THE PERM OLD BELIEVER ICON PAINTING MANUAL

In a previous posting, I shared a link to online access to the Stroganov Icon Painter’s Manual.  Today I would like to share the link to another and quite interesting old podlinnik (painter’s manual) in the Stroganov Museum.

This manual is identified thus:

Лицевой иконописный подлинник 1829 г. из Пермской Успенской старообрядческой церкви
Litsevoy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik 1829 g[oda] iz Permskoy Uspenskoy staroobryadcheskoy tserkvi

Illustrated icon painting manual,  [of the] year 1829, from the Perm Dormition Old  Ritualist Church.

By “Old Ritualist” is of course meant that it is a church of the Old Believers, who continued the traditional stylized manner of painting long after the State Orthodox Church had adopted the more realistic Western European manner.

As I have told you before, it is important in the study of icons to learn the Church Slavic alphabet and to learn the basic Slavic vocabulary common to Russian icons and podlinniki/podlinniks  You can see how helpful that is in reading this rather fascinating Perm icon painter’s manual.

Here is the image for September 1, the beginning of the old Church year.  This image is not included in the earlier Stroganov manual, through it is described verbally:

As you see, it represents the “Indiction” type, which indicates the beginning of the Church Year through an image of Jesus beginning his ministry by reading from the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (see the earlier posting on this type at: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/the-indiction-which-is-the-new-year/)

The writing on the page reads:

МЕСАЦЪ СЕНТЯБРЬ
Mesats  Sentyabr
MONTH [of ] SEPTEMBER

НАЧАЛО ИНДИКТОУ ЕЖЕ ЕСТЬ
Nachalo Indiktou ezhe est
BEGINNING [of the] INDICTION, WHICH IS

НОВОМОУ ЛЕТУ
Novomou Letou
[the] NEW YEAR

ИМАТ ДНIИ Л
Imat dni 30
Has    Days   30

In normal English,

“The Month of September:
The Beginning of the Indiction, which is the New Year.
[September] has 30 days.”

Here is the link to the main page for the Perm manual:

http://stroganovmuseum.ru/vokrug-stroganovykh/izdaniya/item/81-litsevoj-ikonopisnyj-podlinnik-1829-g

On it you will see two entries (you can click on these links here, if you wish):

Часть 1 (с. 1-104)

Часть 2 (c. 105-216)

Часть (Chast)  means “part,” so the first link is to Part 1, pages 1-104,  and the second link to Part 2, pages 105-216.  Most of the Part 2 illustrations are lightly drawn, but were never fully inked in.

You will also find an alternate entry point with a different format on this link:

https://eikon.piwigo.com/index?/category/548-1829_%D0%B3

At the beginning of the podlinnik is an incomplete alphabetical list giving a saint’s name and where he or she is to be found in the book, which is arranged by month and day of commemoration.  The word числа (chisla) at upper right means “number” (date).

To see how it works, we can look at the second entry on the first index page:

Avvakoum Prorok, Deka[br] B

Meaning,
Avvakoum [Habakkuk], Prophet, December 2

If we look at December 2nd, we find this (the page is for December 1 and 2):

It gives us first the saint for the first (A) day of December:
“Of the Holy Prophet Nahum”

Then come those for the Second (B) day:
“Of the Holy Martyr Ananias of Persia”
“Of the Holy Prophet Avvakum”
“Of Holy Philaret the Merciful”

Notice that the female saint second from right has her name entered last, in smaller letters:
“Of the Holy Martyr Myropia.”

If we look in the halos, there are notations helpful to the painter.  In the halo of the Prophet Nahum, we see the word седъ — syed — meaning “grey.”  So we know he is an older man with grey hair.  By contrast, in the halos of the Martyr Ananias and the Prophet Avvakum, we find the word млад — mlad — meaning “young/youth.”

On another page we find Ису́с Нави́н — Isus Navvin — Joshua, son of Nun — and in his halo and in that of the saint beside him — Feodor Yaroslav Vsevolodovich — we find the word русъ — rus –“Russian” — which means the hair of these saints is to be painted in that light brown to dark blond color common to many Russians.  But in this manual, the colors of the garments are not indicated as they are in the Stroganov podlinnik.

By the way, you may notice that Joshua in Slavic has the same name as Jesus — Isus, as is also the case in the Greek Bible.  The Old Testament Jesus — that is, Joshua — is distinguished by the addition of “Navvin” in Slavic and του Ναυή — tou Naui — “of Nun” in Greek.

Here is the page for December 3-4:

On it we see the Prophet Sophoniya (Zephaniah), “our Venerable Father Sabba Storozhevsky Zvenigorodskiy,” “Holy Martyr Theodora,” “Holy Great Martyr Barbara,” “our Venerable Father John of Damascus,” and so on.  But what I really want you to notice is the entry in red at the bottom of the page:

Д ТРОРУЧИЦЫ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
4  [OF THE ] TROERUCHITSUI PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“4  THREE-HANDED MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

That notation means that December 4th is the day of Commemoration of the icon of Mary called the “Three-handed Most Holy Mother of God.”  In the standard Church calendar, its days are June 28th and July 12th, but here it is placed on the day of John of Damascus, who was associated traditionally with its origin “miracle.” This manual indicates the commemoration of days of supposed “miracle-working” Marian icons with these red entries, but it does not depict these Marian images.  For those the painter had to turn to other patterns outside this book.

I will end this little introduction to the Perm Old Believer podlinnik with this page from November 8, the Sobor Svyatago Arkhistratiga Mikhaila in Prochikh Bezplotnuikh Sil — “The Assembly of the Chief-commander Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers.”

If you are interested in old patterns, you may also wish to look at Nikodim Kondakov’s published collection of icon patterns (volume I is primarily “Jesus” patterns), which you can do at this site:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01000869530#?page=1

On that site, click on the thumbnail pages at left to get the enlarged image on the main screen.  Be sure to look at the patterns from page 156 on.

Those of you who would like to see the 1903 “Bolshakov Podlinnik” online — more properly the Подлинник иконописный — Издание С.Т. Большакова. Под редакцией . А.И. Успенского  — the “Icon Painting Manual — publisher S(ergey) T(ikhonovich) Bolshakov, edited by A. I Uspenskiy” — will find it at the following site:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=1

The Bolshakov Podlinnik is a kind of revised and expanded version of the old Stroganov Podlinnik, using more casual outline drawings taken largely from that earlier manual, and adding a descriptive text (Church Slavic) modified by reference to other old painter’s manuals.  Though the re-drawn illustrations are not artistic, they nonetheless do the job, and the text is very useful for those who wish to learn the vocabulary of the old painter’s manuals, giving verbal descriptions of the various saints and indicating the form and colors of hair and garments.

The descriptions by month begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=37

The illustrations begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=201

One of the sources consulted in the preparation of the Bolshakov manual was the Софийский Списокъ Подлинника Новгородской Редакции XVI Века  — Sophiyskiy Spisok Podlinnika Novgorodskoy Redakstsii XVI Veka — “The Sophia Copy of the Podlinnik, Novogorod Redaction of the 16th Century.”  You will find online access to that text-only podlinnik here:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01007492474#?page=1

Enjoy!

THAT IMAGE AT THE TOP…

A curious reader in Germany asked about the image in my blog “header” — what icon it is from, who the figures are, and what the inscription on the scroll means.

It is a detail from this icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a wider view of the “header” detail:

The saints depicted in it are from upper left (below the angel):
Prepodobnuiy Maron — Venerable Maron
Svyashchennomuchenik Antipa — Priest-martyr Antipas
Prepodobnuiy Sergiy Radonezhskiy — Venerably Sergiy of Radonezh
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Novgorodskiy — Venerable John of Novgorod
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Damaskin  — Venerable John of Damascus.

The scroll held by John reads:

Твоя по-
бедите-
льная деснице [-а]
Боголеп-
но в к-
репости
просла
[-вися: та бо, Безсмертне, яко всемогущая, противныя сотре, Израильтяном путь глубины новосоделавшая.]

It is the Irmos from the Canon of the Resurrection, Ode 1:

Your victorious right arm  in godly manner has been glorified in strength;
[it continues:  for, Immortal One, as almighty it struck the adversary, for the Israelites making the path of the deep anew.“]

The Canon of the Resurrection was written by John of Damascus.

The scroll just below the angel is the Stikhera, tone 2 from the Moleben to the “Joy of All Who Suffer” icon.

Всемъ скорбящимъ радость
и обидимымъ предстателница  и
алчущимъ питательница страннымъ…

Joy of all who sorrow, and intercessor for the offended, and feeder of the hungry, of travelers…
[it continues “… the consolation, harbor of the storm-tossed, visitation of the sick, protection and intercessor for the infirm staff of old age, you are the Mother of God on high, O Most Pure One”]

So that is the origin and significance of the present “header” image on this blog.

 

 

 

WHAT SHALL WE BRING YOU

In previous postings we have encountered the Slavic word sobor, which means “assembly,” but can also mean “council” or even “cathedral.”

There are several icon types having titles beginning with Sobor.  Commonly these are icons depicting a gathering or assembly of persons relating in some way to the main Eastern Orthodox church festival celebrated on the previous day.  The “church jargon” term generally used for such a secondary festival in English is synaxis, which is just the Greek word that Church Slavic translates as sobor.

We have seen in a previous posting, for example, the icon of the Sobor of John the Forerunner — the “Assembly of John the Forerunner” — which is the secondary festival following the major festival of the Bogoyavlenie — The Theophany — which is the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John.

Today we will look at another such icon.  This one is of the sobor celebrated on the day following the Feast of the Nativity — the birth of Jesus.  And this secondary festival celebrates the sobor of Mary, the Собор Пресвятыя БогородицыSobor Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — the “Assembly of the Most Holy Mother of God.”  The earliest-known example of this type dates to the 13th century, and appears to have developed in Serbia.

In the posting immediately preceding this one, we looked at the Marian icon “In You Rejoices,” based on a hymn to Mary.  Similarly, the iconography of today’s image is based on the fourth stikheron (a kind of hymn) of the Great Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus:

Что Ти принесем, Христе, яко явился eси на земли яко Человек нас ради? Каяждо бо от Тебе бывших тварей благодарение Тебе приносит: Ангели – пение; небеса – звезду; волсви – дары; пастырие – чудо; земля – вертеп; пустыня – ясли; мы же – Матерь Деву. Иже прежде век, Боже, помилуй нас».

“What shall we bring you, Christ, who have appeared on earth as man for our sake?  For each creature made by you gives you thanks, bringing:  The angels, their song; heaven, the star.  The Wise Men, gifts; the shepherds, the miracle; the earth, the cave; the desert, the manger; and we the virgin mother.  God, who is before all ages, have mercy on us.”

The two Marian icons — “In You Rejoices” and “Assembly of the Mother of God” are often confused, with the former sometimes even given the title of the latter.  But the two types can be distinguished in that “In You Rejoices” has a domed church as its background, whereas the “Assembly of the Mother of God” is set against a background of hills.  Both images include John of Damascus, which perhaps contributes to the problem, as does both hymns being in the same liturgical service.

The “Assembly of the Mother of God” illustrates elements of the stikheron given above.

In the center we see Mary with the child Jesus. Directly above her is a star (“heaven, the star”).  Beside it are angels (“the angels, their song”).  To her left are the three Magi (“the Wise Men, gifts”).  To her right are shepherds (” the shepherds, the miracle”).  Below we see  Kosmas of Maiyum (Cosmas of Maiuma) and John of Damascus with scrolls bearing hymns.  At left is a figure representing the earth holding the manger (“the earth, the manger) and at right another figure representing the desert (“the desert, the cave”)  In the lower center is commonly a group that varies in composition from example to example and may include singers, a king or kings, patriarchs, etc.

In the icon illustrated on this page, the figure with a scroll standing just above and to the left of Mary appears to be the Prophet Isaiah; this figure is not common in the type.

Here is a pattern for the “Assembly of the Most Holy Mother of God” type from the Perm icon painter’s manual:

(Stroganov Museum)

A common name for this icon type is “What Shall We Bring You.”

It is, of course, also found in Greek iconography, with the text reading:

Τι σοι προσενέγκωμεν Χριστέ, ότι ώφθης επί γης ὡς άνθρωπος δι’ ἡμάς;
What to you shall we bring, Christ, who appeared on earth as man for us;
έκαστον γαρ των ὑπό σού γενομένων κτισμάτων, την ευχαριστίαν σοι προσάγει·
for each creature made made by you gives thanks to you, bringing:

ὁι Άγγελοι τον ύμνον, — The angels the song
ὁι ουρανοί τον Αστέρα, —  The heavens the star
ὁι Μάγοι τα δώρα,  —  The Magi the gifts
ὁι Ποιμένες το θαύμα, — The shepherds the miracle
ἡ γη το σπήλαιον,  — The earth the cave
ἡ έρημος την φάτνην — The desert the manger

ἡμείς δε Μητέρα Παρθένον· ὁ προ αιώνων Θεός ελέησον ἡμάς.
We the virgin mother; the God who is before all ages have mercy upon us.

Here is a 16th century example from the Dokheiariou Monastery on Mount Athos, with the appropriate line above each element of the composition:

tisoiprosenegkomendokh

 

IN YOU REJOICES: THE BASIC RUSSIAN TYPE

In Russian Marian iconography, the type “In You Rejoices” appeared in the late 15-early 16th century.  It takes its name from, and illustrates, a well-known liturgical hymn attributed to John of Damascus and found in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and in the matins service.

О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь,
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature,
Ангельский собор и человеческий род,
The assembly of angels and the race of man.
Освященный Храме и Раю Словесный,
Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise,
Девственная похвало. из Неяже Бог воплотися
Praise of virgins.  From whom God was incarnate
И Младенец бысть, прежде век Сый Бог наш.
And became a child, our God before ages.
Ложесна бо Твоя Престол сотвори.
Your body he made a throne,
И чрево Твое пространнее небес содела.
And your womb wider than the heavens.
О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь, слава Тебе.
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature, glory to you.

In icon inscriptions you may also find the text worded in the older form (with basically the same meaning) beginning like this:

О Тебе радуется, обрадованная, вся тварь,
O tebe raduetsya obradovannaya, vsya tvar’

Here is an example of the basic type from the 16th century:

Mary is seated on the throne (“Your body he made a throne”) in the central circle with Jesus as Immanuel on her lap (“and became a child”).  Above her is the Ангельский соборangelskiy sobor — “the assembly of angels.”  And below here is the человеческий родchelovecheskiy rod — “the race of man.”  the number and type of “man” figures varies somewhat from example to example, generally including Old Testament prophets and kings, the apostles, monks, nuns, and other saints. Some examples add so many saints that that the type becomes quite detailed

Standard elements of the Russian “In You Rejoices” type are the domed church (“Sanctified temple”) and Paradise trees (“Spiritual Paradise”), as well as the image of John of Damascus, seen here just below the central circle at lower left, holding out his scroll with the hymn to Mary on it

Icons under this name are more common in Russian than Greek iconography.   Greek examples may vary considerably from the Russian type.  Here is a version from the late 1600s by Theodoros Poulakis (Θεόδωρος Πουλάκης, 1622–1692), a Cretan painter and student of Elias Moschos who went to live in Venice, then in the Venetian-ruled Ionian isles, dying in Corfu.  It includes a great many details.

(Benaki Museum, Athens)

If we look closely, we can see that it even includes the signs of the zodiac around Mary:

The icon bears an interesting signature:

Κόπος και σπουδή Θεοδώρου Πουλάκη εκ Κυδωνίας της περιφήμου νήσου Κρήτης.

“The toil and diligence of Theodore Poulakis from Kydonia of the renowned Island of Crete.”

Just so you will recognize the hymn if you encounter it in Greek, here it is:

Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει, Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, Ἀγγέλων τὸ σύστημα, καὶ ἀνθρώπων τὸ γένος, ἡγιασμένε ναέ, καὶ Παράδεισε λογικέ, παρθενικὸν καύχημα, ἐξ ἧς Θεός ἐσαρκώθη, καὶ παιδίον γέγονεν, ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων ὑπάρχων Θεὸς ἡμῶν∙ τὴν γὰρ σὴν μήτραν, θρόνον ἐποίησε, καὶ τὴν σὴν γαστέρα, πλατυτέραν οὐρανῶν ἀπειργάσατο. Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, δόξα σοι..

 

 

THAT WHICH IS CAESAR’S: THE “CHURCH MILITANT” ICON

Today I will discuss an icon you are not likely to see outside of books.

You may recall the biblical saying of Jesus in Matthew 22:21:

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

In Eastern Orthodox history, it has often been the case that the things of Caesar — or of the Tsar, which is simply the Slavic form of Caesar — were often considered the things of God.  That has long been one of the curses of Russian history, now revived in our time with the close relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church..

We see that Church-State union in this icon, titled Благослове́нно во́инство Небе́сного Царя́Blagoslovenno voinstvo Nebesnogo Tsarya — “Blessed is the Army of the Heavenly Tsar.”  It is also sometimes called simply Це́рковь вои́нствующаяTserkov voinstvuiushchaya — “The Church Militant.”

The icon takes its title from the beginning of the Apostikha, tone five: “Blessed is the army of the heavenly Tsar…” — which goes on to speak of the martyrs  — the “passion-bearers”  — who though born of earth, through their “passion-bearing” — their martyrdom and lack of concern for the body — became equal to the bodiless hosts — the angels.  Before the conquest of Kazan, Metropolitan Makariy promised that those who fought in the campaign would have their sins forgiven, and those who died would have the heavenly rewards of martyrdom (it is a very old military propaganda technique still in use today).

(Tretyakov Gallery)

The icon was originally placed opposite the throne of the Tsar in the Uspenskiy (Dormition) Cathedral in the Kremlin.  It was ordered to be painted by Tsar Ivan “the Terrible” in commemoration of his conquest of the city of Kazan in 1552 — then under the domination of the Tatar Khanate of Kazan.

It is a very large and long icon with apocalyptic imagery,  too long to examine here at once glance, so we must look at it part by part.

At far right, we see armies leaving a city, its walls surrounded by flames.

Though it commemorates the conquest of Kazan, biblically the city is the Babylon of Revelation 18:

‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
 and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’

In the image we see three lines of soldiers moving across the icon from right to left.  Those at top and bottom have halos, so we know they are saints, and among them the martyrs, the “passion-bearers” who died in the battle.  But the shorter line of soldiers in the center does not.  So who are they?

At their head we see two outstanding figures:  first a crowned figure in royal robes on horseback, carrying a large cross.

It is a bit mysterious.  Some speculate that the royal figure with the cross represents Vladimir Monomakh II (1053–1125 ), the warrior ruler who was the last of ancient Kievan Rus, a time considered a “golden age” for the city.  Further, that the red-cloaked, helmeted warrior with a lance who is turning back to look at Vladimir Monomakh is Tsar Ivan the Terrible.  Others think that the royal figure is Ivan the Terrible. Again this is speculation, and it would be unusual for a living person such as Ivan to be depicted in an icon.  The current favored opinion is that the royal figure is the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, and that the three figures behind him on horseback are Vladimir, who converted Kievan Rus to Christianity in 988, and with him the two “Holy Passion-bearers” and first native Russian saints, Boris and Gleb. But why are none of them given halos?

More certain is the identification of the winged figure on a red, flying horse in the circle at the very head of the armies.  We have seen him before, in icons of Mikhail Arkhistrategos — the Archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies.  Around him are angels bearing crowns of victory for the arriving warriors.

The armies are all moving from the “City of Destruction” at right to the “Heavenly City” at left.  In earthly terms, this is the city of Moscow, to which Ivan’s armies returned after the conquering of Kazan; biblically it is the Heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-21), where the martyrs are received by Mary and Jesus Immanuel.  Just below it, we see a river flowing out of it (Revelation 22:1).

In spite of the uncertainties of identification of some details of the image. we can say that it commemorates the conquest of Kazan by showing the “Church Militant” — led by the Archangel Michael, commander of the heavenly armies —  moving from the fallen Babylon, the “City of Destruction” to the “Heavenly Jerusalem,” where the warriors receive their crowns of victory — a historico-religious allegory, and a clever piece of propaganda.

THE SAVIOR OF SMOLENSK: LEGEND AND HISTORY

As you know, there are hundreds of different types of Marian icons, but the types of Jesus without Mary are few in number.  One of the most common of these is the image known as the “Savior of Smolensk” or “Smolensk Savior” (Спас Смоленский — Spas Smolenskiy)

It is a simple type.  Here is an example in cast metal and enamel:

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

The inscriptions are not difficult.  At the top is the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.”  Below that, in large letters, we find:

ГОСПОДЬ ВСЕДЕРЖИТЕЛЬ — GOSPOD VSEDERZHITEL, “[The] Lord Almighty.”

Below that, separated at left and right, we find the inscription above the angels holding instruments of the Passion:

АГГЛИ ГОСПОДНИ —ANGLI GOSPODNI — “Angels of the Lord.”

We can easily identify the text on the open Gospels held by Jesus as the most common of Gospel texts used with him, Matthew 11:28:

Приидете ко мне вси труждающиися и обремененнии, и аз Упокою вы”
“Priidete ko mne vsi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az upokoiu vui.”
“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Aside from the standing Jesus, who blesses with his right hand and holds the Gospels in his left, the other identifying elements of this type are the two kneeling saints at the base.  They are at left Sergiy of Radonezh, and at right Varlaam Khutuinskiy.  But the type is variable.  In northern rather than central Russian examples, one finds Sergiy replaced by the monk Alexander Svirskiy.  There are also expanded versions of the type that add more saints to the basic two, but two are the standard.  One may also encounter rare examples that do not include Sergiy, Varlaam, or Alexander, replacing them with other saints entirely.  One may find two angels instead of saints, and sometimes no added saints at all, just the central figure of Jesus standing with the Gospels, often with his feet on a cushion.

What was once the main gate of the Kremlin is called the “Spasskiy” Gate — the “Savior Gate.”  The Spasskiy Gate was the portal through which Tsars passed before their coronation.  A fresco of the “Savior of Smolensk” was painted there.  Its presence is recorded as early as the middle of the 17th century.  It was traditional for those passing through the gate to dismount and remove their hats in respect.  There is a story that when Napoleon passed through it in 1812, he refused to remove his hat, but the wind blew it off.

The fresco was covered over with plaster in 1937, but the plaster was removed and the image restored in 2010.   The “Savior of Smolensk” title commemorates the saving of the city of Smolensk in 1514 — its capture by the Russians — and is said to have appeared during the Russian-Lithuanian war of 1512-1522.  The Spasskiy Gate tower of the Kremlin (it is the one often seen in photos, with a big red star at the top) was previously called the Frolovskiy Gate, after a church dedicated to Frol (Flor/Florus) and Lavr (Lavr/Laurus) that once existed there.

There is a story that in 1521, when the invading Tatar forces of Khan Mehmed I Giray were at the walls of Moscow, a blind nun in the Ascension monastery had a vision of the protecting saints of the city leaving it through the Frolovskiy Gate, taking the “Vladimir” icon of Mary with them, in punishment for the sins of Moscow.  But then she saw the two saints Sergiy of Radonezh and Varlaam Khutuinsky interceding on behalf of Moscow before the image of Mary, and as a result the protecting saints returned to the city, and Mehmed Giray’s forces withdrew.  That story accounts for the two saints commonly found in the central Russian type.  Actually, however, the besieging forces only left because Moscow agreed to pay tribute and vowed obedience to the Khan, and it is said that on leaving, the Tatar forces took with them thousands of slaves.

 

THE MARVELOUS, MISERABLE, MEANDERING LIFE OF MAXIM THE GREEK

 

In a previous posting, I talked about the conflict in the Russian Orthodoxy of the 1500s over two opposing approaches to monasticism.  On the one hand were the Non-possessors like Nil Sorskiy, who thought monks should live an ascetic, hesychast life based on the “skete” or hermitage model of Mount Athos in Greece:  a small dwelling for the spiritual guide and a disciple or two, with the others living nearby in community, all being self-sufficient, accepting donations, and offering religious counsel to those lay people in the area.  They also promoted religious tolerance rather than forcing people to accept their beliefs.

But opposing this view were Joseph of Volokolamsk and his followers, the Possessors, the “establishment” monks, who were were accustomed to owning wide tracts of land (about a third of Russian land at that time was held by monasteries), being masters — as was the Russian nobility of the time — of the peasants who worked on it, and receiving from their lands the produce, services and goods of those basically enslaved peasants.  These were the advocates of monastic wealth. And they were religiously intolerant, believing those with different beliefs should be arrested and punished, with the State acting as the punishing arm of the Church.

Knowing that background, we can turn now to the life of  Michael Trivolis (Μιχαήλ Τρίβολης), c. 1480–1556, a young man born to wealth in Greece.  In the same year that  Columbus stumbled upon the New World — 1492 —  Michael (then about 20-22) traveled to Italy, which of course was a Roman Catholic country.  He studied in Venice, in Padua, Ferarra, Bologna,Milan, and even in that most noted of Renaissance centers of art and learning, Florence.  He knew the famous printer Aldus Manutius and moved in the humanist circles of the time.  He listened eagerly to the fiery sermons of the reforming monk Savonarola, who preached against what he felt were the excesses of the Renaissance — sermons which led to the noted Bonfire of the Vanities, in which books, manuscripts, paintings and other works of art, musical instruments and secular compositions, fine dresses, mirrors, and so on, were all thrown into the flames and burned for being too “worldly.”  It is said that even the great painter Sandro Botticelli destroyed some of his own works (which if true, is a great loss to art).

Michael Trivolis was highly impressed by the ascetic preaching of the Dominican monk Savonarola, and though he may never have actually spoken with him, Michael nonetheless chose to become a Dominican monk about 1501, and even entered the Monastery of San Marco, which had formerly been Savonarola’s monastery.  So this young man from a wealthy and highly-connected Eastern Orthodox family became a Roman Catholic Dominican monk.

Sometime during his two-year stay at San Marco, he changed his mind, and though he had spent some twelve years in Renaissance Italy, by about 1505-1506 he had left it, and in 1597 he was living as a monk in the Greek Orthodox Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, in Greece, under the name Maximos.  Eventually (after some twelve or more years), he was sent to Russia in 1518, where he was to translate patristic commentaries on the Psalter and other Greek writings. He did not know Church Slavic (the literary language in Russia), so he translated from Greek to Latin, and Russians who knew Latin translated into Church Slavic.  Eventually he learned enough Slavic to translate directly, though not without imperfections.

In Russia he not only translated, but also began to criticize the lifestyles of the Russian clergy and the wealthy land-owning monasteries and the abysmal treatment of peasants, taking the side of the Non-possessors, which is not surprising given the strong influence the ascetic sermons of Savonarola had on him in Italy.  Maxim favored poverty and simplicity in monasticism. He did not, by the way, tell his Russian hosts he had once been a Roman Catholic Dominican monk.  They would not have liked it, given the disdain of Russia for the “Latins” and their presumed heresies.

With his strong and outspoken views on many topics, Maxim eventually fell afoul of Church and State in Russia — partly because he opposed the desire of Vasili III to divorce his wife and remarry (shades of Henry VIII!).  A sobor (“council”) condemned him for heresy in 1525.  He spent approximately the last 30 years of his life imprisoned or confined because of his views, though in the last five years his circumstances eased.  He died at the Trinity-Sergiyev Monastery in 1556, never having been allowed to return to Greece after his fall from grace, because, it is said, he “knew too much” about Russia.  Within a century of his death he was being regarded as a saint, particularly among the Old Believers, no doubt partly due to his persecution by Church and State, which the Old Believers also suffered.

Maxim is said to have brought the news of the discovery of the New World to Russia.  And though he preached against aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine once he returned to Eastern Orthodoxy, he never lost his high regard for the Dominican monk Savonarola, saying that if he had not been a “Latin” by faith, he would have been numbered among the ispovedniki — the Confessors of the Church.

He is called in Russia Максим Грек — Maksim Grek  — “Maxim the Greek,” and in Greek Μάξιμος ὁ Γραικός.

In icons, Maxim the Greek can be recognized by his remarkably wide, pizza-paddle-shaped beard.  As already mentioned, because of his long years of suffering for his beliefs, Maxim early on became a hero saint to the Old Believers, which is why his icons were common among them.  Paradoxically, he is also now a saint of the State Church that persecuted him, though not officially accepted as such until 1988, 432 years after his death.

 

A common text on books or scrolls held by Maxim in Russian icons is the so-called “Prayer of Maxim” — this line, taken from his Canon to the Holy Spirit, which he is said to have written in charcoal on the wall of his prison:

“Иже манною препитавый Израиля в пустыни древле, и душу мою, Владыко, Духа наполни Всесвятаго, яко да о Нем благоугодно служу Ти выну…”

“Who manna did feed to Israel in the wilderness of old, also fill my soul, Master, with the All-holy Spirit, through whom I may give favorable service to you always…”