In the previous posting we saw an icon of Luke accompanied by the “Wisdom of God,” a manifestation of Jesus. Today we will look at an interesting 19th century icon containing two images of manifestations of Jesus (in Eastern Orthodox belief).

At upper left is Isus Blagoe Molchanie — “Jesus the Blessed Silence.” This, you will recall (I hope) is Jesus represented as the “Angel of Great Counsel” from the Old Testament. You will find more information on that angel in the site archives (search box at right). We can tell this is an Old Believer icon, not only because images of the Blagoe Molchanie are popular among Old Believers, but also because the spelling of the name of Jesus is in the Old Believer form, not the “revised” State church form. As we saw with the “Wisdom of God” in the icon of Luke as Evangelist, this angel has the “eight-pointed glory” halo signifying divinity.

At top right is Sophia Premudrost Slovo Bozhie — “Sophia, Wisdom, Word of God.” And that, as you know, is another representation of Jesus in Angel form. In 1 Corinthians 1:24 we find Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν — Khriston theou dynamin kai theou sophian — “Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.” Here Sophia (Greek for “Wisdom”) wears the robes of a bishop, and with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner at right, this forms a variant of the Deisis type. John’s blessing hand forms the sign used by the Old Believers. Jesus in his usual form is just above his other manifestation as Sophia, and above that is the “throne” — the altar table readied for judgment, as angels approach from both sides with their hands covered with cloths, as a sign of reverence.

Note that in both the “Blessed Silence” and “Sophia” types here, the faces are red — signifying spiritual “fire,” the energy of divinity.

(Private Collection, Germany)

The lower two images are the “Iveron Most Holy Mother of God,” whose origin story you will find in the archives>

And last, another image very popular among Old Believers, the “Fiery Ascension of the Holy Prophet Elijah.” At the bottom we see Elijah in the wilderness fed by a raven, and in smaller figures at right Elijah and his disciple Elisha. At the top of the icon is Elijah going up to Heaven in a fiery chariot, as he drops his mantle down to Elisha.

Further and more detailed explanations of all these types are found in the site archives. As I have mentioned before, if you read the archives from the beginning and learn what is presented there thoroughly, you will become something of an expert on icon identification, which will enable you to bore your friends endlessly.


By now you should easily recognize recognize icons of the “Four Evangelists.” And you should also know that in reality, the authors of the four canonical gospels found in the New Testament are unknown. All evidence shows that the earliest manuscripts of these gospels were anonymous. The names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all later additions. So we do not know who — or even how many — persons were involved in the writing of these gospels. And of course you know by now that the images of all four in icons are completely imaginary, though the depictions became standardized in tradition.

Here, however, is a rather unusual depiction in a Russian icon, a Tver image from the 15th century:

If you know the standard depictions of the “Four Evangelists,” you will recognize the fellow at left. And of course if you have been following all the information on reading Slavic inscriptions, you will easily know who he is.

The title inscription at top reads:


The writer left no space between the two words, which we read as:



The spelling ЕОУАНГЕЛИСТЪ differs from the usual ЕВАНГЕЛИСТ spelling, but is nonetheless easily readable.

As for Luke in Eastern Orthodox tradition, he is said to be not only the author of the gospel by that name (which as just mentioned, however, was actually anonymous), but he is also famous as the supposed painter of the first icon of Mary — which also is later fiction rather than history — but is reflected in many icons of him.

So though icons of Luke are extremely common, what is interesting about this one is the figure standing to the right of Luke:

Now as you see, instead of the usual halo, it has the “eight-pointed glory” — the eight-pointed slava halo commonly found on images of Trinity persons, and that is significant here. You will recall that this slava represents the seven days of Creation and the eighth day — the Day of Eternity.

So who is this figure with the red outer garment and the eight-pointed slava of divinity? The inscription in smaller letters to the left and above the figure tells us:



So this figure, shown as inspiring Luke as he begins his Gospel, is the Wisdom of God, better known as Sophia, Wisdom of God. And as you know already from previous postings here, in Eastern Orthodoxy the Wisdom of God is another manifestation of Jesus, which is why the famous very early church in Istanbul — once Constantinople — is known as the Church of Holy Wisdom.

Now as already mentioned, this depiction of Luke writing his gospel together with Holy Wisdom is uncommon. A similar but earlier image (circa 1390) was depicted in a fresco in the Church of the Dormition in Volotovo Field near Novgorod. Here is a black and white photo of it taken by L. A. Matsulevich (Л. А. Мацулевич) in 1910. You can see Luke bending over his work at right, and Sophia, Wisdom of God leaning close behind him, whispering inspiration into his ear.


Remember Patriarch Nikon, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-1600s who caused the greatest schism in that branch of Christianity — a split that is still having its effects today?  Well, one of his projects was the source of the icon we will look at today — the type called the “Cross of Kiy with Bystanders” (Кийский крест с предстоящими/Kiyskiy krest s predstoyashchimi).  This example dates to 1667.

Here it is:


First we may note that the central cross is NOT the typical “eight-pointed” cross that the Old Believers — the segment of Russian Orthodoxy that refused to accept Nikon’s changes in liturgy and symbolism — favor. Instead it is seven-pointed.

Who are the “bystanders”?

Note that the two at top have halos:

At top left is “Holy Good-believing [i.e. “Orthodox”] Tsar (Emperor) Constantine.
At top right is “Holy Good-believing Tsaritsa (Empress) Elena (Helen)

All the others have no halos.

Below at left we see this figure with his title inscription:

It tells us he is Государь Царь и Великій Князь Алексий Михайловичъ всея Великія и Малыя и Бѣлыя Россіи Самодержецъ/Gosudar Tsar i Velikiy Knyaz’ Aleksiy Mikhailovich” vseya Velikiya i Maluiya i Byeluiya Rossii Samoderzhets”

“Sovereign Emperor and Great Prince Alexsiy Mikhailovich, of all Greater and Lesser and White Russia Autocrat.”  And that portion is  only the beginning of his official and very long official list of titles.

Aleksiy Mihailovitch (1629–1676) was the second Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty, and the ruler during the great schism in the Russian Orthodox Church

To his right is:


Государня Царица и Великая Княгина Мариа Ильична/Gosudarnya Tsaritsa i Velikaya Knyagina Maria Il’ichna

“Sovereign Empress and Great Princess Maria Il’ichna” (Мария Ильинична Милославская/Mariya Il’inichna Miloslavskaya), wife of Tsar Aleksiy Mikhailovich). 

At lower left is this person:


Святейший Никонъ Патриархъ Московский и всея Руси / Svyateyshiy Nikon” Patriarkh” Moskovskiy
“Most Holy Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow” 

He is the fellow who caused all the trouble.

Now to the central cross:

The icon depicts a still-existing giant reliquary cross that Patriarch Nikon ordered made in Palestine in 1656 for the Kiy-Ostrovskiy Onega Cross Monastery.  It was said to be made to the exact size of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, though of course any such measurements would be fantasy.  Now as you know, a reliquary is an object containing relics, and this one has plenty.  It is made of cypress wood, and inset with 104 relics of various saints, though it is originally said to have contained around 300.  It also has 16 eight-pointed stars containing 16 stones from sites of various “holy” biblical events in Palestine.  In the center is a silver reliquary with supposedly a fragment of the cross of Jesus and a piece of his robe.  The cross was decorated with six wooden crosses from Mount Athos (one now lost) that depict the twelve major Church festivals and the four Evangelists.  The cross is now kept in the St. Sergiy of Radonezh Church in Krapivniki, Moscow.


But why the “Kiy” Cross? There is a story that Nikon, in the years before he became Patriarch, was caught in a storm at sea, and came upon a deserted island. Supposedly he gave the island the name “Kiy,” and vowed that one day he would construct a monastery on it. He received permission from Tsar Aleksiy to build a church and monastery on the island in 1652. Two large crosses had been ordered by Nikon from Palestine, and one was the so-called “Kiy” cross. It was consecrated on August 1, 1656 — the Feast of the Procession of the Cross, then taken to Kiy Island.

Here is an old photo of the “Cross” Monastery on Kiy Island:

Cross Monastery Kiy Island

The other was placed in the Church of the Resurrection New Jerusalem Monastery in Moscow at what is now the town of Istra in Moscow Oblast. In much later years the Kiy cross was taken to Solovki Island during the revolution, and later placed in the State Historical Museum in Moscow, where it was kept separated into pieces. And finally it came to the St. Sergiy Church.

There are a number of inscriptions on the icon relating to the Cross, including the familiar one beginning

Krest’ Khranitel’ Vsei Vselennei — [The] Cross [is] Protector of All the World
Krest’ Krasota Tserkovnaya  — [The] Cross [is the] Beauty of the Church
Krest’ Tsarem’ Derzhava  — [The] Cross [is the] Might of Kings
Krest’ Vyernuim’ Utyverzhdenie  [The] Cross [is the] Comfort of the Believers 

It is in the rather baroque cartouche at upper left.

Looking at this icon, you may feel it rather ironic when recalling that Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Aleksiy later had a falling out over Nikon’s arrogance — and his assertion that the Church was higher than the Russian State, among other issues. It all eventually ended with Nikon — no longer Patriarch but an ordinary monk — being exiled to the Ferapontov Monastery on the White Sea. Nonetheless Nikon lived until 1681, and it is said that Tsar Aleksiy as he was dying in 1676 regretted his severe treatment of Nikon and asked his forgiveness.


You will remember (I hope) that in many Russian icons, movement in time is often depicted by showing a figure twice: one moment of time in one image and another moment in a second image — both on the same panel. I call this method “static animation,” because it shows movement in time through still images.

We see static animation in this icon of the Blagoveshchenie — the Annunciation:

The angel Gabriel at left is entering Mary’s dwelling, and we see him again at right, announcing to Mary that she will bear a child. In the background is a smaller scene depicting an event found earlier in time in the Apocrypha — the “Annunciation at the Well.” You will find information on that in the site archives. You will recall that the border images (Sts. Paisius and Vnifantiy/Boniface here) are generally images of saints for whom members of the family owning the icon are named.

What I want to talk about today is this: The depiction of movement in time by depicting a figure twice is not at all a late Russian innovation in iconography. In fact we find it in what is generally considered one of the earliest known depictions of Jesus — the “Healing of the Paralytic” — in a wall painting from the very early (mid 3rd century) Christian house church found near the Euphrates river in Syria.

Here it is:

We see Jesus standing at the top. Below him at right is a bed on which the paralytic lies. And just to the left of that is the next scene in time — the paralytic who has just been healed by Jesus taking up his bed and walking.

Now you probably noticed these images are rather crude — not nearly as sophisticated as the images on the wall of the Jewish synagogue also found in Dura Europos — but as already mentioned, this is one of the very earliest depictions of Jesus, and it is likely that the users of the house church did not have the funds or the sophistication of the users of the synagogue. It is also noteworthy that in the Dura Europos example, the action moves from right to left, whereas in much later Russian icons it commonly moves — as in the Annunciation — from left to right.

At this early date the image of Jesus was still fluid. No one knew what he looked like, so they just depicted a standard young man in a robe, beardless and with short hair. The image most people think of as Jesus in later centuries — with long hair and a beard — was a gradual development that took some time to become stabilized. It is an imaginary portrait. But in very early Christian art such as that at Dura Europos, Jesus had not yet become a venerated icon image. This was the period of narrative depictions and Christian symbols — not yet that of venerated icons.