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

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:

“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

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:


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

It reads (modern Russian font):

“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.




Today we will look at two images from a Russian iconostasis.  Both are painted in the late фряжская манера — Fryazhskaya manera — literally the “Frankish Manner,” which was how Russians designated icons painted in the more realist manner borrowed from Western Europe, which as we have seen in previous postings, strongly influenced State Church icon painting from the latter part of the 17th century.

Here is the Prophet Nahum ( Пророк Наум — Prorok Naum)

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

Here is a closer look at the face:

The inscription above his head reads СВЯТЫЙ ПРОРОК НАУМЪ — SVYATUIY PROROK NAUM — “Holy Prophet Nahum.”

Here is the text on his scroll:

It reads:



“Thus says the Lord.  There shall be in the last times signs in the sun, moon and stars.”

Oddly enough, the text is not from the Old Testament Book of Nahum.  Instead, It is adapted from Luke 21:25-26:   “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”

Many people are not aware that John the Baptist — more commonly called John the Forerunner in icons — is considered a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy, and is often called the last of the Old Testament Prophets, even though he appears in the New Testament.  Here he is, also painted in the Fryazhskaya manera, which we can call simply the “westernized manner.”

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

Here is a closer view of the face:

If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily be able to translate the name inscription above his head.  The last letter of the last word in this example differs from the standard, which is ПРЕДТЕЧА — PREDTECHA — “Forerunner.”  As already mentioned, in icons John is more often called the “Forerunner” than the “Baptist,” though the latter is also found.

Here is John’s scroll:

It is adapted from the Gospel attributed to Matthew by combining two texts.  First is:


It is from Matthew 3:2:

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

The second text is from Matthew 3:10:

“For already the axe at the root of the trees is laid.”



If you are a long-time reader here, you will recall that the “appearance” of something — whether an icon or a vision — is a yavlenie in Russian icon terminology.  And you may recall from a past posting that there is also the related form yavisya, meaning “appeared.”

That should help you with today’s icon.  Here it is:

Let’s look at the title inscription:

As you see, it abbreviates some words with certain omitted letters written above the line as superscript letters.  If we add all missing letters, it reads (modern Russian font):


There are certain forms of letters to note in the original:

You should recall that the above letter — written like an I and an A together — is one of two ways of writing the sound ya in Church Slavic.  The other form is like a capital A with a vertical line descending from the middle of the crossbar.  Both are represented in the modern Russian font by Я.  Note also that when it appears at the end of the first word, yavisya, it appears like this:

That is because the left I of the IA combination is made much smaller, and inserted into the space in the preceding letter, C.  Together, these form –sya.

Also note that in the name Aleksandr, the following Slavic letter is used for the –ks– sound, like our x in English Alexander.  In the modern Russian font it would be written as КС


Finally, the second part of Alexandr’s name — Svirskiy — is written here in the “to” form as Svyerskomu, using that convenient letter for –ye– that was dropped from the modern Russian font:

Don’t be surprised that the writer chose the ye sound instead of the normal i sound to write Svirsk– as Svyersk-.  Such variations in spelling are not unusual in icons.  And notice that the Р (r) in Svyersk– is written smaller and above the letter.

So, all together the title inscription is:

Appeared Holy         Trinity     Venerable-to            Aleksandr   Svyersk
Or in normal English,
Note the dative (or “to” form) suffixes on Prepodobnomu, Aleksandr and Svyerskomu.

If we look above Alexandr’s head (he is the fellow kneeling at the right in the image), we see his name written:

It appears as:

“Venerable Alexander”

So much for the title.  But what is this icon type about?

The three angels at left are the members of the Holy Trinity –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — though they are not distinguished as to which is which:

And, of course, here is Alexandr Svirskiy:

Alexandr Svirskiy (1448-1533) was one of the monks of the northern Russian forests — the so-called “Northern Thebaid.”  He is called Svirskiy because he settled some 12 miles east of Lake Ladoga, in the vicinity of the Svir River, which runs between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga. There he led an ascetic and rigorous life.  It is said that in 1508 an angel appeared to him, telling him to build a church and a monastery.  He did not do so.  Later, the angel again appeared, repeating the  instructions.  Again he did not.  Finally (here again is the “third time is the charm” motif we find repeatedly in these old tales of saints and icons) the Trinity appeared to him as three men in shining garments, each with a staff in hand, telling him to build a monastery and a church in the name of the Holy Trinity (Svyataya Troitsa).  This of course recalls the appearance of Yahweh, manifested as three men, to the patriarch Abraham on the plains of Mamre, according to the Old Testament story in Genesis 18.

That is the traditional account of the origin of the Trinity Cloister at what is now called the Alexandr Svirskiy Monastery (Александро-Свирский монастырь).  A body said to be that of Alexandr, and reputed to be “incorrupt” and to manifest miracles, was returned to that monastery in 1998.


I have mentioned before that Nikolai/Nicholas is one of the most common icon saints, and also one of the easiest to recognize.  Here is a well-painted example from the year 1908:

(Courtesy of

One of the things that always amused me about icons of Nicholas is that his head down to the lips is a circle.  Have you noticed that?  Look at it:

(Courtesy of

To paint Nicholas, all the iconographer had to do in beginning was to make a large circle for the main part of the head, and then add a smaller, partial circle to the base of that for the bearded portion.

The smaller, lower circle is sometimes not quite so obvious, either because of the shaping of the beard added over it, or because the painter was a bit more adventurous.  But if we look at the following example, the lower portion of the face (with beard) is quite obviously just a smaller circle imposed upon the larger to form the structure of the face of Nicholas:

(Courtesy of

Now let’s return to the first example.  As you know, Nicholas is known in Russian iconography as Nikolai Chudotvorets — “Nicholas the “Wonderworker.”  A “wonder” (чудо/chudo) is a miracle.  It is the Slavic equivalent of Greek θαύμα/thauma, so in Greek a wonderworker is a θαυματουργός/thaumatourgos. We can see that Chudotvorets (Чудотворец) title written on the right side of the image:


One often finds little variations in spelling (usually phonetic), such as the use here of Ю (the “iu” sound) instead of У (the “oo” sound) — often written as the combined o and у:

You will remember that in this “Nicholas of Velikoretsk” type, Jesus is seen at left with the Gospel book he gave to Nicholas, and Mary at right with her donation, his bishop’s stole (Russian omofor, Greek omophorion).

Now this Nicholas icon (the first example shown on the page) is painted considerably “fancier” than most.  And the inscription, instead of calling Nicholas Svyatuiy (Holy) Nikolai Chudotvorets, instead uses the Greek equivalent Άγιος/Hagios, though the rest of the title is written in Church Slavic.

Not only that, this icon in giving the standard Gospel text for Nicholas on the book he holds, actually identifies it in smaller letters at the top of the text, which is rather unusual in such icons.  It says on the left page:

Еvангелiе от луки
Evangelie ot luki
Gospel  of/from Luke

And on the right:
зачало к д е
Zachalo k d  e

Зачало/zachalo in Church Slavic means literally “beginning,” but it also has the sense here of an extract or quote from the Bible.  It is the equivalent of the term pericope (pronounced puh-RI-cuh-pee) used in biblical studies.

But what about the к д  (we can omit the “e” for now)?  Well, as you may recall, Church Slavic letters can also be used as numbers.  And note that on the icon, there is a curved line above the кд.  That means it is to be read as the number 24.  The problem, however, is that the text given is not from Luke 24, but rather is Luke 6:17.  So did the writer of this icon text get it wrong?  No, because here he is not going by the verse numbering of the Bible, but rather by the numbering of Gospel excerpts from the Lectionary, the book of readings to be used at various services during the Church year.  This is one of those tricky little things about icons involving the complex Eastern Orthodox liturgical books, and believe me, that subject gets really boring fast, so no need for details here.  Just remember that in the Eastern Orthodox Church services, there is another numbering system for Gospel texts other than that found in the Slavic Bible.  And in that system, this common Lukan excerpt is “Zachalo/Pericope 24″:

Here is how it is arranged on the pages (with a literal translation).
Во время оно                At time that
ста Исус на ме-            stood Jesus on [a] pl-
сте равне и                   ace level and
народ ученик                crowd of disciples
Его, и множе-                of him, and a multi-

-ство много                   -tude of many
людей от всея                people of all
Иудеи и Иерусали-        Judea and Jerusale-
ма, и помория                -m, and the coast
Тирска и Сид[онска]….  of Tyre and Sid[on]…..

The date inscription is found at the base:

It is given in an imitation of much earlier writing.  It says:
“This holy image was painted in the year 1908, the month of February, finished on the 15th day.”



Today’s icon type is based upon a phrase from Psalm 150.

Here it is, from the King James Version, with the relevant phrase in bold type:

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:

In Church Slavic the phrase (and the title of this icon type) is:

Всякое дыхание да хвалит Господа.
Vsyakoe duikhanie da khvalit Gospoda

Vsyakoe means “All.”
Duikhanie means “things that breathe.”
And then comes that construction I advised you to remember for your basic knowledge of Church Slavic — da, followed by a verb.  You may recall that it has the sense of “may it be,” “let it be.”  So if we combine that with the next word,
Khvalit — meaning “to praise,” we get the meaning “let praise.”  Gospoda of course means “[the] Lord.”

So the meaning of Vasyakoe duikanie da khvalit Gospoda is literally,
“Let All That Breathe Praise the Lord,”
or as it is often rendered,
“Let All That has Breath Praise the Lord.”

And that is the title of this icon type.  It is sometimes called ХВАЛИТЕ ГОСПОДА С НЕБЕС — Khvalite Gospoda S Nebes — “Praise the Lord from the Heavens,” words taken from Psalm 148:1.

At the top, in the starry heaven, we see Jesus enthroned, holding the open Gospels, and surrounded by angels.  Below him, Mary stands at left, with more angels, and at right is John the Forerunner, also with angels.

Below them are rows of saints (note the halos), and below them crowds of more ordinary people (without halos).

Around the stylized hill in the center, with its rather abstract trees, we see flights of delightfully-speckled birds, and on and below the hill is an assortment of various kinds of animals and birds, ending with geese swimming in the pool at the base.

This is an easy type to recognize:  just look for all the birds and creatures.

Here is another example from the 16th century:




In the third quarter of the 17th century, and under the influence of Western European  religious engravings, icons of the type called Otche Nash — “Our Father” — began to appear in Russia, first in the Armory School of Moscow, then elsewhere.  Icons of this type were never common, and those one finds are somewhat variable in the scenes included.

Here is an example from 1813, painted in the village of Pavlovo na Oke, in Nizhny Novgorod Province:

(Private Collection)
(Private Collection)

Let’s examine the rather formidable-looking Church Slavic inscription at the top:

It reads (put into the modern Russian font):


As I have said many times, one does not have to learn the whole Church Slavic language in order to read the great percentage of icon inscriptions.  They are very repetitive, so a vocabulary of words commonly used in such inscriptions proves surprisingly useful in the number of icons one is able to read.  So don’t waste your time trying to learn the whole language unless you want to go deeply into Slavic studies; learn something else that is pleasant, like Italian, or Romanian, or anything reasonably practical or pleasant.

How then, are we going to translate that long-looking icon inscription?  Well, it is not really as intimidating as it looks, and here’s why:  We already know it is an icon of the “Lord’s Prayer” — Otche Nash.  That is a huge clue, because if we look at the first two words of the inscription, we see they are precisely that — OTCHE NASH.

To translate the remainder of the inscription all we have to do is look at the “Lord’s Prayer” in Church Slavic, and here it is:


I will transliterate and translate it rather literally:

OTCHE             NASH”     IZHE      ESI      NA   NEBESYEKH”     DA    SVYATITSYA
FATHER           0F-US       WHO      IS        IN   [the] HEAVENS   MAY-BE    MADE-HOLY
Note:  Previously, we have seen otche in the form otets — “father.”  when da (the common Russian word for “yes”) is followed by a verb in Church Slavic as here, it takes on the sense of “may it be…”  “let it be…” — so “Da Svyatitsya” means basically “let it be made holy” — “May it be sanctified.”  You already know its root Svyat, meaning “holy.”  This “da + verb” usage is known as the “optative” form, which expresses a wish that something may be so.  Izhe means literally “which,” but we can say “who” here.

IMYA             TVOE       DA     PRIIDET”         TSARSTVIE      TVOE:    DA    BUDET”
NAME         OF-YOU   MAY    COME            KINGDOM         OF-YOU MAY BE
Note:  There are two “da” form phrases in this line:  da priidet” — “may [it] come,” and da budet”, “may [it] be.”

VOLYA           TVOYA      IAKO       NA     NEBESI        I     NA     ZEMLI.        KHLEB”
WILL          OF-YOU      AS            IN     HEAVEN      ALSO    ON    EARTH        BREAD
Note:  Notice that the word i, normally meaning “and”, means “also” in this line.  “As in heaven [so] also on earth.”

NASH”          NASOUSHCHNUIY  DAZHD’        NAM”       DNES’        I       OSTAVI
OF-US          NECESSARY           GIVE             US      TODAY      AND       FORGIVE

NAM”              DOLGI        NASHYA      IAKOZHE      I        MUI        OSTAVLYAEM”

US                   DEBTS      OUR            JUST-AS      ALSO  WE        FORGIVE

DOLZHNIKOM”                      NASHUIM”:           I       NE     VVEDI           NAS”      VO

DEBTORS                               OF-US               AND   NOT    LEAD          US        INTO

ISKOUSHENIE             NO    IZBABI          NAS”   OT    LOUKAVAGO       AMIN’

TEMPTATION           BUT      DELIVER        US     FROM [the] EVIL-ONE   AMEN”

So we can see that the title inscription at the top of the icon reads basically, “Our Father, who is in the heavens, may your name be made holy, may your kingdom come….

In the icon shown above, each scene depicts part of the prayer:

Here is : “Our Father, who is in the heavens…”

“Let your name be made holy”

“May your kingdom come…”

“May your will be done on earth as in heaven…”

“Give us this day our necessary bread…”

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”

“And lead us not into temptation…”

“But deliver us from the Evil One.”

The very last and astronomical scene has the text of Psalm 103:24 (104:24 KVJ):


“How manifold are your works, Lord; in Wisdom all is made.”


Today we shall look at a very uncommon icon type.  Why then discuss it?  Because uncommon types are the “spice” of the subject of iconography — something that catches our interest after seeing countless copies of such common icon types as the “Kazan” Mother of God and the “Lord Almighty.”  But there is also another reason to look at it.  Its title gives us more words to add to our practical Slavic vocabulary for reading icons.

This icon is Russian, from the 16th century.  We might guess it is early,  because instead of having the usual one-piece riza (metal cover), it has the kind of ornate frame-shaped covering called a basma ((басма) around its outer edges.  A basma is composed of sheets of embossed or engraved metal nailed to the surface of an icon.  Use of the basma faded out near the end of the 17th century, when it was gradually replaced by the one-piece metal cover called a riza (literally “robe”).  A riza was usually fastened to an icon by nails inserted at the outer sides of the wooden panel, but a basma was just nailed right onto the icon surface, which is why we often find nail holes in the surface of very old icons where a basma cover was once placed.

Note the added metal halos nailed onto the icon above the figures at both sides of the lower portion.

The common title of this icon type (which begins in the larger inscription seen near the top of the basma), is:


Videnie means “vision.”

Proroka is the “of” form of prorok, “prophet.”

Iezekiilya is the “of” form of Iezekiil’ (Иезекннль)  the name Ezekiel.

Na means “on/at.”

Reke is a form of reka, “river.”

Khovar is the name of the river, called Chebar in the King James translation of the Bible.

So the title all together means:


The text relating to this icon type comes from the first chapters of the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  Here are some relevant excerpts:

Now it happened in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God…

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.

And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.

And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.  And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.  As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you. 2And the spirit entered into me when he spoke unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spoke unto me.

And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that you find; eat this roll, and go speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.  And he said to me, Son of man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

So that is basically it.  The man on the throne in Ezekiel’s vision becomes the image of Christ Immanuel in the icon itself.  And down below, Ezekiel is seen standing on the left side, observing the vision.  He is seen a second time at the lower right side, eating the scroll (“roll”) that is being handed down to him from Heaven.

The fluffy things at both sides of the circles enclosing Christ Immanuel are stylized clouds, showing that portion is in the sky.  Then come the stylized rocks representing the ground, and in the middle of the bottom portion is stylized water, representing the river Chebar.

Having said all that, perhaps you may remember that in a much earlier post on the icon type called the “All-Seeing Eye of God,” we also find Ezekiel and his vision of wheels within wheels, and his eating of the scroll, in the more elaborate versions of that type, also known as the “Coal of Isaiah.”

Here is a 17th century fresco image of the Immanuel portion alone, from the Slivnitsa Monastery in Macedonia:


The Slavic inscription at the top is taken from the Marian hymn “In you rejoices” of which this image is presented as a part in the monastery representation:

” …Младенецъ бысть, прежде векъ сый Богъ нашъ, ложесна бо твоя Престолъ сотвори́,.”

“…of whom God was incarnate, and became a child, before the ages, even our God; for of thy body a throne He made….”

In Greek, the subject is called Το όραμα του Ιεζεκιήλ/To horama tou Iezekiel.  One finds Greek-influenced Bulgarian examples in which the lower figure to the right of the river is the Prophet Abbakoum/Habbakuk, as in this 14th-century example from Thessaloniki, in the Sophia Icon Museum:


And here it is in an earlier mosaic form, from the Church of Hosios Dabid/David in Thessaloniki, variously dated from the 5th to the 7th century:


The text on the scroll held by Jesus is a variation on the text of Isaiah 25:9-10 in the Septuagint version:


“Behold our God on whom we hope, and rejoiced in our salvation, for he will give rest upon this house.”

Scholars are not unanimous on the meaning of this mosaic.  Some interpret the waters in it as the Four Rivers of Paradise, and think that the “Vision of Ezekiel on the River Chebar” significance that is quite clear in later images of the type may have been an interpretation that developed out of an earlier image of Jesus from the Apocalypse (4:3):

And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardius: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald.

The rainbow association is as we have see, however, already found in Ezekiel 1:28:

As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.