A reader sent me a very fuzzy picture this morning, asking me about the scroll inscriptions. Often the photos emailed by readers are too small or too unclear, making deciphering the inscriptions a challenge — or even impossible. That is why I always say “large and clear photos are best.”
Nonetheless, I try to do what I can, though I am not David the Miracle Worker — and fortunately, in this case the problem can be solved, though the photo is blurry.
First, it is an icon of the three archangels Gabriel (left), Michael (center), and Raphael (right). Each carries a scroll with a Greek inscription. Here are the scroll texts commonly found in icons of this type (you may encounter recent copies of the image):
Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη Μαρία ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξί καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου …
Khaire, keharitomeni Maria ho Kurios meta sou eulogemene su en gunaixi kai eulogemenos ho karpos tes koilias sou …
“Hail, highly favored Mary, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
That is the common “Hail, Mary” prayer, adapted from Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42.
Φρήξον ψυχή μου τα ορώμενα, φρήξετε πάντες αδελφοί το πικρόν ποτήριον του θανάτου
Frexon psukhe mou ta oromena, frexete pantes adelphoi to pikron poterion tou thanatou
“Tremble, my soul, at the sight, tremble all, brothers, at the bitter cup of death.”
By one tradition, Michael is the Angel of Death, who leads the departed soul to judgment.
Kαὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ ἄγγελος ἀνάτεμε τὸν ἰχθὺν καὶ λαβὼν τὴν καρδίαν καὶ τὸ ἧπαρ
Kai eipen auto ho angelos anateme ton Ikhthun kai labon ten kardian kai to hepar …
“And the angel said to him, open the fish and take the heart and the liver …”
The quote is taken from Tobit 6:4.
Good grief. You people do not let me get away with anything. Not long after I posted this, a reader asked me to explain what is beneath the feet of the archangels, and what the mention of liver and gall is all about. Well, here goes.
Gabriel stands on a stone. Though its significance is not entirely clear, it may represent the “stone cut from a mountain without hands,” that is, the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary, supposedly without a human father. And of course Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.
Michael stands on a prostrate male. Just how that figure is interpreted depends on which iconography one follows. As I mentioned in this previous posting (https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/borrowed-angel-a-bulgarian-fresco), in some icons Michael is shown tormenting the prostrate soul of a rich man, on whom he stands. The rich man usually has a beard, as does the figure in this icon. That would appear to be the origin of the prostrate man here. Some, however, interpret him as Satan, because in some icons Michael is shown standing on the body of the defeated Satan. In that case, however, Satan is usually depicted with “devilish” characteristics, which is not the case here. So some people will interpret the fallen figure one way, some (often those not familiar with the “Michael and the soul of the rich man story) another.
Now, as for the gall and liver, those, as I indicated above, come from the book of Tobit in the Apocrypha. Here is the immediately relevant portion. It begins with the travels of the Archangel Raphael (disguised as a man named Azarias) and the young Tobias:
1 And as they went on their journey, they came in the evening to the river Tigris, and they lodged there. 2 And when the young man went down to wash himself, a fish leaped out of the river, and would have devoured him. 3 Then the angel said to him, Take the fish. And the young man laid hold of the fish, and drew it to land. 4 To whom the angel said, Open the fish, and take the heart and the liver and the gall, and put them up safely. 5 So the young man did as the angel commanded him; and when they had roasted the fish, they ate it: then they both went on their way, till they drew near to Ecbatana. 6 Then the young man said to the angel, Brother Azarias, to what use are the heart and the liver and the gall of the fish? 7 And he said to him, Concerning the heart and the liver, if a devil or an evil spirit troubles anyone, we must make a smoke thereof in front of the man or the woman, and the person shall be no more bothered. 8 As for the gall, it is good to anoint a man who has whiteness in his eyes, and he shall be healed.
There is more to the story, but that much of it explains the fish beneath the feet of Raphael, as well as the text on his scroll. For the rest, you may go to the book of Tobit, chapter 6.