Today we will look at a 13th century fresco from the cupola of the Boyana Church just outside of Sophia, in Bulgaria.

Of course we are already quite familiar with these “Lord Almighty” (Greek: Pantokrator) images, which are extremely common.  This one, however, has a rather different Slavic inscription on the book.

Ordinarily, the book held by Jesus is the Gospels, and usually one of the standard Gospel texts is written on it.  That is not what we find here.

Let’s look more closely:

When we put spaces between the words, we find it reads:

Видите, видите, яко азъ есмь Богъ и нѣсть иного развѣ мене
Vidite, vidite, yako az esm’ Bog i nest’ inogo razvye mene
“See, See, that I am God, and there is no other besides me.”

It is a variation on the words found in Deuteronomy 32:39 in the Old Testament:

Видите, видите, яко Аз есмь, и несть Бог разве Мене: Аз убию и жити сотворю.
Vidite, vidite, yako Az esm’, i nest’ Bog razve mene: Az ubiiu i zhiti sotvoriu.
“See, see, that I am, and there is no God besides me: I kill and create life.”

Similarly, in Isaiah 45:21 we read:

Аз Бог, и несть иного разве Мене
Az Bog, i nest’ inogo razve Mene
“I am God, and there is no other besides me.”







Today we will look at a couple of Russian icons of a type you already should recognize– the “New Testament Trinity,” so called to distinguish it from the Old Testament Trinity icon in the form of the three angels that appeared to the patriarch Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.

The reason for revisiting this type is to add a couple of Church Slavic inscriptions sometimes found on New Testament Trinity icons to your repertoire.  Here is the first icon:

As you know (I hope!), it depicts the Trinity as Jesus sitting on the throne with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit hovering above in the form of a dove.  At left is Mary, at right John the Forerunner (the Baptist).  The throne is supported by Seraphim, and surrounded by a ring of cherubim, a single one of which is in the middle between the Father and Son.  Symbols of the Four Evangelists extend from the blue ring of cherubim.  The Archangel Michael is visible at upper left, and the Archangel Gabriel at upper right.

Now on to the main topic of discussion — the inscription above Jesus and God the Father.  We will enlarge it, and view it in two parts.  Here is the left side:

We are concerned with the inscription that is above the Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’ (Lord Almighty) title above the halo of Jesus.  It reads:

Blagoslovenno Tsarstvo…
“Blessed-is [the] Kingdom…

And here it continues on the right side, above the Gospod’ Savaof’ (“Lord Sabaoth”) title of God the Father:

It reads ..ОЦА И С[Ы]НА И С[ВЯ]ТАГО Д[У]ХА
…Otsa i Suina i Svyatago Dukha
“…[of the] Father and [of the] Son and [of the] Holy Spirit.”

So all together, the inscription is this:


Now we will look at an inscription on another icon, heavily ornamented with baroque designs in the border:

We need to look more closely to see the inscription.  It is in the inner ring of cherubim:

It is a bit damaged, and tends to fade out in the bottom half of the circle.  But if we look at the more distinct part in the upper half, we can determine what it says.

Here is the left side of it:

And here is the right side:

Because half of the inscription is so worn as to be illegible, we must work with what is there.  Remember that in the case of unfamiliar inscriptions, the procedure is to look for words you recognize.  Because this is a circular inscription, we have to find the beginning.  If we look on the right side, we see these words:

The first word is a bit faint, but after it we can clearly see:


And if we are clever, we might decide that the next word is МОЕМУ/MOEMOU

So it would read

…[the] Lord [to] Lord My…
“..The Lord to my Lord…”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, if you are at all familiar with the Psalms and the Gospel “of Matthew,” you will recognize it as the beginning of this phrase:

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.

Now if we look at that quote in the Church Slavic Bible, we find it is right at the beginning of Psalm 109 (110 KJV):

Reche Gospod’ Gospodevi moemu: syedi odesnuiu mene, dondezhe polozhu vragi tvoya podnozhie nog” tvoikh”.
Zhezl” silui poslet” ti Gospod’ ot Siona, i gospodstvuy posredye vragov” tvoikh”.
S” toboiu nachalo v” den’ silui tvoeya, vo svyetlostekh” svyatuikh” tvoikh”: iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion: and rule in the midst of your enemies.
With you is dominion in the day of your power, in the splendors of your saints: I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

We can see on the left side of the icon the words “ot Siona” — “out of Zion,” so that just confirms that we have found the right inscription, though in the icon it ends about there and does not include the last line of verse 3, which we have seen before:

iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.
“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

If you do not remember where we saw that line in a previous icon inscription, you will find it in the discussion of the last icon pictured in this posting:

It is not unusual to find this “The Lord said to my Lord” inscription on icons of the New Testament Trinity, so now you will recognize it when you see it.



Here is today’s icon type:

To find out what it is, we need only read the title inscription on the banner that is at the top:

As you can see, it is rather long — so we shall take it part by part:

The first word is ОБРАЗ, with the final З written lying just above the A.  If you have been reading this site for some time (or you can go to the archives for older postings), you will recognize ОБРАЗ/Obraz as the word for “image.”  The saints below are Vasiliy Velikiy (Basil the Great) and the Meter Theou (Mother of God);

ЧЕСТНАГО — CHESTNAGO (remember that the -ago suffix indicates an “of” form);

И ЖИВОТВОРЯЩАГО КРЕСТА –– I ZHIVOTVORYASHCHAGO KRESTA, with the IC XC abbreviation for Jesus just below);

ГОСПОДЬНЯ НА ИСТОЧНIКЬ (ИСТОЧНИКЬ ) — GOSPOD’NYA NA ISTOCHNIK’, with John the Forerunner and Grigoriy Bogoslov (Gregory the Theologian) just below;

Now if we put the whole inscription together, we get:




So this icon type is the “Image of the Procession of the Honorable and Life-creating (we can say “life-giving” in English) Cross of the Lord to the Wellspring” (or in English we can just say spring or fountain).

We can call it:
The Image of the Procession of the Honorable and Life-giving Cross of the Lord to the Fountain.”  It represents the origin of a minor church festival that takes place on August 1st (August 14th in the “new style” calendar).

The festival has a rather confused origin, being associated with four different events.

The first two were victories in battle:

1.  The victory of the Russian forces of Great Prince Andrey Bogoliubskiy against the Bulgarians on August 1st, 1164; an icon of Mary and an image of the cross were used by the Russians in the Battle.

2.  The victory of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel (1143-1180) over the Saracens — also on August 1, in which an icon of Mary and an image of the cross were also said to have been used.

3.  The annual practice, in the city of Constantinople, of taking what was supposed to be the wood of the cross of Jesus from the Royal Treasury on July 31st, and carrying it through the streets to dispel disease, placing it on the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom, then, on the following day, taking it to the Dormition Church, and letting it be venerated by the people.  Then on August 14th it was taken back to the Imperial palace.

4.  There was also a custom in Constantinople of consecrating the waters and the springs, generally on the 1st of each month, and with this the celebration of the supposed “true cross” was also associated.

In any case, what we see in the icon is the blessing of the waters in Constantinople with the cross, as depicted in this portion, with the Emperor and Empress and a crowd of people and clerics looking on as the cross is used to bless the  waters in a stone wellspring from which a stream flows:

All kinds of people come to the sanctified water flowing from the wellspring, reminiscent of the crowds coming to the waters in the Живоносный источник/Zhivonosnuiy Istochnik/”Life-giving Fountain” type.  Here we see one fellow dipping water from the stream, two others giving it to a prostrate ill woman, and a crippled man with pads on his legs and hands:

Here an ill girl, holding her cup, is brought to the stream in a wheelbarrow;

At right, a boy bathes in the waters as a standing man drinks them from a glass.  And at far right, a demon is expelled from the mouth of a possessed man:

All of this elaborate scene takes place outside the walls of Constantinople.  Note the figure holding the icon of Jesus, with its decorative cloth hanging below it.

If we return to the sky above, we see Jesus blessing from Heaven, with Mary at left and John the Forerunner at right:

Below him are three cherubim, with their title in Slavic separated among the three halos, like this:


Херувими/Kheruvimi — “Cherubim.”

Below those three is an angel identified only as a “Holy Angel of the Lord” (with “Holy” and “Lord” abbreviated).

There is some variation from example to example of this type, most notably in who dips the cross into the wellspring in the central scene.  While in this example it is done by a поп/pop — a “priest,” as the Filimonov Podlinnik describes him, in others the cross is dipped by a standing “Angel of the Lord,”


in some by an “Angel of the Lord” flying down,


and in others by three “Angels of the Lord.”


The use of an angel is reminiscent of the story of the angel troubling the waters of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5, 1-5, and some icons of that type (the icon for the Sunday of the Paralytic) depict the angel.  Also, some examples depict the wellspring as cross-shaped instead of square or rectangular, as found also in some icons of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman — the “Woman at the Well.”

In Russia, this festival became associated also with the “Baptism” — the conversion — of Russia (actually, originally Kievan Rus, not what we know today as Russia) to Orthodox Christianity in 988 c.e.  On this day there is a lesser blessing of the waters in Russia.  Also, on August 14th now, “Honey Savior” (Медовый Спас/Medovuiy Spas) is celebrated.  It is a pre-Christian festival that was carried on into Christian times.  “Honey Savior” is the first of three such ancient autumn festivals, the following two being “Apple Savior” on August 19th and “Nut Savior” on August 29th.  On “Honey Savior,” people bring their honey from the hives to the church to be blessed, and believe it should not be eaten before that time.  So August 1st is, in folk belief, the beginning of autumn.

Because of its association with the “Baptism of Russia,” August 1st was also Мокрый Спас/Mokruiy Spas — “Wet Savior” — the day on which the waters were blessed, and people took their horses and cattle to the rivers and streams to be bathed.


If you have been keeping up with my previous postings on reading Church Slavic icon inscriptions, you are likely now the icon expert in your town — perhaps even your county or an even larger region.  So you should have little trouble reading today’s icon, which shows an assembly of various saints.

Such mixtures of saints were generally chosen by the purchaser of the icon, who often included not only family “name saints” but also the chief saints to whom the members of the family prayed for help with this or that problem.

Today’s icon is a good example for reading practice, not only because it shows different kinds of saints, but also because some of the inscriptions are a little worn or damaged here and there, so the reader has to fill in the missing parts:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Notice the variation in how the saints are labeled on this icon.  Some have their titles in the icon border, while others have it in or above the halo:

Let’s begin with the angel at the upper left side.  His inscription (partly worn) reads:

Ст Аггель Хранитель
St  Angel’  Khranitel’
In full,
Svyatuiy Angel’ Khranitel’
“Holy Angel Guardian”
Or as we say in English,
“The Holy Guardian Angel.”

Did you remember that the letter combination гг (gg) in Church Slavic is pronounced like “ng”?

You will recall that the Guardian Angel in icons is a generic figure representing the Angel believed to watch over each person.

The saint at left in the nun’s habit is:
Ст Прпдб мчнца Евдокиа
In full:
Святая Преподобная Евдокия
Svyataya Prepodobnaya Evdokiya
“Holy Venerable Evdokia”

I hope you recall that Prepodobnaya does not literally mean “Venerable”; that is just the English term commonly used, because literally Prepodobnaya means “Most-like,” that is, most like Christ, or some say most like humans before the “Fall.”
When you see the combination “ev” in a saint’s name, it often represents the Greek form “eu,” and “k” often becomes “c” in the English form of the name.  So if we were to put Evdokiya’s name into English form, it would be “Eudocia.”

Beside Evdokiya is:

Ст М Иоустиния
Святая Мученица Иоустиния
Svyataya Muchenits Ioustiniya
Holy Martyr Iustinia/Justinia

Iustinia is in the standard garb for a female.

To her right is:

Cт Сщнмчн Киприанъ
Святый Священомученикъ Киприан
Svyatuiy Svyashchenomuchenik Kiprian
Holy Priest-martyr Kiprian/Cyprian

Cyprian’s specialty is protection from demons, sorcery, and witchcraft.


Ст Мчнкъ Трифонъ
Святый Мученикъ Трифонъ
Svyatuiy Muchenik Trifon
Holy Martyr Trifon/Triphon

Note the cross in Triphon’s hand.  A white cross is generally held by martyr saints in icons.  You may recall that Triphon is the saint associated with a falcon and with geese, and is prayed to for problems with geese and rodents, etc.

Ст В М Артемий
Святый Великомученикъ Артемий
Svyatuiy Velikomuchenik Artemiy
Holy Great-martyr Artemiy/Artemios

Artemiy is dressed in Roman armor and holds a martyr’s cross and a lance.  His specialty is intestinal problems.

Ст Василий Велики
Святый Василий Великий
Svyatuiy Vasiliy Velikiy
Holy Basil [the] Great

Basil is dressed in bishop’s robes, with an omophorion around his neck, and the Gospels held in is left hand.  Basil’s specialty is aid with studies.

In the photo below, we see Jesus at the top in the clouds, with his usual abbreviation IC XC, Iesous Khristos in Greek — “Jesus Christ”:

Now the saints on the right side of the icon:

The female at top:

Ст Мчнца Агафия
Святая Мученица Агафия
Svyataya Muchenitsa Agafiya
Holy Martyr Agafiya/Agaphia

Agafiya is dressed in the standard garments for a female.

Ст Сщнмчн Зиновий
Святый Священомученикъ Зиновий
Svyatuiy Svyashchenomuchenik Zinoviy
Holy Priest-martyr Zinoviy/Zenobios

Ст В М Варвара
Святауа Великомученица Варвара
Svyataya Velikomuchnitsa Varvara
Holy Great-martyr Barbara

Barbara is dressed as royalty, wearing a crown, and holding a martyr’s cross.  Her speciality is aid in avoiding sudden death.

Прпдбна Мария Егип
Преподобная Мария Египетская
Prepodobnana Mariya Egipetskaya
Venerable Mary of Egypt

You will recall that Mary was a desert-dwelling ascetic, usually shown near-naked.  Her specialty is chastity and help in finding lost things.

The last two saints on this icon are:

Ст В М Димитрий Солу
Святый Димитрий Солунский
Svyatuiy Dimitriy Solunskiy
Holy Dimitriy/Demitrios of Salonika/Thessaloniki

Dimitriy/Dmitriy is one of the most prominent warrior saints.  His specialty is chastity, and he is a popular protector of the young.

Прпд Ануфрий Великий
Преподобный Ануфрий Великий
Prepodobnuiy Anufriy Velikiy
Venerable Anofriy/Onufriy/Onuphrios

As is obvious, Onufriy was another of the desert-dwelling ascetics.  He wears “leaf shorts,” a covering made of leaves.  His name is usually written with an “O,” but here the writer has used an “A” because it has the same pronunciation as an unstressed “O” in Russia.  One often finds this o/a confusion in Russian icon inscriptions.

This is not a very interesting page for the more advanced in reading icons, but for those still learning to read the letters of Church Slavic and basic inscriptions, it should be helpful.  And it should remind you how very repetitive these inscriptions are, so as I always say, a little learning goes a long way, enabling you to read many more icons than one would expect from the small amount of effort necessary to learn such basics.

For those who want to see closer views of the saints full-figure, here is the icon in three segments:





Here is an icon of one of the “special needs” saints, Kharlampiy.  The Greeks call him Χαράλαμπος  — Kharalambos.  He was considered the fellow to pray to for protection from plagues and fevers, etc.  As with the old pre-Christian gods, it was considered risky not to properly commemorate him, because he was likely to take revenge for the slight by releasing the plague on you.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The image shows Kharlampiy in the center, and at the sides are four scenes from the traditional account of his martyrdom in the 3rd century.

We are looking at Kharlampiy today for a different reason, however.  We want to to translate the Church Slavic title at the top of the icon.  The little image in the center is the icon type known as the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which I have discussed in a previous posting.

The first word is slightly worn, but nonetheless we should be able to determine that it is an abbreviation (see the horizontal curved line above it that tells us so?).

The obvious letters in it are ОБР –OBR.  The O is the old “omega” form, this letter:

If you were paying attention yesterday (didn’t you have anything else to do?), you will recall that ОБ and Р are the first three letters of the word oбразъ — obraz — meaning “image.”

Yesterday we also looked at some useful Church Slavic words based on the root cвятъ — svyat — meaning “holy.”  The next word in Kharlampiy’s inscription is another of those “svyat” words.  It is slightly abbreviated here as СВТИТЛЯ —SVTITLYA.  In full, the word is СВЯТИТЕЛЯ — SVYATITELYA.  This is an “of” form of the word Святитель — Svyatitel.  It means “archpriest,” but it is also often used for “bishop.”  You can see that Kharlampiy is wearing a bishop’s stole or omophorion.  So here we can translate it as “bishop.”  The word svyatitel is related to the verb that means “to make holy, to consecrate.”  And of course a bishop is consecrated in a special ceremony.

I hope you noticed that when I type Church Slavic, I put it into a modern Russian font that is basically the same as Church Slavic except for a few letters.  One of those letters is the Russian Я, pronounced “ya.”  But if you look at the inscription on the icon, you will see that the letter used looks very different.  It is the Church Slavic form of “ya”, shown here in upper and lower case:


There is also another Church Slavic letter that has the same “ya” sound.  It looks like this:


Sometimes writers of Slavic inscriptions use one form, sometimes the other.  But in the modern Russian font, both of these are represented by Я.

Now let’s look at the last word in the inscription.  It is the saint’s personal name, and it is written in full:


You can see that for the final letter, the writer has used the second form of the Church Slavic “ya”:


This name, like the word SVYATITELYA preceding it, is in the “of” form.  You can see that both have a -ya ending to show this.  In its normal form, it would be written as ХАРЛАМПИЙ — KHARLAMPIY.

Now let’s put it all together to translate the title inscription:

“Image [of] Bishop Kharlampiy”

Even though both Svyatitelya and Kharlampiya have the ending indicating they are in the “of” form, we only need to use “of” once when translating into English.  And we can also add the word “the,” which as you know, Church Slavic does not have.  So we can give the English meaning of this icon inscription as:


So you see, reading Church Slavic inscriptions is not difficult.  It is just that in learning a bit of Church Slavic, we have to keep in mind that it is one of the most useless languages in existence for most anything practical except reading icon inscriptions — and we can hardly even call that practical now, can we?  But what practical person is likely to read this site?  Or for that matter, write it?





(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Learning a little basic Church Slavic is essential to the study of Russian icons. Do not think you have to learn the entire language in order to read most icons. Icon inscriptions are very repetitive, so a little learning brings big results.

What you will learn here will be very easy and practical, and will really advance your understanding of icons, so do not be intimidated by the unfamiliar.

Here is an important Church Slavic word and its meaning:

Svyat — holy

Sometimes you will see this inscription on icons:

Свя́тъ, свя́тъ, свя́тъ
Svyat, svyat, svyat

And now you already know how to read it. Yes, it is “Holy, holy, holy.” It comes from the Bible, found both in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.

By the way, the letter ъ at the end is just a so-called “hard mark.” It is silent, and I usually omit it in transliteration.

Now let’s expand our knowledge. From the word Svyat, we get more icon words. Two of the most common and very important are:




 They are the words used to mean “saint” in icons. Both words literally mean “holy.”

Svyatui is the form of the word used for the title of male saints.

Svyataya is the form of the word used for the title of female saints.

When an icon inscription says “of” this or that saint – “of the holy” — the word “of” is not actually written. Instead, it is indicated by changing the ending of Svyatuiy or Svyataya, like this:

Svyatago – means “of the Holy” for a male saint or male noun.

Svyatuiya – means “of the Holy” for a female saint or noun.

You can see that all we are doing with these words is changing the ending of the word Svyat.  So to the root Svyat,

We add –ui for a male: Svyatui.

We add –aya for a female: Svyataya.

We add –ago for “of the holy” for a male: Svyatago.

We add –uiya for “of the holy” for a female: Svyatuiya.

And for completeness, if the noun is neuter, we add the –oe ending. The neuter “of the holy” ending is the same as the masculine: -ago. So it becomes Svyatago.

Church Slavic often uses abbreviations. Both Svyatuiy and Svataya are commonly abbreviated as S or SV or ST, but abbreviation can vary in the number of letters used. Remember that abbreviated words are generally indicated by a curved horizontal line above the abbreviation.

If we want to say “of the holy” for several saints, we add the ending -uikh for male saints:

Svyatuikh – “of the holy” (male plural)

And for “of the holy for several female saints, we add the same ending:

 Svyatuikh – “of the holy” (female plural)

There is a prefix – pre-, used to mean roughly “most” or “very,” or “extremely.” Look what happens when we add it to the word Svyataya for a female saint:

Presvyataya – “most holy.”

Presvyataya is an absolutely essential word to know, because it is used in one form or another on countless icons of Mary. Why? Because on icons, Mary is titled the “Most Holy Mother of God.’

You will remember that the female form of “of the holy” is Svyatuiya. It only makes sense then, that the female form of “of the most holy” is Presvyatuiya.

Now let’s add more to our vocabulary:

Bog – God

A roditsa is a female who gives birth, a birthgiver. If we add Bog – “God” — to that, it becomes:

Bogoroditsa – God-birthgiver, or more commonly, “Birthgiver of God.”

Bogoroditsa is the standard title for Mary in icons, because in Eastern Orthodoxy, she is considered the one who gives birth to God, that is, to Jesus. It is simply the Church Slavic translation of the Greek title ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟC – Theotokos.

Now we can use two words together:

Presvyatuiya – Most Holy
Bogoroditsa – Birthgiver of God

That gives us the title of Mary found on countless icons. Because “Birthgiver of God” sounds awkward in English, it is generally translated more loosely as “Mother of God.” So we get:

 Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsa – Most Holy Mother of God.

Marian icons generally have an identifying title, like “of Kazan,” “of Vladimir” and so on. If we add such an identifier to “Most Holy Mother of God, we get the title found on such icons:

Kazanskiya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui

That gives us “Kazan-of Most Holy Mother of God,” or as we say in English,

“The Kazan Most Holy Mother of God.”

Often the Russian form of the identifier is used in modern writing. Where Church Slavic has the –iya ending for identifier words like Kazanskiya, Russian uses –aya:

“The Kazanskaya Most Holy Mother of God.”

Or we can just call it the “Kazanskaya” or the “Kazan” image in brief.

Finally, for today, one more common icon word:

Obraz – image

One finds obraz on many icons at the beginning of the title, used like this:


Obraz Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui Troeruchitsui

 It means, very literally:

 “Image [of] Most-holy God-birthgiver – Three-handed”

 Remember that neither Church Slavic nor Russian has the word “the,” so we have to supply it when translating into English; and because English word order is different, we move things around a bit, like this:

“The Image of the Three-handed Most Holy Mother of God”

Now if we look again at the icon at the top of this page, we find it is titled:

КОРСУНСКИЯ  ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ (the last two words are abbreviated)
Korsunskiya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui

From what you have learned today, you should be able to translate that as:

“The Korsun Most Holy Mother of God.”

You may wish to know that the Korsun type is another of those Marian images quite mistakenly attributed by tradition to St. Luke.  It is said to have been brought from Korsun to Kiev in 988 c.e (the year of the conversion of Kievan Rus’ to Eastern Orthodoxy by edict).  Then over the years, it went from Kiev to Novgorod in the North, and then on to Moscow.  Another tradition says that it came to Russia at the end of the 12th century.  But as we have learned, icon traditions should not be taken too seriously.

Korsun, also known as Kherson and Cherson, is in Crimea, the area of the Ukraine recently invaded and claimed illegally in 2014 by Russia.  It is said to be the place where Prince Vladimir of Kiev was baptized into Eastern Orthodoxy.  He is the fellow who made conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy obligatory for his people.




Here is a Marian icon, still with its discolored varnish:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

I hope you recognize it as the left panel from a three-panel Deisis set of icons.  As you will recall, the central icon in such a set is the image of the “Lord Almighty,” and the right panel is John the Forerunner, or John the Baptist as he is called in the West.

The image shows Mary approaching Jesus, acting as go-between in praying for the world (and in the mind of the believer, approaching Jesus with the prayers of the person praying before the icon).

We should take a look at her scroll in this type, because it has a common inscription that you should add to your repertoire of standard texts.  It reads (put into modern Cyrillic):

Владыко Многомилостиве, Господи Иисусе Христе, Сыне и Боже Мой,
Vladuiko Mnogomilostive, Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, Suine I Bozhe Moi,
“Master -most-gracious, Lord Jesus Christ,  Son  and God of-me,
приклони ко Мне ухо Твое, ибо аз молю за мир.
prikloni ko Mne ykho Tvoe, ibo az moliu za mir.
bend to me  ear of-you, for I  pray for [the] world.

In normal English,
“Master most gracious, Lord Jesus Christ, My Son and my God, incline your ear to me, for I pray for the world.”

You can see that several words are abbreviated in the icon text, as is common. This “left panel” type of Mary is of course just a smaller form of her image in the more detailed Desis icon found in a church iconostasis (the big icon screen separating congregation from altar in Russian Orthodox Churches).  But this type is also very closely related to the image of Mary in the type known as the Bogoliubskaya: There are several Bogoliubskaya variants, depending on figures added to the right of Mary.  In the example shown here, there are several saints associated with Moscow, such as the four Metropolitans of Moscow Petr (Peter), Alexiy, Iona (Jonah), and Filipp (Philip) as well as the Holy Fool Alexiy, Man of God.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Added at the top are the two popular saints and patrons of horses, Flor and Lavr (Florus and Laurus)  The “Moscow” saints give this Bogoliubskaya variant the secondary name “Moskovskaya” — “Of Moscow.”  So this is the “Moscow” variant of the Bogoliubskaya type.  But look at Mary’s scroll.  It begins exactly the same as the Marian “left panel” icon, only in this example it is shortened for reasons of space, and every word except mnogolostivе  is abbreviated:

Владыко Многомилостивый, Господи Иисусе Христ[е]…
“Master most-gracious, Lord Jesus Christ….

If we look at the right panel from this Deisis set, we find it is the standard type of John the Forerunner:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

John is holding a scroll with one of the two most common texts used not only in this right-panel type but also in icons of John in general.  It is:

Покáйтеся, при­­ближибося цáр­ст­вiе небéсное…
Pokaitesya, priblizhibosya tsarstvie nebesnoe
Repent, has-drawn-near [the] kingdom [of] heaven

In normal English,

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.”

The other common text for John is “I saw and witnessed concerning him, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

As you see, John is pointing at the child Jesus lying in the liturgical vessel, representing the “Lamb” — the piece of bread considered to be the “body of Christ” in the Eastern Orthodox Eucharist.

Finally, let’s take a look at the central Deisis panel, which is the “Lord Almighty,” Jesus seen as ruler in the heavenly court:

(Courtesy of

Now we might expect the text on his book to be the most common “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28):

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

Obviously, however, this example does not have that most frequent text.  It cannot be, because the text on this icon is prefaced with the words

Речé  Госпóдь сво­и́мъ ученикóмъ …
Reche Gospod’ svoim” ychenikom” …
Spoke [the] Lord [to] of-him disciples…
“The Lord said to his disciples…”

And then it quotes the text of  Matthew 11:27:

Вся́ мнѣ́ преданá сýть Отцéмъ мо­и́мъ: и никтóж[е знáетъ Сы́на, тóкмо Отéцъ]….
Vsya mnye predana sut’ Otsem” moim” : i niktozh [e znaet” Suina, tokmo Otets”…]
All [to] me handed-over is [by] Father of-me: and no one [ knows the Son but the Father…] “All things have been committed to me by my Father: and no one [knows the Son except the Father…]

So this particular icon of the “Lord Almighty” uses the verse just preceding the most common text used on the Russian type.

As an added note, a reader asked me why Russian icons, as in this example, put a little T above the letter that in a Greek icon would be the standard letter omega (ω) in the customary Ho On (ὁ ὢν = “The One Who Is”) inscription on “Jesus” icons.

The Russians have come up with all sorts of fanciful explanations for this, saying the three letters abbreviate this or that Church Slavic phrase.  Some priests even tell children that the T is the “cross atop the crown of Christ” — the omega roughly forming the “crown.”  But the real answer is apparently that a few centuries ago, Russian iconographers did not commonly understand Greek, so when they saw the accented omega in ὢν on a correctly inscribed icon, they just replaced it (apparently beginning in the early 1400s) with the Slavic letter that had a little T mark above it, which happens to be the abbreviation for the word ot (“from”) in Church Slavic:


And the miswriting was perpetuated in countless copies.  From the ordinary Russian point of view, if that was the way it was passed down, that was the way it should be.  A fundamentalist Protestant likes to respond to religious questions with “It’s in the Bible.”  A traditional Russian Orthodox believer would respond, “That’s the way our fathers handed it down to us.”

You might not yet have noticed another little difference between the inscriptions on the Greek Pantokrator halo and the Russian Gospod’ Vsederzhitel (“Lord Almighty”) halo.  While the three letters in the three bars of the cross are read from left to top to right in Greek icons, in Russian icons they are generally moved so that the O is at the top, the OT is at left, and the N is at right.

Now you have an easy, rule-of-thumb way of distinguishing Russian icons of Jesus from Greek.  But of course the text in the open book is another obvious tip-off.