Good news for podlinnikophiles — those of you interested in old Russian icon painting manuals. In previous postings, I gave you links (free, of course) to the Stroganov, Bolshakov, and Perm Podlinniks (as well as a couple of others).
Today I am happy to add a link to the more detailed (yet still text only) icon painter’s manual titled the Сводный иконописный подлинник XVIII Века по списку Г. Филимонова — Svodnuiy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik XVIII Vyeka po spisky G. Filimonova — “The Combined Icon Painting Manual of the 18th Century in the Edition of G. Filimonov.”
This manual has long been very difficult to obtain. Nonetheless, it was always my favorite among the main “text” painter’s manuals because it is generally the most detailed, and adds interesting touches such as the traditional dates of saints, etc.
Of course the downside is that it is not available in English. But for those of you who have begun learning the basic Slavic vocabulary of podlinniki/painter’s manuals, it should give you much material for practice, study and use.
If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily recognize this as an icon of “John the Forerunner,” who is more commonly called John the Baptist outside Eastern Orthodoxy (though sometimes within it as well).
His iconography in this example is rather typical, but here is a quick review:
John is shown clothed in a hair garment, with a cloth wrap over it. He stands in a stylized wilderness. At lower left we see an axe and a tree, which represents Matthew 3:10:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
John is winged, in keeping with the double meaning of the word angelos in Greek; it can mean both messenger, and also an angel as a messenger of God. Also, in Eastern Orthodoxy John is often called a “heavenly man and earthly angel.”
Jesus blesses John from heaven, at upper right.
At lower right we see John’s head in a salver, signifying his manner of death according to the Gospels.
Now let’s take a look at what is different — and new to us in this icon. It is the long Greek inscription on his scroll, which is not that we usually find on icons of John, but one less common:
His scroll text — addressed to Jesus — is this (with some variation in spelling):
Οράς οία πάσχουσιν, ω Θεού Λόγε, οι πταισμάτων έλεγχοι των βδελυκτέων. Έλεγχον και γαρ μη φέρων ο Ηρώδης,τέτμηκεν, ιδού, την εμήν κάραν, Σώτερ.
Here is a loose translation:
“You see how suffer, O Word of God, those who reprove the wrongs of the abominable. For not bearing reproof, behold, Herod cut off my head, Savior.”
So with his severed head in front of him, he is telling Jesus, “You see how people who reprimand the wrongdoings of the wicked suffer. Because he could not endure my criticism — look, Savior! — Herod cut off my head.”
Now there are a number of odd things about John. Among them is that he is mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, though that account disagrees with those in the canonical Gospels. Josephus says Herod had John executed because of John’s influence over crowds of people and thus raised the possibility of a rebellion. The Gospels say John was killed because he condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was already married, and so as a woman could not legally marry Herod by Jewish law. There also appears to be a discrepancy in the dating of John, who in Josephus seems to have been killed after the death of Jesus, while in the Gospels his death comes nearer the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. However, there is some disagreement among scholars over the precise placement of John in the chronology of Josephus.
Most notable is that the account of John the Baptist in Josephus does not in any way connect him with Jesus.
In the previous posting, we looked at noted saints associated with the city of Murom, among them the father-sons triad of Prince Konstantin and his sons Mikhail and Feodor. They are easy to recognize, but be careful — because of the similarity of names and iconography — not to confuse them with this other father-sons triad, seen here in a 17th century Russian icon:
At the top is the very common image of Jesus called “Not Made by Hands. It is not part of the type itself. Below it is a large central figure in monastic garb, but without an identifying name inscription:
However, if we look closely at the two others in the icon, we can make out what remains of their name inscriptions.
Here is the one at left:
The writing is damaged and faded, but if you are really clever, you might be able to recognize it as an abbreviation for КНЯЗЬ ДАВИДЪ — KNYAZ’ DAVID — “Prince David.”
And here the the one at right:
Again, the inscription is not fully there, but nonetheless it can be deciphered as КНЯЗЬ КОНСТАНТИН — KNYAZ’ KONSTANTIN — “Prince Konstantin.”
Those two names tell us — if we did not already know — that the central figure without a title inscription must be the father of these two: КНЯЗЬ ФЕОДОР — KNYAZ’ FEODOR — “Prince Feodor/Theodore” of Smolensk and Yaroslavl.
Here is how to distinguish the Murom saints Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor from the Yaroslavl saints Feodor, David and Konstantin if inscriptions are damaged or missing:
Icons with the father Feodor and the sons David and Konstantin depict the father robed as a monk, as we see in the icon above.
Icons with the father Konstantin and the sons Mikhail and Feodor depict the father robed as a prince, as we see on the left side of this central image from a larger Russian icon (the saints on the right, by the way, are Petr, Fevronia, and Iulianiya Lazarevskaya, also discussed in the previous posting).
In it, the father (Konstantin) and sons Mikhail and Feodor each wear the ornate outer cloak called a шуба/shuba, and each wears the fur-trimmed cap called a шапка/shapka. The damask-ornamented shuba and the shapka are standard garb for noble or royal Russian saints.
For a better perspective on these two father-sons triads, here is the basic information. We will take them in chronological order. First, a brief review of the father Konstantin and his sons:
I. Prince Konstantin of Murom was descended from Vladimir of Kyiv/Kiev — the fellow who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by edict.
When Konstantin was given authority over the city of Murom — which at that time was still not Christianized, he sent his son Mikhail to convert the people — so tradition says. The Muromites, however, killed Mikhail by throwing him down from the city walls, so Konstantin then took the city by armed power. The story is that the people eventually relented — influenced by seeing the “Murom” icon of Mary carried in Konstantin’s arms. His son Feodor aided in the spread of Christian belief in the Murom region.
II. Feodor of Smolensk and Yaroslavl — also known as Феодор Чёрный/Feodor Chornuiy — “Feodor the Black” — was born at the time of the Mongol invasions and died in 1298. He was originally the child Prince of Mozhaisk, but upon his marriage he also became Prince of Yaroslavl. From this first marriage, he had a son named Mikhail, who on the early death of his mother was raised by his grandmother, Princess Xenia.
This was the period of Mongol control. Feodor became allied with the Mongols in their military battles, and gained favor among them. But when he tried to return to Yaroslavl after three years with the Mongols, he was looked on as what today would be called a “collaborator,” and the people would not let him enter, saying, “This is the city of Xenia, and Mikhail is our prince.” Feodor then returned to the Mongols, and was so highly considered among them that he was allowed to marry the daughter of Khan Mengu-Timur of the Golden Horde. She became a baptized Christian under the name Anna, and with her Feodor had two more sons — David (died 1321) and Konstantin. These later sons are the ones who commonly appear with Feodor in Russian iconography.
Eventually, Feodor got word from Yaroslavl that his first son Mikhail had died. Feodor then returned to Yaroslavl, and became its prince. In 1299 he became very ill, and was carried near death to the Savior-Transfiguration Monastery, and there he took the monastic robe — which accounts for why he is depicted in a monk’s robe in iconography. This “last-minute” entry into monasticism was done by a number of Russian saints — a bit reminiscent of the deathbed baptism of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. His son David succeeded him as ruler of Yaroslavl. It is thought that his other son, Konstantin, had already died by that time.
So that is how to distinguish the two father-sons triads — the “Murom” triad of Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor, and the “Yaroslavl” triad of Feodor, David and Konstantin.
Now that the distinction is clear (I hope!), we can move on to an interesting related icon — related to the Yaroslavl father-sons triad, that is.
Here is an icon from the last part of the 17th century:
We can use it to practice reading inscriptions.
Here is the image at top center:
Now the first thing we can tell about this icon is that in spite of its traditional appearance, this is a State Church icon, not an Old Believer icon. That is obvious from the abbreviation of the name of Jesus at top left: IИС for Иисус Христос/Iisus Khristos. The Old Believers would have spelled it in the old way — IC XC for the form Ісус Хрістос/Isus Khristos. You will recall that the change came about when Patriarch Nikon insisted on a reform of religious practices and spellings in the middle of the 17th century, and that caused the Old Believers to keep to the old ways, while the State Church adopted the changes and began its persecution of the Old Believers. So we see that change already in this icon inscription.
Just below the Iisus Khristos inscription, we see another:
Ц[А]РЬ Ц[А]РЕМ И Г[О]С[ПО]ДЬ Г[О]С[ПО]ДЕМЬ TSAR’ TSAREM I GOSPOD’ GOSPODEM’ “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”
Now we can move to the main image. Usually the title of an icon type is at the top of the image in large letters, but in this example it is rather modestly beside the head of the main figure at left, and in small letters:
The triad at left is one you now know — Feodor, Konstantin, and David. You should have no trouble in reading their inscriptions:
You can see some abbreviation in the names Konstantin and David. The two sons in this example wear the damask shuba and robes, but their heads are bare, without the usual shapka — the fur-trimmed hat — on each. Their father Feodor wears the monastic garment he took at the “last minute,” when he became a monk just before his death.
Now we move to the right side of the icon:
At upper right we see the moon — ЛУНА/LUNA — just as we saw the sun –СОЛНЦЕ/SOLNTSE — on the far upper left, above Feodor.
You will recall that “good-believing” is the Slavic way of indicating that they are “Orthodox,” so благоверный/blagovyernuiy (the singular male form) is often simply translated as “Orthodox.”
Now we come to their names. The fellow at left is ВАСИЛИЙ/VASILIY, which you will recall is the Slavic form of Basil. The fellow at right is КОНСТАНТИН/KONSTANTIN, the Slavic form of Constantine. And of course he is a different Konstantin than the one in the triad at left.
Now all we need know is who these two fellows were.
Princes Vasiliy and Konstantin of Yaroslavl were brothers during the time of the Mongol/Tatar invasions. Vasiliy attempted to pacify the Mongol leader Batu Khan of the so-called “Golden Horde.” He fell ill in Vladimir, dying there in 1250. His younger brother Konstantin died in a battle against the Tatars in 1267. Some two and a half centuries later, their bodies were said to have been found incorrupt, which as you will recall, in popular Slavic belief can mean either a saint or a vampire, depending on circumstances. In this case, of course, they were considered to be saints, because their remains were believed to have been the cause of various “miracles.”
All of these “Yaroslavl Wonderworkers” are set against the background of the city of Yaroslavl.
This icon type is known as Муромская/Muromskaya — the “Of Murom” icon of Mary, or simply the “Murom” icon:
It is said that the original of this icon was brought in the early 12th century from Kyiv/Kiev to the city of Murom by Prince Konstantin of Murom, and it supposedly so impressed the non-Christian inhabitants when it was shown to them that they gave up their resistance against the authority of Constantine and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
The legends of this icon also relate that near the end of the 12th century, when Vasiliy was Bishop of Murom, rumors went about that he was not leading a holy life. The rumors were so bad that the people of the city planned to kill him. But when he heard of this, he asked the people to delay his death until the next morning. During the night he supposedly prayed before the Murom icon, and then he took the icon to the Oka River. There he spread out his mantle on the waters of the river, and stood on it with the icon. His mantle supposedly miraculously floated and upheld him, and a strong wind came that blew him against the current of the river, all the way to Old Ryazan (Старая Рязань/Staraya Ryazan). There he was well received by the people, but fearing the invasion of the Tatars (Mongols), he eventually took the icon with him to another place with a similar name — New Ryazan. And so the icon got the second part one often finds in its name — the Muromskaya-Ryazanskaya (Муромская-Рязанская) icon.
On some examples of the Murom icon, one may find its troparion written at the base:
Глас 4/”tone” 4
Днесь светло красуется град Муром, Today brightly rejoices the city of Murom,
яко зарю солнечную,
As the brightness of sunshine,
восприемши, Владычице, чудотворную Твою икону, having received, Lady, your wonderworking icon,
к нейже ныне мы притекающе и молящеся, to whom now we are resorting and praying,
Тебе взываем сице: to you calling thus:
О Пречудная Владычице Богородице, O most wonderful Lady, Birthgiver of God,
молися из Тебе воплощенному Христу Богу нашему, pray, to from you incarnate, Christ our God,
да избавит град сей и вся грады и страны христианския Let him save this city and all Christian cities and lands,
невредимы от всех навет вражиих unharmed from all slanderous enemies,
и спасет души наша, яко Милосерд. and save our souls, for he is merciful.
Now on to the main saints associated with Murom:
Prince Konstantin of Murom (died 1129) was descended from Vladimir of Kyiv/Kiev — the fellow who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by edict.
When Konstantin requested and was given authority over the city of Murom — which at that time was still not Christianized — he sent his son Mikhail to convert the people, so tradition says. The Muromites, however, killed Mikhail by throwing him down from the city walls, so Konstantin then took the city by armed power. The story is that the people eventually relented and decided to be baptized — influenced by seeing the “Murom” icon of Mary carried in Konstantin’s arms. His son Feodor is said to have aided in spreading Christian belief among the pagans, and so all three are generally found together on icons as saints.
Here is an icon depicting the city of Murom, and above it are two sets of saints, and kneeling below is another saint:
The group at left is Prince Konstantin and his sons Mikhail and Feodor.
At right is the noted husband-wife pair of Murom saints, Petr (Peter) and Fevronia.
Here are two panel icons of the latter pair:
There is a fanciful long tale about Petr and Fevronia, but in reality, the accounts of their lives are rather confused. No one is quite certain whether they were actually the husband and wife pair David And Evfrosiniya, who took the monastic names Petr and Fevronia, and died c. 1228, or whether they were the pair Petr and Evfrosiniya who ruled Murom in the 14th century.
In any case, this in brief is the popular tale of their lives:
It is said that the wife of Prince Pavel/Paul was visited and seduced by a serpent demon, whom others could only see as disguised in the form of Prince Paul. The wife finally told her husband what was happening, and he asked her to slyly get out of the demon how he could be killed. She found that the only person able to dispatch the serpent was Pavel’s brother, Petr (Pyotr/Peter). But when he did so, the blood spilled on his skin, and he broke out in terrible sores and rashes and scabs.
No one seemed to know what to do about this affliction until a servant of Peter came across a peasant girl in the Ryazan region named Fevronia, who claimed she could cure him. But to do this, she demanded a high price; she asked him to make her his wife.
Desperate for a cure, Petr agreed to marry Fevronia. But after she cured him, instead of proceeding with the marriage, he instead just sent her expensive gifts. However, he did not get away with that, because Fevronia refused the gifts, and Peter’s affliction returned, and again he suffered. So finally he married Fevronia, and was again cured.
When Pavel died, Peter and Fevronia ruled over Murom. The wealthy citizens — the boyars, were not happy to have a lowly peasant girl as their princess, and though the ordinary people were fond of her, the boyars demanded that Fevronia leave the city. As inducement for doing so, they offered her whatever wealth she wished to take with her. But Fevronia tricked them. The wealth she wished to take was her husband Petr.
The two left Murom, but the city without its Prince was in such strife that the townspeople asked the pair to return. They did so, and ruled well over Murom, until in old age they both took the monastic habit, and Peter took the name David, and Fevronia took the name Evfrosiniya. That accounts for why Petr and Fevronia are commonly depicted in monastic garb. Both supposedly died on the same day, and through the intervention of a miracle, were eventually buried in the same tomb.
If you would like to read more of the fairy-tale-like story of Peter and Fevronia, you will find a version of the folk tale here:
Well, that leaves us with only one remaining noted Murom saint to discuss. It is the chronologically later woman kneeling below Petr and Fevronia. She is Iulianiya Lazarevskaya.
Her story relates that Iulianiya/Juliania was born to a noble couple in the town of Ploshin in the 16th century. She was orphaned, and her grandmother took her to the city of Murom. After the grandmother died, Iulianiya, aged 12, was taken in by the grandmother’s daughter as part of her already large family.
Iulianiya was a pious — one might say unnaturally pious — girl. She preferred prayer and fasting to the entertainments other children enjoyed. She took a lot of ridicule for this, but persisted in her ways. She also became devoted to helping the needy.
At the age of 16, Iulianiya married, and continued her pious life and care of the poor and ill. Over the course of her life she had ten sons and three daughters, of whom seven died as infants, and later two more sons died.
Iulianiya, in her sorrow, wanted to enter a monastery, but had to remain with her husband to care for the remaining children.
On the death of her husband, Iulianiya only increased her efforts to live an ultra-pious life and to aid the poor. She constantly repeated the “Jesus Prayer,” even in her sleep. She is said to have once been saved from the attacks of demons by St. Nikolai/Nicholas, who appeared and chased them away with a club.
The country fell on hard times, and even Iulianiya did not have enough to eat, but still she did what she could to feed others. She died on January 10, 1604. Because of her constant care for the unfortunate, she became known as Праведная Иулиания Лазаревская, Милостивая/Pravednaya Iulianiya Lazarevskaya, Milostivaya — “Righteous Iulianiya of Lazarevo, the Merciful.”
So now you know about and can identify the “Murom saints” in icons — as well as the Muromskaya icon.
We have seen in previous postings that it is not at all uncommon for Eastern Orthodoxy to have adopted iconography from Western European Roman Catholicism. The average Orthodox person is usually quite unaware of these borrowings, and some of these icons also have reputations as “miraculous” images within E. Orthodoxy.
Today we will look at one such borrowing. It is the rather detailed Marian icon type known as the Zvyesda Presvyetlaya (Звезда Пресветлая) — the “Star Most Bright.”
Now we have seen in previous postings how the details of icons are often “revised” over time to fit theological preconceptions. That has happened also in the case of this icon. Note that in the late 17th century example below (from the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Balakhna, Nizhniy Novgorod), Mary wears a white headcovering below her crown:
It is likely, however, that as in the Murom example below, from roughly the same period, the original form depicted Mary with long, loose hair below her crown, and no other headcovering.
Now we know already from previous postings why this change would have been made. In traditional Eastern Orthodox thought, long hair was a sign of a “loose” woman. So at some point, an icon painter decided to revise the type to fit this preconception.
What is considered to be the earliest Russian example of the “Most Bright Star” type was kept in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Murom, and dated to near the year 1700. It bears an inscription on the banner below the image of Mary, reading:
Сии пречу[д]ныи образ звезда пресветлая прес[вя]тая влад[ычи]цы Б[огоро]д[и]цы н[е]б[е]снии ц[а]рицы
Siy prechudnuiy obraz Zvezda Presvetlaya Presvyataya Vladuichitsui Bogoroditsui Nebesniy Tsaritsui
“This is the Most Miraculous Image of the ‘Star Most Bright’ Most Holy Mistress Mother of God, Empress of Heaven.”
The words Nebesnuiy Tsaritsui would sound more familiar to Catholics if we put them in the western form — “Queen of Heaven.”
The title of the image comes actually from a book — a collection of Roman Catholic stories of the “miracles” of Mary — titled simply Звезда Пресветлая/Zvyesda Presvyetlaya — “The Star Most Bright,” which began to appear in handwritten copies in Russia in the second half of the 1600s.
Now it is not difficult to determine that the “Star Most Bright” iconography must have been based ultimately on Roman Catholic icons of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” depicting Mary and the Christ Child surrounded by 15 scenes of contemplation for the Rosary — the “Fifteen Mysteries”:
Благовещение / Annunciation
Встреча Марии и Елисаветы – Meeting [Visitation] of Mary and Elizabeth
Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ
Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple –the Presentation of Christ]
Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost [Christ among the Doctors]
Моление о чаше / The Prayer of the Cup [Jesus in Gethsemane]
Бичевание Христа / The Scourging of Christ [The Flagellation]
Коронование терновым венцом / Crowning with the Crown of Thorns
Несение креста / Bearing the Cross
Распятие / Crucifixion
Воскресение / Resurrection
Вознесение / Ascension [sometimes replaced by the Transfiguration of Jesus]
Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit [Pentecost]
Вознесение Богоматери / Ascension of the Mother of God [Assumption]
Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God
On the Balakhna example, however, we find 17 scenes:
Рождество Богоматери / Birth of the Mother of God
Благовещение у колодца / Annunciation at the Well
Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ
Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple]
Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost
Омовение ног / Washing of the Feet [of the Disciples]
Моление о чаше / Prayer of the Cup
Взятие под стражу Христа / The Arrest of Christ [ The Taking into Custody]
Распятие / Crucifixion
Положение во гроб / Placing in the Tomb
Восстание из гроба / The Rising from the Tomb
Явление Марии Магдалине / Appearance to Mary Magdalene
Сошествие во ад / Descent to Hades
Вознесение Христово / Ascension of Christ
Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit
Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God
Страшный Суд / Terrible Judgment
We find similar Western European Catholic examples in paintings of various periods, such as this one:
And this one:
Of course the old Russian version of the image has been “Orthodoxified” by removing or altering the rosary held by Mother and Child or both, and by replacing any attendant Catholic saints with Eastern Orthodox saints.
Those in the Murom example consist of the princes of Murom Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor at left, and at right Prince Pyotr, Princess Fevronia, and Righteous Iulianiya Lazarevskaya.
In the Balakhna example, we find instead these saints: at left, Iakov (James), Brother of the Lord; Muchenik (Martyr) Kondrat (Codratus/Quadratus), and the Apostle Ioann Bogoslov (John the Theologian). At right are the Apostle Simeon (Bishop of Jerusalem, sometimes also called a brother of Jesus), and Righteous Ioakhim (Joachim) and Anna (parents of Mary).
The Balakhna example has an inscription below Mary that is too small be legible in the photo. It reads:
О Дево, Госпоже, Мати Господа моего, Творца всех, Ты – Корень девству и Неувядаемый цвет чистоты, Небесным чином радование и человеческому роду Благословенная Помощнице, Моли Сына Своего о спасении всех христиан
“O Virgin, Lady, Mother of my Lord, Maker of All, you are the Root of Virginity and the Unfading Flower of Purity, the Joy of the Heavenly Choirs and the Blessed Helper of the Race of Man, Pray to your Son for the Salvation of all Christians.”
Here is a 13th century fresco from the Djurdjevi Stupovi Monastery (Đurđevi stupovi) in Serbia:
It depicts three angels seated a a table. You may recall that we have seen this basic image before, as part of more detailed icons of the “Old Testament Trinity,” also called “The Hospitality of Abraham” (Гостеприимство Авраамово/Gostepriimstvo Avraamovo). But in this example, Abraham and everything else found in the more elaborate images of the Old Testament Trinity is absent.
We can see the title inscription written at both sides of the halo of the central angel:
СТА ТРО ИЦА
From past postings here, you will recognize that curved line above the first three letters as the sign of abbreviation, and so you will know that СТА with that line above it is the abbreviation for СВЯТАЯ — SVYATAYA — meaning “Holy,” except of course that the third and last letters would be given in the old Slavic form instead of the later Russian Я form for the “ya” sound.
You will probably also easily recognize the separated ТРО ИЦА as the word ТРОИЦА — TROITSA — meaning “Trinity.” So this image is titled Svyataya Troitsa — “Holy Trinity.” You likely also easily noticed that the letters ТР (“TR”) are linked — they form a ligature, with the curve of the Р (“R”) about halfway down the vertical line from the top bar of the T.
Now the second significant thing to note is that this same central angel has the cross in his halo. I hope you remember that a halo with a cross in it is used for images of Jesus. Here that means the central angel of this Trinity is identified as Jesus — the Son, and the other two angels would then be the Father and the Holy Spirit.
One of those inter-factional quibbles eventually arose over giving the central angel the cross halo, thus identifying him as Jesus. The Russian Stoglav Council in 1551 forbade this practice, and decreed that the title of such icons should be Svyataya Troitsa, and should follow the model of Andrey Rublev (there is now some controversy over whether Rublev was the artist of various works attributed to him); and even today Eastern Orthodox bicker over whether the practice of giving the central angel the cross halo is “uncanonical” or not. That does not matter to students of art history, however, because we are more interested in what was actually done than in what various factions think should have been done. In any case, the painter of this image had not yet adopted the then relatively recent (in Slavic lands) practice of placing the Ho On — “The One Who Is” — inscription that also eventually became characteristic of the halo of Jesus. He just used the simple form with no inscription on the cross in the halo.
Interestingly, there was not always agreement in earlier Christianity as to who the three angels were. Procopius of Gaza (465–528) wrote that some considered them to be three angels, while the “Judaizers” held that only one of them was God, and the other two were angels; still others considered the three angels a “type” for the Holy Trinity (See his Commentary on Genesis XVIII).
Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho LVI, asserted that one of the three was God, and the other two angels, while his opposition held a common Jewish view that the “three men” of the Genesis story were three angels, and that they appeared to Abraham only after God appeared to him, following the text of Genesis 18:1-2:
“And the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him…”
The consensus in Eastern Orthodoxy, however, came to be that the three angels were the Trinity — or more vaguely, that the three show the “relationship” among the persons of the Trinity.