You will recall the icons of Mary popular in Russia under the name Troeruchitsa — “Three-handed” — because in them, Mary is commonly painted with three hands.  And if you read my earlier posting in the archives on that icon type, you will know that it originated in a painter’s error — mistaking an added votive hand for a third hand of Mary.  You may also recall that the icon is listed among those known in Russian Orthodoxy as “miracle-working.”

Well, the Romanian Orthodox have done the Russians one better.  In the Giurgeni Monastery (Mănăstirea Giurgeni) in southeastern Romania is an icon depicting Mary in the Hodigitria (“Way-shower”) form. It has an ornate silver cover over the panel, with only the faces of the Mother and Child visible.

What is unusual is that in this icon, Mary has three eyes and two mouths.

And if we look closely at the child Jesus, we see he has two ears on the left side of his head.

These unusual features are said to be the result of a miraculous, overnight transformation of the icon — not the work of human hands.  And the icon itself is said to have been the source of several miraculous healings, so in addition to its supposedly miraculous transformation, the icon is also considered a făcătoare de minuni — a “worker of miracles.”

The image is known as the Maica Domnului de la Giurgeni (“Mother of God of Giurgeni) or the Maicii Domnului cu trei ochi şi două guri
— the “Mother of God with Three Eyes and Two Mouths.”

Well, as one might expect, the information on this icon is rather scanty.  It is said to have been made sometime between 1740 and 1750 by the painter (zugrav) Nectarie, and to have been given to the Giurgeni Monastery on August 6, 1831.  The icon is still visited by Romanian believers from all over the country due to its reputation as a miracle worker.

Of course to the rest of us it is rather obvious that the extra eye, mouth, and ear are due to separate stages of painting — a first stage followed by later overpainting, the former eventually becoming partially visible through the latter.  One person’s mistake is another person’s miracle.





The title got your attention, did it not?  Well, it is not as interesting as it sounds.  Symeon is Symeon Metaphrastes, the noted 10th century compiler of the Greek Menologion, which gives “lives” of the Eastern Orthodox saints in ten volumes.  He was not a critical writer, but rather unquestioningly accepted his sources as he found them, one reason why there is so much nonsense in the Orthodox lives of the saints.  Scholars assert that some of the lives in the collection were added after Symeon.

The “Lesbian” is an apparently fictional saint (though regarded as genuine in Eastern Orthodoxy) whose tale is recorded in the Greek Menologion, apparently re-worked there from an earlier account written about 920 c.e. by Niketas Magistros.   She is  ὉΣΙΑ ΘΕΟΚΤΙΣΤΗ Ἡ ΛΕΣΒΙΑ/HOSIA THEOKTISTE HE LESBIA — Theoktiste the Lesbian, but “Lesbian” is used here in its original sense, meaning simply someone from the Isle of Lesbos in the northeastern Aegean Sea.

Her story in brief is this:

She was born in Mithymna (Methymna) on Lesbos, but was orphaned early in life, and given to a monastery, where she was happy and pious in the monastic life.  In 846 c.e. at age 18 she went to visit her sister in another village on the Feast of the Resurrection.  The night after she arrived, Muslim pirates took all the people of the village — Theoktiste included — captive, and sailed off southward with them to the then mostly deserted Isle of Paros, where they intended to sort them by value for eventual sale as slaves.  Theoktiste somehow managed to escape, and spent the next 35 years on Paros, living as a pious and ascetic hermitess, with her dwelling being an old church dedicated to Mary — The Church of the All-Holy One of the Hundred Gates (Παναγία η Ἑκατονταπυλιανή Panagia he Hekatontapyliani)

Eventually a group of hunters came to the island, and one of them entered the church.  There he saw a strange figure in a corner near the altar.  The figure spoke, telling him not to approach, because she was ashamed to be seen as a nude woman.  He offered his cloak, and dressing herself in it, she came all grey and shriveled out into the light, and began to tell her story.  Then she asked the man to bring her a bit of the “Presanctified Gifts” — portions of the Eucharistic bread and wine — if he were to visit the island again in that year.  He eventually came back to the island, bringing the Eucharistic portions she had requested.  She received and consumed them in tears.  He left to do some hunting on the island, and on returning, he found Theoktista had died.  He dug a shallow grave, but on burying her, he cut off one of her hands to take as a holy relic.  Then he boarded and sailed away.  But when the morning came, he and his companions were shocked to find the ship seemed not to have moved at all,  but was still off the shore of Paros, and he decided this was a divine way of telling him the hand was not to leave the island.  He returned the hand to the body in the grave, and the ship sailed off with no further trouble.  While on the voyage, he told his story to his shipmates, and they all insisted on returning to Paros to venerate the relics of Theoktiste.  But when they arrived, her body was nowhere to be found.  Church tradition gives the year of her death as 881 c.e.

Now it is not hard to see that there are elements in this story that seem suspiciously reminiscent of the tale of of the desert ascetic St. Mary of Egypt.

You will recall that in that other tale, the Elder Zosima goes out into the desert and finds there a naked and grey-haired ascetic woman who is Mary of Egypt.  He gives her his cloak, and she comes to him and they talk.  She tells her story  in which she had gone by ship to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  She tries to go into a church there, but a mysterious force will not let her enter.  She repents and then is able to enter the church.

Mary asks Zosima to bring her some of the Eucharistic bread and wine a year from the time of their meeting.  She takes the Eucharist, and asks him to come again the following year.  When he returns a year later, he finds only her dead body.  He buries the body with the aid of a lion, who digs the grave with his claws.

So all these elements are common to both the tale of Mary of Egypt and the tale of Theoktiste the Lesbian:

The finding of an ascetic, grey-haired woman in a deserted place;
The giving of the cloak and the telling of the story of her life;
The presence of a ship in the tale;
A journey involving a Church feast (one the Exaltation of the Cross, the other the Resurrection);
A mysterious force that will not permit something to be done until there is repentance (in one case Mary unable to enter a church, in the other a ship unable to get away from the island);
The request by the ascetic female for portions of Eucharistic bread and wine to be delivered within a year’s time;
The finding of the body of the saint, and its burial by the discoverer of the ascetic female.

It is generally held by scholars that the tale of St. Theoktiste was simply a borrowing of the story of Mary of Egypt, updated by changing its setting to the Greek Isles and the time of the Saracen raids.

If one goes to the Hekatontapyliani Church on Paros, one still finds there a depression the marble floor that is identified as the “footprint of St. Theoktiste.”

The icons one is likely to encounter of Symeon Metaphrastes tend to be both uncommon and recent, and his iconography is often confused with that of another Symeon — Symeon the New Theologian, whose icons are more common.

Icons of Theoktiste are also generally recent, like this example with a Greek inscription identifying the rather “Goth”-like figure as Ἡ ὉΣΙΑ ΘΕΟΚΤΙΣΤΗ Ἡ ΛΕΣΒΙΑ/He Hosia Theoktiste he Lesbia.  You will recall that Hosia is the title used for a female monastic saint.



If one looks into the history of saints in Roman Catholicism, one finds that two prominent saints previously commemorated on September 26th were dropped from the list of saints in 1969.  The reason was quite sensible:  they were found to be fictitious.  They never existed.

Now as we have seen, never having existed does not mean a saint does not continue to be found in the calendar of Eastern Orthodoxy, because Eastern Orthodoxy has never done a systematic investigation of its list of saints — and so in Eastern Orthodoxy the two fictitious saints discussed today still are found and venerated, both in the Church calendar and in icons.  You will find them listed on October 2nd.

If we look at the title inscription on this Russian icon, we shall know who they are.

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

Here it is:

It is a bit faded in parts, but nonetheless by emending a bit we can make out its meaning:



Well, “Kiprian and Iustina” are in Western spelling Cyprian and Justina — male and female saints joined together by their fictional biographies, and together they make what was probably a rather exciting tale for those who took their story as truth rather than fantasy.

In the border scenes showing the “life,” demons appear again and again, because they are an important part of this tale.

Now one could do a whole book on the sources and eventual variations of the story of Cyprian and Justina, but I will try to summarize the basic tale briefly.

Though likely based on earlier elements, the  document called The Acts of Saint Cyprian and Justina is actually a composite text written originally in Greek.  Each part — Conversion, Confession, and Martyrdom — was written by a different author.  They date to the latter half of the 4th century (300s c.e.)

The tale relates that a pagan girl name Justina was converted to Christianity by hearing, from her window, a deacon as he spoke of his religion.  She and her parents were then baptized by a bishop.

Justina comes to the notice of a rich man named Aglaidas, who is smitten with love-lust for her, but Justina spurns his crude advances and wants nothing to do with him.  That does not deter Aglaidas, who decides to use magic.  He goes to a sorcerer name Cyprian, trained in all kinds of magical abilities since his youth.  On receiving a good amount of gold, Cyprian summons a demon and sends him to surround Justina’s home with a magical substance.  Justina, however, repels the demon by making the sign of the cross.

Having failed the first time, Cyprian decides he needs a stronger demon, so he summons one and sends him off to Justina.  Again she repels the demon.  Cyprian then summons a much more powerful demon — a “father of demons” — and this one is more tricky.  First he smites Justina with fever.  Then he takes on the form of a young maiden, and tries to lure her from her home.  Justina, however, becomes suspicious and expels this demon as well.

Cyprian cannot understand why his powerful magic is failing.  The powerful demon is willing to reveal the secret, but only if Cyprian swears allegiance to him.  Cyprian does so, but as soon as the demon reveals that the power that has foiled all the demons is the sign of the cross, Cyprian breaks his oath by making the sign of the cross and the demon is forced to flee.

Cyprian goes through some further evil efforts, but eventually, having found the greater magic in Christianity, goes to a bishop to be baptized.  His books of sorcery are burned, and he progresses as rapidly in Christianity as he did in sorcery, and eventually he is consecrated as a bishop.

As we can tell from their icon titles, Cyprian and Justina were eventually martyred for being Christians, as related in the old tales.

In some sources, Justina’s name was originally Justa (Iusta), and Cyprian as Bishop of Antioch changes it to Justina.

Cyprian eventually became considered in folk religion — not only in Russia but also in Roman Catholic countries — as a powerful saint who could break magic spells and enchantments.  Paradoxically however, in modern times he has become regarded by some (mostly in the West) as the “unofficial” patron saint of magicians and sorcerers, with spurious magical writings attributed to his name.

If you go to the little Biserica Zlătari (“Church of the Goldsmiths”) in Bucharest, Romania, you will find there what is claimed to be the right hand of Cyprian in a reliquary.  Folk belief holds that touching it will remove spells and enchantments, and it apparently attracts all kinds of people involved in one way or another with folk beliefs concerning magic.

Do not confuse, as is often done, Cyprian of Antioch — who was said to have been born in Carthage — with another bishop saint named Cyprian of Carthage.

For those with the time and inclination to read it, here is a lengthy and detailed version of the tale of Cyprian and Justina as it is known in Russian Orthodoxy, from a book printed in 1904.  It is helpful in identifying the “life” scenes in icons of the pair:

In the reign of Decius (249-251) there lived in Antioch (of Pisidia) a certain philosopher and renowned sorcerer whose name was Cyprian, a native of Carthage. Springing from impious parents, in his very childhood he was dedicated by them to the service of the pagan god Apollo. At the age of seven he was given over to magicians for the study of sorcery and demonic wisdom. At the age of ten he was sent by his parents, as a preparation for a sorcerer’s career, to Mount Olympus, which the pagans called the dwelling of the gods. Here there were a numerous multitude of idols, in which demons dwelled.

On this mountain Cyprian studied all manner of diabolical arts: he mastered various demonic transformations, learned how to change the nature of the air, to bring up winds, produce thunder and rain, disturb the waves of the sea, cause damage to gardens, vineyards and fields, to send diseases and plagues upon people; and in general he learned a ruinous wisdom and diabolical activity filled with evil. In this place he saw a numberless legion of demons, with the prince of darkness at their head; some stood before him, others served him, still others cried out in praise of their prince, and some were sent into the world in order to corrupt people. Here he likewise saw in their false forms the pagan gods and goddesses, and also diverse phantoms and specters, the invocation of which he learned in a strict forty-day fast. He ate only after the setting of the sun, and not bread or anything else, but only acorns from oak trees.

When he was fifteen years old he began to receive lessons from seven great sorcerers; from them he learned many demonic secrets. Then he went to the city of Argos, where, having served the goddess Juno for a time, he learned many practices of deception from her priests. He lived also in Taurapolis (on the island of Icara) in the service of the goddess Diana; and from there he went to Sparta, where he learned how to call forth the dead from the graves and to force them to speak by means of various incantations and spells. At the age of twenty, Cyprian came to Egypt, and in the city of Memphis he learned yet greater charms and incantations. In his thirtieth year he went to the Chaldeans, and having learned astrology there, he finished his studies. After this he returned to Antioch, being perfect in all evil-doing. Thus he became a sorcerer, magician, and destroyer of souls, a great friend and faithful slave of the prince of hell, with whom he conversed face to face, being vouchsafed to receive from him great honor, as he himself testified.

“Believe me,” he said; “I have seen the prince of darkness himself, for I propitiated him by sacrifices. I greeted him and spoke with him and his ancients; he liked me, praised my understanding, and before everyone said: ‘Here is a new Jambres, always ready for obedience and worthy of communion with us!’ And he promised to make me a prince after my departure from the body, and for the course of earthly life to help me in everything. And he gave me a legion of demons to serve me. When I departed from him, he addressed me with these words: ‘Take courage, fervent Cyprian; arise and accompany me; let all the demonic ancients marvel at you.’ Consequently, all of his princes also were attentive to me, seeing the honor shown to me. The outward appearance of the prince of darkness was like a flower. His head was crowned by a crown (not an actual, but a phantom one) made of gold and brilliant stones, as a result of which the whole space around him was illuminated; and his clothing was astonishing. When he would turn to one or the other side, that whole place would tremble; a multitude of evil spirits of various degrees stood obediently at his throne. I gave myself over entirely into his service at that time, obeying his every command.” Thus did St. Cyprian relate of himself after his conversion.

From this it is evident what kind of man Cyprian was: as a friend of the demons, he performed all their works, causing evil to people and deceiving them. Living in Antioch, he turned many people away to every kind of lawless deed; he killed many with poisons and magic, and slaughtered young men and maidens as sacrifices for the demons. He instructed many in his ruinous sorcery: some he taught to fly in the air, others to sail in boats on the clouds, still others to walk on water. By all the pagans he was revered and glorified as a chief priest and most wise servant of their vile gods. Many turned to him in their needs, and he helped them by means of the demonic power with which he was filled: with some he cooperated in their adulteries, with others in anger, enmity, revenge, jealousy. Already he was entirely in the depths of hell and in the jaws of the devil; he was a son of gehenna, a partaker of the demonic inheritance and of their eternal perdition. But the Lord, who does not desire the death of a sinner, in His unutterable goodness and His mercy which is not conquered by the sins of men, deigned to seek out this lost man, to draw out of the abyss one who was mired in the filth of the depths of hell, and to save him in order to show to all men His mercy; for there is no sin which can conquer His love of mankind.

He saved Cyprian from perdition in the following way.

There lived at that time in Antioch a certain maiden whose name was Justina. She came from pagan parents; her father was a priest of the idols, Aedesius by name, and her mother was called Cledonia. Once, sitting at the window of her house, this maiden, who had then already reached womanhood, by chance heard the words of salvation out of the mouth of a deacon who was passing by, whose name was Praylius. He spoke of our Lord Jesus Christ’s becoming man, that He had been born of the Most Pure Virgin and, having performed many miracles, had deigned to suffer for the sake of our salvation, had risen from the dead with glory, ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father and reigns eternally. This preaching of the deacon fell on good soil, into the heart of Justina, and began quickly to bring forth fruit, uprooting in her the thorns of unbelief. Justina wished to be instructed in the Faith by this deacon better and more completely, but she did not dare to seek him out, being restrained by a maiden’s modesty. However, she secretly went to the church of Christ, and often hearing the word of God, with the Holy Spirit acting in her heart, she came to believe in Christ.

Soon she convinced her mother of this also, and then brought to the faith her aged father as well. Seeing the understanding of his daughter and hearing her wise words, Aedesius reflected within himself thus: “The idols are made by the hands of men and have neither soul nor breath, and therefore how can they be gods?” While he was reflecting on this, once at night he saw during sleep, by Divine consent, a wondrous vision: he saw a great multitude of light-bearing Angels, and in their midst was the Saviour of the world, Christ, Who said to him: “Come to Me, and I will give you the Kingdom of Heaven.”

After rising in the morning, Aedesius went with his wife and daughter to the Christian Bishop, whose name was Optatus, begging him to instruct them in the Faith of Christ and to perform upon them holy Baptism. At the same time he informed him of the words of his daughter and of the angelic vision which he had seen himself. Hearing this, the Bishop rejoiced at their conversion, and having instructed them in the Faith of Christ, he baptized Aedesius, his wife Cledonia, and their daughter Justina; and then, having given them communion of the Holy Mysteries, he let them go in peace.

When Aedesius had become strengthened in the Faith of Christ, the Bishop, seeing his piety, made him a presbyter. After this, having lived virtuously and in the fear of God for a year and six months, Aedesius in holy faith came to the end of his life. As for Justina, she valiantly struggled in the keeping of the Lord’s commandments, and having come to love her Bridegroom Christ, she served Him with fervent prayers, in virginity and chastity, in fasting and great abstinence. But the enemy, the hater of the human race, seeing such a life, envied her virtues and began to do harm to her, causing various misfortunes and sorrows.

At that time there lived in Antioch a certain youth named Aglaias, the son of wealthy and renowned parents. He lived luxuriously, giving himself entirely over to the vanity of this world. Once he saw Justina as she was going to church, and he was struck by her beauty. The devil instilled shameful intentions into his heart. Being inflamed with lust, Aglaias by all means strove to gain the good disposition and love of Justina and by means of deception to bring the pure lamb of Christ to the defilement which he planned. He observed all the paths by which the maiden would walk, and, meeting her, would speak to her cunning words, praising her beauty and glorifying her; showing his love for her, he strove to draw her into fornication by a cunningly-woven net of deceptions. The maiden, however, turned away from him and fled from him, despising him and not desiring even to hear his deceptive and cunning speeches. But the youth did not grow cool in his desire of her beauty, and he sent to her the request that she should agree to become his wife.

She, however, replied to him: “My Bridegroom is Christ; Him I serve, and for His sake I preserve my purity. He preserves both my soul and my body from every defilement.”

Hearing such a reply from the chaste maiden, Aglaias, being instigated by the devil, became yet more inflamed with passion. Not being able to deceive her, he intended to seize her by force. Having gathered to his aid some foolish youths like himself, he waylaid the maiden in the path along which she usually walked to church for prayer; there he met her and, seizing her, began dragging her by force to his house. But she began loudly to scream, beat him in the face, and spat on him. The neighbors, hearing her wails, ran out of their houses and took the immaculate lamb, St. Justina, from the hands of the impious youth as from the jaws of a wolf. The disorderly youths scattered, and Aglaias returned with shame to his house. Not knowing what more to do, he decided, with the increase of impure lust in him, upon a new evil deed: he went to the great sorcerer and magician Cyprian, the priest of the idols, and having informed him of his sorrow, begged his help, promising to give him much gold and silver. Having heard out Aglaias, Cyprian comforted him, promising to fulfill his desire. “I will so manage,” he said, “that the maiden herself will seek your love and will feel passion for you even stronger than that which you have for her.”

Having thus consoled the youth, Cyprian let him go, full of hope. Then, taking the books of his secret art, he invoked one of the impious spirits who, he was sure, could soon inflame the heart of Justina with passion for this youth. The demon willingly promised to fulfill this and proudly said: “This deed is not difficult for me, because many times I have shaken cities, crumbled walls, destroyed houses, caused the shedding of blood and patricide, instilled hatred and great anger between brothers and spouses, and have brought to sin many who have given a vow of virginity. In monks who have settled in mountains and were accustomed to strict fasting and have never even thought about the flesh, I have instilled adulterous lust and instructed them to serve fleshly passions; people who have repented and turned away from sin, I have converted back to evil deeds; many chaste people I have thrown into fornication. Will I really be unable to incline this maiden to the love of Aglaias? Indeed, why do I speak? I will swiftly show my powers in very deed. Take this powder” (here he gave him a vessel full of something) “and give it to this youth; let him sprinkle the house of Justina with it, and you will see that what I have said will come to pass.”

Having said this, the demon vanished. Cyprian called Aglaias and sent him to sprinkle the house of Justina secretly with the contents of the demon’s vessel. When this had been done, the demon of fornication entered the house with the flaming arrows of fleshly lust in order to wound the heart of the maiden with fornication, and to ignite her flesh with impure lust.

Justina had the custom every night to offer up prayers to the Lord. And behold, when, according to custom, she arose at the third hour of the night and was praying to God, she suddenly felt an agitation in her body, a storm of bodily lust and the flame of the fire of gehenna. In such agitation and inward battle she remained for quite a long time; the youth Aglaias came to her mind, and shameful thoughts arose in her. The maiden marveled and was ashamed of herself, feeling that her blood was boiling as in a kettle; now she thought about that which she had always despised as vile. But in her good sense Justina understood that this battle had arisen in her from the devil; immediately she turned to the weapon of the sign of the cross, hastened to God with fervent prayer, and from the depths of her heart cried out to Christ her Bridegroom: “O Lord, my God, Jesus Christ! Behold how many enemies have risen up against me and have prepared a net in order to catch me and take away my soul. But I have remembered Thy name in the night and have rejoiced, and now when they are close about me I hasten to Thee and have hope that my enemy will not triumph over me. For thou knowest, O Lord my God, that I, Thy slave, have preserved for Thee the purity of my body and have entrusted my soul to Thee. Preserve Thy sheep, O good Shepherd; do not give it over to be eaten by the beast who seeks to devour me; grant me victory over the evil desire of my flesh.”

Having prayed long and fervently, the holy virgin put the enemy to shame. Being conquered by her prayer, he fled from her with shame, and again there came a calm in Justina’s body and heart; the flame of desire was quenched, the battle ceased, the boiling blood was stilled. Justina glorified God and sang a song of victory.

The demon, on the other hand, returned to Cyprian with the sad news that he had accomplished nothing. Cyprian asked him why he had not been able to conquer the maiden. The demon, even against his will, revealed the truth: “I could not conquer her because I saw on her a certain sign of which I was afraid.”

Then Cyprian called a yet more malicious demon and sent film to tempt Justina. He went and did much more than the first one, falling upon the maiden with great rage. But she armed herself with fervent prayer and laid upon herself yet a more powerful labor: she clothed herself in a hair shirt and mortified her flesh with abstinence and fasting, eating only bread and water. Having thus tamed the passions of her flesh, Justina conquered the devil and banished him with shame. And he, like the first one, returned to Cyprian without accomplishing anything.

Then Cyprian called one of the princes of the demons, informed him about the weakness of the demons he had sent, who could not conquer a single maiden, and asked help from him. This prince of demons severely reproached the other demons for their lack of skill in this matter and for their inability to arouse passion in the heart of the maiden. Having given hope to Cyprian and promised to seduce the maiden by other means, he took on the appearance of a woman and went to Justina. And he began to converse piously with her, as if desiring to follow the example of her virtuous life and her chastity. Conversing in this way, he asked the maiden what kind of reward there might be for such a strict life and for the preservation of purity.

Justina replied that the reward for those who live in chastity is great and beyond words, and that it is very remarkable that people do not in the least concern themselves for such a great treasure as angelic purity. Then the devil, revealing his shamelessness, began with cunning words to tempt her, saying: “But then how could the world exist? How would people be born? After all, if Eve had preserved her purity, how would the human race have increased? In truth marriage is a good thing, being established by God Himself; the Sacred Scripture also praises it, saying: Let marriage be had in honor among all, and the bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4). And many saints of God also did they not enter into marriage, which God gave them as a consolation, so that they might rejoice in their children and praise God?”

Hearing these words, Justina recognized the cunning deceiver, the devil, and, more skillful than Eve, conquered him. Without continuing this conversation, she immediately fled to the defense of the Cross of the Lord and placed its honorable sign on her forehead; and her heart she turned to Christ her Bridegroom. And the devil immediately vanished with yet greater shame than the first two demons.

In great disturbance, the proud prince of the demons returned to Cyprian, who, finding out that he had not managed to do anything, said to him: “Can it be that even you, a prince powerful and more skillful than others in such matters, could not conquer the maiden? Who then among you can do anything with this unconquerable maiden’s heart? Tell me by what weapon she battles with you, and how she makes powerless your mighty power?”

Being conquered by the power of God, the devil unwillingly acknowledged: “We cannot behold the sign of the Cross, but flee from it, because it scorches us like fire and banishes us far away.”

Cyprian became angry at the devil because he had put him to shame, and reproaching the demon, he said: “Such is your power that even a weak virgin conquers you!”

Then the devil, desiring to console Cyprian, attempted yet another undertaking: he took on the form of Justina and went to Aglaias with the hope that, having taken him for the real Justina, the youth might satisfy his desire, and thus neither would the weakness of the demons be revealed, nor would Cyprian be put to shame. And behold, when the demon went to Aglaias in the form of Justina, the youth leaped up in unspeakable joy, ran to the false maiden, embraced her and began kissing her, saying: “How good it is that you have come to me, fair Justina!”

But no sooner had the youth pronounced the word “Justina” than the demon immediately disappeared, being unable to bear even the name of Justina. The youth became greatly afraid and, running to Cyprian, told him what had happened. Then Cyprian by his sorcery gave him the form of a bird and, having enabled him to fly in the air, he sent him to the house of Justina, advising him to fly into her room through the window. Being carried by a demon in the air, Aglaias flew on the roof. At this time Justina happened to look through the window of her room. Seeing her, the demon left Aglaias and fled. At the same time, the phantom appearance of Aglaias also vanished, and the youth, falling down, was all but dashed to pieces. He grasped the edge of the roof with his hands and, holding on to it, hung there; and if he had not been let down to the ground by the prayer of St. Justina, the impious one would have fallen down and been killed.

Thus, having achieved nothing, the youth returned to Cyprian and told him of his woe. Seeing himself put to shame, Cyprian was greatly grieved and thought himself of going to Justina, trusting in the power of his sorcery. He turned himself into a woman and into a bird, but he did mpt manage to reach as far as the door of the house of Justina before his false appearances disappeared, and he returned with sorrow.

After this, Cyprian began to gain revenge for his shame, and by his sorcery he brought diverse misfortunes on the house of Justina and on the houses of all her relatives, neighbors and friends, as once the devil had done to righteous Job (Job 1:15-19, 2:7). He killed their animals, he struck down their slaves with plagues, and in this way he brought them to extreme grief. Finally, he struck with illness Justina herself, so that she lay in bed and her mother wept over her. Justina, however, comforted her mother with the words of the Prophet David: I shall not die, but live, and I shall tell of the works of the Lord (Psalm 117:17).

Not only on Justina and her relatives, but also on the whole city, by God’s allowance, did Cyprian bring misfortune as a result of his untamable rage and his great shame. Plagues appeared in the animals and various diseases among men; and the rumor spread, through the activity of the demons, that the great sorcerer Cyprian was punishing the city for Justina’s opposition to him. Then the most honorable citizens went to Justina and with anger tried to persuade her not to grieve Cyprian any longer, and to become the wife of Aglaias, in order to escape yet greater misfortunes for the whole city because of her. But she calmed them by saying that soon all the misfortunes which had been brought about with the help of Cyprian’s demons would cease. And so it happened. When St. Justina prayed fervently to God, immediately all the demonic attacks ceased; all were healed from the plagues and recovered from their diseases. When such a change occurred, the people glorified Christ and mocked Cyprian and his sorcerer’s cunning, so that from shame he could not show himself among men and he avoided meeting even friends.

Having become convinced that nothing could conquer the power of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, Cyprian came to his senses and said to the devil: “O destroyer and deceiver of all, source of every impurity and defilement! Now I have discovered your infirmity. For if you fear even the shadow of the cross and tremble at the name of Christ, then what will you do when Christ Himself comes to you? If you cannot conquer those who sign themselves with the sign of the cross, then whom will you tear away from the hands of Christ? Now I have understood what a non-entity you are; you are not even able to take revenge! Listening to you, 1, wretched one, have been deceived, and I believed your tricks. Depart from me, accursed one, depart! For I must entreat the Christians that they might have mercy on me. I must appeal to pious people, that they might deliver me from perdition and be concerned over my salvation. Depart, depart from me, lawless one, enemy of truth, adversary and hater of every good thing!”

Having heard this, the devil threw himself on Cyprian in order to kill him; attacking him, he began to beat and strangle him. Finding no defense anywhere, and not knowing how to help himself and be delivered from the fierce hands of the demon, Cyprian, already scarcely alive, remembered the sign of the cross, by the power of which Justina had opposed all the demons’ power, and he cried out: “O God of Justina, help me!”

Then, raising his hand, he made the sign of the cross, and the devil immediately leaped away from him like an arrow shot from a bow. Gaining courage, Cyprian became bolder, and calling on the name of Christ, he signed himself with the sign of the cross and stubbornly opposed the demon, cursing and reproaching him. As for the devil, standing far away from him and not daring to draw near to him out of fear of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, he threatened Cyprian in every manner, saying: “Christ will not deliver you out of my hands!” Then, after long and fierce attacks on Cyprian, the demon roared like a lion and went away.

Then Cyprian took all his books of magic and went to the Christian Bishop Anthimus. Falling to the feet of the Bishop, he entreated him to have mercy on him and to give him holy Baptism. Knowing that Cyprian was a great sorcerer, feared by all, the Bishop thought that he had come to him with some kind of trick, and therefore he refused him, saying: “You do much evil among the pagans; leave the Christians in peace, lest you speedily perish.” Then Cyprian with tears confessed everything to the Bishop and gave him his books to be burned. Seeing his humility, the Bishop instructed him and taught him the holy faith, and then commanded him to prepare for Baptism; and his books he burned before all the believing citizens.

Leaving the Bishop with a contrite heart, Cyprian wept over his sins, sprinkled ashes on his head, and sincerely repented, calling out to the true God for the cleansing of his iniquities. Coming the next day to church, he heard the word of God with joyful emotion, standing among the believers. And when the deacon commanded the catechumens to go out, declaring: “Ye catechumens depart,” and certain ones were already going out, Cyprian did not wish to go out, saying to the deacon: “I am a slave of Christ; do not chase me out of here.” But the deacon said to him: “Since you have not yet been given holy Baptism, you must go out of the church.”

To this Cyprian replied: “As Christ my God I liveth, Who has delivered me from the devil, Who has preserved the maiden Justina pure, and has had mercy on me—you will not chase me out of the church until I become a complete Christian.”

The deacon related this to the Bishop, and the Bishop, seeing the fervor of Cyprian and his devotion to the faith of Christ, called him up and immediately baptized him in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Finding out about this, St. Justina gave thanks to God, distributed much alms to the poor, and made an offering in church. And Cyprian, on the eighth day after his Baptism, was made a reader by the Bishop; on the twentieth day he was made subdeacon, and on the thirtieth day a deacon; and in a year he was ordained priest. Cyprian completely changed his life; with every day he increased his struggles, and constantly weeping over his previous evil deeds, he perfected himself and ascended from virtue to virtue. Soon he was made Bishop, and in this rank he led such a holy life that he equaled many great saints. At the same time he zealously took care of the flock of Christ which had been entrusted to him. St. Justina the maiden he made a deaconess, and then entrusted to her a convent, making her abbess over other Christian maidens. By his conduct and instruction he converted many pagans and acquired them for the Church of Christ. Thus, idol worship began to die out in that land, and the glory of Christ increased.

Seeing the strict life of St. Cyprian, his concern for the faith of Christ and for the salvation of human souls, the devil ground his teeth against him And inspired the pagans to slander him before the governor of the eastern region, saying that he had put the gods to shame, had converted many people away from them, and was glorifying Christ, Who was hostile to their gods. And so, many impious ones came to the governor Eutolmius, who was then governing those regions, and made slanders against Cyprian and Justina, accusing them ,of being hostile to their gods and to the emperor and to all authorities, saying that they were disturbing the people, deceiving them, and leading them in their footsteps, disposing them to worship the crucified Christ. At the same time they asked the governor to give Cyprian and Justina over to death for this. Having heard their request, Eutolmius commanded that Cyprian and Justina be seized and placed in prison. Then, setting out for Damascus, he took them with him in order to make judgment upon them.

And when they had brought the prisoners of Christ, Cyprian and Justina, to him, he asked Cyprian: “Why have you changed your earlier glorious way of life, when you were a renowned servant of the gods and brought many people to them?”

St. Cyprian related to the governor how he had found out the infirmity and the deception of the demons and come to understand the power of Christ, which the demons feared and before which they trembled, disappearing from before the sign of the precious cross; and likewise he explained the reason for his conversion to Christ, for Whom he declared his readiness to die. The torturer did not accept the words of Cyprian in his heart, but being unable to reply to them, he commanded that the Saint be hung up and his body scraped, and that St. Justina be beaten on the mouth and eyes. For the whole time of the long torments they ceaselessly confessed Christ and endured everything with thanksgiving. Then the torturer imprisoned them and strove by kind exhortation to return them to idol worship. When he was unable to convince them, he commanded that they be thrown into a cauldron; but the boiling cauldron did not cause them any harm, and they glorified God as if they were in some cool place. Seeing this, one priest of the idols, by name Athanasius, said: “In the name of the god Aesculapius, I also will throw myself into this fire and put to shame those sorcerers.” But hardly had the fire touched him than he immediately died.

Seeing this, the torturer became frightened, and not desiring to judge them further, he sent the martyrs to the governor Claudius in Nicomedia, describing all that had happened to them. This governor condemned them to be beheaded with the sword. When they were brought to the place of execution, Cyprian asked a little time for prayer, so that Justina might be executed first; he feared that Justina would become frightened at the sight of his death. But she joyfully bent her head under the sword and departed unto her Bridegroom Christ. Seeing the innocent death of these martyrs, a certain Theoctistus, who was present there, greatly pitied them and, being inflamed in his heart towards God, he fell down to St. Cyprian and, kissing him, declared himself a Christian. Together with Cyprian he also was immediately condemned to be beheaded.

Thus they gave over their souls into the hands of God; their bodies, however, lay for six days unburied. Certain of the strangers who were there secretly took them and brought them to Rome, where they gave them to a certain virtuous and holy woman whose name was Rufina, a relative of Claudius Caesar. She buried with honor the bodies of the holy martyrs of Christ: Cyprian, Justina, and Theoctistus. At their graves many healings occurred for those who came to them with faith. (Their martyrdoms occurred toward the end of the third century—according to some, in about the year 268, but according to others, in 304.)



In an earlier posting, I briefly mentioned the cast metal four-part folding icons commonly called “irons,” because their shape when closed is similar to that of an old metal flatiron — the kind one had to heat on a stove to use.  You will find that earlier posting here:

Today we shall look a bit more closely at this very popular form of Old Believer metal icon, which may be found both with (as here) and without added colored enamel.

Here is an example:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

It includes icon types of major Church festivals, as well as the commemoration of four “wonderworking” icons of Mary.

If we look more closely, we can identify the scenes in each of the four panels:

The top image is the Crucifixion (Raspyatie), with a tiny image of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus just above the cross.

The upper left image is the Annunciation (Blagovyeshchenie) to Mary.
The upper right image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of Jesus.
The lower left image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of the Mother of God (Mary).
The lower right image is the Entry (Vvedenie) of the Mother of God into the Temple.

At top is the New Testament Trinity, with the inscription, “He Ascended into Heaven and Sits at the Right Hand of the Father.”

Left:  The Meeting (Sretenie) of Jesus in the Temple.
Right:  The Theophany (Bogoyavlenie), that is the Baptism of Jesus
Lower Left:  The Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of Jesus.
Lower Right:  The Entry (Vkhod) of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Top:  The Elevation (Vozdvizhenie) of the Cross.
Left:  The Descent (Sozhestvie) to Hades (Resurrection (Voskresenie) of Jesus).
Right:  The Ascension (Voznesenie) of Jesus.
Lower Left:  The Old Testament Trinity (Troitsa); in some examples this is replaced by the Descent (Sozhestvie) of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
Lower Right:  The Dormition (Uspenie) of Mary.

Top:  The Praise (Pokhvala) of the Mother of God.
Below that come four scenes of Poklonenie (Veneration) of Wonderworking icons of Mary:
Left:  The “Tikhvin” icon with saints Maksim and Vasiliy (Maxim and Basil) Fools for Christ’s Sake, etc.
Right:  The “Vladimir” icon with saints Aleksandr Svirskiy and Kirill Byelozerskiy, etc.
Lower left:  The “Smolensk” icon with saints Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy, etc.
Lower right:  The “Sign” icon with saints Antoniy Rimlyanin and Leontiy Rostovskiy, etc.

On the reverse side of such icons, one often finds a “Golgotha Cross,” which is discussed — as are the icons of major Church festivals and the individual Marian icons — in previous postings that may be found in the archives here through the “search” function on this site.

In Russian terminology, a “folding” icon — whether a diptych (two-panel), triptych (three-panel), quadriptych (four-panel) or simply several-panel (polyptych) form — is called a складень/skladen’.



Here is a Marian icon type that one might easily confuse with the Smolenskaya/Smolensk type.

(Courtesy of

Let’s look again at the “red” Smolenskaya icon in a previous posting:

(Courtesy of

If we compare the two, we see that the positions of Child and Mother are very much the same — except look at the difference in the position of the right hand of Mary:

In the first icon, it is thus:

And in the Smolenskaya, thus:

In the Smolenskaya type, the hand of Mary gestures toward the Christ Child, which is why it also falls into the category known as Hodegitria — meaning “Way-shower” in Greek.

In the first type however — called the Sedmiezerskaya or Sedmiezernaya — the hand is upright, and Mary does not gesture toward the Child.

Nonetheless, the type with Mary’s hand upright is often called the Одигитрия Смоленская Седмиезерная / Odigitriya Smolenskaya-Sedmiezernaya — the “Hodigitria Smolensk-Seven Lakes.”  So though it does not exactly fit the usual Smolenskaya form, it is generally so classified, confusing as it may be.

Its origin story relates that near the end of the 1500s, a fellow named Evfimiy was born to a poor family.   Being a pious individual, he went to live in a monastery.  When his parents died, he inherited an icon of the “Smolensk” type from them, which he took with him to the region of Kazan.  He eventually settled in a secluded place many miles from the city.  It was surrounded by seven lakes.  There he eventually founded a monastery.

Though some time later he went to live in the Metropolitan’s house in Kazan, he nonetheless continued to guide the monastic community he had begun, and he also decided to give up his inherited “Smolensk” icon to the Seven Lakes monastic community.  The wooden church at the monastic site was eventually replaced by a stone church, and the “Smolensk” icon was placed in it, on the left side of the “Tsar Doors” that led to the altar.

In June of 1654, there was a severe plague in Kazan, and people were dying.  It was decided to send the Seven Lakes — Sedmiezernaya — “Smolensk” icon to the city.  It is said that a nun had a vision in her sleep, in which a shining old man who looked like St. Nikolai/Nicholas appeared to her, telling her that the people of Kazan should fast for a week and repent, and that the Mother of God was coming to the city to save the people from the plague.  As is common in these tales, the nun did not do as she was told, so the old man appeared to her when she next slept, scolding her.  Finally, she went to the city officials and reported her vision.   According to tradition, all the citizens of the city went out, carrying their own “Kazan” icon, to formally meet and welcome the Sedmiezernaya icon some two miles from the city, where they fell to their knees and prayed for “her” help in ending the plague.

It is said the plague subsided when the icon was carried in procession around the city of Kazan.  The city eventually returned the icon to the Seven Lakes Monastery, but again in 1656 there was a plague in Kazan, so the icon was brought back to Kazan, and supposedly again the plague subsided.  After that, it became the custom to bring the icon from the Seven Lakes Monastery to the city of Kazan each year, when it would leave the monastery on June 25th and be brought into the city in a formal procession on June 26th.

Other tales of healing miracles were associated with the icon, which of course is numbered among the so-called “wonder-working” icons of Russian Orthodoxy.

It is not unusual to see some variation in the position of the fingers in the right hand of Mary in various examples of the Sedmiezernaya type.  Here is an icon bearing the Sedmiezernaya/Semiezerskaya title, but the hand has its fingers in the distinctly Old Believer sign of blessing:





In a previous posting I discussed Greek icons of the “Ladder of John Klimakos,” and said I would talk about Russian examples of the type another day.  Well, a reader asked me about a particular Russian example of that type, so the day is here.

In Russian iconography, the “Ladder” type is called Видение преподобного Иоанна Лествичника — Videnie prepodobnogo Ioanna Lestvichnika — “The Vision of Venerable John of the Ladder.”

Here is a 15th century Novgorod example:

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

In the center we see the main image of the ladder to heaven, found also in Greek examples.  The monks attempt the climb by perfecting their virtues, but not all can live up to the high standard encouraged by the angels at left (who hold crowns for those who are successful) — and fall among demons into Hades.  One monk has make it to the top, where he is greeted at the door of Paradise by Jesus, by Mary as Mother of God, by John the Forerunner (the Baptist) and angels.  And as a sign of his completed climb, we see he has a halo, unlike those still attempting the ascent below him.  To the left of the doors we see a crowd of righteous people of several kinds, with King David standing at their head, crowned and holding his psaltery.

On the left side of the icon is an old Russian-style church, and below it Ioann Lestvichnik — John of the Ladder — preaches from the pulpit to assembled monks.  He holds aloft a scroll which often begins:

Всходите, всходите всходы с усердием на сердци, братие…
Vskhodite, vskhodite vskhodui s userdiem na serdtsi, bratie…

“Ascend, ascend, climbers, with zeal in your hearts, brothers…”

At lower right we see the abyss of Hades, shown as a cave in which two royal figures — a male and a female — sit at a golden table.  They are the pre-Christian classical deities Pluto (Hades), ruler of the Underworld, and his kidnapped queen Proserpina (Persephone), from the old Greek myth that explains the seasons.  But because Christianity replaced the old deities, the royal pair are not considered as deities in the icon, but rather as demons, which was a propagandistic method used very early in the history of Christianity (“Your gods are demons, but our God is real”).  These deities from Greek and Roman mythology are often omitted, and simply the abyss of Hades is shown, with demons, or with the unfortunate falling into the mouth of Hades depicted as the open maw of a monster.




Here is a pleasant 19th century Deisis set, which traditionally consists of a central icon of Jesus as “Lord Almighty,” an icon of Mary approaching from the left, and one of John the  Forerunner approaching at right:

Jesus has the common inscription from Matthew:

“Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28):

Прiидите ко мнѣ́ вси труждáющiися и обременéн­нiи, и áзъ упокóю вы́
Priidite ko mnye vsi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az’ upokoiu vui


(Courtesy of

Mary, however, has an uncommon inscription for a Deisis panel:

(Courtesy of

It is the beginning of the text known in the West as the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55):

Величит душа моя Господа и возрадовася дух [мои] о Бозе Спасе моем.
яко при(зре на смирение рабы своея…)

Velichit dusha moya Gospoda i vozradovasya dukh moi o Boze Space moem.
Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya…

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…”

And here is the John the Forerunner panel:

(Courtesy of


The scroll of John is a bit odd too, because it uses John 1:29, but stops at the beginning letters of the usual “Behold the Lamb of God” text:

[Во утрий же] виде Иоанн Иисуса грядуща к себе и глагола: се, Аг[нец Божий, вземляй грехи мира]

“[And in the morning] John saw Jesus coming to him and said, behold the La[mb of God who takes away the sins of the world].”

One often sees individual side panels from Deisis sets that have lost their accompanying two panels.