Today we will look at a Russian icon of nine saints. It offers a good opportunity for practicing the reading of title inscriptions in Church Slavic. Inscriptions on old icons are often abbreviated, and also frequently damaged by time. That means the student of icons should become familiar enough with titles and names to be able to fill in what may be missing in the inscription as written on an icon. But again, this is not as difficult as it sounds at first, because names and titles are very repetitive.
Fortunately, each saint in this icon still has most of his title inscription. Those in the top row have titles written in the upper border, and those in the bottom row have them in the halo.
Let’s examine them one by one, beginning at top left:
His inscription begins with the three-letter abbreviation at the top:
You should recognize the П р (Pr) as the beginning letters of Prepodobnuiy, the common title of a monastic, usually rendered in English as “Venerable,” though it really means “Most like” — most like Christ that is, or like Adam before the Fall. The д above the two letters is the “d” in Prepodobnuiy.
Next comes his actual name:
And finally comes the “locator” part of his title that tells us which Antoniy he is — that is, the place with which he is associated. The first letter is partly missing, but from the rest we can easily restore it:
If we put it all together, we see that this monastic is Prepodobnuiy Antoniy Siyskiy — Venerable Antoniy Siyskiy, or if we want to anglicize it, Venerable Anthony of Siya. Antoniy (1479–1556) founded the Antonievo-Siyskiy Monastery on the Siya River, in what is now Arkhangelsk province in northern Russia. You may recognize the “Siyskiy” part from the title from the name of the well-known illustrated painters’ manual, the Siya Icon Painting Manual (Сийский иконописный подлинник/Siyskiy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik)
From this point on, I will just transliterate the I in Church Slavic by the И used for it in the modern Russian font.
To his right is a fellow dressed in the garments of a bishop:
His title begins:
The first abbreviation is of course the very common Svyatuiy, meaning “Holy/Saint.” Note that the Slavic t is written very small to the right of the C (S), and the partial crossbar of it curves back and above the C, to indicate abbreviation.
It does not take effort to read this line as Svyatuiy Arkhiepiskop — “Holy Archbishop.”
The second line gives us first his name:
Then comes his “locator”:
“OF SERBIA.” You will recall from previous postings that the -ago ending indicates the “of” form of a word, so that is why we translate this as “Of Serbia.” Sava of Serbia, who died in 1236, was the first archbishop of the “independent” Serbian Orthodox Church. Such an independent regional church is referred to by the adjective autocephalous, meaning literally, “self-headed,” — that is, under its own ecclesiastical authority. For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was formerly under the authority of the “Patriarch of Russia and all Rus,” is now autocephalous — self-ruling and independent, under the title “The Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
The next fellow is also dressed as a bishop:
We see that same Ct (St) abbreviation at the beginning, for Svyatuiy — “Holy.” That is followed by ЕПИСКОПЪ/EPISKOP”, meaning “Bishop.” Just think of the English word “episcopal,” which comes from the same Greek root as this Slavic form.
Next comes his name:
That is followed by his “locator” title:
The -skiy ending is another way of telling us that a person is from a certain place, and this fellow is from Perm, so he is Permskiy.
Assembling all the words, we get Svyatuiy Episkop Stefan Permskiy, “Holy Bishop Stefan/Stephen [of] Perm.” Stefan of Perm (1340–1396) was the first bishop of Perm, near the Urals.
We can see that the fellow holding the scroll at far right is also dressed as a monastic:
And as we might expect, his title also begins with the letters Prd, which as you already know abbreviate Prepodobnuiy/”Venerable.”
Next comes his name:
And at the end comes his “locator” title, partly obliterated by a scratch (this kind of thing is common in old icons) and abbreviated, but we can nonetheless read it as:
So this fellow is Venerable Makariy Zheltovodskiy, or anglicized, “Venerable Macarius of Yellow Waters” [Lake]. You may also sometimes find his title given in longer form as Преподобный Макарий Унженский Желтоводский Чудотворец/Venerable “Makariy Unzhenskiy [‘of Unzha’] Zheltovodskiy Wonderworker.” He lived circa 1399-1444, and was the founder of monasteries on the Volga River.
Now we move to the first fellow at left in the bottom row.
The beginning of his inscription has been partly obliterated by time, but from what we have already seen, we can easily amend the first word to the Prd we already know, for Prepodobnuiy — “Venerable.”
Next comes his name, and though the beginning letters are damaged, we can easily emend it as:
After that comes his abbreviated “locator” title:
So this fellow is Venerable Dimitriy Prilutskiy, or anglicized, Venerable Demetrius of Priluki. He was a 14th century monastic founder in the Vologda area.
To the right of Dimitriy is this person:
His title is given as:
С[ВЯТЫЙ] ЕВФИМИЙ МИТРОПОЛИТ НОВОГОРО[ДСКИЙ]
SVYATUIY EVFIMIY MITROPOLIT NOVOGORODSKIY
“HOLY EVFIMIY/EUTHEMIUS METROPOLITAN OF NOVGOROD”
Evfimiy was a 15th century cleric noted for his reconstruction of many old churches. He died in 1458.
The brackets indicate letters left out in the abbreviation or difficult to see because they are tiny superscripts.
Now we come to the angel. He is easy to identify, even though some letters are gone from his title:
СВЯТЫЙ АГГЕЛЬ ХРАНИТЕЛЬ
SVYATUIY ANGEL KHRANITEL’
HOLY ANGEL GUARDIAN
In normal English, “The Holy Guardian Angel.” Remember that the ГГ (“gg”) combination of letters in Slavic is read as “ng.” He holds the cross and sword typical of the “Guardian Angel” type.
To his right we see this fellow:
С[ВЯТЫЙ] НИКИТА ЕП[ИСКОП] НОВОГОРО[ДСКИЙ]
SVYATUIY NIKITA EPISKOP NOVOGORODSKIY
“HOLY NIKITA BISHOP OF NOVGOROD”
Nikita died in 1108, and was reputed to be a “wonderworker.”
Now we come to the last figure:
ПР[ЕПО]Д[ОБНЫЙ] САВА ВИШЕРСКАГО
PREPODOBNUIY SAVA VISHERSKAGO
“VENERABLE SAVA OF VISHERSK.”
From his inscription we can see how very important the “locator” portion of a title is in accurately identifying a saint, because as noted in this icon, there is more than one Sava — and in fact there are often multiple saints with the same name. So we need the “locator” title to tell just which Sava this fellow is — and we see he is Sava of Vishersk, not Sava of Serbia or some other Sava (often anglicized as Sabbas). Sava (generally spelled Савва/Savva) of Vishersk was the very ascetic founder of a monastery on the Vishera River. He died in 1460.
Now you have had some helpful practice in reading and translating Church Slavic titles of saints in Russian icons. If you have been reading here from the beginning, you should be able to translate the titles on a great many saints with ease.