ROLE REVERSAL: ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA

Here is an image of   — as the title inscription says –Ἡ ἉΓΙΑ ΑΙΚΑΤΕΡΙΝΑ — He Hagia Aikaterina — “The Holy Catherine.”

At left is Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa/”The Mountain of Moses”.  At the base, Moses with his flock sees the “Unburnt Thornbush,” the bush that burned but was not consumed, which in Eastern Orthodoxy is considered a prefiguration of Mary.  That is why she is shown here in the same form as in the Znamenie (“Sign”) Mother of God icon type.

At the top of the mountain, Moses is seen again, receiving the tablets of the law from God the Father.

But what does Catherine have to do with all this?  If we look on the right side of the icon, we see a body being placed atop a nearby mountain by angels.  This is Mount Catherine (Jebel Katerina), some two miles from Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa).  And of course in the foreground we see Catherine herself, sitting among books, with one hand holding the cross of martyrdom and the other not only placed on her symbol — the wheel — but also holding a palm of victory.

The answer to why Catherine is depicted with images of Mount Sinai is of course that there is a very old monastery at a mountain that came to be named in the first Christian centuries as the Old Testament Sinai, though where Sinai was originally, no one seems to know for certain.  And the reason it is called the Monastery of St. Catherine is the legend (taken as fact in Eastern Orthodox tradition) that the body of St. Catherine was carried by angels from the Egyptian city of Alexandria to the top of Mount St. Catherine, where her relics were supposedly later found.

The Monastery of St. Catherine (Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης/Mone tes Hagias Aikaterines) was not always known by that name — in fact the cult of St. Catherine did not get under way until the 9th century, and only became popular in Western Europe in the 11th.  The monastery was built in the 6th century (c. 545) at the command of Emperor Justinian, so tradition goes — around an earlier chapel of the Burning Bush (the “Unburnt Thornbush,”) supposedly built by St. Helena in 327 c.e.  The monastery’s official name is the “Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai (Ιερά Μονή του Θεοβαδίστου Όρους Σινά/Hiera Mone tou Theobadistou Orous Sina).

Now we have seen that the veneration of St. Catherine of Alexandria did not become popular until the 9th century, which is rather odd, considering that she is supposed to have been a Christian martyr of the 4th century.

According to her hagiography, Catherine was well educated — trained in philosophy and quite learned.  Many men wanted to marry her, but she said she would only marry someone who was her superior in many ways — including knowledge.

She is said to have converted to Christianity.  During the persecution by Maximian, she spoke out in favor of Christianity, and tradition says the Emperor had her debate with 50 of the most learned men, but she defeated them all, and they became Christians.

The Emperor — unhappy about this — sent Catherine to be martyred on a spiked wheel, but an angel broke the instrument of torture.  Seeing this, the Emperor’s wife and some 200 soldiers were converted, and the Emperor then had them beheaded.  In an additional effort to get Catherine to renounce her faith, the Emperor proposed marriage, but she refused him.  Finally he had her beheaded.

As we have seen, this tale continues with angels carrying the body of Catherine from Alexandria to Sinai.  There is much more to the story, but those are the essentials.

As we have seen many times, some of the saints venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy never existed at all, so we are right to be suspicious when a supposed 4th-century saint only becomes popular in the 9th century.  Though there is a Catherine mentioned in a 7th century Syrian liturgical text, the basic tale of her martyrdom first appeared in a menologion of Emperor Basil II (died 886).

So where did the notion of an Alexandrian philosopher martyr, learned and pure of heart, come from?  Modern scholarship tends to the theory that St. Catherine is merely a Christianized version of learned female philosopher who really existed,  and is reputed to have been both very beautiful and a lifelong virgin — the Alexandrian  Hypatia.  The big difference, however, is that the noted and respected Neoplatonist teacher and philosopher Hypatia  — gracious, tolerant, and extremely intelligent — was not a Christian martyr, but rather was martyred by fanatical Christian monks in the year 415.  They were said to have been incited in their murder of Hypatia by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria (Patriarch of Alexandria from 412-444) — who later was venerated as an Orthodox (and Catholic) saint.  The mob — led by a lector named Peter — pulled Hypatia from her chariot, cut her to pieces, and burned the remains.

So it appears that a real, non-Christian female philosopher murdered in Alexandria by a Christian mob eventually became transformed and distorted into the Christian St. Catherine, much as the story of the early life of the Buddha was eventually distorted into the tale of a Christian saint and prince of India named Ioasaph/Josaphat.  That is hagiography for you.  It is helpful in interpreting icons, but should never be regarded as factual history in the absence of real evidence.

You may recall that we have seen the combination of Moses at Mount Sinai, the “Burning Bush” and the body of Catherine being placed atop a mountain before, in an icon of the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/ladder-of-divine-ascent/
In that example, however, both Moses and the body of Catherine were depicted on the same mountain.

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AN OFFENDED DEMON

This is quite obviously a modern Russian icon, but the story it depicts is very old, and judging from the bat wings and serpent tail on the flying horse, likely to be interesting.

There is an identifying title at upper right — almost too small to see in the image — but it reads:

Святый Иоаннъ, Архиепископ Новгородский
Svyatuiy Ioann, Arkhiepiskop Novgorodskiy
“Holy John, Archbishop of Novgorod”

So we know this icon is about John of Novgorod — also known as Ilya of Novgorod  — who was Archbishop of the city from 1165 to his death on September 7, 1186.

As I have said many times, one thread in the study of icons leads on to countless others, and often we find stories within stories within stories.  We have already seen a couple of threads that would lead us — if we followed them — to the story told in this icon.

The first thread is the Marian icon being held up atop the walls of the stylized city seen below the horse.  We should recognize it as the “Sign” (Znamenie) Mother of God icon, which relates to the history of Novgorod, the great northern trading city.

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

The second thread — connected to the first — is the battle taking place before the walls of the city, which we might recognize as the Battle of the Novgorodians and the Suzdalians, seen in more detail in this icon:

So what does John of Novgorod have to do with these two threads?  And what is the story of the strange flying horse, and who is the fellow on the raft in the river in the contemporary icon?

Well, as for the icon and the battle, it was Archbishop John of Novgorod who had the “Sign” icon of Mary brought to the walls of the city, as a palladium to ward off the invading Suzdalians from the city of Novgorod, in the year 1170 — which traditionally is credited for saving the city.  And as for the horse and the raft, well, it is all rather like a tale out of the Thousand and One Nights.

One evening Archbishop John of Novgorod — so the story goes — was reciting his evening prayers.  Suddenly he heard a great splashing noise from a copper water vessel at the washstand.  Being clever in such matters, John quickly decided that the splashing was caused not by a person, but by a demon.

He approached the vessel, spoke a prayer and signed the container with the sign of the cross, which locked the demon inside it, unable to escape.

The demon cried out, “O, woe is me!  The fire burns so that I can hardly endure it!  Release me quickly, righteous man of God!”

“Who are you, and how did you come here?” John asked.  The demon admitted that he was a devil, and said he had come to frighten John, to interrupt his prayers.  And now he was caught and being burned as if by fire.  “Let me go, servant of God, and I will never come here again!”

John spoke severely:  “For your impertinence, I command you:  This very night you must take me from Novgorod the Great to the city of Jerusalem, to the church where lies the tomb of the Lord, and this very night from Jerusalem back to my cell, into which you dared enter.  Then I shall free  you.”

The demon swore to obey.

John then told the demon to transform into a horse, saddled and ready.  The demon came out of the water vessel like black smoke, and took the form of a horse all prepared for the journey.  John signed himself with the cross, mounted the demon horse, and soon he found himself in Jerusalem, near the Church of the Holy Resurrection, where the Holy Sepulchre lay, along with a piece of the cross.

The demon swore he would not stir from that place.  As John approached the church doors he prayed, and they opened by themselves, and the hanging lamps and the candles came alight by the tomb of the Lord.  John venerated and kissed the tomb and the piece of the cross, as well as the church icons, weeping tears as he did so.  Having finished, he left the church, and the doors closed by themselves behind him.  He found the demon horse standing where he had been left, mounted him, and soon he was back in his own cell in Novgorod.

The demon complained how much John had made him suffer by commanding him to carry the Archbishop to Jerusalem and back in one night, a command the demon was forced to carry out.  “See that you don’t tell anyone what happened to me,” he warned Archbishop John.  “If you do,  I will make you suffer,” and the demon threatened that if the tale were revealed, he would spread slander that the archbishop was involved in illicit sexual activities.

John made the sign of the cross, and the demon disappeared.

Now some time after that,  John was having spiritual conversation with hegumens and priests, and happened to mention — as though it had happened to someone else — that he knew a man who had managed to get to Jerusalem and back in one night, and that while there he had worshipped at the tomb of the Lord.

That was all it took to arouse the demon’s revenge.  The next day, the most salacious rumors about the archbishop started to spread through the city.  People began seeing a prostitute coming out of Archbishop John’s cell.  And when officials visited him for a blessing, they saw articles of womens’ clothing lying about his room.  They were all quite shocked.  No one realized that the prostitute leaving the cell was the demon in disguise, or that the articles of women’s clothing were his doing as well — all to punish John for revealing the secret of the night ride to Jerusalem.

When the people arrived at John’s cell to confront him about all this, they were just in time to see a young woman scandalously run out of his door.  They chased after her, but somehow were not able to catch up with her, and she got away.  That again was the demon in disguise.

John, hearing the uproar, came out of his cell to ask what was happening.  By that time the people were so upset about everything that had been seen that they decided they did not want Archbishop John in their city any longer.  They grabbed him, took him down to the bridge across the Volkhov River, and there they put him on a raft, which they then released to send John floating down the Volkhov and away from their city.

John, however, prayed on the raft that the people might be forgiven for falsely accusing him of evil, and when he did so, instead of floating down the river, the raft began instead to float upriver, against the current.  It floated all the way to the St. George Monastery (Юрьев монастырь/Iur’ev Monastuir‘) — over three miles from the city — where it continued to float in place, as though suspended on the water.

The people seeing the raft floating upriver instead of down were amazed, and realized they had falsely accused a holy man.  And the demon, on seeing the miracle, recognized that he had failed, and began to weep in defeat.

The townspeople, meanwhile, hurried to the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, asking the priests there to follow the raft and to beg Archbishop John to come back to them.  Carrying crosses, they came in a procession, and with many tears they implored the saint on the raft, and finally the raft gently came to shore at the St. George Monastery, and Archbishop John stepped off it.  He forgave all the people, and together they went to the St. George Monastery, where a Holy Fool somehow knew a great saint was coming, and told the head of the monastery to prepare for his arrival.  All the bells of the monastery were set ringing in welcome, and when everyone arrived, a prayer service was held, after which Archbishop John returned to his position in the city of Novgorod the Great.  There he warned the people to beware of falsely accusing others, and then said no more about it.  But the Prince and elders of the city had a stone cross erected as a memorial and warning to the citizens to beware of hastily persecuting people based on rumors.

There is a tradition that on the night he was taken to Jerusalem by the demon, Archbishop John not only prayed there, but also took care to measure the Holy Sepulchre, which is said to account for why there is a chapel in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Novgorod that has the same measurements.

So now you know the tale of the demon horse that took Archbishop John from Novgorod to Jerusalem and back all in one night, and can interpret the elements of this peculiar but interesting icon.

Fragments of old paintings depicting the story of John — including ПОВЕСТЬ О ПУТЕШЕСТВИИ ИОАННА НОВГОРОДСКОГО НА БЕСЕ — Povest’ o Puteshestvii Ioanna Novgorodskogo na Bese — “The Tale of the Journey of John of Novgorod on the Demon” — are still to be found on interior walls of the Novgorod Kremlin.

Do not confuse this John of Novgorod — also called Ilya of Novgorod — with the earlier Ioann/John of Novgorod who was bishop of Novgorod and Pskov from 1388 to 1415.

THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Yesterday I mentioned the so called “Hell Icons” — Адописные иконы/Adopisnuie ikonui — literally “Hades-painted icons.”  An Adopisnaya icona/Адописная икона is paradoxically an icon that existed more in rumor and gossip than in reality.  Nonetheless, they are mentioned in literature and were reported in 19th century Russian newspaper stories.

The first mention of such an icon is found in the life of Vasiliy Blazhennuiy/Basil the Blessed, also called Блаженный Василий Московский/Blessed Vasiliy of Moscow.   He was a noted “Holy Fool/Iurodivuiy/юродивый),” and that rather bizarre but colorful cathedral always seen in photos of Red Square in Moscow is named for him.

In the above icon, he is titled “Holy Blessed Vasiliy Iurodivuiy of Moscow, Wonderworker.”

The old account relates that there was a popular “miracle-working” icon of Mary — heavily venerated by the people of Moscow, on the Varvarskiya Vorota/Варварския ворота  — which looks like it should mean “Barbarian Gate,” but actually it is the “Barbara Gate,” because there was a stone church built in 1514, dedicated to St. Barbara.  Beside it were dungeons and prisons, such an unpleasant place that the local expression arose, “To St. Barbara for punishment.”

(Barbara Gates: 1884)

According to the tale, Vasiliy threw a stone at the icon — in the presence of a crowd of pilgrims  — and they were so furious at his action that his life was in danger.  But someone took a closer look at the icon and found the damage had revealed the image of a chort/чёрт — a devil — that had been painted beneath the surface image of Mary.  This was blamed on the Zhidovstvuyushchiye/Жидовствующие — the so-called Judaizers, some of whom were said to be opposed to icons, and so supposedly created the “Hell Icon” of Mary to mock the practice of icon veneration. 

The Russian novelist Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov wrote an article in which he discussed “Hell icons” as merely a trick of dishonest sellers of icons.  The scam required two people.  The first would go out to the villages with icons that had devils painted on the gesso beneath the surface “holy image.”  Having sold all he could, he would then leave.  Soon the other scammer would arrive in the village with his load of icons.  When he tried to sell them, the people would reply that they had already bought icons.  The second scammer would then ask to see one of the purchased icons.  When brought, he would scrape the painted surface to reveal the painted devil beneath.  The villagers — horrified by this, would then buy the second scammer’s supposedly “holy” icons, and would give him the “Hell icons” they had bought earlier, to dispose of.  So the second scammer would not only share the money from the first sales of “Hell icons,” but he would also get money from the second sales of “holy” icons, and not only that, he still had the “Hell icons” the people of the village had given him, which he would sell again in another village.

Leskov used this scam motif in his story The Sealed Angel/Запечатленный ангел.  Most of the talk of “Hell icons” seemed to be in Old Believer communities, which raises the issue of why people would be so horrified to find devils under conventional religious paintings, thinking those who venerated them would be venerating devils by so doing.  It takes us back to one of the oddities of Eastern Orthodox thought that we find particularly strong among the Old Believers — the notion that image and symbol — the outward and visible manifestations of religion, such as icons and the position of the fingers while blessing, etc. — are more important to Orthodox belief than the intention of the heart; so a person worshipping an icon with a hidden devil painted beneath the surface image would still be worshipping the devil, though that was not the real intent of the believer.

In spite of the interesting tales of “Hades-painted icons,” scholars doubt they ever really existed, because no authentic actual examples of such old icons have been discovered.  They seem to have been merely a symptom of the fears and rumors that can infest and spread through conservative and unenlightened communities — something we have become all too familiar with in modern politics.

 

EASILY AMUSED

A reader asked me about this rather unusual image, which we might call the “Rejoicing Demons” type for convenience:

It is an Old Believer image, as we can tell from the kind of lestovka (prayer rope) the man depicted in the center is holding in his left hand — and we can tell also from the position of the fingers in his right “blessing” hand:

The image has a rather extensive text in the outer border.

Some people mistakenly connect this type with the so-called “Hell Icons” that were rumored to have existed in old Russia — icons first painted with an image of a devil or devils, then painted over with a conventional religious image, to trick believers who would then unknowingly be sending their prayers before the icon to devils instead of to God.  This, however, is not at all a Hell Icon.  Instead it is simply a didactic icon intended to teach what was considered to be proper religious behavior.

In the image, we see a man beset by three demons.  One sits on his head, and holds a banner:

It reads:

ТУТЪ МОЯ РАДОСТЬ И ВЕСЕЛИЕ МОЕ
TUT MOYA RADOST I VESELIE MOE
“Here is my joy and my merriment.”

Obviously the demons are very happy — but about what?

Well, that is answered in the longer text in the outer border.  It is a teaching on how to correctly make the sign of the cross on one’s self in church.  And that, of course, is why this is a didactic icon.

The long border text is from the Church lectionary called the Prologue.  Here is what it says:

On the same day, the word of John Chrysostom. The month of April, 18th day:  On the Fear of God, and on How to Stand in the Church of God in Fear and Proper Order, and to Sign your Face with the Sign of the Cross:
Many ignorant people pretend to make the sign of the cross by waving their hands over their face.  They labor in vain, not correctly drawing the cross on their faces, so that their waving makes demons rejoice.  But if you make the sign of the cross properly, placing your hand on the forehead and on the stomach and right shoulder, and then on the left, the angels watch and rejoice to see the true cross represented on their visage.  And the Angel of the Lord also writes down when you enter into the Church of the Lord with fear and with belief.  If who enters the church stands with fear, and with tenderness makes obeisance to the image of God, that one receives forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God; but if without fear, that one will leave having committed a bigger sin.  So, when we come to church, let us stand with fear, awaiting great mercy from God both in this age and the future. To him be praise, now and forever and in the ages of ages.

At the base of the icon is another large text:

It reads:

“Maxim the Greek wrote thus:  If anyone frantically represents the sign of the cross, at that waving demons rejoice.”

There is also a very small inscription at the base, saying that “This picture was painted on an ancient icon.”

So, to sum up, this type is a teaching and cautionary image, showing a man in church who crosses himself carelessly by just making a hasty waving with his right hand instead of properly “drawing” a cross, and so the demons are all over him, really rejoicing about that.

Apparently demons are very easily amused.

A CONTENTIOUS BEGINNING

You will recall from an earlier posting that in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Evangelist John is commonly called John the Theologian.  Icons of him are very common, and so is the text one usually finds on the book he holds, whether written in Greek or in Church Slavic.

Here is a Greek example from the end of the 14th century:

(Ecclesiastical Byzantine Museum of Mytilene)

Here is a closer view of the text:

It is slightly worn, but we can easily emend it:

Left page:

ΕΝ ΑΡ
ΧΗ ΗΝ
ὉΛΟΓΟC
ΚΑΙὉΛΟ
ΓΟC ΗΝ
ΠΡΟCΤονΘΕΟν

Right page:

ΚΑΙ ΘCΗΝ
ὉΛΟΓΟC
ὉΥΤΟCΗΝ
ΕΝΑΡΧΗ
ΠΡοC ΤοΝΘΝ
ΠΑΝΤΑΔΙΑΥτου

You will note the common abbreviations:
ΘC with a horizontal line above it for ΘΕΟC/Theos, “god.”
ΘΝ  with a horizontal line above it for ΘΕΟΝ/Theon, “God” in the accusative form.

This is such a common text in icons and so frequently used a phrase in Christianity that everyone interested in icons should know it in Greek, at least as it is found in John 1:1-5.  The portion used in the above icon text is in bold type here:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων· καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.

En arkhe en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton Theon, kai theos en ho logos.  Houtos en en arkhe pros to Theon.  Panta di autou egeneto kai khoris autou egeneto oude hen.  Ho gegonen en auto zoe en, kai he zoe en to phos ton anthropon.  Kai to phos en te skotia phainei, ka he skotia auto ou katelaben.

“In [the] beginning was the Word/Reason, and the Word/Reason was with [the] God, and god was the Word/Reason.  All through him came-to-be, and without him nothing came-to-be that has become.  In him life was [or, depending on punctuation, ‘That which came to be in him was life’], and [the] life was the light of [the] men.  And the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness has not overcome/taken/understood it.”

Huge amounts of ink have flowed through history on both the proper translation and the interpretation of this.  “Logos” — ordinarily translated as “Word,” was actually a common term in Greek philosophy, used more in the sense of “Reason” as the reasoned order behind the universe.  Philo of Alexandria — influenced by Greek philosophy — used it to refer to the divine Reason of God — an emanation of the invisible and hidden God through which he acts in the material universe — a “second god,” as Philo called it/him.  This is the usage adopted in the Gospel called “of John,” saying essentially that this Reason was in the beginning, it was with God, and it was theos — that is, god by nature — divine.   Theos indicates here the nature of the Logos, just as we would say of a person, “He is man, not animal.”  In the same sense the Logos is god by nature.  The Greek is deliberately ambiguous, to indicate a distinction of this Logos from the hidden God.

Of course this grammatical ambiguity has resulted in endless theological bickering over the centuries as to precisely in what sense Jesus as Logos is theos, — and it continues to this day among Christian denominations.

Fortunately, all we need worry about is learning to recognize this common inscription on the book held in icons of John.

A TRICKY ONE AND AN EASY ONE

Here is an 18th century Greek icon.  It depicts a fellow dressed as a bishop, but to know who he is, we must read the title inscription at upper right.

(Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens)

Here it is:

It is rather faint, but it reads:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟς ΙΑΚω
ΒΟς Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟ
ΘΕΟς

If we put it all together, it is:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΙΑΚΟΒΟC Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΘΕΟC
HO HAGIOS IAKOBOS HO ADELPHOTHEOS
“[The] Holy Jacob/James the Brother [of] God”

In Greek he is called Iakobos — Jacob — but in English that is traditionally rendered as “James” when referring to this person.  Adelphotheos is a composite word made from adelphos (“brother”) and Theos (“God”).  That title comes from what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:18-19:

Ἔπειτα μετὰ ἔτη τρία ἀνῆλθον εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἱστορῆσαι Κηφᾶν, καὶ ἐπέμεινα πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡμέρας δεκαπέντε· ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου.

Epeita meta ete tria anelthon eis Hierosolyma historesai Kephan, kai epemeina pros auton hemeras dekapente. heteron de ton apostolon ouk eidon, ei me Iakobon ton adelphon tou kyriou.

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Cephas [Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days.  But of the other apostles I saw none, except James the brother of the Lord.”

Given that in Eastern Orthodoxy Jesus is considered to be God, the title was adapted for James as “Brother of God.”

And here is his scroll text:

It is a rather tricky one, because it consists of two joined excerpts from the Liturgy of St. James.  Here is the first part:

ΙΔΕ Ὁ ΑΜΝΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ Ὁ ὙΙΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ Ὁ ΑΙΡΩΝ ΤΗΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΣΦΑΓΙΑΣΘΕΙΣ ὙΠΕΡ ΤΗΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΖΩΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑΣ
Ide ho amnos tou Theou ho huios tou Patros ho airon ten hamartion tou kosmou sphagiastheis huper tes tou kosmou zoes kai soterias

“Behold the Lamb of God, the son of the Father, who takes away the sins  of the world, sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world.”

The second part is abbreviated in phrasing, but I have added in brackets what is missing:

Ὁ ΜΕΛΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC [ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΜΕΡΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC ΚΑΙ ΤΟΙC ΠΙCΤΟΙC ΜΕΤΑΔΙΔΟΜΕΝΟC] ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΔΑΠΑΝΩΜΕΝΟC ΕΙC ΑΦΕCΙΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ [ΚΑΙ ΖΩΗΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΝΥΝ  ΚΑΙ ΑΕΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΙC ΤΟΥC ΑΙΩΝΑC]
Ho melizomenos [kai me merizomenos kai tois pistois metadidomenos] kai me dapanomenos eis aphesin hamartion [kai zoen ten aionion nun kai aei kai eis tous aionas]

Who is parted [and not divided, and distributed to the faithful] and not expended; for the remission of sins [, and the life everlasting; now and always, and into the ages.]”

That refers to the Eucharistic bread, which is, in Eastern Orthodox belief, the “Lamb of God” — Jesus.

Here is another icon of James, painted in a much simpler manner, and from the end of the 18th century”

(Velimezis Collection)

You should be able to easily read the title inscription.  But let’s look at the text on the book he holds:

This one — if you have been a careful reader of this site — should be rather easy too, if you note the common abbreviation.  Remember how I always say that icon inscriptions are very repetitive, so learning a few enables one to read many icons?   Well, we just saw this inscription (at least most of it) in the preceding posting on Antipas of Pergamum, and we also saw it earlier on an icon of St. Nicholas of Myra.  In this example it reads:

Left page:

ΕΙΠΕΝ
ὉΚΣ ΕΓ
ω ΕΙΜΙ
ἩΘΥΡα

Right page:

ΔΙ ΕΜΟΥ
ΕΑΝ ΤΙΣ
ΕΙΣΕΛ
ΘΗ σω

It begins with the words

ΕΙΠΕΝ
ὉΚC

ΕΙΠΕΝ/EIPEN means “said.”
Ὁ /HO is of course the masculine definite article “the.”

ΚC/KS, you will note, has a horizontal line above it, signifying that it is an abbreviation.  It abbreviates ΚΥΡΙΟC/KYRIOS, meaning “Lord.”  That gives us

ΕΙΠΕΝ Ὁ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ/EIPEN HO KYRIOS

So literally it reads “Said the Lord,” but in normal English order we translate that as:
The Lord said.”

Then it continues with the beginning of that now familiar (I hope!) text:

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα· δι’ ἐμοῦ ἐάν τις εἰσέλθῃ, σω– [θήσεται, καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται, καὶ νομὴν εὑρήσει].

Ego eimi he thura: di emou ean tis eiselthe, so-[thesetai, kai eiseleusetai kai exeleusetai, kai nomen euresei.]

And of course it is from John 10: 9:

I am the door: by me if anyone enters in, he shall be sa- [ved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture].”

AN INSCRIPTION REVISITED

Here is an 18th century Greek icon:

The title — which you should be able to read on your own if you have followed past postings here — is:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟς ΑΝΤΙΠΑC
Ho Hagios Antipas
“The Holy Antipas.”

This Antipas is  the Hieromartyr (Priest-martyr) Antipas of Pergamum — traditionally the go-to saint for those suffering from toothache.

In this icon he is a serious-looking fellow:

He holds an open book of the Gospels.  Usually we find book texts in Greek icons written in upper case letters, but this inscription includes lots of lower case, rather cursive letters:

Don’t let it worry you.  Cursive inscriptions, when clearly written, are not that difficult; and in fact we have already seen this inscription on an icon of St. Nicholas:
(https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/a-greek-nicholas-text/)

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα· δι’ ἐμοῦ ἐάν τις εἰσέλθῃ, σωθήσεται, καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται, καὶ νομὴν εὑρήσει.

Ego eimi he thura: di emou ean tis eiselthe, sothesetai, kai eiseleusetai kai exeleusetai, kai nomen euresei.

It is from John 10: 9:

I am the door: by me if anyone enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

This inscription adds to that earlier text, continuing with the beginning of John 10:10:

ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ [καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ· ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν].

Ho kleptes ouk erkhetai ei me hina klepse [kai apolese. ego elthon hina zoen ekhosin kai perisson ekhosin.

“The thief comes not but to steal [and kill, and destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.]”

As one often finds on Greek icons, there are two inscriptions at the base.  Here is the first:

ΧΕΙΡ κονσταντινου του κονταρινε
KHEIR Konstantinou tou Kontarine
“[The] Hand of Konstantinos Kontarines”

That is the painter’s signature.  He lived from 1699-1738, and we see the date 1738 above the end of the signature.

And here is the second:

ΔΕΙCΙC ΤΟΥ ΔΟΥΛΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΜΙΧΑΗΛ CΠΑΝΟΥ
DEISIS TOU DOULOU THEOU MIKHAEL SPANOU
“Prayer of the Servant of God Mikhael Spanos.”

That is the standard form giving the name of the patron who had the image painted.

As for the subject of the icon, according to hagiographic tradition (which we know is generally quite unreliable), Antipa was a disciple of John the Theologian (the supposed Evangelist John), and was bishop of the city of Pergamum during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 c.e.).

Antipa is said to have preached against the worship of the traditional gods, irritating the priests of the older religion.  When he persisted and refused to venerate the Gods, the priests are said to have taken him to the Temple of the goddess Artemis, where he was placed inside a hollow, red-hot copper image of a bull/ox.  That is what we see in this image:

The inscription reads:

ΜΑΡΤΥΡΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ἉΓΙΟΥ ἹΕΡΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC ΑΝΤΙΠΑ
MARTYRION TOU HAGIOU HEROMARTYROS ANTIPA
Martyrdom of the Holy Priest-martyr Antipas.”

Christians retrieved his supposedly unburnt body, and placed it in a tomb in Pergamum, which later became a pilgrimage site for those seeking healing of illnesses.

Antipas of Pergamum, because of his supposed help with tooth problems, was very popular in Russia as Антипа Пергамский — Antipa Pergamskiy, and is a common subject not only in painted icons, but also in large numbers of cast metal icons.