NICHOLAS MILITANT

A reader recently sent me photos of an interesting icon.  Here it is, set in its richly ornamental gilt frame, kept in a glassed-in kiot (protective icon case):

(Courtesy of Jacques Willemen)

The important part, for our purposes, is the icon itself:

(Courtesy of Jacques Willemen)

Well, it looks quite straightforward, doesn’t it?  It has all the characteristics of the type known as Nicholas of Mozhaisk, which depicts St. Nikolai (Nicholas) standing, robed as a bishop, with a sword in his left hand and a church in his right.

We can see that the inscription above Nicholas is a common one:

It reads:

С[ВЯ]ТЫЙ НИКОЛАИ ЧУДОТВОРЕЦЪ
SVYATUIY NIKOLAI CHUDOTVORETS
“HOLY NICHOLAS [the] WONDERWORKER”

If we left it at that, however, we would be a little too hasty and not quite entirely correct in identification of this icon.  It is important not to miss the little inscription at the base of the image; inscriptions should never be overlooked.  Here is a closer view:

It reads (put into modern Russian font):
ЯВИСЯ ВЪ Г[ОРОДЕ] МЦЕНСКЕ 1415
YAVISYA V G[ORODE] MTSENSKYE 1415
“APPEARED IN [the] CITY MTSENSK 1415”

Well, we know that the Nicholas of Mozhaisk icon itself did not “appear” in 1415, according to its origin story, but rather in the 1300s.  Nor did the legendary event of Nicholas appearing in the air over the city happen in a place called Mtsensk, but rather in the city of Mozhaisk.  What, then, is the significance of this “1415” inscription and the place name “Mtsensk”?  And where exactly is this “Mtsensk”?  Why all these differences?

The answer is that even though this icon is in the form commonly known as “Nicholas of Mozhaisk” it represents a particular “appearance” of an icon of that form — an “appearance” other than that at Mozhaisk.

First, what or where is Mtsensk (Мценскъ)?

It is a city in the Orlov region of Russia.  Here it is on an 1897 map, just about in the center of this image.  You can see there is a river running through it, called the Zusha:

At lower left is the city of Orel (Орелъ ).

To get a wider view of where it is in Russia, we can look at another map.  We can see the city of Orel southwest of Moscow, about two thirds of the way to the Ukrainian border:

So that tells us where Mtsensk is located.  Now for the origin story of the icon.

The origin story is a bit confused and varies from account to account.  It is said that on a Friday — June 7th of 1415 — the region of Mtsensk was still heavily pagan.  But on that day there was an eclipse of the sun, which the clerics used to frighten the people into becoming baptized as Christians.

It is also said that in the same year and day, a stone — formerly worshiped by the pagan people — was found floating in the Zusha River at Mtsensk. On it was an image of Nicholas with a sword in one hand and in the other a reliquary in the form of a church.  Such an image (which type we now generally call “Nicholas of Mozhaisk”) is commonly known as Николай Ратный —Nikolai Ratnuiy — “Nicholas the Militant.”  And the image that “appeared” at Mtsensk is one example of that type, and in itself is called Nikolai Mtsenskiy  — Nicholas of Mtsensk, or Никола Амченский — Nikola Amchenskiy — “Nicholas of Amchen,” Nikola being a form of Nicholas, and Amchensk being a popular alternate name for the city of Mtsensk.  This icon was also credited — through its supposed miraculous nature — with the conversion of the locals to Christianity.

Scholars, however, generally believe that these “Militant Nicholas” types are likely based upon Western European sculptures of Nicholas, related to that at Bari, in Italy, where the remains of St. Nicholas are thought to have been taken.  Further, that such statues came to Russia as reliquaries in the form of Nicholas given to Russian princes, and supposedly holding relics of the saint. Though three-dimensional sculpture is generally frowned upon in Russian Orthodoxy, such statues of the “Militant Nicholas” were made an exception due to the great veneration accorded them by the people, and the miracles supposedly associated with them.

So it turns out this little icon is actually quite interesting, given that it specifically commemorates the story of the appearance of an image of Nicholas at Mtsensk, which became a noted pilgrimage site in the old days of Tsarist Russia, with thousands of pilgrims, some coming from as far away as Siberia.  And the coming of pilgrims meant money.

One more little detail, and then we will leave this interesting icon.  If we look just below the figure of Nicholas, we can see that he is standing on a rug:

On that rug is the image of an eagle, though it is upside-down, with the head nearest us and the tops of the wings at each side.  Such a rug — called an Орлец — Orlets — “Little Eagle / Eaglet” is used in the Orthodox liturgy, and is round or oval.  The bishop stands upon it at certain parts of the rite.  It depicts an eagle with wings spread, often flying above a city.  The Orlets was once a sign of the Byzantine Emperor’s authority.  In those days it was a double-headed Byzantine Imperial eagle.  Then it became a kind of respectful award given by the Emperor to the Patriarch.  Later, when the Byzantine Empire had fallen,  it came to be used by any bishop in Russia, signifying both the status of the bishop as having a heavenly origin, as well as a sign of the bishop’s oversight of the people of a city, (his diocese), and that a bishop should “rise above” worldly things.  In Russia it was a one-headed eagle.  We can just think of it as a bishop’s symbol.

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THAT WOMAN ON THE SLED

Anyone who has studied Russian history or Russian art is familiar with this famous painting by Vasiliy Surikov of the exiling of the Boyarina Morozova (1632–1675):

(V. Surikov; Tretyakov Gallery)

The key to understanding the painting — and its relationship to Russian history — lies in the fingers of her upraised hand:

Look more closely:

If you have been reading this site for some time, you will recognize the position of the fingers as the blessing sign used by the Old Believers — something that often distinguishes Old Believer icons from State Church icons.

What is happening in the painting?  Who was the Boyarina Morozova?

She was born  in 1632 and named Feodosia Prokopievna (in the Russian naming system, that -evna suffix means she was the daughter of a fellow named Prokopiy).  Her father was Prokopiy Feodorovich (meaning “son of Feodor”) Sokovnin.  When she was seventeen, she married a nobleman, boyar Gleb Morozov — thus her married surname Morozova.  They had one son, Ivan, and when her husband died in 1662, she inherited fabulous wealth.

The great change in her life began in 1664, when she met the Archpriest (protopop) Avvakum.  Every student of icons should know that name.  He was the fellow who opposed the changes in the Russian Orthodox liturgy and ritual pushed through — beginning in 1652 — by the Patriarch Nikon.  Then (as now), it is dangerous to oppose authority in Russia, and Avvakum was exiled to Siberia in 1653.  But in 1662 Avvakum was permitted to return to Moscow.  Meanwhile, Patriarch Nikon had fallen from favor, but nonetheless his changes remained in effect, and Avvakum continued to vigorously oppose them, keeping to Russian Orthodoxy as it had been practiced before Nikon — thus the term used for Avvakum and his followers — “Old Believers” (старове́ры/staroverui) or “Old Ritualists” (старообря́дцы/staroobryadtsui).  Old Believers were given the pejorative title Raskolniki — “schismatics” — because of their refusal to accept Nikon’s changes.

In 1666 the Russian Orthodox Church held a “pan-Orthodox” council — The Great Moscow Synod/Council ( (Большой Московский собор/Bolshoi Moskovskiy sobor) — that paradoxically accused Patriarch Nikon of reviling Church and Tsar, and reduced his status to that of an ordinary monk.  And the Council condemned an important previous Russian Orthodox Church Council — the famous Stoglav (“Hundred Chapters”) Council of 1551, that had approved Russian church practices that differed somewhat from those of Greek Orthodoxy.  This would not be the first time that an Eastern Orthodox Church council negated the declarations of a previous council.  And because the Old Believers refused to renounce the Stoglav Council, and refused to accept the “reforms” instituted by the now deposed Nikon, they were condemned by the Great Moscow Synod of 1666-67.

So in 1666 the Church formally anathematized (cursed) Avvakum and his teachings, and once more exiled him, this time to Pustozersk, a distant northern outpost in what is today the Arkhangelsk region of Russia.  There Avvakum, along with his deacon Feodor, the Solovetsk monk Epifaniy, and the priest Lazar (the latter two had their tongues previously cut out) — all Old Believers — suffered great hardship and torture, and all three were killed by the Russian Orthodox State Church and its governmental arm on April 14, 1682 — ironically, Good Friday.  The “legal” reason given for the murder was «великия на царский дом хулы» — “great blaspheming of the Imperial House”  — referring to caricatures of the Tsar that had circulated among the Old Believers.  Pustozersk was the same place where another Old Believer, Kiprian of Moscow, had been decapitated for his beliefs on July 7, 1675.

Here is an icon-pattern-style illustration of the burning of Avvakum, Feodor, Epifaniy, and Lazar:

By B. V. Kiselnikov/Б.В. Кисельников

Now years before the martyrdom of Avvakum, the Boyarina Morozova had lived a luxurious life with her immense wealth.  It is said that when she went out, she was accompanied by two hundred servants.  But she eventually took on a much simpler life, living like a nun, and taking in all kinds of homeless, poor, and ill people.  Archpriest Avvakum and his wife also had come to live in her home.  Now as mentioned, the Boyarina Morozova met Avvakum in 1664; he became her confessor, and she avidly followed his teachings and opposition to the “reforms” instituted by Nikon.  She became an ever more ardent advocate of the Old Belief, and it is said that she even had “underground” Old Believer literature printed.

Of course it was not long before all this came to the notice of Tsar Aleksei, because of the intimate connection between Church and State.  The sister of the Tsaritsa was sent to try to talk Feodosiya out of her connections with the Old Belief.  It did not work.  Then the Tsar tried confiscating some of her property.  That did not work either.  The Tsar was even more irritated when Feodosiya took in nuns expelled from their convents for holding to the Old Belief.  And then Feodosiya herself took formal nun’s vows, changing her name to Feodora, and would no longer attend the royal court or have anything to do with the State Church.  She even refused to attend the Tsar’s wedding to a new wife, which infuriated him.

In November of 1671, the Tsar had Feodosiya/Feodora and her sister arrested and put in chains.  All her wealth and property was confiscated.  The Boyarina Morozova was tortured.  Her son Ivan, hearing of her horrible treatment, is said to have gone insane.

Here is an illustration in “icon pattern” style showing Feodosiya/Feodora being examined before the Russian Orthodox Church authorities:

By B. V. Kiselnikov/Б.В. Кисельников

We see her right hand raised defiantly in the “two-fingered” blessing sign characteristic of the Old Believers.  The inscription above her head reads:

ПР[ЕПОДОБНО]М[У]Ч[ЕНИЦА] ФЕОДОРА
Prepodobnomuchenitsa Feodora
“Venerable Martyr Feodora/Theodora”

To get Feodosiya/Feodora out of the public eye, the Tsar exiled her to Borovsk.  That is the scene depicted in the famous painting by Surikov — Feodosiya being dragged off in a crude sled to an underground dungeon in Borovsk.  There she and her sister were starved to death, and were buried inside the jail.

And so the Boyarina Morozova became an Old Believer saint.

THE PARADISE BIRDS

It is not surprising that in Russian folk culture there is no clear dividing line between myth and religion.  The stories told of saints in icons are often largely myth, and elements of folk belief entered into Russian Orthodox religion.

Today we will look at two very interesting beings from traditional Russian folk culture — the Paradise birds Sirin (Сиринъ) and Alkonost ( Алконостлкионъ ).

Here is an old lubok (wood block print) of Sirin from around the beginning of the 19th century:

(Russian State Historical Museum)

In the Russian mixture of folk belief and religion, Sirin is believed to a bird with the head of a woman, in and from the Garden of Paradise.  The first line in the small inscription at the top reads:

Птица Сирин святаго и блаженнаго рая — Ptitsa Sirin svyatago i blazhennago raya
“The Bird Sirin of the holy and blessed Paradise.”

The inscription at the base relates that Sirin is a bird found also in the region of India, which is “near to the blessed place of Paradise.”

In the Lubok, we see a man at upper right, captivated by the Sirin’s song.  Below him a group of people stand by a church bell tower, shooting off cannons and making noise with horn and rifle, etc.  It was believed that the Sirin could not endure such noise, and so could be frightened away by it.

Not surprisingly, the name Sirin comes from the Greek myth of the Σειρήν (Seiren),  the Siren — as in the Sirens in the Odyssey of Homer, who could lure people with their songs.  Apparently the legend came north in the Middle Ages, when Greek culture flowed north into Crimea and Kievan Rus.

The other mythical Paradise bird of Russian folklore that is often paired with the Sirin is Alkonost:

The inscription at the top reads:

ПТИЦА РАИСКАЯ АЛКОНОС  — PTITSA RAISKAYA ALKONOS
“The Bird of Paradise Alkonost.”

As you see, Alkonost also has the head of a woman.  And like Sirin, the name is taken from the Greek, in this case it goes back to the myth of the girl Alcyone ( Ἁλκυόνη), who was the daughter of Aeolus, God of the winds.  She and her husband angered Zeus, the chief of the Gods, and Zeus killed her husband.  In grief Alcyone cast herself into the sea, and was transformed by the Gods into a kingfisher ( ἀλκυών) bird, as was her husband.  

Alkonost was said to be found in Paradise and on the Euphrates River (listed as one of the rivers of Paradise, according to Genesis 2:14)

It is said that in midwinter, Alkonost places her eggs under the sea, where they lie for seven days, then float to the surface.  And that during these days the sea remains calm.

Like that of Sirin, the song of Alkonost causes humans to completely forget everything.

You may recall from a previous posting the term “Apple Savior” (Яблочный Спас), the term for August 6/19th) which in folk custom marks the beginning of autumn.  In folklore it is said that on the morning of “Apple Savior,”  the Sirin flies into the apple orchard, singing a sad song and weeping; and in the afternoon, Alkonost flies into the orchard singing a joyful song and laughing.

ONE HAIRY JOHN, ONE NOT SO HAIRY

This is an image of a Russian saint called Иоа́нн Власатый — Ioann Vlasatuiy — “John the Hairy.”  He is said to have that title because of the long and abundant hair on his head.

The abbreviated title inscription (with missing letters added) reads:
СВЯТЫ ИОАНН РОСТОВСКИЙ ЧУДОТВОРЕЦ МИЛОСТИВЫЙ
Svyatui Ioann Rostovskiy Chudotvorets Milostivuiy
Holy    John of-Rostov     Wonderworker Merciful
“Holy John of Rostov, Wonderworker, the Merciful”

The image is part of this larger 18th century Rostov icon showing scenes from his life as well as a Deisis at the top:

John is one of those saints called Блаженный —  Blazhennuiy  — “Blessed,” the title used for a юродивый — iurodivuiy/yurodivy — a “fool for Christ’s sake” — one of those fellows who behaved as though crazy, supposedly out of humility.

No one seems to know where John came from.  He lived in Rostov during the reign of Ivan Groznuiy — “Ivan the Terrible” (1547-1584), and is thought to have been educated and to have known Latin, because he carried with him and read a Latin Psalter.  It is supposed that he may have left Moscow to avoid all the troubles under Tsar Ivan, going to Rostov to live as a “holy fool.”  John died on September 3, 1580, and there was a terrible storm during his funeral, with much thunder and lightning.  The old stories say that many people who took sand from his grave and mixed it with water and drank it, or smeared it on their bodies, were healed by it.

John was supposedly named for another saint who is also called “John the Merciful,” but that would be the John who was Patriarch of Alexandria in the early 7th century, though he is said to have died in Cyprus.  It is easy to distinguish him from John the Hairy by his bishop’s robe, his shorter hair, and his long, sharp grey beard.

We see this earlier John the Merciful’s title inscription at left and right, with a slightly different spelling in the abbreviation, but easily recognizable nonetheless.  John’s scroll inscription is an excerpt from a prayer that the priest says quietly during the Liturgy of John Chrysostom:

Тебе предлагаем живот наш весь и надежду, Владыко Человеколюбче, и просим, и молим, и милися деем: [сподоби нас причаститися Небесных Твоих и Страшных Таин, сея священныя и духовныя Трапезы, с чистою совестию, во оставление грехов, в прощение согрешений, во общение Духа Святаго, в наследие Царствия Небеснаго, и дерзновение еже к Тебе, не в суд или во осуждение.]

We entrust to you, man-loving Master, our whole life and hope, and we
ask, pray, and entreat: [make us worthy to partake of your heavenly
and awesome mysteries from this holy and spiritual table with a
clean conscience; for the remission of sins, forgiveness of
transgressions, communion of the Holy Spirit, inheritance of the
Kingdom of Heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or
condemnation.]

 

 

READING A NINE-PART ICON

In the 18th and particularly the 19th century, multiple icons became common in Russia.  A “multiple icon” is an icon that combines several different icon types on the same panel, so that the buyer, instead of purchasing several separate icons, had the equivalent of several on one panel.

Here is a nine-part multiple icon.  If you are a long-time reader here, you should already be familiar with several of the types included, and you should be able to read their titles:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.russianicons.net)

At left is the Страстная — Strastnaya — “Of the Passion” image.  It once had an inscription just above, but most of the letters have been worn away over the years, except for the very end.  This type was discussed in a previous posting here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/strastnaya/

In the center of the panel, we see the  Всем скорбящим радостьVsem Skorbyashchim Radost — “Joy of/to All Who Suffer” type.  This too was discussed in an earlier posting here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/a-very-popular-marian-image-the-joy-of-all-who-suffer/

At right is the Благовещение — Blagoveshchenie — “Annunciation” type.  Its title inscription is still legible.  You will recall that showing the angel Gavriil/Gabriel twice is a pre-animation way of showing movement in time.  We see the Holy Spirit with its abbreviation Д С — Дух Святы Dukh Svyatui — flying down in the form of a dove to Mary.  On the table is the book she has been reading.  This type was previously discussed here:  https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/annunciation/

Here is a type not previously discussed here — the Gruzinskiya or “Georgian” Mother of God.  “Georgia” here of course refers to the country, not the American state.

It’s origin story tells that it was originally kept in Georgia, but in the year 1622, Shah Abbas of Persia conquered the country.  Eventually the Persians sold a number of Christian religious relics — including the robe of Jesus and this Georgian icon — to Russian merchants.   The Georgian image — then ornamented with gold and silver — is said to have been bought in 1625 by a clerk doing business in Persia named Stefan Lazarev, for his boss, the Yaroslavl merchant Grigoriy Luitkin.

Now as these old tales go, Liutkin learned in a dream vision about the Georgian icon, and in his dream was also told to send the newly-purchased icon to the Krasnogorsk Monastery in Arkhangelsk Province.  Grigoriy forgot his dream until his clerk Stefan Lazarev brought the Georgian icon to Russia in 1629.  The icon was taken to what was then Chornaya Gora (“Black Hill”) Monastery, founded in 1603 in the Dvina region, which was later renamed the Krasnogorsk (“Beautiful Mountain) Monastery in 1608 (there seems to be some confusion about the monastery and dates).

In any case, the “Georgian” icon soon became surrounded by tales of miracles it had worked.  Between 1650 and 1690 such stories began to spread into the western parts of Russia, and the image was taken to Moscow in 1654 in an attempt to avert the pestilence.

In 1658 an annual commemoration was declared for it under Patriarch Nikon (yes, the same pushy, arrogant fellow who single-handedly caused the great schism of the Old Believers).  At present it is said to be kept in the Life-giving Trinity church at Nikitniki in Moscow.

You will note that the title on the image reads “Gruzinskiya.”  That –iya ending is the standard Church Slavic ending, but common usage today gives such icons the more modern Russian –aya ending — thus Gruzinskaya instead of Gruzinskiya.

The next image is the very popular Tikhvinskiya (Tikhvinskaya — Тихвинская in later form) type.  Here it is written ТИХФИНСКIЯ — Tikhfinskiya.  The “Tikhvin” image was discussed here:  https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/tikhvin-icon/

The last of the Marian images on the panel is the type known as Утоли Болезни — Utoli Bolezni “Sooth the Ills.”  We see its title written on the image.  It was discussed in this earlier posting:  https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/soothe-my-sorrow/

Next we find three rectangles of saints significant for the family owning the image.  We can barely make out the inscription on the figure at left.  It appears to read ПЕТР — Petr — Peter.  The central figure is Святы Священномученик Киприан Svyatuiy Svyanshchennomuchenik Kiprian — Holy Priest-martyr Kiprian/Cyprian.   At right is the female martyr святая мученица Устина/Иустина — Holy martyress Oustina/Iustina.

The two saints in the center panel are the famous Russian martyr princes Boris and his brother Gleb — the first native Russian saints.  They were discussed in this posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/boris-and-gleb/

At right are the very noted saints Svyatuiy Muchenik Panteleimon at left, Svyatuiy Velikomuchenik/Great Martyr Nikita, and at right Svyatuiy velikomuchenik/Great Martyr Georgiy/George.

Panteleimon was discussed here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/panteleimon/

Nikita was discussed here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/st-nikita/

And George here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/st-george-the-enigmatic/

I hope those of you who are regular readers here have learned by now that it is not difficult to learn to identify and translate Russian icons — it just takes time and the will to do it.

THE TROPARION TO THE CROSS IN THE 1812 OVERTURE

In a previous posting I mentioned a common inscription found on Russian crosses:“O Lord, save thy people” (Спаси, Господи, люди Твоя — (Spasi, Gospodi, liudi tvoya).”

That is from the Troparion to the Holy Cross.

If you have heard Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture, which is now often performed at public events and celebrations (paradoxically even the 4th of July) in the United States and elsewhere, you may not be aware that it begins with an instrumental and sometimes vocal (depending on which scoring is chosen) version of the Troparion to the Holy Cross.

Here is the beginning segment of the work in a vocal rendering.  If you follow along in the sung Slavic version, you will see that there is a small portion that does not accord with the text on the screen.  In the line
Победы благоверному Императору нашему на сопротивныя — pobedui blagovernomu Imperatoru nashemu na spotrotivnuiya —
the video text has left out the name that is sung here:
Николаю Павловичу — Nikolaiu Pavlovichu (Nikolai Pavlovich/Nicholas Pavlovich).  The Tsar in 1812 would have been his father, Alexander Pavlovich.
So as you listen, you may follow along in the corrected text below, followed by a translation into English.

Спаси, Господи, люди Твоя, — Spasi, Gospodi, liudi tvoya
И благослови достояние Твоё, — I blagoslovie dostoyanie Tvoe
Победы благоверному Императору нашему Николаю — Pobedui blagovernomy Imperatoru nashemu Nikolaiu
Павловичу на сопротивныя — Pavlovichu na soprotivnuiya
И Твоё сохраняя — I tvoe sokhranyaya
Крестом Твоим жительство. — Krestom tvoim zhitel’stvo.
Lord, Save your people
And bless your inheritance;
Give victory to our Orthodox Emperor Nicholas Pavlovich
Over adversaries,
And your protecting cross
To your habitation.
Now to confuse matters, there are several versions of the text actually used in choral renderings of the work.
Here is a performance of the Troparion alone:

It is repeated in a much more glorious and thunderous manner in the finale:

 Finally, just for fun, here is the old Tsarist national anthem , the beginning of which follows it in the finale — Bozhe Tsarya Khrani:

 

PREPARATION OF THE THRONE

Today we will look at an icon type that, while sometimes found as an element in other icons, is also seen on its own.

Here is an example of its frequent use as part of an icon of the Страшный Суд — Strashnuiy Sud in a Balkan fresco — the “Terrible Judgment,” which in the West is generally called the “Last Judgment” or the “Second Coming.”

Let’s looks more closely at the central portion relevant to today’s discussion.

At left and right are two angels.  That on the left, with the “M” above his head, is Mikhail/Michael.  That on the right with the “Г” is Gavriil/Gabriel.

In the center is a table on which is a cushion and a book, and behind it a cross flanked by the symbols of the Passion of Jesus, the spear at left, and the reed with a sponge at right.  On the little footstool below the table is a footstool on which are the four nails used to crucify Jesus.

Atop the cushion on the larger table is a dove that oddly enough bears the cruciform halo peculiar to Jesus, and confirming that, we see the abbreviation IC XC just above it — signifying Isus Khrista (Iesous Khristos in Greek) — “Jesus Christ.”  The dove’s feet rest on the Book of the Gospels.  Ordinarily in this type, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, but the painter of this icon seems to have not quite grasped that, so gave it the cruciform halo and inscription abbreviation for Jesus.  The dove can be understood as the presence of the Holy Spirit as paraclete with the Church until the return of Jesus — his representative in a sense. There is also a cloth (sometimes obviously a garment) as the mantle of Jesus — frequently in royal purple,

Parts of this composition have a double meaning.  The large table is both a throne and an altar (prestol — the Slavic word for an Orthodox altar — means “throne.”  The book on it is both the Gospel book commonly found on Orthodox altars, but it also represents the book of Revelation 5:1:

And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

And it also represents the presence of Jesus.

The identifying inscription of this composition is just below the main crossbar:

OУГОТОВЛЕНИIЕ ПРЕСТОЛА
OUGOTVLENIIE PRESTOLA

Note that in the actual inscription, the “E” in the first word is written with the old Slavic letter pronounced “ye”:

The final IE in the second word is written as the old Slavic compound letter pronounced “IE” (ee-ay):

We will use the more standardized form УГОТОВАНИЕ ПРЕСТОЛА — Ugotovanie Prestola. Ugotovanie means “preparation, making ready”; Prestola is the “of” form of Prestol, meaning “throne.”  So this type is called “The Preparation of the Throne.”

In Psalm 88:15 of the Church Slavic Bible (89:14 KJV), we find:
Прáвда и судьбá уготóванiе престóла тво­егó: ми́лость и и́стина предъи́детѣ предъ лицéмъ тво­и́мъ.
Pravda i sudba ugotovanie prestola tvoego; milost i istina predeidete pred’ litsem’ tvoim’
“Justice and judgment are the preparation of your throne; mercy and truth shall go before your face.”

And in Slavic Psalm 9:8-9 (9:7-8 KJV):
И Госпóдь во вѣ́къ пребывáетъ, уготóва на сýдъ престóлъ свóй: и тóй суди́ти и́мать вселéн­нѣй въ прáвду, суди́ти и́мать лю́демъ въ правотѣ́.
And the Lord forever endures, he has prepared his throne for judgment:  and he will judge the  world in justice, the peoples in uprightness.

Here is a very basic form of the type:

The title inscription above it reads (the two sides join together):

Ἡ ἙΤΥΜΑCΙΑ

That is a rather phonetic variant of the correct spelling:

Ἡ ἙΤΟΙΜΑCΙΑ
He Hetoimasia
“The Preparation.”

In modern Greek the title is pronounced “Ee et-ee-ma-SEE-ah.

Here is a slightly more detailed mosaic version:

note the addition of what appears to be the crown of thorns to the axis of the cross.  In other examples it is a laurel wreath of victory.  The spelling used here is yet another variant:

Ἡ ΕΤΗΜΑCΗΑ
HE ETIMASIA

In this fresco version from the monastery of Dečani, the “Preparation” has become a throne carried by angels:

There is a Gospel book lying on the cloth on the throne, and all together the image forms a kind of Deisis variant, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right.  The two figures below are sometimes found in “Preparation” images.  They are Adam and Eve, and should not be confused with Mary and John the Forerunner.  If you look at the first image in this posting, you will again see Adam (at left) and Eve (at right) below the angels.

If we look more closely at the image, we can read its inscription:

It is:

ВТОРО ПРИШЕСТВИIЕ
VTORO PRISHESTVIIE
or as we more normally find it in Russian literature,

Второ Пришествие
Vtoro Prishestvie
“Second Coming”

It means, of course, the second coming of Jesus, and the angels are bringing out the throne to prepare it for the Last Judgment.  Here the Gospel book on the garment represents the presence of Jesus, and the crown on the cross is a laurel wreath.

In the example found at the Church of Saint Paul “Outside the Walls”  (San Paulo fuori le muri), we see yet more variation:

Looking more closely, we find that the laurel wreath generally found on the cross is here placed on its own stand to the left of the spear, and at right beside the sponge on a reed, we see a Eucharistic symbol — the chalice.  It holds three nails of the crucifixion (instead of four as found in the earlier example).  In some versions this chalice becomes a two-handled vessel placed on the footstool, and it may or may not have the nails within it.  Being a Roman church, in this mosaic the scrolls held by the angels are in Latin.  That at right reads GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO (“Glory to God on High”) and that at left “ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS (“And on earth peace to men.”)

The use of an unoccupied throne as the symbol of a ruler is very ancient, and long predates Christianity.