Here is a Russian icon of Ioann Zlatoust — John the “Golden-mouthed,” better known as John Chrysostom:

(Photo courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)

We are today primarily interested in the text on the book he holds:

(Courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)

Here it is, with the portion seen on the book in bold type:

Вы есте соль земли: аще же соль обуяет, чим осолится? Ни во чтоже будет ктому, точию да и-[зсыпана будет вон и попираема человеки.]

It is the text of Matthew 5:13:

You are the salt of the earth. If however the salt loses its strength, how shall it be salted? It will then be good for nothing but to be t[hrown out and trampled by men.]”

Perhaps you noticed some slight spelling variations in the text.  These are common in old inscriptions.

Now why should this text be included on an icon of John Chrysostom?  Well, most likely because he included a discussion of it in one of his homilies:

What then? did they restore the decayed? By no means; for neither is it possible to do any good to that which is already spoilt, by sprinkling it with salt. This therefore they did not. But rather, what things had been before restored, and committed to their charge, and freed from that ill savor, these they then salted, maintaining and preserving them in that freshness, [633] which they had received of the Lord. For that men should be set free from the rottenness of their sins was the good work of Christ; but their not returning to it again any more was the object of these men’s diligence and travail.

John seems not to have understood the original meaning of the saying, and in fact there is much controversy even today about what was meant by salt losing its strength or savor, because salt remains — well, salt, no matter how old it is.   It does not lose its strength or savor.  Some think that the “salt” mentioned was not at all what we know as salt, but rather a kind of substance used to fertilize the fields — a fertilizer that could lose its strength.  But no firm and definitive solution to the puzzle of this text seems yet to have been found — so it remains obscure.



Here is a Russian icon with a large crowd of figures:

(Photo courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)

The inscription at the top tells us who they are;



All together it reads:



You may recall that a Sobor — an Assembly — is also the name used for a commemoration of a group of saints or angels, and in fact there is an “Assembly of the Holy Seventy Apostles” commemorated annually in the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar.

The problem is that their names — and even their numbers — vary from account to account.

If one reads older Bible translations, one finds the Seventy mentioned in Luke 10:1 (and 10:17), for example in the King James version:

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.”

That is essentially what we find  in Church Slavic Bibles as well, for example in the “Elizabeth” Bible:

По сих же яви Господь и инех седмьдесят, и посла их по двема пред лицем Своим во всяк град и место, аможе хотяше Сам ити:

And we find it in the traditional Byzantine Greek text:

μετα δε ταυτα ανεδειξεν ο κυριος και ετερους εβδομηκοντα και απεστειλεν αυτους ανα δυο προ προσωπου αυτου εις πασαν πολιν και τοπον ου εμελλεν αυτος ερχεσθαι

However, if we look at more recent translations, we find something different — for example in the English Standard Version:

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.

And if we look at more recent editions of the Koine Greek text of Luke 10:1, we also find that has changed to “seventy-two,” for example in Tyndale House SBL

Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἀνέδειξεν ὁ κύριος καὶ ἑτέρους ἑβδομήκοντα δύο καὶ ἀπέστειλεν αὐτοὺς ἀνὰ δύο δύο πρὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν πόλιν καὶ τόπον οὗ ἤμελλεν αὐτὸς ἔρχεσθαι.

So in the newer texts and translations of Luke, seventy has become seventy-two.

This is not, however, a new problem, and it originates in the variant readings found in old Greek manuscripts of Luke.  Some say there were seventy apostles sent out in Luke 10, while others say seventy-two.  Modern critical Greek texts of the New Testament tend to prefer the “seventy-two” reading, because it is found in Papyrus 75 ( Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV ), as well as attested in Papyrus 45 (Chester Beatty Papyrus) for Luke 10:17; and it is the reading also found in Codex Vaticanus and several other manuscripts, while the reading “seventy” is found in some such as Codex Alexandrinus.  Modern manuscript scholars presume that “seventy-two” was likely the earlier reading, and that “seventy” came from revising the number to fit the frequent use of the number seventy for various purposes elsewhere in the Bible, while seventy-two is an uncommon number found mentioned only once in quite another biblical context.

In any case, though in its calendar and liturgy the Eastern Orthodox churches prefer to use the number “Seventy” for the apostles sent out in Luke 10, writers such as Dimitriy Rostovskiy were familiar with the discrepancy.  In his discussion of the “Assembly of the Holy Seventy Apostles” commemoration, he noted that some of the Seventy had fallen “from the faith and dignity of their office,” one even becoming a pagan priest; and he mentions two names that were added to the list — Dionysius the Areopagite, and Simeon Niger.  The old lists naming the Seventy or Seventy-two do not always agree on all the names.  You will find Dimitriy Rostovskiy’s discussion of the matter here:


If we look more closely at the icon shown above, we can see that the “Seventy” are all clustered around a symbolic central church building that is “founded on a rock”:

(Courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)