SLIM EXCUSE FOR SAINTHOOD

A reader asked me to explain this very Westernized icon, which appears to be from the late 19th-early 20th century:

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Such icons originated in the tale of bizarre events said to have occurred in the 1560s, but the story was recorded in the 18th century.

It relates that two parents in the Novgorod region named Isidor and Barbara had two little sons:  Ioann, who was five years old, and Iakov, who was three.

Now it happened in the autumn of the year that their father decided to kill a ram by striking it on the head.  The impressionable children watched the act.  Later, when the parents were out in the field, Ioann said to Iakov, “Let us do just as our father did,” and gave Iakov a big whack on the head with a stick.  Iakov fell down dead.

Ioann was terrified by what had happened, according to one account, and went and hid behind the firewood laid ready inside the big stove in the house.  When the parents came home, they found Iakov dead and Ioann missing.  After a fruitless search, the mother lit the firewood in the stove, and Ioann was killed by the smoke.  The mother then found the supposedly unburnt body of Ioann in the stove.

The two children were buried in the churchyard of the St. Nicholas Church.

Later, some hunters became lost in the forest some distance away.  When they looked out on Kamenskoye Lake, they saw two coffins floating there, which happened to be those of the two children buried in the churchyard.  They prayed to the two children for help, and suddenly a path appeared that led the lost hunters back home, where they told of their encounter at the lake.  The coffins with the bodies were retrieved by clergy and local people, and taken back to the St. Nicholas Church.  The hunters, however, said the two children had appeared to them in a dream, saying they wished to be buried in a deserted place near Menyush, where formerly there had supposedly been a monastery.  So the two coffins were buried in the new location, and a chapel was built on the site. As these tales go, miracles of healing were associated with the two children.

Here is another State Church icon of the two brothers, shown with St. Darya at left, the priest Zakharias/Zechariah at right, and Jesus (with his name abbreviated in the State Church manner) blessing from the clouds above.

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Now according to an alternate account, the death of the older brother was a voluntary martyrdom for killing his younger brother.  That accounts for why both the slayer and the slain in this account were reckoned as saints, strange as it seems with such slim support for such status evident in the story.  Even the writers of the tale thought that odd, because some did not like to talk about the details of their deaths, and some instead changed the story to read that the children were killed by villains.  In any case, the two children are venerated as saints and known as Праведные отроки Иаков и Иоанн Менюжские / Pravednuie otroki Iakov i Ioann Meniuzhskie — “Righteous Youths Jacob and John Meniuzhskiy”

As you can see, the whole matter is highly dubious, but that is often the case with tales of the saints in Eastern Orthodoxy.