LOOKING LIKE A THIEF

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Unless you are new here, you should certainly know who this fellow is:

Благоразумныйразбойник(Moscow State United Art Historical, Architectural, and Natural Landscape Museum Reserve Kolomenskoye)

Yes, he is, as the title inscription says, BLAGORAZUMNUIY RAZBOINIK RAKH  / БЛАГОРАЗУМНЫ РАЗБОЙНИК РАХЬ — “THE WISE THIEF RAKH,” better known in the West simply as “The Repentant Thief.”

This particular icon is from the middle of the 17th century, which you may recall was a turbulent time in Russian Orthodoxy, when it split into two factions:  the State Church, which had the support of the Tsar, and the Old Believers, who kept the traditional church rituals and practices and texts instead of adopting the very controversial changes instituted by Patriarch Nikon in 1653, and consequently were severely persecuted.

As you have learned from previous postings here about him, Rakh may be recognized by his beard, by his wearing only a loincloth, and by the cross he carries.  And as in this icon, he is often depicted surrounded by flowering plants or shrubs that represent the Paradise Garden, in keeping with the promise of Jesus to Rakh at the Crucifixion:  “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  You will find those previous posting here:

THE REPENTANT THIEF WHO?

And here:

A SELDOM-SEEN SCROLL

We find the story of Rakh’s entry into Paradise in the Gospel of Nicodemus, also known in Greek as the Πράξεις Πιλάτου / Praxeis Pilatou) — “The Acts of Pilate.”  It is a work generally dated in its known form to approximately the 4th or 5th century.

Here is the portion giving the relevant account:

CHAP. XX.

Then the Lord holding Adam by the hand, delivered him to Michael the Archangel; and he led them into Paradise, filled with mercy and glory;

2 And two very ancient men met them, and were asked by the saints, Who are you, who have not yet been with us in Hades, and have had your bodies placed in Paradise?

3 One of them answering, said, I am Enoch, who was translated by the word of God; and this man who is with me, is Elijah the Tishbite, who was translated in a fiery chariot.

4 Here we have so far been, and have not tasted death, but are now about to return at the coming of Antichrist, being armed with divine signs and miracles, to engage with him in battle, and to be slain by him at Jerusalem, and to be taken up alive again into the clouds, after three days and a half.

5 And while the holy Enoch and Elias were relating this, behold, there came another man as a miserable figure carrying the sign of the cross upon his shoulders.

6 And when all the saints saw him, they said to him, Who are you? For your countenance is like a thief’s; and why do you carry a cross on your shoulders?

7 To which he answered, saying, You say right, for I was a thief who committed all sorts of wickedness upon earth.

8 And the Jews crucified me with Jesus; and I observed the surprising things which happened in the creation at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.

9 And I believed him to be the Creator of all things, and the Almighty King; and I prayed to him, saying, Lord, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

10 He presently regarded my plea, and said to me, Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.

11 And he gave me this sign of the cross saying, Carry this, and go to Paradise; and if the angel who is the guard of Paradise will not admit you, show him the sign of the cross, and say to him: Jesus Christ who is now crucified, has sent me here to you.

12 When I did this, and told the angel who is the guard of Paradise all these things, and he heard them, he presently opened the gates, introduced me, and placed me on the right-hand in Paradise,

13 Saying, Stay here a little time, till Adam, the father of all mankind, shall enter in with all his sons, who are the holy and righteous servants of Jesus Christ, who was crucified.

14 When they heard all this account from the thief, all the patriarchs said with one voice, Blessed be You, O Almighty God, the Father of everlasting goodness, and the Father of mercies, who has shown such favor to those who were sinners against him, and have brought them to the mercy of Paradise, and have placed them amid thy large and spiritual provisions, in a spiritual and holy life. Amen.

I hope you remember from a previous posting that the name Rakh is found nowhere in the Bible, and not used in Greek Orthodoxy either, but seems to have originated in a misreading of a Church Slavic title inscription for the “Wise Thief in Paradise.”

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