SELECTING SAINTS

Here is a Russian icon dating, apparently, to the 19th century.

(Private collection, Switzerland)

At top center, though without an identifying title, is the Akhtuirskaya Marian icon type:

In Church tradition, prayer is made to icons of the Akhtuirskaya type for the protection and needs of orphans, for the upbringing of children, as well as for the cure of fever.

At top left we see the female martyr Paraskovi (Paraskeva Pyatnitsa), and below her is Venerable Evdokia/Eudocia.  Paraskovi/Parskeva is a “special needs” saint, and believers pray to her for — among other things — the healing of children.


Evdokia/Eudocia too is a “special needs” saint to whom prayer is made for the healing of paralysis, and also vision problems.

To the right of them is the Angel Khranitel’ — the “Guardian Angel.”  He is the generic representation of the Guardian Angel said to be assigned to every “Orthodox” Christian.

At right we see the mother and son martyr saints Oulita/Julitta (bottom) and Kirik/Kyrikos (top):

Kirik and Oulita also are prayed to for the healing of children, as well as for the general happiness of families.

A customer — in ordering an icon — could request whatever combination of saints and images he or she wished to have.  Often these were based on the particular concerns of that person or family, which is why one often finds “special needs” saints included when subjects for a new icon were chosen.

SAINT SUNDAY

In a previous posting we looked at the iconography of St. “Friday-Friday” (Paraskeva Pyatnitsa); today we will look at that of St. Sunday — the female megalomartyr Kyriake.

Here is an image of her inscribed in Greek:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

As you can see, the icon shows the effects of time and paint loss, but fortunately the most important parts of the image remain — including the title at the top, which we can emend as ἉΓΙΑ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗ —Hagia Kyriake — “Holy Kyriake” or in modern Greek pronunciation, Kyriaki.  We can even see — at left — the top of the martyr’s cross she held in her right hand, which is common in her iconography.

Kyriake is usually depicted with a simple white headcovering, but sometimes she is also — as in this example — given a crown on top of it.

Kyriake is the Greek word for Sunday.  Supposedly she was so named because she was born on Sunday.  In Bulgaria she is known as Sveta Nedelya (Света Неделя) — “Holy Sunday.”

Now whether Kyriake was created as the personification of Sunday — the day of the Resurrection — or whether she was an actual person is sometimes disputed.  In Eastern Orthodoxy she is given her traditional hagiographic tale as a young woman who was martyred under Emperor Diocletian.  The tale relates that a magistrate of Nicomedia wanted to marry her to his son, but she refused, telling him she was betrothed to Christ.  He then denounced her to the authorities as a Christian, and she was supposedly tortured for her refusal to worship the gods and eventually beheaded.  The tale of her martyrdom has the usual extravagant and fantastic elements common to much hagiography.

 

BREAD AND BLOSSOMS

In the previous posting we took a look at the apocryphal source of a scroll text of  the “Forefather” Melchizedek.  Here he is in a 14th century fresco from Grachanitsa, Serbia:

His name inscription reads:

ПРВЕДНИ МЕЛЬХИС[Е]ДЕК
PRAVEDNI MEL’KHISEDEK
“RIGHTEOUS MELKHISEDEK

The writer has used a phonetic spelling of Pravednuiyраведный), and has omitted one “e,” and has written the Д (d) above and smaller than the other letters.

Melchizedek looks much the same here as in most depictions, with his grey hair, long beard, a crown on his head and in his hands a tray with loaves of bread in it.  He is most frequently shown — as here — without a scroll, though occasionally he holds one, as we saw in the previous posting.

The bread is taken from Genesis 14:17, in which Melchizedek brings out to Abraham bread and wine before he blesses him.  In Eastern Orthodox doctrine, this is thought to be a prefiguration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which supposedly becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

There is a rather similar image from the same place and date of another Old Testament figure, Aaron.  He is titled here:
ПРОРОКЬ ААРОНЬ
PROROK’ AARON’
“PROPHET AARON”

This is the Old Testament Aaron, brother of Moses, and first Levite priest.  In Numbers 17 it is said that a controversy over which tribe was to become priestly was settled when — unlike the rods of other tribes — that of Aaron miraculously sprouted overnight:

8 And it came to pass, that in the morning Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.

The obvious distinctions between the two fresco images above — aside from name titles of course — are that while Melchizedek holds a container with loaves of bread, Aaron holds a blossoming rod and a golden vessel in which a rolled scroll is seen.

All three, oddly enough, are Marian symbols found in the Akathist hymn, which says of Mary:

Rejoice, O mystical rod that blossomed — the flower that will never fade.

Rejoice, … golden jar containing the manna which sweetens the senses of the devout.

Rejoice, scroll on which, O pure one, the Word was inscribed by the Father’s finger.

If you look closely at the golden vessel Aaron carries, you will see the image of Mary on the side of it.

A comparison is often made in Eastern Orthodox theology between the priesthood of Aaron — as the first Levite priest — and that of Melchizedek — who was not a Levite.  The New Testament book of Hebrews declares Jesus to be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek — not of the temporal Levitical priesthood:

For he testifies, You are a priest forever after the order of Melkhisedek.  (Hebrews 7:17)

Now you can go to your friends and ask, “Do you know how to tell the difference between Melchizedek and Aaron?”  And they will look at you strangely and say, “Tell who from who?  What are you talking about?  Get a life!”

 

ABRAHAM THE BARBER

Here is a Russian icon that appears to be from the Forefathers tier of an iconostasis:

We can tell from the inscription that it depicts
СВЯТЫЙ ПРАОТЕЦ МЕЛХИЗЕДЕКЪ
SVYATUIY PRAOTETS MELKHIZEDEK
“Holy Forefather Melchizedek”

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure, because while there is so little information about him in the Bible, he is nonetheless a part of significant doctrinal understanding of Jesus in the New Testament.

We first find him the the Old Testament, where he appears in Genesis 14:

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth loaves and wine, and he was the priest of the most high God. 19 And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, who made heaven and earth, 20 and blessed be the most high God who delivered your enemies into your power. And Abram gave him the tithe of all.

Next in Psalm 109 (110 KJV):

1 The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. 2 The Lord shall send out a rod of power for you out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies. 3 With you is dominion in the day of your power, in the splendors of your saints: I have begotten you from the womb before the morning. 4 The Lord swore, and will not repent, You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.

And we find him in the New Testament book of Hebrews, which makes a rather lengthy and wordy connection of Melchizedek with Jesus in chapter 7 — too long to include here.

In the icon, we see Abraham wearing a crown and omophorion (the stole around his neck), holding a tray on which are loaves of bread.

What I want to note today, however, is found in the odd scroll text given him here:

It says basically that God sent Abraham to Melchizedek to “cut my hair” — Ostrizhe vlasui moy.

“Cut my hair”?  There is nothing whatsoever about Abraham cutting Melchizedek’s hair in the Bible.  But as you all should know by now, when information was lacking — whether in the Bible or out of it — people just made things up.  There are apocryphal writings in which Abraham cuts Melchizedek’s hair — the so-called “Apocrypha of Melchizedek.” One version of the story is found in the Byzantine-Slavic  text Palea Historia — “Old [Testment] History.”

The tale, which has variations, relates basically that Melchizedek was one of two sons of a king of Salem.  The king asked him to bring oxen to sacrifice to the gods, but Melchizedek tried to convince his father to sacrifice instead to the God of Heaven.  His father was unhappy, and decided to sacrifice Melchizedek to the gods instead.  Melchizedek prayed to God that the city and its worshippers and idols would be destroyed, and God caused an earthquake that swallowed up all the city and its people.  Melchizedek went to Mount Tabor, where he lived as an ascetic hermit on wild plants and water.  However, God sent Abraham to find Melchizedek — who by that time had hair down to his feet and very long nails.  Abraham met Melchizedek and cut his long hair and trimmed his nails.  Melchizedek and Abraham then worshipped the “most high God,” and Melchizedek blessed Abraham.

So that is how the scroll in today’s icon has Melchizedek oddly saying that Abraham “cut my hair.”

There is a cave chapel on Mount Tabor that in Medieval times was often considered by pilgrims to be the dwelling of Melchizedek.