeated and cast out of heaven.  In Christian belief, the Dragon is read back into the Old Testament as far as the Creation of Adam and Eve, where he becomes the serpent who tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit — though originally the serpent was just a clever walking snake, who as punishment for tempting Eve is made to crawl on his stomach instead of walking:

 “And Yahweh God said to the serpent, Because you hast done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:14)

Thus Satan — the Devil — the Dragon — the Serpent — becomes an integral part of Christian theology, instead of just the  “Accuser” or “Adversary” he was originally in Hebrew thought.




There never has been a clear dividing line separating Eastern Orthodox belief from folk superstition and charms.  The cross is considered (as in old vampire movies) to have apotropaic powers — that is, it is believed to ward off evil.  The same, as we have seen, is also true of certain icons, among them the “Unburnt Thornbush,” which is said to protect houses from fire.

There is a seldom seen Marian icon type — though it has recently become more and more common through printed versions — called the “Impenetrable Door” Непроходимая дверь/Neprokhodimaya Dver’ or Непроходимая Врата/Neprokhodimaya Vrata — “Impenetrable/Impassable Gate.”

It is first found in Russian iconography in the 17th century, and is associated with the “Time of Troubles” (Смутное время/smutnoe vremya), a tumultuous period between the end of old Rurik Dynasty of Russian rulers and the rise of the new Romanov Dynasty.  It was a time of civil unrest, invasion, tsarist impostors, and a famine that killed about a third of the Russian people by starvation.

At that time of civil unrest, this icon was regarded as a protector of monasteries.  It is not difficult to see why that notion arose, given its “Impenetrable Door” title.  Later that concept became extended, with the icon being recommended for placement in buildings and houses to “seal the door” to ward off robbers, burglars, witches, demons, and various evils in general.  Those selling copies of this icon type recommend it to “seal” the doors of a home when one leaves, accompanied by the recitation of liturgical texts and prayers as a kind of magic spell to keep all unwanted intruders out (yes, charms and spells are still a folk practice in modern Russia).

The title, however, did not originally signify making a building or home impregnable.  If we look at the inscription on this icon — painted in Solvychegodsk — we see it is a variant of the bogorodichen (invocation to the Bogoroditsa/Mother of God), tone 2, for Monday evening:

Непроходимая врата, тайно запечатствованная, / Благословенная Богородице Дево, / приими моления наша / и принеси Твоему Сыну и Богу, / да спасет Тобою души наша.

Neprokhodimaya vrata, taino zapechatstvovannaya, Blagoslovennaya Borogoditse Devo, priimi moleniya nasha i prinesi Tvoemu Suinu i Bogu, da spaset Toboiu dushi nasha.

Impenetrable gate, mysteriously sealed Blessed Mother of God Virgin, receive our prayer, and bring it to your son and God, and through you our souls will be saved.”

Other liturgical excerpts (such as Ikos 6 of the Akathist to the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple) also refer to Mary as the impenetrable gate/door.  This notion derives from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, in an excerpt which Eastern Orthodox see as a prophecy and prefiguration of Mary — the virgin birth of Jesus:

Ezekiel 43:27 -44:4):

“THUS says the Lord: Upon the eighth day and so forward, the priests shall make your whole-burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, says the Lord. Then He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looks toward the east; and it was shut. And the Lord said to me: Son of man, this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, shall enter in by it, and it shall be shut. For this Prince shall sit on it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall come forth by the way of the same. And He brought me by the way of the north gate before the house, and I looked, and behold, the house of the Lord was full of glory.”

If we look at the icon, we see “Lord Sabaoth” (God the Father) in the clouds at the top.  Mary stands, arms outspread, before the entrance to a building.  The image of Jesus standing as Immanuel is on her breast.

(Russian Museum, St. Petersburg)

Below, saints of various kinds approach her in prayer, with the Prophet Ezekiel seen at right.  At the base is a cavern in the earth, opened to show the dead, who also ask for Mary’s intercession.  The inscription just above them is a variant of the last line of the bogorodichen quoted above — “And through you our souls will be saved.”


If you have been reading this site for some time, you will know that historically, icons — particularly Marian icons — have frequently been used in Russia for nationalistic and propagandistic purposes.  That practice continues.

There is a recent icon type that is seen more and more for sale in print form, again associated with nationalistic purposes.  It is not at present found among the “officially approved” icons of Russian Orthodoxy — in fact many Russian Orthodox consider it “uncanonical” (неканоничной/nekanonichnoy).  Copies of it (generally in the form of prints) are nonetheless being circulated and used as a venerated icons here and there, which is indicative of the factions within modern Russian Orthodox belief and well as Russian politics.

Here is a variant of the type, painted in 2015:

The incription at the top reads РУССКАЯ ПОБЕДА — RUSSKAYA POBYEDA — “Russian Victory.”  That in itself is an indicator of the political purpose of the icon.

At the base is another inscription:

“Stand with Christ before the martyr’s cross.”

The implication here is for military martyrdom in opposing Russia’s “enemies.”

At upper right and left, the painter of this example has added saints associated by various groups with Eastern Orthodox militarism and Tsarist nationalism.  They are:
Dimitriy Donskoy, Prince Oleg of Ryazan, Sergiy of Radonezh, Alexiy Metropolitan of Moscow, Aleksander Nevskiy, Tsar Nicholas II, Great-martyr George, and the Tsarevitch Alexiy (son of Nicholas II); at right are John of Kronstadt, Seraphim Vyritskiy, Siluan of Athos, Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina, Makariy, Tsar Ivan “the Terrible”(Иоанн Грозный/Ioann Groznuiy), Seraphim of Sarov, and the Tsarevich Dmitriy Uglichskiy.  At the top is the “Old Testament Trinity.”

Here is the more usual rendering of the type, this time with the “Stand with Christ” inscription on the left side:

It is sometimes called Взбранной Воеводе Победительная/Vzbrannoy Voevode Pobeditel’naya — “The Conquering, Victorious Voevod/Warlord/Commander.”  Those words come from a Slavic rendition of the Greek kontakion from the Akathist, written to celebrate the failure of the 626 siege of Constantinople by the Avars, Sassanid Persians, and cooperating Slavs.

The origin story of this icon is like something out of a tabloid newspaper.  It is said that in 2003, a visitor to the Bogoliubskiy Monastery — built on the site where the historically-famous Grand Prince Andrey Bogoliubskiy was murdered — took a photograph of an icon there.  The icon was an example of the “Czestochowa” type — the icon that is so popular in Poland.  The Russians call it the Ченстоховская/Chenstokhovskaya.


The story goes that when the photo was taken, it showed the icon “miraculously” transformed; the photo had the face of the Chenstokhovskaya icon — with its customary two scars on the face — but the clothing of Mary had completely changed.  She was wearing an ancient-style military helmet, clothed in what was interpreted as chain mail, and holding an eight-pointed Russian cross.

There is also an additional story relating that in 2004, at the Vvedenskiy Monastery in Kurgan (in the Urals region), there was an appearance of Mary, in which she exited the image of the Chenstokhovskaya icon and appeared wearing chain mail, holding a cross in her hand.  Proclaiming “Stand with Christ before the martyr’s cross,” she ordered that an icon of her be painted.  On painting the new icon, the Skhima-hegumen (схиигумен/skhiigumen) Seraphim — after prayer — added the word Russkaya/”Russian” to the icon, which is why it is sometimes known by that name.

It is further said that some Russian pilgrims to the Vvedenskiy Verkhnetechensky Monastery had a divine revelation telling them that with this icon, русский Царь одержит победу над врагом и это будет окончательная Русская Победа над христоненавистниками — “The Russian Tsar will be victorious over his enemies, and this will be the final Russian victory over the Christ-haters.”  This of course is the old “us against them” kind of dangerous nationalistic propaganda that has caused so much sorrow and suffering in history.  Russian ultra-nationalism tends to make no distinction between Russia and Russian Orthodoxy — the belief is that, as the old song goes, “you can’t have one without the other.”  And of course the old “Third Rome” notion encourages Russians to see Russian Orthodoxy as a Christian bulwark standing against the supposed evils of the rest of the world.  Fortunately not all Russians think this way, but as with right-wing fanaticism in the U.S., all too many do.

So some Russians believe all this and some definitely do not.  Those who do tend to favor a rigidly-strong Russian autocracy, including a ruling Tsar (or Tsar-like ruler) as well as a rather fanatical Russian Orthodoxy with a strong antipathy toward non-Orthodox countries and people — including those who oppose the restoration of the Tsarist empire as it was under Nicholas II.  They place Russian Orthodox militaristic ultra-nationalism on one side, and the rest of the world in “evil” opposition to it.  Not surprisingly, this icon pops up among radical groups opposed to Ukrainian independence.

There are of course other new “nationalistic” Russian icon types, and there will likely be more painted.  These new icons are not a part of the usual study of old icons, but those who wish to keep up on current developments in Eastern Orthodox iconography will want to be aware of them —  if only to avoid mistaking them for old icon types.


Today we will look at two different inscriptions often found as the text of the Gospel book held by Jesus in icons of the “Lord Almighty” (Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’) type.  I like to call them the “two Priidites,” because both usually begin with the Church Slavic word ПРИИДИТЕ/PRIIDITE, meaning “Come.”

Here is an icon with the first and most common of the two:

The Gospel text (Matthew 11:28-30) reads:

Priidite ko mnye vxi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az oupokoiu vui:
vozmite igo moe na sebe i nauchitesya ot mene, iako krotok esm i
smiren serdtsem: i obryashchete pokoy dusham vashuim:
igo bo moe blago, i bremya moe legko est.

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The inscription in the icon above stops with “na sebe/upon you.”  I have included the rest, as some icons do.

Here is the second “Priidite” inscription:

It is Matthew 25:34-36:

The inscription usually begins with the seventh word, as shown in the icon:

[Togda rechet tsar sushchuim odesnuiu ego:] Priidite, blagoslovennii Otsa moego,
nasleduite ougotovannoe vam tsarstvie ot slozheniya mira:
vzalkakhsya bo, i daste mi iasti: vozzhadakhsya, i napoiste mya: stranene
byekh, i vvedoste mene:
nag, i odyeyaste mya: bolen, i posyetiste mene: v temnitsye byekh, i
priidoste ko mnye.

“[Then shall the king say to those on his right:]  Come, you blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.
Naked, and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”

Just knowing the two “Priidite” inscriptions will enable you to read the Gospel texts on huge numbers of icons of Jesus.  Of course there are other texts than the “Priidites” also found, but we can discuss more of those another day.

By the way, did you notice that on the second icon, the abbreviation for Jesus Christ (written in Greek, though it is a Russian icon) uses the later Greek form of “S” (sigma) in IΣ ΧΣ, instead of the earlier form IC ΧC?

Also, did you notice the abbreviations used in the Bible texts given in Church Slavic letters above?  I filled in the missing letters in the transcriptions.



There is an interesting Russian Marian icon type that is generally named Силуамския/Siluamskiya — “Of Siluam” — in Church Slavic, and Siluamskaya in Russian.  The title may also be found as Siluanskaya (“of Siluan/Silouan”).

It is said to have originated in a celebration (The Feast to the All-Merciful Saviour and the Most Holy Mother of God) established by the Byzantine Emperor Manual I Komnenos in 1158, to celebrate his victory over the Saracens.  The celebration  was set on August 1st.  The same date was fixed in Russia to celebrate the victory of Andrey Bogoliubskiy over the Volga Tatars.  That is why in listings of Marian icons, the Siluam/Siluan type is found on August 1st (new style August 14th).

However, no one knows why the icon was called “of Siluan,” or “of Siluam,” nor is it known what became of it.  And in any case, the icon depicted in the standard old Russian book of Marian icons by Poselyanin — whether accurately or not — is a very different image than the icons commonly known under that name, in that the child Jesus holds an orb in his hand, which he does not in the better-known and more standard depictions of the type.

Now we can tell from this that there is confusion in the history of this icon, and we are likely dealing with quite different images that go under the same or similar names.  To get a better idea of the extent of this confusion, let’s look at the type that is now generally known as the Siluam icon of Mary:

We can see immediately that there are a couple of things to note in this image.  First and most obvious is the unusual head covering.  Second, and related to that, is Mary’s long and loose hair.

Now we know it is generally the custom in Eastern Orthodox iconography to depict Mary with her hair hidden by the maphorion that covers her head and shoulders.  And in instances when we have seen Mary with long hair, it has tended to be an indication that the image was borrowed from Western European or Roman Catholic religious art — though the result came to be adopted as an Eastern Orthodox icon.

That is the case also with the Siluam icon type.  Let’s look at another image of it:

The painter has added a smaller Marian image on the upper right of the panel, but our focus is on the main image.

Now it happens that the Siluam image as shown in the two icons above first appeared in Russia quite late — around 1710.  Interestingly enough, we can determine where it came from — and it was not from Greece or Russia.  It was from a Flemish engraver named Hieronymus/Jeroen Wierix ((1553–1619), of Antwerp.

You will recall that in the 1600s, Russian iconography began to be influenced by engravings brought from Western Europe, and that influence gradually appears in many icons.  Here is the first of two engravings by Wierix.  Notice how the icon above has kept the distinctive cut of the neckline:

The Latin inscription at the base reads, “You are all beautiful, my friend, come, you will be crowned”, followed by “You are all beautiful, my beloved”.

Here is the second, which omits the angels:

(Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam)

Here the Latin inscription reads, “Beautiful as the moon, pure as the sun, terrible as an army arrayed in battle.”  The inscriptions in both engravings use lines taken from the Song of Solomon.

Now obviously the Russian painters of the various icons based upon the Wierix engraving did not quite understand the head covering Mary wears in it.  The first icon on this page has it looking rather like a hat.  The second icon includes the little fold on the right side of the head covering, but omits the falling cloth at the left side — again making it look like a hat.

Neither icon shown above includes angels, but this 18th century example of the Siluam icon does have two angels, though used and positioned differently, carrying the cross, spear and sponge of the Passion:

(State Museum of the History of Religion)

The Russian painter and engraver Grigoriy Pavlovich Tepchegorskiy (Григорий Павлович Тепчегорский), who worked at the end of the 17-beginning of the 18th century, used the work of  Wierix when he compiled his cycle of engravings of icons of Mary in 1713-1714.

Finally, here is a colorful example of the Siluam type that evolves the head covering of Mary even farther from its origins in the Wierix engraving:

As I have said previously, there never was a “pure” Eastern Orthodox iconography free of outside influences.  The same can be said of Christianity in general.