It is not difficult to identify this icon, because we have seen another of the same type in an earlier posting:
So we know that this is essentially an icon of the patrons of horses, Flor and Lavr — in Latin form Florus and Laurus:
Eastern Orthodoxy continued the polytheism of the pre-Christian world in its veneration of saints, assigning them different roles, such as were held by the old gods, major and minor. And we know that if one had a particular concern with the raising and well-being of horses, Flor and Lavr were the saints who had authority in that field.
Let’s take a look at the saints in the upper half of the icon:
We see at center “Holy Archangel Mikhail/Michael.” He holds the “Image Not Made by Hands,” by Eastern Orthodox tradition the first icon of Christianity.
At far left is “Holy Flor/Florus, Martyr.”
And at far right is the fellow with whom he is usually shown, “Holy Lavr/Laurus, Martyr.”
Now let’s look at the fellow in bishop’s robes beside Lavr:
Now I hope you will recall that we have seen Vlasiy before, as a protector of herds and flocks:
So here he is, adding his “power” to this icon of the patrons of horses.
The fellow I really want to concentrate on today, however, is the last saint depicted, the one just to the left of Michael:
His title inscription is a bit worn, but we can nonetheless easily decipher it as SVYATUIY MEDOST P[ATRIARKH]/HOLY MEDOST/MODEST, PATRIARCH. This Medost was Патриарх Иерусалимский/Patriarkh Ierusalimskiy — “Patriarch of Jerusalem. So what is this 7th century Patriarch of Jerusalem doing in this icon of patrons of horses and herds and flocks?
It all goes back to stories from his legendary biography.
One tale relates that a farmer was on the road with his oxen when the devil attacked them, and they fell dead to the ground. The farmer prayed for Modest, who came and raised them up again. But as the farmer proceeded on his way, the devil attacked them once more, and again they fell to the ground. Modest appeared again, raised them up, and this time he tied his belt to them, so that the devil could no longer trouble them.
It is said that a poor widowed woman was very distressed because her five pairs of oxen were seriously ill. Distraught, she prayed in tears to the “unmercenary” saints Comas And Damian to heal her oxen. However, Cosmas appeared to her in a dream telling her essentially that the healing of oxen was not in his job description:
“O woman, we are not empowered by God to give healing to cattle. This grace is given to Modest, the great hierarch of Jerusalem. He — if you approach him — will heal your oxen.”
Now not being able to find him directly, she began to pray earnestly to Medost/Modest. He then appeared to her in a dream, saying:
“O woman, why are you so weeping? I am Modest, whom you seek, and hearing your prayer I appeared to make healthy your oxen.”
He then instructed the woman to rise up, to cut pieces of iron from metal tools, and to take the pieces to the place called Lagina, where there was a church dedicated to the Arhistrategos Michael (the Archangel Michael as Heavenly Commander). There lived a man named Evstafiy (Eustathios), who would make her a cross from them. She was then to return to her home and call seven presbyters, who were to perform religious services in her house, and with incense and candles they were to take the cross and pour oil over it, and then the oil was to be sprinkled on the oxen, and they would be healed. And of course as these old tales go, the oxen were made quite healthy again by the ritual.
That explains why Medost/Modest is in this icon. His ability to cure oxen and livestock used in ploughing (and even other farm and domestic creatures) is added to that of the other two healers of horses and flocks, to cover even better the needs of an owner of livestock.
Now let’s look at another icon that has Medost/Modest as its main image:
We also see a winged serpent by the water on the right side. A demonic serpent is said to have killed animals in Jerusalem by poisoning the water with his venom. Medost/Modest got rid of him.
There are various other animals in the icon, including a dog. It is said that Modest once adjured the devil, who had appeared in the shape of a dog.
We can see from the saints included that this icon was oriented specifically toward those needing protection for herds, horses and other livestock in the days before one could just call a veterinarian.
There were all kinds of folk beliefs about the day of Modest’s commemoration, one of which was that women were not to play card games on it. If they did, then when summer came, the chickens would peck holes in the cucumbers in the garden.