Here is a blessing cross in silver, made by the noted Russian firm and maker of ecclesiastical implements Olovyanishnikov (П. И. Оло­вя­ниш­ни­ко­ва сы­но­вья/P. I. Olovyanishnikov’s Sons)  It once had a handle at the base.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

The central painted icon contained within the silver casing is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which was very popular with the Russian military.  Two angels — hands covered as a sign of veneration — are at the sides.

The cross has a partly-abbreviated engraved inscription taken from Matthew 22:37:

Возлюбиши Господа
Бога твоего всемъ
сердцемъ твоимъ и
всею душею твоею
и всею мыслию твоею

Vozliubishi Gospoda
Boga tvoego vsem”
serdtsem” tvoim” i
vseiu dusheiu tvoeiu
i vseiu muisliu tvoeiu

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”

The Olovyanishnikovs began their gradual rise as a Russian peasant family on an estate belonging to the Yaroslavl Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery (“Savior-Transfiguration Monastery”). Over generations their circumstances improved.  Porfiriy Ivanovich (1822-1881) moved his family to Moscow and through the business of casting bells made the family name famous.

Porfiriy was succeeded by his sons Ivan Porfirievich (1844-1898)  and Sergey Porfirevich (1856-1890). In 1882 they founded the firm П. И. Оло­вя­ниш­ни­ко­ва сы­но­вья — “P. I. Olovyanishnikov’s Sons, which again began with the casting of bells, but later they opened a factory for the making of Church implements such as clerical vestments, icons, banners, crosses, etc.  Objects in precious metals were often created in the then-fashionable Neo-Russian style.

After the death of Ivan Porfierievich in 1898, management of the company came into the hands of his widow Evpraksia Georgievna (1851-1925), with the board remaining in Moscow, and offices in St. Petersburg, Tula, and Yaroslavl.

As a result of the Revolution of October, 1917, the factory of Church utensils was closed; the bell factory was destroyed after the 1918 Yaroslavl uprising.  The family fell on hard times; some were exiled or emigrated, and at least one was killed by the Bolsheviks.

Here is a photo of the family in better times, at the beginning of the 20th century:

They are, from left:
Ivan Ivanovich with wife Vera Nikolaevna; Georgiy Ivanovich; Porfiriy Ivanovich; Evpraksiya Georgievna; Nikolay Ivanovich; Tat’yana Ivanovna;
Standing from left to right:
Vladimir Ivanovich; Mariya Ivanovna; Ekaterina Nikolaevna,with husband Viktor Ivanovich

Here is the reverse of the cross, ornamented with engraved floral designs:

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)



Here is an icon of John the Forerunner (John the Baptist) in the form commonly known as “Angel of the Wilderness/Desert.”

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

As seems to be frequently the case lately, I discussed this icon type in a previous posting, and much of it applies to this example:

Nonetheless, it would be useful to have a review using this particular icon.

First, let’s look at the title inscription, which is at top left and right:


IMAGE [of the] ASSEMBLY [of the] HOLY …



“Image of the Assembly of the Holy, Glorious Prophet John the Forerunner.”

Now we have seen the word Sobor before, and you may recall that it means a gathering — an assembly — so in iconography it represents a composition using persons related in some way — as all part of the same story or event; a Sobor is also a gathering or assembly of persons relating in some way to the main Eastern Orthodox church festival celebrated on the previous day.  The “church jargon” term generally used for such a secondary festival in English is synaxis, which is just the Greek word that Church Slavic translates as Sobor.

So this is the icon of the Sobor of John the Forerunner — the “Assembly of John the Forerunner” — which is the secondary festival following the major festival of the Bogoyavlenie — The Theophany — the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John.  Now in some cases Sobor can also mean a main cathedral, as well as a council, as in the Nicene Council.

In the center of the icon, we see John depicted with wings as “Angel of the Wilderness”:

You can probably read his halo inscription, which says “Holy Prophet John the Forerunner.”

He holds a stylized diskos (Eucharistic vessel) in which the child Jesus lies as “Lamb of God” — the signifying the body of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread:

The little curving lines above the diskos represent the liturgical implement called the asteriskos, the “star-cover.” Its purpose is to support the cloth veil that is placed over the diskos during the Eucharistic ritual in Eastern Orthodoxy. If you recall that the Child Christ as “Lamb of God” lies on the diskos, then you will see why this metal “star-cover” represents the Star of Bethlehem.

John carries a scroll with the usual text for this type:



It means:  “I saw and witnessed concerning him, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”

That quote requires a jump to the Gospel of John, 1:29, which gives us this in Church Slavic:

Во ýтрiй [же] видѣ Иоáн­нъ Иисýса грядýща къ себѣ́ и глагóла: сé, áгнецъ Бóжiй, взéмляй грѣхи́ мíра:

Around John are scenes from his life.  They begin with the image at lower left:

The inscription at left identifies it as:
Rozhestvo Svyatago Proroka Ioanna Predtechi
“Birth of the Holy Prophet John the Forerunner.

We see John’s mother Svyataya Pravednaya Elizaveta/Holy Righteous Elizabeth at left, the washing of the newborn John at right, and through the doorway we see the child being shown to his father Svyatuiy Prorok Zakhariy/Holy Prophet Zechariah, who holds a scroll reading Ioann da budet — “He shall be [called] John.”

The next scene chronologically is at upper right:

The identifying inscriptions says Angel” Gospoden’ vvede svyatago Ioanna Predtedi v pustuiniu tamo da prebuivaet” do vozrosta svoego —  “The Angel of the Lord leads Holy John the Foreunner into the wilderness; there he shall remain until he comes of age.”

Now we move to upper left:

The identifying inscription is Molenie v pustuini Svyatago Proroka Ioanna Predotechi — “The prayer in the wilderness of the Holy Prophet John the Forerunner.”

Next, at left, comes John’s “Assembly” — his baptizing of people in the Jordan River:

The inscription says Sobor” Svyatago Proroka Ioanna Predotechi — “Assembly of the Holy Prophet John the Forerunner.”

Now we move to lower left:

The inscription reads Useknovenie glavui Svyatago Ioanna Predtechi –“The cutting off of the head of Holy John the Forerunner.” We see the execution and the presentation of the head to Salome on a salver.

Now we come to the final scene at middle right:

The inscription says Obretenie glavui Svyatago Ioanna Predtechi — “Finding of the head of Holy John the Forerunner.”  Now in the apocryphal tale of John’s life — as separate from the New Testament accounts — there are three findings of the head of John — the thing just kept getting lost — and the one shown here appears to be the second finding.  You can read more about these “lost and found” events in this previous posting:

At the very top center of the icon is the image of Gospod’ Savaof — “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove:

And finally, as we leave John in his wilderness, let’s take a close look at his pleasant face: