A CROWDED LAKE

Here is an interesting 16th century image from the Greek-speaking area that not only shrinks geography but also combines elements of two different biblical events:


You may have guessed the main subject:  Jesus stilling the storm on the sea of Galilee.

In the manner characteristic of icons, we see progressive action — the movement of time — depicted by showing the same character twice, in two different positions.  It is a technique I like to call “static animation.”  In this case it is Jesus who is duplicated.

We see him first asleep in the stern of the boat:

We find that described in Mark 4:35-38:

And he said to them on that day — evening having come:  Let us pass over to the other side.  And having dismissed the crowd, they took him with them, since he was in the boat.  And other boats were with him.

And there occurred a violent storm of wind, and the waves were coming into the boat, so that already the boat is being filled.

And he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  And they awaken him and say to him:  Teacher, do you not care that we perish?

And then we see what Jesus does in response, found in Mark 4:39-41:

And he rose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Silence, be still.  And the wind abated, and there was a great calm.

And he said to them:  Why are you afraid?  Do you still not have faith?

And they were afraid with a great fear, and were saying to each other:  Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Now the most interesting thing about this depiction of Jesus stilling the storm is a detail that is rather difficult to see, but if we observe closely the direction in which Jesus is looking and gesturing, we can discern it:

There he is, at the upper left side of the sea:  a black demon holding a long horn through which he blows a great wind that causes the storm on the sea of Galilee.  It is an interesting touch not actually found in the Gospels.

Now the “Sea” of Galilee is not really a sea, but rather a lake.  Nonetheless, local weather conditions can raise dangerous winds, and it is said that six-foot waves may occasionally occur during severe storms.

You are no doubt able to recognize the second major element in this depiction.  It is the separate though subsequent incident we see part of at right.  In the Gospel called “of Mark,” after the storm on the Sea of Galilee and its stilling, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the shore of the “country of the Gadarenes,” the setting for the tale of the man with the unclean spirit, found in Mark 5.  You may recall that in it, Jesus casts demons out of the man and they enter into a nearby herd of swine.  The possessed swine then run violently down a steep place into the Sea of Galilee, where they drown.  I have previously discussed the confusion we find in this geographical location and its associated story in detail (see https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/places-numbers-and-pigs/).

So that is what we see at right — the demons riding the swine down into the water:

Here is a very similar image — a fresco, also 16th century –from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos.  It is not as visually effective as the first example, nor does it have the swine-riding demons:

The little fellow causing the storm with his wind horn at upper left is not as blackly demonic looking either — in fact here he looks more like just a minor “wind” deity left over from pre-Christian days:

Before we leave this subject, we should take a look at the Greek title inscription on the image:


It is:

Ὁ ΧC ΕΠΙΤΙΜѠΝ ΤΙΝ ΘΑΛΑCΑΝ

In full — and in standard spelling, it would be:

Ὁ ΧΡΙCΤΟC ΕΠΙΤΙΜѠΝ ΤΗΝ ΘΑΛΑCCΑΝ

“[The] Christ Commanding the Sea.”

 

 

 

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