BORN WHERE? AND SON OF WHO?

In Eastern Orthodoxy, King David of the Old Testament is called both king and prophet.

We see that from the title inscription in this 17th century Russian icon:

It reads:

ПРОР[О]КЪ Ц[А]РЬ ДАВЫД
PROROK TSAR’ DAVUID
“Prophet King David”

The spelling of “David” is a bit unusual.  Usually it is ДАВИД, but as we know, icon inscriptions are sometimes spelled phonetically rather than following what we think of as standard.

In icons such as this one, David often holds a scroll:

It is a text found both in the Psalms (131:8-9, or 132 in the KJV)  and in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy:

Воскресени, Господи, в покой Твой, Ты и киотъ [святыни Твоея. Священницы Твои облекутся правдою, и преподобнии Твои возрадуются].

Voskrenseni, Gospodi, v pokoy tvoy, tui i kiot [svyatuini tvoeya.
Svyashchennitsui tvoi oblekutsya pravdoiu, i prepodobnii tvoi vozraduioutsya].

Arise, Lord, into your rest, you and the ark [of your holiness. Your priests shall be clothed in righteousness, and your venerable ones shall rejoice.]”

We may wonder why the ark is mentioned.  In Eastern Orthodoxy, the ark is considered a prefiguration of Mary, who is called the “Ark of the New Covenant.”  So the ark in this Psalm is regarded in such icons as referring to Mary and the incarnation of Jesus in her.  It is such rather far-fetched interpretations — of reading later dogmas back into the Old Testament — that contributed to David being called a prophet as well as king.

Now as anyone familiar with the Bible knows, Jesus is referred to as the “son of David,” who was born in the city of David — Bethlehem.  Well, that is one side of the story as related in the Gospels, but there is another, which we find in the Gospel called “of John.”

It is commonly held that “Mark” was the first of the four Gospels to be written, and that Matthew and Luke are edited, expanded books based on Mark.  Matthew contains about 97% of the material found in Mark, and Luke contains about 88%.  The Gospel “of John,” however, is 92% unique.  It has often quite different things to say of Jesus than we find in the other Gospels.

You will recall that Mark has no birth story about Jesus.  The writers of Matthew and Luke each added somewhat different birth stories to the beginning of their edited, expanded versions of the material of Mark, as well as adding stories of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus at the end.

One thing Mark and John have in common, however, is that unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark never says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the “city of David.”  Like Mark, John gives no birth story of Jesus, other than the beginning chapter, which refers to him as the Logos that “became flesh, and dwelt among us.”  No place of birth is mentioned.  We do find, however, that in John, Jesus is several times called “Jesus of Nazareth,” as in John 1:45:

Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

Now in the gospels called “of Matthew” and “of Luke,” Jesus is called the “son of David.”  And even in Mark, blind Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus (Mark 10:7), “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me.” Paradoxically, however, Jesus himself is described in “Mark” as asking how the scribes can say that the Messiah (the “Christ”) can be called the “son of David,” when David called the Messiah (in Jesus’ interpretation) “Lord.”

In any case, when we get to John, we find, as already stated, that there is no mention of a birthplace for Jesus, other than indicating he was from Nazareth, a tiny place in Galilee.  And when we find Bethlehem mentioned in John, it is in a very odd way.  There is a controversy among the people in Jerusalem over just who Jesus is.  In John 7:47, they say:

How is it that we know where this man is from?  But when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

And when Jesus spoke publicly, some said,

Truly, this is the prophet.” (John 7:40);

Others, however, said (7:41):

This is the Christ [i.e. the Messiah]. But some said, What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there arose a division in the multitude because of him.”

So some of the people are saying no one will know where the Messiah comes from — but they do know where Jesus is from; and other people are saying that the scriptures say he is to be a descendant of David, and from Bethlehem.  There is no agreement.

Now it is noteworthy that no one in the crowd says, “Well, you know, Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem.”  Instead, to all appearances here, his origin is in Galilee, as we find in John 7:41:

Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?”

Now if one discusses this excerpt with biblical fundamentalists, they will say that this exchange about Bethlehem and just where the Messiah was to be from was intended as a bit of irony — a kind of veiled reference to the fact that Jesus really was born in Bethlehem, as we know from the other Gospels.  But keep in mind that the Gospels were originally separate books, circulated separately.  And that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is never actually stated in “John,” and in fact the claim that Jesus is from Galilee rather than from Bethlehem is never contradicted in that gospel.  Remember that the people say, “We know where he is from. (John 7:47), and that place appears to be Galilee.  This gives us the strong impression that John did not hold Jesus to have been born in Bethlehem.

Adding further to that, and to the impression that the writer of John did not believe Jesus to be the “son of David,” we find an interesting comparison.

In “Mark,” when Jesus has his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we read (11:9-10):

“And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord:
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.”

And in “Matthew,” we find (21:9)

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

And in 21:15:

“And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased….”

Yet strangely, when we come to the parallel account in “John,” all reference to David and the “son of David” is absent (12:12-13):

John-12-12:

On the next day many people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him,and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord.”

In short, one gets the very strong impression that the writer of “John” — for his own reasons — did not hold that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, or that Jesus was descended from King David and so was the “son of David.”  We may conclude from this that he did not believe the Messiah required either of these qualifications. Of course rather fundamentalistic readers of the Bible just mentally gloss over all this, with many not noticing the discrepancies at all.

Here is another Russian icon of “Holy Prophet David”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

This David, as you can see, has a different Church Slavic inscription on his scroll, though one we have already seen in a different context:

It is part of Psalm 109:3 (in Eastern Orthodox numbering; 110:3 in the KJV):

Из чрева прежде денницы родих Тя. Клятся Господь и не раскается: [Ты иерей во век по чину Мелхиседекову.]

Iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh tya.  Klyatsya Gospod’ i ne raskaetsya: [Tui ierey vo vek po chinu Melkhisedekovy.]

“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.  The Lord swore and shall not repent: [You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.]”

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IDENTIFYING AN ASCETIC

Here is a well-painted icon of two saints — one very famous, and the other rather obscure:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Above and between them is a third image, that of the Old Testament Trinity.

It is easy to recognize Nicholas the Wonderworker (Nicholas of Myra) at left;  there is a long posting in this site’s archives about him.  But what about the fellow on the right?

Well, he is a good lesson in how to identify unfamiliar saints.  Let’s look more closely:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

We can see that his title is:
ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ ИОАННЪ КУ=
PREPODOBNUIY IOANN KU=
The last word is obviously abbreviated.

So what we have is:

Prepodobnuiy Ioann Ku=
“Venerable John Ku=”

We might think that hyphen at the end is what remains of a damaged letter, but if we look at the inscription over Nicholas, which has it too, we see that it is not:

In the Nicholas inscription, we see the same hyphen at the end of the abbreviation ЧУДОТ=[ВОРЕЦ] / CHUDOT=[VORETS], meaning “Wonderworker.”  So we can tell it is just the writer’s way of indicating that the end of a word is omitted.

We know the mysterious fellow at right is a monk; we can see that from his clothing, as well as from the Prepodbnuiy title).  But what follows the Ku=?   When we know that, we will know also just which Ioann/John he is.

If we look in a general list of  Eastern Orthodox saints whose secondary titles begin with Ku- in Church Slavic (or in Russian), we find only two:

ИОАНН КУКУЗЕЛЬ/Ioann Kukuzel’, born in the 13th century and educated in Constantinople; he is known in English as John Koukouzelis;
and
ИОАНН КУЩНИК/Ioann Kushchnik — “Ioann the Hut-guy.”

The next step is to look at the iconography of both, to see if we can determine which this icon depicts.  We can do that either by looking at icons of each man, or by looking in old podlinniki (painter’s manuals), etc., to see how each is painted.

If we do that, we quickly find Ioann Kukuzel has a beard, so we can eliminate him.

On examining the iconography of Ioann Kushchnik, however, we see that, like the fellow in this icon, he looks young and he has no beard.  Here is a depiction of him from the month of January in an old painted Menaion:

So it looks like we have our man.  We have identified the saint beside Nicholas as Ioann Kushchnik.  In Greek he is called Ιωάννης ὁ Καλυβίτης — Ioannes ho Kalybites — or in modern Greek, Kalyvites.

Now a καλύβα/kalyba in Greek is a hut or cottage, so we can see that the literal meaning of his Slavic title — Ioann the Hut-guy — is taken from the Greek, in which a καλυβίτης is a guy who lives in a hut or cottage.  Of course “Hut Guy” sounds very colloquial in English, so religious writings prefer the more formal “Hut Dweller.”

His hagiography relates that Ioann Kushchnik/Kalybites was born to a very wealthy family in Constantinople in 460 c.e.

It happened that when Ioann was twelve, his family had as guest a monk who was on a pilgrimage to holy sites and was headed for Jerusalem.  The boy Ioann was fascinated by the monk, and asked the fellow to take him along with him to the monastery, when he came back from Jerusalem.

During his absence, Ioann asked his parents for a copy of the Gospels, and received a very ornate and expensive copy, richly bound and ornamented with gold and pearls, which he greatly treasured.

When the traveling monk stopped again at Ioann’s house on his way back to the monastery, he secretly took the boy along with him — without the knowledge of Ioann’s parents.  They would not have approved.  His parents had no idea what had become of their son.

Living at the monastery, Ioann in his piety soon outshone the other monks.  He was fanatically ascetic, eating only on Sundays, and he became quite thin.

Meanwhile, his parents — unaware of where he had disappeared to — thought Ioann dead.

Eventually, after six years had passed, Ioann asked permission to return to his home, and received it (the old accounts say this was a temptation of the Devil).  When he got there, however, he was so changed in appearance — emaciated, and dressed as a beggar — that his own parents did not recognize him, and he did not identify himself as their son.  Instead, his former servants asked permission of his father to let the poor fellow live in a little hut at the edge of their garden.  Ioann took up residence there — still unrecognized.  One day his mother happened to notice the filthy beggar in front of his hut, and she found the sight so unappealing that she told him he must not leave his hut if he wanted to continue living there.   Because of his strange and disgusting lifestyle, Ioann received a lot of verbal abuse from his parents and from the servants during the three years he stayed in the hut.

At the end of those three years, Jesus supposedly appeared to him, telling him that his time was up, and that he would die in three days.  Ioann asked for the lady of the house to visit him — his mother.  She thought the request of the disgusting beggar strange, but nonetheless came to see him.  He showed her the valuable book of the Gospels they had given him years before, and so he identified himself to his parents as their missing son.  Then he passed away.

There was a lot of admiration expressed in Eastern Orthodox hagiography for various saints who lived what to us now seem twisted and masochistic, self-damaging lifestyles.  And of course the notion of a monk secretly taking a boy away from his parents would appall us.  But medieval notions were different, and in Russia, a medieval mindset lasted right into the 19th century, and in some places and persons it still survives even today.

 

 

ANOTHER ICON THAT WOULDN’T BUDGE: THE YUGSKAYA TYPE

Here is a pleasant icon painted in St. Petersburg in the year 1883:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The icon is divided into three images.  The upper half shows scenes from the story of the Old Testament Prophet Elijah, who ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot, and who peasants used to believe caused thunder when he rolled across the sky.  Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) is at upper left:

At lower right is the  “Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Temple.”  Both this type and the Ilya/Elijah type above are discussed in previous postings, which you will find in the archives.

The segment I want to focus on today, however, is that at lower left, because it is a type not previously discussed here, though we have seen icons in a tree before.  Here it is:

It is the type usually called the “Appearance of the Iugskaya Most Holy Mother of God to Venerable Dorofei.”

You will recall that “appearance,” when used of icons, signifies the time when an icon supposedly first manifests itself as miracle-working.

According to its traditional origin story, in the year 1615 Mary appeared to the skhimamonk Dorofei of the Pskovo-Pecherskaya Monastery during a Swedish invasion.  She told him to take her icon out to the edge of Yaroslavl diocese, and to establish a monastery there.  The abbot/hegumen of the monastery did not want to permit the icon to be taken away, but he finally agreed after Mary appeared to him in a dream, telling him to let the monk and the icon go.

As the monk Dorofei got nearer to the place where he was told in his vision to take the icon, he paused to rest, and there he placed the icon of Mary in a tree.  When he had rested, he went to take the icon from the tree and continue onward, but the icon would not move.  He could not take it from the branches.

Now you will have heard this motif  — “the icon that decides where it wants to be” — before, in the origin stories of other icons  Remember that in these old tales, icons often behave as living creatures, with a will of their own.

Being familiar with this kind of thing, Dorofei recognized that the icon wanted to remain in that place, so he built himself a hut there, and the place became a shrine for the image.  Before long, villagers living nearby spread the news of the newcomer monk and his icon, and soon stories of miracles worked by the icon began to be told.  Those tales got so much notoriety that the local people donated funds for the building of a monastery there.  Though Dorofei died in 1622, the locals nonetheless took their stories of the miraculous icon to Patriarch Filaret, and he gave permission for a monastery dedicated to the Dormition of Mary to be built on the River Iug/Yug — and that is how the icon came to be called the Iugskaya/Yugskaya — “of Iug” — icon.  It is said that there was a plague in the region in 1654, but the people believed it was stopped by their prayers before the Iugskaya icon.

As you can see, this is a fairly typical example of the kind of tales that were woven about so-called “wonderworking” icons, but it should help you to distinguish this type from other images depicting an icon in a tree.

ANGELS — SINGULAR AND PLURAL

Here is a pleasant Russian icon of an angel, most likely once the right panel in a group of at least three related icons:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a closer look at the title inscription:

We see from the curved horizontal line above each word that they are abbreviated.  Here is the inscription with the missing letters added:

АГ[ГЕ]ЛЬ Г[ОСПО]Д[Е]НЬ
ANGEL’ GOSPODEN’
“Angel of the Lord”

Remember that when you see two Gs together in Church Slavic —  ГГ — they are pronounced like “ng” in “tangle.”  Also remember that Church Slavic has no words corresponding to English “the” or “a.”  So ANGEL’ GOSPODEN’ can be translated as “Angel of the Lord” or “The Angel of the Lord.” АГГЕЛЬ is the singular form of angel — used for only one.

You may recall that the curly ribbons at each side of the angel’s head represent divine hearing.

The angel holds a zertsalo — a stylized mirror — on which is written the word
СВЯТЬ/SVYAT’ — meaning “Holy.”  Sometimes shown as a sphere, sometimes as a disk, the zertsalo represents divine seeing — a kind of heavenly television set or surveillance camera.  Notice the stylized clouds around the edge.

Of course if there is more than one angel, the word changes to make it plural, as we see in this icon of the Old Testament Trinity:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here are the inscriptions on the three central angels (representing the Trinity in Eastern Orthodox belief):

Instead of writing “Angel of the Lord” on each halo, the painter has instead used the plural form for each:

АГГ[Е]ЛИ Г[ОСПО]ДНИ
ANGELI GOSPODNI
“ANGELS OF THE LORD.”

If you are curious about the title inscription on the top of the roundel, here it is:

It reads (modern Russian font):

ОБРАЗ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ ЖИВОНАЧАЛЬНАЯ ТРОИЦА
OBRAZ PRESVYATUIYA ZHIVONACHAL’NAYA TROITSA
“Image of the Most Holy Life-giving Trinity.”

If you are a long-time reader here, there is no Church Slavic word used today that you have not seen before, so this is just a little review.

 

 

A MULTIPLE ICON: CONFUSED DATES, IMPOSSIBLE NUMBERS

Here is an interesting multiple icon from the 19th century, though it is painted in the manner reminiscent of the 17th century, and has a recessed kovcheg like older icons — meaning the area on which the images are painted is below the level of the outer border.

The top two parts depict various prominent saints, as well as the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus at the very top.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The images I want to focus on today are the lower two, because they are seldom found in Russian icons, though of course they are a part of the annual commemorations in the Church Calendar.

The first  — as the title inscription tells us — is “The Holy Fathers Slain at Sinai and Raitho/Raithu.”

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com

The inscription above the dead monastic saints in the stylized cave reads:
Isaiya, Savva, Moisei i Prochiy,
meaning:
“Isaiah, Sabbas, Moses, and Others.”

The events this image commemorates are quite confused in Eastern Orthodox tradition.  Some give it as two events that happened many years apart, while others say the two events happened on the same day, but at different locations.  The first was supposedly the martyrdom of monks at Sinai by “Saracens,”  and the second the martyrdom of monks at Raithu by a tribe called “Blemmyes.”  Some say the same number of monks were killed at each location, while others give different numbers of martyrs for each location.  Some say the events happened during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), while other accounts place them in the period 373-380.  Others say the martyrdom at Raithu happened c. 450.  In any case, the iconographic depiction became rather standardized.  Here it is in the Stroganov Podlinnik:

As you can see, the Stroganov depiction is very similar to that in the multiple icon.  There were, however, more elaborate depictions of that commemoration, as we find in this complex and detailed example of the “Slaying of the Holy Fathers at Sinai and at Raithu”:

(Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg)

The second of the two lower images in the multiple icon depicts “The Holy Martyrs Burned at Nicomedia.”  Only two are identified by title inscription — the central bishop dispensing the Eucharist, who is named “Holy Glikeriy” (Glykerios),  with the abbreviated title pres[vitera]/пресвитера, meaning “presbyter/priest.” The other identified figure is the first at right, with the name Feofil (Theophilos).

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The traditional story of these martyrs relates that it happened in 304 c.e., when the Emperor Maximian supposedly told Christians at Nicomedia that they would be required to offer sacrifice in thanks to the gods for victory.  The Christians refused, with the priest Glikeriy/Glykerios replying that nothing — not even torture — would make the Christians sacrifice.  Maximian had Glykerios tortured, then burned to death as punishment.  Then, on the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus,  Maximian is said to have had the church at Nicomedia set on fire while supposedly 20,000 Christians were inside, who thus were martyred.  Given that there was no church building anywhere at that time large enough to even hold 20,000 people, we see that again we should not take this account as it stands for factual history.

Here is the pattern for the event as found in the Stroganov Podlinnik:

SLANDER CANONIZED

On looking for the first time at this icon, one might not think there is anything particularly notable about it.  We see three Orthodox saints — one a monastic, one obviously a bishop, and one a boy.  In fact it is only when we begin to look into just who the boy is that we see the icon represents something very dangerous in Eastern Orthodoxy — and particularly in Russian Orthodoxy.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Let’s deal with the adult saints first.

Here is the inscription for the bishop on the right:

It reads:

СВЯТЫ ЕПИСКОП КИРИЛЛЪ ТУР[ОВСКИЙ]
SVYATUI EPISKOP KIRILL TUROVSKIY
“Holy Bishop Kyrill/Cyril of Turov”

Kirill was said to be a 12th century bishop in the city of Turov, in what is now Belarus.  He was reputed to be a noted composer of theological writings, and was called the “Russian John Chrysostom.”  Nonetheless, traces of his existence are quite vague, and scholars are not quite certain what can be believed about him.  It is not even certain that he was in fact a bishop.

The saint at left has this inscription:

It is partly abbreviated.  In full it would read:

СВЯТЫ ЛАВРЕНТИЙ ТУРОВСКИЙ
SVYATUI LAVRENTIY TUROVSKIY
“Holy Lavrentiy of Turov”

Traditionally, it is said that Lavrentiy was the successor in Turov to Bishop Kirill of Turov in the 12th century.  He is reputed to have been a monk for a time in the Pecherskaya Lavra in Kiyev/Kiev, and to be buried there.  But like Kirill, much in his biography is uncertain.

Now we come to the most interesting — and most dangerous — part of this icon.  Here is the title inscription for the boy:

With the abbreviations filled in, it reads:

СВЯТЫ ОТРОКЪ ГАВРИИЛ СЛУЦКИЙ
SVYATUI OTROK GAVRIIL SLUTSKIY
“Holy Youth Gavriil/Gabriel Slutskiy/of Slutsk”

The tale attached to Gavriil is one in a sequence of pernicious rumors that serve to keep antisemitism a living and deadly virus in Russian Orthodoxy.

The story relates that in 1690, the boy Gavriil was six years old,  the son of pious Orthodox parents — Peter and Anastasia Govdel — living in the village of Zverki, in the Zabludovskiy parish of the Bialystok region (now part of Poland).  One day the mother took lunch to her husband in the fields.  While she was gone, a Jewish tenant named Shutko  is said to have climbed into the house and abducted the boy.  Supposedly he took him to Bialystok, where as part of a ritual relating to Passover, the boy was crucified by Jews and his sides were pierced, allowing the blood to drip from his body into a trough.  After nine days the boy died, and his body is said to have been returned to Zverki and dumped in a field.  The boy was buried by his parents.

About thirty year later, his coffin is said to have been accidentally damaged during another burial, and the body inside was found to be “incorrupt,” which you will recall is one of the signs of sainthood (but only if other good signs instead of evil signs follow) in Eastern Orthodoxy.  In Gavriil’s case, it was seen as a sign of sanctity — and of course the usual miracles that occur in these stories of “incorrupt” bodies began to be reported.  So the body — the “relics” —  were moved into the crypt below the Zverki village church.   In 1746 the church burned, but the body survived the fire — and the burned hand of the body is said to have even grown new skin after the relics were transferred to the Zabludovskiy Monastery.   in 1752 they were moved again, this time to the Holy Trinity Monastery at Slutsk in the Minsk Region, now a part of Belarus.  After more intermittent moves,  in 1992 the relics were taken from the Grodno Intercession Church in Belarus to Bialystok in Poland, where they were placed in the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The Russian Orthodox church “glorified” Gavriil as an official saint in 1820.  In 2012, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, visited Poland and venerated the relics of Gavriil at Bialystok.

Now anyone familiar with the history of religion and of religious propaganda will recognize the story of the boy being abducted and killed and crucified and drained of blood by Jews as just a repetition of the old and vicious “Blood Libel” rumor that circulated in Christianity in the Middle Ages,  even as far west as England, where in 1144 a child saint like Gavriil was created using a similar rumor of a Christian boy crucified by Jews — St. William of Norwich.  Gradually the “Blood Libel” tale evolved over the years to say that Jews wanted the blood of a Christian child to make their matzos during Passover.  Of course given the cultural and religious gulf between the Russian Orthodox and Jewish populations in the Russian Empire,  uneducated villagers — and even better educated people infected by the virus of antisemitism — were all too willing to let their emotions and imaginations get completely out of hand, resulting not only in such ridiculous “Blood Libel” tales being taken completely seriously, but also in the persecution and even killing of members of the Jewish communities.

Here is another late and very westernized image of Gavriil Slutskiy — also called Gavriil Byelostokskiy (Белостокский/”of Bialystok”).

Some icons of Gavriil show him crucified, with blood dripping from his body into a trough, as in this illustration:

In the anti-Jewish tale of Gavriil and in his sainthood in the Russian Orthodox Church, we see into the dark side of Russian Orthodox history — so this icon is very useful as a cautionary symbol, reminding us of the importance of reason as a control over wild rumor and fanaticism.

 

 

 

HE’S A FOOL WITH AN AXE….

Because of the geometric “fake enamel” border on this icon, as well as its stamped and engraved gold background, you should easily recognize this icon as being from the late 19th to beginning of the 20th century:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It depicts two saints holding an icon of Mary between them.  A monastery is in the background.

First, let’s look at the Marian icon.  It is one of those most easy to identify.  It shows Mary reading a book.  This icon type is called the Kaluzhskaya/Калужская (“of Kaluga”).

The origin story of this icon relates that in 1748, two girls were looking through the things storied in an attic on the estate of the boyar Vasiliy Kondratievich Khitrov, which was located at the village of Tinkhov, some seven miles from Kaluzhka, which is in the province of Kaluga.

The two girls came across a bundle of linen, and on unfolding one of them, they found a canvas on which the image of a woman reading a book was depicted.  The one girl said to her boisterous friend Evdokia that the image looked like an abbess — a hegumena.  Evdokia, full of youthful mischief and irreverence, spat on the image, saying, Вот как я боюсь твоей игуменьи/Vot kak ya boius’ tvoey igumen’i — “Here’s how I fear your abbess!”

As soon as the words left her lips, she fell on the floor, foaming at the mouth and writhing in convulsions.  She could neither see nor speak, and when carried from the attic, everyone thought she was dying.

That night, Mary appeared to Evdokia’s parents in a dream, telling them that their daughter had not insulted an image of an abbess, but rather an image of Mary herself.  She told them to tell the local priests, and to have the girl sprinkled with holy water the next morning, and she would be healed — and the image of Mary would become an intercessory icon for Kaluga.

As these stories typically go, the parents carried out the instructions and the girl was cured.  The icon from the attic was put in a frame, and set in the place of veneration in the house.

Not long after, a deaf servant named Prokhor saw Mary in a dream, and she told him to pray before the newly-found icon.  He did so continuously, and became so tired he fell into a sleep from which he did not wake for two days.  As he slept, pus poured from his ears, and when he finally awoke, he could hear.  This was followed by the healing of the boyar’s daughter, to whom Mary also appeared in a dream, telling her to venerate her icon.

Because of these events, the icon was recognized as miracle-working, and the boyar had the image placed in the Church of the Birth of the Virgin in Kaluzhka.  There a paralytic named Petelin was said to have been able to walk after veneration the icon, and in thanks had a silver icon cover placed on the image.

In the year 1771 there was a plague, and the fearful inhabitants of the city of Kaluga asked the archimandrite of the monastery to have the icon of Mary brought from the village of Kaluzhka.  The icon was carried in procession through the streets of the city, and the plague is said to have abated.

The icon also participated in the legends that arose out of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812.  It is said that French prisoners taken in the Kaluga region claimed to have seen the icon floating in the air, surrounded by shining men, at the time when they were defeated and captured.

So that, in brief, is the tale of the Kaluzhskaya icon of Mary.  One can see from the depiction that it is likely borrowed from Western European depictions of Mary at the Annunciation, which as early as the ninth century began showing her with a book, over time interpreted either a psalter or the supposed prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would give birth.  This gradually replaced the spindle she commonly held in earlier iconography.

Now to the two saints holding the Kaluzhskaya icon:

That on the right is Tikhon Kaluzhskiy — Tikhon of Kaluga.  He was a 15th century monk who is said to have come from Kiev/Kiyev, and settled in a place roughly halfway between Kaluga and Meduin, which accounts for him also being called Тихон Медынский — Tikhon Meduinskiy — Tikhon of Medyn.  There he is said to have lived inside a huge, hollow oak tree, which is why many of his icons show him standing inside a tree, as in this example:

In both his “tree” icons and in the first icon shown above, he commonly bears a scroll with the inscription

Господи Прииди и Виждь и Посети Виноград Сей…
Gospodi Pridi i Vizhd’ i Poseti Vinograd Sei….
“Lord, come and see and visit this vine….”

It comes from Psalm 79 (80 in the KJV):

Боже сил, обратися убо, и призри с Небесе и виждь, и посети виноград сей,
и соверши и, eгоже насади десница Твоя, и на сына человеческаго, eгоже укрепил еси Себе.

“God of power, turn now, and see from Heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and restore that which your right hand has planted, and on the son of man, who is made strong for yourself.”

Now to the saint on the left side:

As you can see, he holds an axe.  One might think it represents him as a monastery builder, but that is not the case here.  Look at his feet.  They are bare.  This fellow was in fact a holy fool, a “fool for Christ’s sake,” that odd category of saint one finds in Eastern Orthodoxy, and particularly in Russian orthodoxy, where all sorts of odd fellows pop up in the calendar of saints.  Holy fools usually have the title Блаженный/Blazhennuiy — “Blessed.”  So this guy’s full title would be:

Блаженный Лаврентий, Христа ради юродивый, Калужский
Blazhennuiy Lavrentiy, Khrista radi iuodivuiy, Kaluzhskiy
“Blessed Lavrentiy, Fool for Christ’s Sake, of Kaluga.”

In the early 1500s, Kaluga was the domain of a certain Prince Simeon, who is said to have treated the fool Lavrentiy with kindness.  The Kaluga Chronicle relates that in 1512 Kaluga was attacked by Crimean Tatars colloquially known as “Hagarites.”  The Prince and citizens went out to fight them.  Lavrentiy, in the house of the Prince, suddenly shouted, Дайте мне вострый топор, псы напали на князя Симеона, надобно оборонить его от псов» “Give me a sharp axe!  The dogs have attacked Prince Simeon!  I must defend him from the dogs!”  And grabbing an axe, he rushed out to join the battle.  Prince Simeon suddenly found Lavrentiy at his side, shouting encouragement, and from that moment the battle is said to have turned, and the Tatars were defeated.  The victory was attributed to the presence of Lavrentiy — and that is why he is commonly shown holding an axe in icons, as well as barefooted, because he walked with bare feet all through the year.   Lavrentiy became known as a “wonderworker,” with other miracles were attributed to him.

Now as you can see, today’s icon is all about Kaluga — the Kaluzhskaya icon of Mary, St. Tikhon of Kaluga, and the Holy Fool Lavrentiy of Kaluga.  So this is a very regional icon.  Even the monastery in the background is a rather stylized representation of the Monastery of the Holy Dormition — also called Tikhonova Pustuin/Pustyn — said to have been founded in the Kaluga region by Tikhon Kaluzhskiy in 1485.