TROUBLED WATERS

Here is an example of a familiar icon type, and if you have read my previous posting on it (https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/healing-of-the-paralytic-at-bethesda/ ), or if you are familiar with the New Testament, you will easily recognize the scene depicted:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

As mentioned in the previous discussion, the story is found in only one place in the New Testament: the Gospel attributed to John, chapter 5. Here it is as presented in the King James version:

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water.

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.]

And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.

11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.

12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?

13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

Now as I said earlier, there are several difficulties with this text. First, the grammar near the beginning is uncertain, so translators are not quite sure whether it is referring to a pool near the sheep market, or near the Sheep Gate, or whether it is actually referring to a “Sheep Pool.”

More significant is the fact that though it is found in the version of the New Testament used throughout Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as in the King James version, the whole portion in brackets and bold type — the part about an angel troubling/stirring the water — was not originally part of the story; it was added later. It is not found at all in the earliest Greek manuscripts of John. That is why almost all modern translations omit it. That makes even part of what is left of the account uncertain.

All of that, however, is not our concern today. Instead, I would like to take a look at the title inscription, and in doing so, to give some pointers for beginners in translation:

The first thing to note is that it is heavily abbreviated, which can make things more difficult. But what I would like you to learn from this is a helpful technique: begin with what you know.

Now out of all the words in the inscription, you should at least recognize the letters ГДЬ, and they should immediately remind you of the very common word ГОСПОДЬ —GOSPOD’, meaning “Lord.”

Now let’s begin on the rest, starting at far left:

We see the letters НЛЯ (the last — the “ya” sound — I have written in the modern Russian font). Above them is a superscript Д/D. They abbreviate NEDELYA — the word for “Sunday”

That word is not abbreviated; it is CHETVERTA, meaning “fourth.”

That is the little word PO, meaning “after.”

That is the word PASKHE; it is a grammatical form of Paskha, meaning “Easter.” Your are likely familiar with it in English as an adjective, as in “Paschal lamb.”

This is a tricky one, because there are only three obvious letters. But if you keep in mind the context of the icon image, and what is happening it it, you might remember the word ИСЦЕЛЕНИЕ/ISTSELENIE, with that same ИСЦ/ISTS beginning — and Istselenie means “healing.”

And then comes the word whose basic form you should already recognize:

Next comes this:

That is the word РАСЛАБЛЕННАГО/RASLABLENNAGO — the “of” form of “paralytic.”

Now if we put all this together, we get the title by arranging things in English-language order:

“Fourth Sunday After Easter: the Healing of the Paralytic by the Lord.”

And that is exactly what this icon represents: the story of the healing of the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, which is commemorated in the Russian Orthodox calendar on the fourth Sunday after Easter.

In the icon shown above, we see the Paralytic lying on his bed, and Jesus, with his disciples, coming to heal him. In the background is a stylized version of the Pool of Bethesda, shown here (in very unlikely fashion) as a raised basin. Behind it is the angel, who is troubling the waters of the pool with his hand.

Behind the angel is the subsequent scene chronologically, with the healed paralytic carrying his bed — depicted here as a kind of bench. And to his left are the “Jews” questioning the man as to who dared to heal him on the Sabbath. The writer of John had a rather anti-Jewish sentiment, paradoxically because Jesus and his disciples were Jews — but of course by the time the Gospels were written, the early Christians not only had for the most part become distinct from the Jews, but had also began a kind of blame campaign against them, which led to even greater antipathy later, and much suffering in history.

It is also not certain what the point of the story is. Some scholars speculate that it was intended to show the superiority of the healing of Jesus over the “natural” healing sought at springs and fountains and pools, which were often considered sacred places in the ancient world. There was even apparently a shrine of the Greek healing god Asklepios/Asclepius found at the archeological site of the Pool of Bethesda (if it is correctly identified). The pre-Christian tradition of healing springs and waters was continued in Christian guise both in the byzantine world and in Russian Orthodoxy.