Today we will take a thorough (so get your tea and biscuits/cookies) look at an icon type discussed in a previous posting:
Today’s example is very useful in learning to read inscriptions, so I will dwell on those in some detail, in order to help those of you who are just beginning to learn to translate Church Slavic inscriptions.
First we should look at the title inscription at the top: It begins at left, and continues at right:
РАДОСТЬ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
RADOST’ PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
JOY MOST-HOLY GOD-BIRTHGIVER
If we put it all together we get:
ѠБРАЗ ВСЕМ СКОРБЯЩИМЪ РАДОСТЬ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
OBRAZ VSEM SKORBYASHCHIM” RADOST’ PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“IMAGE OF THE JOY TO ALL WHO SUFFER MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”
Now as you can see, the final translation has been put into normal English. This type is also often called in English the “Joy of All Who Suffer” Mother of God.
Here is the icon:
At top center we see ГОСПОДЬ САВАѠФЪ/GOSPOD’ SAVAOF” — “LORD SABAOTH” — God the Father. He blesses with his right hand and holds a cross-topped orb — the symbol of universal rule and authority — in has left:
Now the position of the fingers in his blessing hand tells us that this is an Old Believer icon, which is not surprising, given its stylized form.
Below and to the left of Lord Sabaoth, we see this:
It is of course the sun, and we see the Church Slavic word СОЛНЦЕ/SOLNTSE — “SUN” just above it.
On the right of the icon is the moon — ЛУНА/LUNA — among the stars.
It is common in Russian iconography for the sun and moon to be given faces — anthropomorphized. You may recall that the other icon type in which the sun and moon are commonly found is the Crucifixion, but in that type the sun is darkened and the moon is blood red, in contrast to this type, in which the sun and moon are represented normally.
If you are a long-time reader here, you will recognize the central image of Mary and the child Jesus as a version of what is called in German the Strahlende Madonna — the “Radiant Madonna.” And you may recall that in some versions of this icon type, Mary is shown without the child Jesus on her arm: Here both are crowned, and Mary has a string of painted jewels in her halo:
The abbreviation above her is the standard Greek ΜΡ ΘΥ, identifying her as Μήτηρ Θεού / Meter Theou — “Mother of God.” While all other inscriptions on Russian icons are generally in Church Slavic, Russian iconography nonetheless kept this abbreviation as the identifying mark of Mary. And as you can see, it also kept the standard Greek abbreviation used to identify Jesus in Russian icons: IC XC for Ιησούς Χριστός / Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.” Each abbreviation has the curved horizontal line indicating abbreviation above it.
If we look at Jesus in the arms of Mary, we can see that his halo contains the usual inscription used for him in the cross outline visible behind his head.
The Greek form of the halo inscription is Ὁ ѠN — HO ON — meaning “The One Who Is” — a title of God found in Exodus 3:14. The letters are read top-left-right, as they usually also are in Bulgarian icons. In Russian icons, however, the left letter is commonly changed from Ѡ to Slavic Ѿ — pronounced “ot” — which enables them to read the inscription left-top-right while giving it various fanciful interpretations. That is what we see here. Some like the letters to represent the members of the Trinity, interpreting them as abbreviations for the Three-Hypostatic Godhood, represented in the letters as Ѿ (ot) for Ѿтеческий/Otecheskiy — “Of the Father’s”; О for Оум/Oum — “Mind”; and Н for Непостижимъ Сыин/Nepostizhim Suin — “Unfathomable Son.”
Still others read it as abbreviating
От небес приидох — Они же Мя не познаша — На кресте распяша
Ot nebes priidokh — Oni zhe mya ne poznasha — Na kreste raspyasha
“From heaven I came — They knew me not — On the cross I was crucified.”
Now for some practice in reading saints’ names. Let’s begin with those just to left of Mary, beginning at the top:
At the very top, we see this saint wearing a monk’s garments:
ПРД ЗОСИМЪ СОЛ
PRD ZOZIM” SOL
The first and last words are abbreviated. In full the title is:
ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ ЗОСИМЪ СОЛОВЕТСКИЙ
PREPODOBNUIY ZOSIM” SOLOVETSKIY
“VENERABLE ZOSIM/ZOSIMA OF SOLOVETSK”
You may recall that he is one of a pair of saints often found in icons: Zosim and Savvatiy Solovetskiy — the founding fathers of the Solovetskiy/Solovkiy Monastery and the patron saints of beekeeping. Remember that Prepodobnuiy (literally “most-like” — meaning most like Christ, or most like Adam before the Fall) is commonly translated into English as Venerable — and that this is the masculine form, the common title for a monk.
Below him we see at left:
Now as you can see, the PRD here abbreviates PREPODOBNAYA — the female form of Prepodobnuiy, and it is the common title for a nun. And as we see, Feodosiya is wearing a nun’s garments. Presumably she is Theodosia of Constantinople.
Now oddly enough, the writer has given the saint at right the PRD abbreviation too — which he usually does not have, because he was not a monk. So we will omit it here. He is:
“VASILIY THE BLESSED.”
BLAZHENNUIY is a title commonly used for “Holy Fools,” those called “Fools for Christ’s Sake.” And this Vasiliy/Basil is the same fellow for whom the St. Vasiliy/Basil Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow is named. Vasiliy was prayed to for safety from fire, for the cure of eye problems, and for help when beginning a new task in a workshop.
Next come two very familiar saints:
At left is:
СВЯТЫЙ ПАВЕЛЪ АПОСТОЛ
SVYATUIY PAVEL” APOSTOL
“HOLY PAVEL/PAUL APOSTLE”
So he is the Apostle Paul, from the New Testament. He is often prayed to for protection of children from death. And beside him is
СВЯТЫЙ ПЕТРЪ АПОСТОЛ
SVYATUIY PETR” APOSTOL
“HOLY PETR/PETER APOSTLE”
And that is St. Peter from the New Testament. Notice that he holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in one hand, and also a scroll reading:
ТЫ ЕСИ ПЕТР НА СЕМ КАМЕНИ
TUI ESI PETR NA SEM KAMENI
“YOU ARE PETER: ON THIS ROCK”
The words are taken from Matthew 16:18:
ты еси Петр, и на сем камени созижду Церковь Мою, и врата адова не одолеют ей:
Tui esi Petr, i na sem kameni sozizhdu tserkov’ moiu, i vrata adova ne odoleleiut ey
“You are Peter; on this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not Prevail against it.”
Peter was prayed to for relief from fevers, and Paul — like the Holy Fool Vasiliy — for help when beginning a new work in a workshop.
Then we have two saints robed as bishops, with the bishop’s stole (Slavic omofor/Greek omophorion around their necks and the Gospel book in their hands:
At left is:
СВЯТЫЙ ХАРЛАМПИЙ СВЯЩЕННОМУЧЕНИК
SVYATUIY KHARLAMPIY SVYASHCHENOMUCHENIK
“HOLY KHARLAMPIY/KHARALAMPOS PRIEST-MARTYR”
Kharlampiy was prayed to for protection from plagues and sudden death
Antipiy was prayed for in case of toothache.
On the right side of the icon, we find these saints:
At top, dressed in the garments of a monk, is
“Nikita” is the more common spelling, but in icons it is not unusual to find spelling variations — usually phonetic. We find here the relatively common substitution of “o” for “a.” It is a spelling change frequent in Russian icons because the unstressed “o” in Russian sounds rather like “a.”
At left below him, dressed in warrior’s garments and holding the cross of martyrdom, is:
СВЯТЫЙ ГЕОРГИЙ ВЕЛИКОМУЧЕНИК
SVYATUIY GEORGIY VELIKOMUCHENIK
“HOLY GEORGE GREAT-MARTYR
He is the famous saint of “St. George and the Dragon” icons. He was often prayed to for the protection of flocks.
To the right of George is:
СВЯТАЯ АННА ПРАВЕДНАЯ
SVYATAYA ANNA PRAVEDNAYA
“HOLY ANNA RIGHTEOUS”
This is the Anna who in apocryphal sources such as the Protoevangelion of James was the mother of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her title Pravednaya/Righteous (male form Pravednuiy) is often used for saints considered to be in some way “Old Testament” — and Anna and her husband Joachim were predecessors of the Gospel. Notice that Svyataya is the female form of male Svyatuiy (“Holy”). Anna was often prayed to for conceiving children.
Next comes a pair of brothers often found together in icons:
At left is:
СВЯТЫЙ КОЗМА БЕЗСРЕБРЕНИК
SVYATUIY KOZMA BEZSREBRENIK
“HOLY KOSMA/COSMAS UNMERCENARY”
СВЯТЫЙ ДOМЕАНЪ БЕЗСРЕБРЕНИК
SVYATUIY DOMEAN” BEZSREBRENIK
“HOLY UNMERCENARY DOMEAN/DAMIAN”
The title Bezsrebrenik means literally “without (bez-) silver (-srebre/серебро) guy (-nik). It is generally used for physicans who treated patients without asking payment. Note that as we saw in the name “Nikito,” in Russian icons the letters o and a are often interchanged in the spelling of Domean/Damian. The two were prayed to for educational matters and of course for healing.
The last two saints on the main part of the icon are both dressed as bishops, with omophorion and Gospel book:
At left is one of the most frequently found saints in Russian iconography, after Mary and Jesus. he is:
СВЯТТВЙ НИКОЛАЕ ЧУДОТВОРЕЦ
SVYATUIY NIКOLAE CHUDOTVORETS
“HOLY NIKOLAE/NICHOLAS WONDERWORKER”
Nicholas the Wonderworker is Nicholas of Myra, who later morphed into the American Santa Claus. His name is generally found as Nikola or Nikolai — and in regions such as Belarus as Mikola. He was often prayed to for safety on the water and protection from drowning.
Last, to his right, is:
СВЯТЫЙ ИОАННЪ ЗЛАТОУСТ
SVYATUIY IOANN” ZLATOUST
“HOLY JOHN CHRYSOSTOM”
His name in Slavic means literally “Golden (zlat-) Mouth (-oust).” He is one of the “Three Hierarchs” often found together in Russian icons. He was an archbishop of Constantinople and a noted orator, but also, unfortunately, a virulent anti-Semite. It was thought helpful to pray to John Zlatoust/Chrysostom when in despair.
You perhaps noticed that the titles on this icon are arranged in the halos like this:
SVYATAYA ANNA PRAVEDNAYA
“HOLY ANNA RIGHTEOUS”
Ordinarily, however, they are like this:
SVYATAYA PRAVEDNAYA ANNA
“HOLY RIGHTEOUS ANNA”
Of course the outcome is the same, but the second form is that generally found in icons.
Though we will not look at them individually, in the outer left and right borders of the icon — commonly the location of saints for whom the members of the family were named, we find these:
Left, from top:
Holy Great Martyr Dimitriy/Demetrios
At right, from top:
Holy Great Martyr Artemiy/Artemios
Holy Martyr Anastasia
Venerable Maria/Mary of Egypt
Now the inscription in the rectangle at the base:
On Marian icons, we often find an inscription with lines from a Marian hymn or a prayer to Mary. In this case it is the former.
At the beginning, we see these words in red:
ТРОПАРЬ ГЛАСЪ Д
TROPAR’ GLAS” D
TROPARION VOICE 4
Note that the letter Д (D) here is used as a number.
A troparion is a brief hymn found in liturgical texts. By “voice” is meant “tone” — and by that is meant a musical mode. There are traditionally eight modes — categories of melodies — in Eastern Orthodox hymns.
So we know this text is a hymn, and by its context, most likely a Marian hymn. But which one is it?
Well, here is the text in a modern Russian font (note that the letter ъ is often omitted at the end of some words in modern form):
Тропарь, глас 4.
К Богородице прилежно ныне притецем грешнии, со смирением припадающе и покаянием, вопиюще из глубины душевныя, Владычице помози милосердовавши на ны, и потщися яко изгибаем от множества грехов. Не отврати раб Своих тощ, Тебе бо Едину Помощницу имамы.
“To the Mother of God let us sinners now earnestly run, with humility falling down in repentance, crying from the depths of the soul: O Lady, mercifully help us, and make haste, for we perish from the multitude of sins. Turn not your servant away empty, for you are our only hope.”
It is from the “Canon to the Most Holy Mother of God.”
Do not expect to always find the same text on icons of the “Joy to All Who Suffer.” The text used varies from example to example. And keep in mind that the wording on Old Believer icons often differs somewhat from that used in the “revised” State Orthodox Church liturgical books.
Perhaps you might like to hear a “State Church” setting by A. Arkhangelskiy of this Troparion:
Well, that’s it for today. Now go for a walk to work off all those cookies you have eaten while reading this.