Oh, my. As hard as I try to bore you all, people still keep subscribing to my site. It mystifies me. Really, dear Readers — my last posting was all about translating a Greek inscription. And still there was not a mass exit from my blog. Just how hard do I have to try? As for my subject matter — it has got to be the Marianas Trench on the altitude scale of interesting topics. Ah, well. Perhaps it is hopeless.
I am beginning to suspect you all have some kind of previously undiagnosed icon addiction. There is this one of Svyatuiy Muchenik Vonifantiy/Holy Martyr Boniface, and he was believed to deal with alcoholism, in spite of the fact that he seems to have been fictional, but I know of no icon to deal with iconoholism.
Now we can tell from the stylized manner in the painting of this icon, and from the spelling of Vonifantiy, that this is an Old Believer icon. If you want to know more about Vonifantiy, click on this link to a previous posting:
Well, all of this was just a tiresome introduction to again asking all new subscribers— as I do from time to time — to send me a message telling me of your interest in icons — why you are here. You may write in English, and as I have many readers from various countries outside the U.S.A., you do not have to worry if your English is far from perfect. And if you do not want to use English, you may write to me in your native language if that is better for you. As for you long-time addicts — I mean readers — here, it would be good to hear from you too, if you have any comments, or suggestions for future topics, or just want to discuss your iconoholic issues. Your messages to me will, as usual be kept private. Do not hesitate to write, because — well — as I have said before, recognizing your problem is the first step toward overcoming it, though that does not seem to have worked at all here in the past few years. At least the side effects of your problem are not serious. You just likely will not be invited to parties, and people you know will tend to look away and suddenly remember a previous appointment when you begin to talk to them about icons and what you are learning.
So — write to me. Just click on the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of any page.
It is not difficult to tell what is happening; it is a stoning. But who is the victim? And what does the title inscription say? Well, both questions are answered when we read what is written:
Ὁ ΛΙΘΑCΜΟC ΤΟΥ ἉΓΙΟΥ HO LITHASMOS TOU HAGIOU ΠΡѠΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC CΤΕΦΑ- PROTOMARTUROS STΕPHA- ΝΟΥ NOU
It is an easy one.
You already know that Ὁ /HO is the masculine definite article — “the.”
And you know the word lithos from use in English words such as lithograph and lithosphere, both involving the word “stone.” So you can probably easily deduce that ΛΙΘΑCΜΟΣ/LITHASMOS means “stoning.” And you remember (I hope) that ΤΟΥ/TOU is the male form of “of/of the.”
That leaves us with ΠΡѠΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC /PROTOMARTYROS. Well, you know many English words beginning with proto-, like prototype and protoplasm. And if you know what those mean, you will know that proto– here means “first.” And it should be simple for you to guess that ΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC/MARTYROS means “martyr.”
So up to this point we have:
The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr …
All we need now is the last word in the inscription, which gives his name:
It is not hard to see that STEPHANOU is the “of” form of the Greek name Stephanos, and that the English equivalent is “Stephen.”
So the inscription is:
“The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr Stephen.” Or if you wish, you can use “Protomartyr” instead of “First Martyr.”
In the fresco, stephen anachronistically wears the colored band called an orarion, part of the costume of a protodeacon. It is customarily embroidered with these words:
We are nearing February 1, and in the old agricultural calendar of Britain and Ireland, that meant the celebration of Imbolc and the beginning of spring. When Christianity came to Britain and Ireland, the old celebration of Imbolc transformed into Candlemas — the “Meeting of Jesus in the Temple” as it is called in Eastern Orthodoxy. Candlemas in Catholicism takes place on February 2nd, and that is also the date when it is celebrated In Eastern Orthodoxy, though by the “Old Style” Orthodox calendar it is on February 15th. It is one of the major Church festivals.
Here is a fresco of the “Presentation in the Temple”:
Though we cannot see the title inscription in the image, it would commonly be Ἡ ὙΠΑΠΑΝΤΗ/HE HUPAPANTI — “The Presentation.”
It is an event taking place some 40 days after the birth of Jesus, but surprisingly, it happens only in the gospel called “of Luke” (2:22-39).
Now as I have mentioned before, there is considerable discrepancy between the accounts of the infancy of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke — so much so that we can easily recognize that these are not historical accounts. Matthew says nothing at all about the “Presentation in the Temple.” Instead, after the birth of Jesus he has Joseph and Mary going off to take refuge in Egypt. And when they return, they go to Nazareth. You will find attempts to “harmonize” the discrepant accounts on many Christian sites, but as with most such efforts when biblical accounts disagree, the explanations given fail to impress.
As in this image, many examples depict Anna holding a scroll with an inscription. Let’s take a look:
It says in Greek:
ΚΑΙ ΓΗΝ Ε
TOUTO TO BREPHOS OURANON KAI GEN E- STEREOSE
Τούτο το βρέφος ουρανόν και γην εστερέωσε
Touto to brephos ouranon kai gen estereose “This child established heaven and earth.”
A sidelight on Candlemas is the appearance in recent decades of newly-painted Eastern Orthodox icons and paper copies of such icons depicting the Irish Saint Brigid. Brigid or Brigit was a very popular saint in Irish Catholicism, and countless Irish girls have had her name. The feast day of St. Brigid happens to be on February 1, which we have seen is also the ancient pre-Christian festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring.
Now oddly enough, Brigid was also the name of the ancient pre-Christian Irish goddess associated with the spring and with fertility, fire, poetry, and healing. It is not surprising then, that the Irish St. Brigid is a “Christianized” replacement for the Goddess Brigid, and is celebrated right at the old beginning of spring.
There may well have been a woman to whom the accounts attach the name Brigid of Kildare. Her hagiography relates that she was a nun, abbess, and founder of convents who lived in Ireland from the middle of the 5th to the first quarter of the 6th century. However, the existing “lives” of Brigid have been questioned by scholars, and the “coincidence” of her feast day being when it is and that she has the same name as the Irish Goddess associated with spring and fire is interesting, to say the least.
We may also keep in mind that the common name of the Church festival of the “Presentation” in English is Candlemas. That was the day on which people in Ireland lit candles in their windows, and also when candles used in church were blessed for the year. During the liturgy in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, etc., candles are lit and carried in procession.
Here is an icon which, as we can tell from the geometrical border ornamentation, dates to around the end of the 19th century.
One encounters a great many icons that depict — as this one does — groups of saints. They are chosen for particular reasons. Often they are saints bearing the names of family members, or a mixture of such saints with others that have particular specialties in Russian belief, such as curing fevers or protecting flocks.
The saints in this group all have commemorations on October 17th. So why should that be significant? Well, it is not for most people, but for someone whose “Angel Day” comes on October 17th, it would have meaning. The “Angel Day” is the day on which a saint after whom one is named is commemorated in the Russian Orthodox Church. And that day is celebrated by the person so named every year.
My purpose in showing you this icon, however, is to discuss a practical if somewhat boring topic: how to find the traditional “life” of a saint when all one has is the name in Church Slavic.
Well, of course first one has to know the Church Slavic alphabet. That enables one to read the name title generally found either in the halo of the saint or close by. So if we look at the saints in the above icon (left to right, top to bottom), we find they are:
Now as you already know, Bezsrebrennik — literally “without silver” — is a title used for physician saints who did not charge for their services — unlike modern medicine, in which you have to sell your firstborn son to pay for a doctor’s appointment (at least in the U.S.A). And if you do not have a firstborn son, you are out of luck (yes, I am joking, but it seems almost that bad).
So, we have the name КОЗМА for the first saint at top left. And we know (you all do, don’t you?) that we can transliterate it as KOZMA.
It is a peculiar thing, but Internet sites in English that have the traditional “lives” of saints generally use a Latinized form of the name. So to look up Kozma, one has to know that male Slavic names beginning with K often change that letter to C in the Latinized form. And male names ending in -a usually have the -as ending in their Latinized form. And also the internal letter “z” may take the form of “s” in Latinized names. So to find the “life” of this saint on the Internet, one should try either Cozmas or Cosmas — and you will soon discover that Cosmas is the commonly used form. You will find the same happens with the saint САВВА, whose name becomes Sabbas in Latinized form. You will sometimes find it also as Savvas on Greek-influenced English-language sites. That is because the B in CABBA is pronounced as “V” in both Church Slavic and Modern Greek, but the Greek B is generally translitered into English as “B.”
When male names end in a consonant in the Slavic form — as in Damian (you can generally ignore the Ъ which is sometimes used at the end of words and sometimes omitted) — the Latinized form will either end the same way, or it will add the Latin -us ending. In this case the form you will find used is Damian — so no big difference there.
When we get to АНДРЕЙ КРИТСКИЙ/ANDREY KRITSKIY — we find that ANDREY in Latinized form becomes “Andreas” — but here we find an irregularity, because on English sites, the King James Bible form “Andrew” is commonly used. So when one looks him up, one has to look for Andrew “of Crete,” because that is what his “locator” title Kritskiy means. His “rank” title Prepodobnuiy, by the way, is generally rendered into English as “Venerable,” though it literally means “Most-like.”
As for the Prorok (Prophet) Osia, his name is often spelled Osiya in Slavic. But given that he too is a biblical saint, his “life” is generally found under the King James Bible title Hosea. Roman Catholic Internet sites sometimes use the form Osee, but that is rather old-fashioned now, and most go with Hosea.
Finally we come to Lazar’. Now as we have seen already, male names ending in a consonant generally either stay the same way in English usage, or else they add the Latin -us ending — and the latter is the case here. So this saint is Holy Righteous Lazarus. That “Righteous” is important when searching for his life on the Internet, because it helps to distinguish him from any other saint named Lazarus, just as the Prepodobnuiy/Venerable title tells us that a male saint was a monk.
Now this Lazarus is also a biblical saint, which might seem odd given that he is dressed as a bishop. This guy is known in Eastern Orthodoxy as “Lazarus the Four-days Dead” or as “Lazarus Friend of Christ,” but you will also find him as “Lazarus of Bethany.” Yes, this is the Lazarus who Jesus supposedly raised from the dead in the New Testament story. But why is he dressed as a bishop here, instead of in the usual “Bible” robes? Because in Eastern orthodox tradition, he later went to Cyprus, and there he was a bishop of the Church.
Now you can see that finding the “English” form for a Slavic name, so that one may look up the traditional “life” on English-language sites can be a bit tricky and sometimes takes a little time. But once you become accustomed to reading saints’ names, it becomes very easy. Just remember that the “lives” of many saints are heavily fictionalized and some are entirely fictional — so do not take them in general as factual history, only as traditions that help to explain icons and iconography and the beliefs of Eastern Orthodox cultures.
Well, if you have not yet abandoned reading this page out of total boredom, we should look at one more thing.
As you see, Osia/Osiya/Hosea is carrying a scroll with a text on it:
От руки адовы избавлю я, и от смерти искуплю я: где пря твоя, смерте, где остенъ твой, аде. Ot ruki adovui izbavliu ya, i ot smerti iskupliu ya: gde prya tvoya, smerte, gde osten” tvoy ade.
It is taken from Hosea 13:14:
“From the hand of Hades I will deliver, and from Death I will redeem: Where is your penalty Death, where your sting, Hades?”
Now perhaps you have noticed a trend in the choice of saints here: two physicians, Lazarus who was raised from the dead, Hosea with his scroll about victory over death, and Andrew of Crete, to whom believers prayed for repentance. His Canon, Ode 3, contains these words:
“In you, the Destroyer of death, have I found the fountain of life, and now from the heart I cry out before my death, “I have sinned. Be merciful and save me.”
So all of the saints depicted in this icon relate in some way to illness and healing, or to victory over death — which gave it great significance to anyone facing these problems in old Russia.
Pareste he Vasilissa ek dexion sou, en himatismo, diakhruso, peribeblemene, pepoikilmene …
It comes from Psalm 44:10 in the Septuagint Greek version (Psalm 45:9 KJV):
“The queen stood at your right in garments woven with gold, in various [colors].”
Now you may recall that we already know that phrase from the common title of a certain form of Deisis image found in Russian iconography:
It depicts Mary standing at the right hand of Jesus, crowned and in royal robes. It is called “Predsta Tsaritsa” — “The Queen did Stand” — and again it comes from Psalm 44:10 — though in Church Slavic here rather than Greek.
Now of course that phrase from the Psalms originally had nothing whatsoever to do with Mary, but Eastern Orthodoxy commonly applies it to her; so when we see “The Queen Stood at Your Right,” we know it is a Marian reference, and we know it signifies Mary standing at the right hand of Jesus.
That is why we find it also as the inscription on the left side of this modern Greek icon type (in very garish neon colors) called Παναγία Βασίλισσα/Panagia Vasilissa — the “All-Holy Queen.” Near as I can find, it seems to have been painted by a woman in Athens, Greece, named Eleni Dadi (Ελένη Ντάση):
Παρέστη ἡ βασίλισσα ἐκ δεξιῶν σου ἐν ἱματισμῷ διαχρύσῳ περιβεβλημένη, πεποικιλμένη. Pareste he basilissa ek dexion sou en himatismo diakhruso peribeblemene, pepoikilmene.
“The queen stood at your right in garments woven with gold, in various [colors].”
If we look more closely at the garments of the Panagia Vasilissa, we again see part of Psalm 44 — in this case from 44:14 (45:13 KJV) — written in the golden border just above the fringe:
Πᾶσα ἡ δόξα τῆς θυγατρὸς τοῦ βασιλέως ἔσωθεν, ἐν κροσσωτοῖς χρυσοῖς περιβεβλημένη, πεποικιλμένη. Pasa he doxa tes thugatros tou basileos esothen, en krossotois khrusois peribeblemene, pepoikilmene.
… “All the glory of the daughter of the King is within, clothed in golden fringe, in many colors.”
And on the right side of the icon, we find the beginning of Psalm 44:12 (45:11 KJV):
Καὶ ἐπιθυμήσει ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ κάλλους σου, [ὅτι αὐτός ἐστι Κύριός σου] … Kai epithumesei ho basileus tou kallous sou, [hoti autos esti Kurios sou] …
“And the King has desired your beauty, [for he is your Lord].”
The King is of course Jesus — though when the Old Testament phrase is applied to Jesus and his mother, it sounds rather incestuous. That is one of the hazards of re-applying Old Testament quotes to uses for which they were never intended.