I always enjoy seeing iconography that requires a little thought to identify. Here is such an example — a fresco saved from the Kalyazin Monastery, which was flooded by a new reservoir built during the Soviet period. Fortunately, in the middle of the winter of 1940, at least a very small percentage of the monastery’s many frescos were removed and placed in museums.
Here is one of them:
We can brighten the image a bit:
What does it represent? Well, we see Jesus wearing a crown, and out in a field cutting with a sickle:
And we see a couple of angels busy in the foreground, one also wielding a sickle. But the inscriptions are a bit worn and faint and difficult to make out.
And here is where we see again how important familiarity with the Bible is to students of icons. Those who have read the rather gloomy and violent Apocalypse — known to Protestants as the book of Revelation — will perhaps recall Revelation 14:14-19. Here it is in the King James version:
14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
And there we have it. That is what the fresco scene represents — a few lines from the Apocalypse. It took several centuries for the book (attributed to the Apostle John, but the actual authorship remains unknown) to be accepted as canonical in both Western and Eastern churches. In Protestantism, Luther and the Swiss reformer Zwingli were suspicious of it. It was, however, very popular among the Old Believers, with their very “apocalyptic” mentality, and hand-written and illustrated Old Believer copies of the book in Church Slavic — often with explanations — are still to be found in various collections.
Here is an illustration of the same subject from such an Old Believer book — the Apocalypse with commentary by Andrew of Caesarea/Andreas of Caesarea/ Ἀνδρέας Καισαρείας; 563 – 637):
The example omits the angels and the burning, but includes a little image of Ioann Bogoslov/John the Theologian at lower right — the Apostle John, to whom the Apocalypse was traditionally attributed.