Today we will look at a 17th century Cretan icon:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:

In hagiography he is called Menas of Egypt, and as we see from his armor, lance and shield, he is one of the warrior saints.

If we look at the base of the icon, we see the signature of the painter:

It reads:

“[The] Hand of Emmanuel of Lampardos”

Notice the unusual ligature of the α and Ρ (a and R).

This Emmanuel of Lampardos (more commonly known as Emmanuel Lambardos), was a painter in Heraklion/Iraklion, on Crete, active between 1593-1647.  Within the last few decades scholars have determined that there were actually two icon painters by the same name, an Emmanuel Lambardos the Elder and an Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger, the latter thought to be the son of Piero Lambardos and the nephew of the former, with both elder and younger working in the same studio.  Because their works are so similar, scholars are still trying to determine who painted what.

Let’s look at the scenes from the hagiographic legend of Menas:

This illustrates the tale that a certain man went to pray at a church dedicated to Menas.  There he met another man who offered him lodging for the night.  Realizing that his guest had gold, the host killed him, cut up his body, and put the parts in a basket.  The next day a mysterious stranger in military garb, riding on a horse, appeared (who of course was St. Menas).  The soldier asked the host about his overnight guest, and the host claimed to know nothing.  Menas, however asked him about the basket, and so the whole story was revealed.  Menas then miraculously joined all the parts of the slain man’s body together, and restored him to life.  He gave him back the gold the host and taken, and sent him on his way.  After scolding the host, Menas forgave him, then disappeared.

A man decided to have two silver plates made, one for St. Menas — engraved with his name — and the other for himself and bearing his own name.  When the silversmith had completed the work, the plate intended for Menas turned out to be the more beautiful of the two, so the man decided to keep it for himself.

The same man went on a sea voyage, taking the plate with him, and having his food served to him on it.  When he had finished eating, a servant took the plate and was washing it in the sea, when suddenly it slipped out of his hands and disappeared beneath the waves.  The startled servant lost his grip and also fell into the sea.  The man was so distressed at losing his servant that he prayed to Menas, telling him that if the servant’s body were to be recovered, he would give not only the remaining plate but also the cost of the lost plate to the saint.

When the ship reached land, the man looked to see if the body had washed up on the shore.  But instead, he saw the servant coming out of the sea alive, holding the lost plate.  The servant reported that as soon as he fell into the sea, a handsome man appeared with two others, grasping the man and traveling with him until he arrived at the shore.

A certain woman was on her way to pray at the shrine of Menas when she was attacked by a man who wanted to rape her.  It happened that when he got off his horse to do the deed, he tied the horse to his right foot.  Then when he attempted to rape the woman, the horse became very upset, and dragged the man off, all the way to the shrine of Menas.  Once there, the horse was so violent, and whinnied so loud, that a crowd of people soon gathered.  The man was worried the horse would injure or kill him, so he blurted out his confession of attempted rape before everyone, and immediately the horse became calm.  The repentant rapist then asked the saint to end his suffering and pardon him.

It happened once that a crippled man and a mute woman happened to both be staying in the shrine of Menas.  In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, Menas appeared to the crippled man, telling him that if he would touch the cloak of the sleeping mute woman, he would be healed.  The crippled man managed to get to the mute woman, and when he grabbed her cloak she awoke, and began loudly blaming him.  Fearing the woman’s noisy shouting, the cripple got up and began to run away, when suddenly both of them realized that they had been healed by the saint.

There was a Jewish man who was friends with a Christian, and trusted him so much that when he traveled to foreign lands, he would leave considerable amounts of gold behind with the Christian as safekeeping.  However, once when the Jew had done this, on returning he went to the Christian and asked for his money.  The Christian replied that the Jew was mistaken, that no money had been left with him.  The Jew was so upset by this that he said he wanted Menas to determine the truth.  So both set off for the shrine of Menas.

Now it happened that when they arrived at the shrine, the Christian repeated his claim, swearing that no gold had been left with him.   Having said that, he exited the shrine with the Jew, and both got on their horses.  Suddenly the horse of the Christian began behaving violently, and rearing up, it threw its rider to the ground, where he lost his kerchief, a key, and a gold seal.  He got back on his horse and both continued on their way.

The Jew, however, was groaning and lamenting the loss of his gold.  The Christian suggested that they stop, dismount, and pause to eat some food.  As they were eating, the Christian looked up and saw that his servant from home had come, and was standing there holding the money bag of the Jew in one hand, and the lost key [a signet ring in another version, which accounts for the “gold seal”]  and kerchief in the other.  He was quite shocked, and asked the servant to explain.

The servant replied that a man riding a horse came, and giving the lost key [or signet ring] and kerchief to the Christian’s wife, he told her that she must send the money bag of the Jew to the Christian with great haste, so her husband would not meet with danger.  And so, thinking the Christian had requested this, the wife sent the servant quickly off to him with the Jew’s gold.

The Jew was of course overjoyed, and immediately wanted to return to the shrine of the saint, where he vowed to become a Christian himself through baptism in thanks for the miracle.  As for the lying Christian, he asked to be forgiven, and both returned satisfied to their homes

So those are the legendary miracles of the saint depicted on the Lambardos icon.

The last image is of the martyrdom of Menas:

Menas, by tradition, is said to have been an Egyptian Christian who became a soldier and was martyred under Diocletian after he left the army, then later returned and confessed his faith publicly during the festival games.  He was said to have been tortured, then (as we see in the icon) beheaded in 304 c.e.

Menas is one of those saints whose iconography has changed over time.  In the early centuries of his veneration, he was depicted not as an old man with grey hair and beard, but rather as a young and beardless man in a short tunic, without armor, standing with arms outstretched between two kneeling camels.

The camels relate to the legend of what happened to his body after death.  Though there is some variation in it, the essence is that his decapitated body was placed on a camel, and the camel on which it was traveling stopped at Lake Mariout (Mariotis), and refused to go farther.  This was seen as a divine sign, so the body was buried where the camel stopped, and a chapel was built there that later became a significant pilgrimage site.  You perhaps recognized that the motif of an animal carrying some holy object and stopping at the place where the object is intended to remain is a common tale in stories of saints and icons.  Many pottery ampullae (small clay vessels) with the image of Menas and his camels on them — eagerly purchased by visiting pilgrims — are to be found in various public and private collections.  They were produced at the  popular shrine, presumably as containers for supposedly holy water from the spring there, and some bear as well the inscription ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΜΗΝΑ/EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA — “The blessing of the Holy Menas.”

(Photo courtesy of Luisa Ghirimoldi)

Now as sometimes happens with saints, there is more than one St. Menas.  Another is Menas Kallikelados (Menas the Sweet-Sounding) sometimes translated as Menas the Eloquent, said to have been martyred under Maximian.   But as with the multiplied saints Cosmas and Damian, scholars believe this Menas (also said to have been an Egyptian) and the better known Menas were originally one and the same, but became multiplied by their veneration at different places.




Today we will look at an interesting St. George variant — a 19th century example from Crete:

(Image: vrachassi.blogspot.com)

We immediately notice two unusual things about this icon.  First, George is holding a sword instead of the usual lance.  Second, his lance is shown broken in the dragon’s mouth, and the dragon has been decapitated by the sword.  All the other elements are common — the rearing horse, the rescued princess in the background, the angel presenting him with the leafy crown of victory, and the hand of God blessing out of heaven.

This icon is locally known as Ἁγιος Γεοργιος ὁ Τραγοπιαστες /Hagios Georgios ho Tragopiastes, meaning loosely “Holy George the Goat-getter.”  The story is that a man became ill, and promised St. George a good goat if the saint would cure him.  The man recovered, and a small kid from the herd was selected to be given to George when grown.  Unfortunately, that particular kid gradually grew to be the best of the herd, and when the time came to give it to George, the man thought another goat would do as well, so he picked a different (and less striking) goat as the donation to the saint.  But when he got to the church with it, he found the “best” goat already there with the priest, so St. George had gotten his goat, and the man lost the best of his herd to the saint.

It is worth looking at the dedicatory inscription at the base of this icon:

It reads:
Deisis Tou Doulou Sou Io. Koutattaki Simbias/Simvias
“Prayer/ Petition of Your Servant Io. Koutattaki Simvias …

… ΓΟΝΕΟΝ ΤΕΚΝΟΝ Κ[α]ι      ΑΔ[ελ] Φ[ων]      Α Ω Ν
Goneon, Teknon K[ai] Adelphon:   1855
… [and of his] Parents, Children, and Brothers.  1855

The spelling is a bit off — he uses o for ω,  but such things are common in Greek inscriptions, which are often phonetic.  Note the Greek letters used as numbers in the date.

Swords — in Greek-speaking-region icons — are generally found in icons of military saints fighting other men, and those icons appear to have influenced the painting of this George variant, though the victim here is a dragon, not a man.



I always enjoy the photos readers send for identification.  I recently received some of a very well-painted old Russian triptych.  It appears to be in untouched condition, still with its original varnish.  That makes the surface a bit dark, but it also is interesting to see icons that have not had the varnish removed — as long as it has not darkened too much.

Here it is:

(Photo courtesy of Gj. Bledar)

Let’s look more closely at the central image:

We can see that it is an icon of the New Testament Trinity type, showing Jesus enthroned in heaven, with Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) to his right, and the Holy Spirit as dove between their heads.  In the center is an orb surmounted by a cross, symbolizing their cosmic rule.  At left is Mary, called “Mother of God” in Eastern Orthodoxy, and to the right is John the Forerunner (the Baptist), both approaching the throne with their petitions on behalf of human believers.  Their presence — along with the saints in the outer two wings of the triptych — make it a New Testament Trinity in the Deisis form.  In the four corners are the symbols of the Four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. At the base is a seraph, and the odd kind of ring-shaped, winged angels called “Thrones.”

The saints in the two side panels are all quite notable saints:

Here is the left side:

Here is another view of the left:

The saints depicted are, from top left to right:

1.  Holy Venerable Makariy (Macarius)
2.  Holy Venerable Feodor (Theodore)
3.  Holy Venerable Evdokiya (Eudocia)
4.  Holy Great Martyr Georgiy (George)
5.  Holy Filipp, Metropolitan of Moscow (Philip)
6.  Holy Petr, Metropolitan of Moscow (Peter)
7.  Holy Aleksiy, Metropolitan of Moscow (Alexei)
8.  Holy Nikolai Chudotvorets (Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra)
9.  Holy Apostle Andrey (Andrew the First-called)
10. The Holy Guardian Angel

And here is the right side:

And another view of the right side:

The saints depicted are (from top left):

11.   Holy Venerable Feodosiy Pecherskiy (Theodosius of the Pecherskaya Lavra)
12.  Holy Sergiy of Radonezh (Sergius)
13.  Holy Mariya Egipetskaya (Mary of Egypt)
14.  Holy Antoniy Pecherskiy (Anthony of the Pecherskaya Lavra)
15.  Holy Venerable Zosima Solovetskiy (Zosima of Solovetsk Monastery)
16.  Holy Savatiy Solovetskiy (Sabbatius of the Solovetsk Monastery)
17.  Holy Great Martyr Dimitriy (Demetrius)
18.  Holy Vasility Velikiy (Basil the Great)
19.  Holy Grigoriy Bogoslov (Gregory the Theologian)
20.  Holy Ioann Zlatoust (John Chrysostom)

You perhaps noted that there are some common linkings in this image of noted saints usually found together, often in their own icons.  They are:
1.  George and Demetrius, the warrior “great martyrs”;
2.  Zosima and Savatiy/Savvatiy of Solovetsk Monastery in the White Sea;
3.  Antoniy and Feodosiy of the Pecherskaya Lavra in Kiyev/Kiev;
4.  Petr, Aleksiy and Filipp, Metropolitans of Moscow (often shown with Metropolitan Iona);
5.  Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, commonly known as the “Three Hierarchs.”

On the reverse of the central panel, a “Golgotha Cross” (Голгофский Крест / Golgofskiy Krest) is painted:

I have discussed the Golgotha Cross in earlier postings.  The abbreviations on this one are:

ISUS KHRISTOS [Old Believer form]

Then the abbreviation for СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ /SUIN” BOZHIY —
“Son of God.”

К     Т
K, for Kopie — “spear,” and T for T for Trost’— “reed.”  The former identifies the lance at left, and the latter the long reed at right, bearing a sponge at its top.  Note that in old icon inscriptions “T” often looks rather like an “M,” so that is a very helpful tip.

“[He] Conquers.”

Then come the letters


They abbreviate

“The Place of the Skull has become Paradise.”


Г  Г
“Hill [of] Golgotha”

Finally, by the skull of Adam, we see

Г  А
“[The] SKULL [literally “head”] [of] ADAM”

My thanks to Gj. Bledar for permission to use the photos of his icon.


Yes.  You read the title correctly.  Leo Tolstoy would have been horrified.  But probably not surprised.

In previous postings, we have seen that in Russia, icons were sometimes used for nationalistic, military and political purposes.  Now that icon painting is having a revival in Russia, there is also a strong trend toward the creation of such new icons.

Here, for example, is a recent icon some may find visually surprising:

(Image: http://ushakov.fund)

He certainly does not look like the conventional image of a saint, does he, with his military uniform, medals, and telescope and sword in hand.

His icons, however, seem to be quite popular in the modern Russian icon market.

Who is he?  Well, it all goes back to the year 2001, when Feodor Feodorovich Ushakov (Фёдор Фёдорович Ушаков — 1745-1817) was declared a “local saint” of Orthodoxy in Saransk Diocese in the Russian Republic of Mordovia; and in 2004 he was declared a saint to be venerated by the entire Russian Orthodox Church.  Then,  in 2005,  Patriarch Alexei II, as head of the  Russian Orthodox Church, named this late 18th-early 19th century admiral of the Russian Imperial Navy patron saint of nuclear armed, strategic long-distance bombers.  He is also patron saint of the Russian Navy.

His title inscriptions are usually some shorter or longer version of:




Some of his icons show him with powdered wig, and some show him — rather incongruously — in byzantine garb.   Other icons depict him with scenes from his military life, such as battleships firing cannon and ships aflame.  I will not go into the lengthy description of his life and battles (there is much information elsewhere online), but will note simply that among his acts was the construction of the Russian naval base in Sebastopol/Sevastopol in the late 18th century, after the annexation of Crimea by Tsarist Russia — something we still see the effects of today. Ushakov was made commander of that port.

It is worth knowing, however, that in many of his icons, he holds a scroll reading:

Не отчаивайтесь! Сии грозные бури обратятся к славе России
“Do not despair!  These terrible storms will turn to the glory of Russia.”

The recent icon shown on this page appears to have been designed after a painting by Pyotr Bazhanov (Петр Бажанов), 1851-1913:




Today we will look at a couple of Russian icons of a type you already should recognize– the “New Testament Trinity,” so called to distinguish it from the Old Testament Trinity icon in the form of the three angels that appeared to the patriarch Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.

The reason for revisiting this type is to add a couple of Church Slavic inscriptions sometimes found on New Testament Trinity icons to your repertoire.  Here is the first icon:

As you know (I hope!), it depicts the Trinity as Jesus sitting on the throne with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit hovering above in the form of a dove.  At left is Mary, at right John the Forerunner (the Baptist).  The throne is supported by Seraphim, and surrounded by a ring of cherubim, a single one of which is in the middle between the Father and Son.  Symbols of the Four Evangelists extend from the blue ring of cherubim.  The Archangel Michael is visible at upper left, and the Archangel Gabriel at upper right.

Now on to the main topic of discussion — the inscription above Jesus and God the Father.  We will enlarge it, and view it in two parts.  Here is the left side:

We are concerned with the inscription that is above the Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’ (Lord Almighty) title above the halo of Jesus.  It reads:

Blagoslovenno Tsarstvo…
“Blessed-is [the] Kingdom…

And here it continues on the right side, above the Gospod’ Savaof’ (“Lord Sabaoth”) title of God the Father:

It reads ..ОЦА И С[Ы]НА И С[ВЯ]ТАГО Д[У]ХА
…Otsa i Suina i Svyatago Dukha
“…[of the] Father and [of the] Son and [of the] Holy Spirit.”

So all together, the inscription is this:


Now we will look at an inscription on another icon, heavily ornamented with baroque designs in the border:

We need to look more closely to see the inscription.  It is in the inner ring of cherubim:

It is a bit damaged, and tends to fade out in the bottom half of the circle.  But if we look at the more distinct part in the upper half, we can determine what it says.

Here is the left side of it:

And here is the right side:

Because half of the inscription is so worn as to be illegible, we must work with what is there.  Remember that in the case of unfamiliar inscriptions, the procedure is to look for words you recognize.  Because this is a circular inscription, we have to find the beginning.  If we look on the right side, we see these words:

The first word is a bit faint, but after it we can clearly see:


And if we are clever, we might decide that the next word is МОЕМУ/MOEMOU

So it would read

…[the] Lord [to] Lord My…
“..The Lord to my Lord…”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, if you are at all familiar with the Psalms and the Gospel “of Matthew,” you will recognize it as the beginning of this phrase:

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.

Now if we look at that quote in the Church Slavic Bible, we find it is right at the beginning of Psalm 109 (110 KJV):

Reche Gospod’ Gospodevi moemu: syedi odesnuiu mene, dondezhe polozhu vragi tvoya podnozhie nog” tvoikh”.
Zhezl” silui poslet” ti Gospod’ ot Siona, i gospodstvuy posredye vragov” tvoikh”.
S” toboiu nachalo v” den’ silui tvoeya, vo svyetlostekh” svyatuikh” tvoikh”: iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion: and rule in the midst of your enemies.
With you is dominion in the day of your power, in the splendors of your saints: I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

We can see on the left side of the icon the words “ot Siona” — “out of Zion,” so that just confirms that we have found the right inscription, though in the icon it ends about there and does not include the last line of verse 3, which we have seen before:

iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.
“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

If you do not remember where we saw that line in a previous icon inscription, you will find it in the discussion of the last icon pictured in this posting:


It is not unusual to find this “The Lord said to my Lord” inscription on icons of the New Testament Trinity, so now you will recognize it when you see it.



In the Khora (Chora) Monastery at Istanbul in Turkey, there is a mosaic representing — as its title inscription says — Jesus as Ἡ ΧΩΡΑ ΤΩΝ ΖΩΝΤΩΝ —He Khora ton Zonton — “The Land of the Living.”

The word ΧΩΡΑ/χωρα/khora is rather vague in meaning.  It is often transliterated as chora, but I do not use that system because English speakers think it begins with the sound of ch as in “Charlie,” while instead, it is the sound found at the end of the German name “Bach.”  Students of the Greek New Testament will recognize it is as the word commonly used for “land,” “region.”  We find it in Mark 1:5:

καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία χώρα καὶ οἱ Ἱεροσολυμῖται πάντες, καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν.

Kai exeporeueto pros auton pasa he Ioudaia Khora kai hoi Ierosolymitai pantes, kai ebaptizonto hup’ autou en to Iordane potamo exomologoumenoi tas hamartias auton

“And there went out to him all the Judean land, and all the Jerusalemites, and were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”

So khora can mean land, or the  rural region or countryside as opposed to the city.  Khora, however, can also mean a “space” — in the sense of a space that something occupies or could occupy, the room something takes up — or a “place,” a “position.”

The name of the Khora/Chora Monastery, which, when built in the 12th century, was outside the walls of the city of Constantinople, means essentially that it was the “countryside” monastery, beyond the city walls rather than a city monastery.

More appropriate in the context of this mosaic icon, however, is Matthew 4:16:

ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκοτίᾳ φῶς εἶδεν μέγα, καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς.

Ho laos ho kathemenos en skotia phos eiden mega, kai tois kathemenois en khora kai skia thanatou phos aneteilen autois.

“The people sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those sitting in the land and shadow of death, a light is risen.”

So Jesus in the Khora mosaic is called the Khora ton Zonton — “The Land of the Living” as opposed to the “land of death.”

In the same monastery is an example of the other icon with khora in its title — in this case Mary as ΧΩΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΩΡΗΤΟΥ/Khora tou Akhoritou.  It is a paradoxical title, and Christian theologians like paradox, even when it makes no rational sense.

Romanos the Melodist wrote of Jesus in a kontakion,

Ο Άχτιστος γεννάται, ο Αχώρητος χωρείται.
Ho Akhtistos gennatai, ho Akhoretos khoreitai.

“The Uncreated is created, the Limitless is limited.”

Similarly, Gregory the Theologian wrote:

Ω της καινής μίξεως! Ω της παραδόξου κράσεως!  Ὁ Ων γίνεται και ὁ άκτιστος κτίζεται και ὁ αχώρητος χωρείται.
O tes kaines mixeos!  O tes paradoxou kraseos!  Ho On ginetai kai ho aktistos ktizetai kai ho akhoretos khoreitai.

“O new mixture!  O paradox of blending!  The One Who Is has come to be, and the Unmade is made, and the Limitless is limited.”

All of this paradoxical talk about the “Uncreated” being created, the “One Who Is” coming to be, the “Unmade” made, and the “Limitless” being limited is referring to the incarnation of Jesus, who in Eastern Orthodoxy is believed to be the uncreated, unmade, unlimited God whose name is “The One Who Is.”  And of course in Christian belief, that incarnation took place in Mary — which leads us to the second of the mosaic icons with khora in its title, found also at the Khora Monastery (Church):

In his Homily 11, Cyril of Alexandria referred to Mary as

το χωριον του αχωρητου
to khorion tou akhoretou
“The Place of the Placeless”

…or we could translate it as:

“The Space of the Spaceless.”

Mary’s title is often rendered interpretively as “The Container of the Uncontained.”  That, however, always makes me think of the amusing German-language book (and film) for children, Konrad oder Das Kind aus der KonservenbüchseKonrad, or the Child out of the Can, by Austrian writer Christine Nöstlinger.  In it, a metal container is delivered to Frau Berti Bartolotti, and when it is opened, much to her surprise, out pops a fresh, seven-year-old boy who announces that he is her son.

But back to the icons.

It is easy to tell that the use of khora in the title of the Marian icon is not at all the same as that in the image of Jesus.  In the former, it has the “place” or “space” meaning, and in the latter the “country” or “land” meaning.

Now to confuse matters, there is another image of Mary at the Khora Monastery with the same title, but in form it is basically much the same as in the Znamenie or “Sign” Mother of God icon — Mary from the waist up, with arms outspread, and Christ Immanuel in an egg-shaped enclosure on her breast.  And in the Eastern Orthodox repertory, there is also yet another icon by the same title, but depicting Mary seated on a throne, and holding Christ Immanuel on her lap. What this tells us is that the Khora tou Akhoritou title is not limited to one or even three quite different icon types, but also may be applied to even more.  So in this case, one must simply go by title, while being aware that the title is not unique to a particular type of Marian icon.

The Khora/Chora Monastery is also sometimes known as the Kariye Camii (pronounced “Jami”) — The “Country” Mosque — its Turkish name, given that it was converted to a mosque in the 16th century.  Now it is a museum.