Here is another multiple icon.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

Long-time addicts — I mean readers — on this site should be able to identify both top images as well as that at lower right, because they have all been discussed here previously.  And you do remember everything I have posted here in the last nine-plus years, don’t you?

Well, in case you do not, I will talk about them briefly.

At upper left we see this:

The title inscription at top is heavily abbreviated.  It reads:




It depicts the story from the New Testament in two scenes:  the beheading of John at left, and the presentation of the head on a salver to Salome at right.

Now this icon type had a special meaning for Old Believers.  They saw it not only as relating to John, but also as a symbol that with the great schism in the Russian Church in the mid-1600s, the head had been cut off the “true” Orthodox Church, which of course the Old Believers considered to be themselves, and not the State Orthodox Church, which they saw as an heretical usurper.  It is said that some Old Believer iconographers even depicted the executioner of John with features quite like those of Peter the Great, who was notorious for the wanting all Russian men to cut their beards — though he eased up a bit eventually and let men keep their beards if they paid a beard tax.  Now this may seem odd to us, but in the Russia of that time — and particularly among the Old Believers — beards were seen as essential to a grown male, and to shave off the beard was not only thought sinful but also lascivious, because it made men too sexually attractive, even to other men.  So that tells us a great deal about human nature and the flexibility of gender roles.

One sometimes sees related but similarly gory icons of just the head of John on a salver.  When I met a young icon painter in an Old Believer community many years go, that was the first of his works that he showed me.  Here is an example of such an icon:

That icon type also had a special significance for Old Believers.  Praying before it was a kind of folk remedy for headaches.

The second icon type on the multiple icon is this:

The title inscription reads:

I have discussed Resurrection icons in great detail in this previous posting, and everything in the image above is explained in it:

Now we will jump to the image at lower right, and leave the “saints” quarter for later.  Here the Marian icon is, with its title inscription below it:

It reads:


It is discussed in this previous posting:

Gee, maybe if I keep this up, and can just eventually refer you all to previous postings instead of having to write anything more.  A lot of information accumulates in nine years.

I will point out, however, the finger position on Mary’s right hand.  By now you should recognize it as the Old Believer blessing position, and that identifies this as an Old Believer icon.

I should also mention the text inscription on the scroll held by the child Jesus:

Судъ праведенъ судите милость и щедроты творите кождо искреннему своему а вдовицы сира и пришельца и убога не насильствуйте, и злобы брата своего не вспоминайте.

It comes from Zachariah 7:9-10 (or 8-10 in Septuagint numeration). It begins with “Judge righteous judgment”:

Here is the saint’s quarter at lower left:

They are, from top left:

Kseniya Prepodobnaya/”Venerable Xenia”
Pravednaya Anna/”Righteous Anna”
Apostol Iakov/”Apostle Jacob/James”
Ioakim/”Joachim” — Anna’s husband

Here is the central Crucifixion:

Everything in it is explained in these previous postings:

You might, however, be initially puzzled by the letters below the main crossbeam:

The key to the mystery is that the inscription is heavily abbreviated, and it is read by jumping left to right, left to right, repeatedly.  When that is done, the inscription is recognized as:

NIKA, meaning “He [Christ] Conquers” (the first two letters НИ at left with the last two letters КА at right, excluding the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.”

Then come the left-right pair Р Г for Raspyatie Gospodne — “Crucifixion of the Lord.”

Then Ц С for Tsar Slavui — “King of Glory>”

Then С Б for Suin” Bozhiy — “Son of God.”

And finally the identifiers  К Т  — which usually come lower, beside the spear and sponge.  K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod, with the sponge at its top.

And here is Gospod’ Savaof/”Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father, at top center:

His fingers too are in the Old Believer blessing position.  The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is in the circle just below him.

Finally, here are the two border saints.

At left is Svyatuiy Prorok Moisey/”Holy Prophet Moses,” holding his tablets with the Ten Commandments:

At right is Svyataya Prepodobnaya Feodosiya/”Holy Venerable Theodosia.”

Now of course you noticed that the background of this icon — the svyet or “light” — is blue.  A painted svyet made the icon cheaper for the purchaser, and it also saved time for the painter or painters.



A reader requested a discussion of this detailed image:

(National Museum, Athens)

If we look in the lower right corner, we see this Latin inscription:


That really tells us a lot.  First, it reveals the name of the painter — Andreas Pavias; — Pinxit means “painted it.”  And de Candia — “of Candia”– tells us where he worked.  Candia was both the name for the island of Crete when it was a colony of the Venetian Republic, and of the island’s capital city.  So we know this is an icon from the Cretan school of icon painting.  And because we know it is by Andreas Pavias, we know also his dates — 1440 to somewhere within or near the first decade of the 1500s.  That it is written in Latin rather than Greek tells us that this image was intended for a “Latinate” customer — A Roman Catholic rather than a Greek Orthodox, and we already know that icon painters on Crete worked for both kinds of customers, and did a very large business in selling icons to Venetian buyers.

As you can see, there is a great deal of information condensed into this icon.  Let’s begin by looking at the focal center of the icon — the image of Jesus on the cross.  Around him are grieving angels, some catching his blood in chalices:

Let’s begin with the inscriptions and the upper portion of the cross:

On the titulus — the “name board” of the cross — we see the letters VNRI.  This is a variant of the standard spelling INRI — abbreviating Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  Below that — written in red letters — we see the Greek inscription identifying the image.  It is divided by the vertical beam of the cross:

We read it as:


And of course you recognize the IC XC abbreviations for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”

But look at the image just above the very top of the cross.  That is something we do not ordinarily see in Greek iconography.  It is a popular Western Christian symbol — a pelican tearing open her own breast with her beak, in order to feed the blood to her young, and thus give them life.  It is put here as a symbol of Jesus giving his blood in the Crucifixion, to give life to believers.  If you look at what is supporting the nest in which the pelican and her brood are found, it appears to be a branching coral.  In Christian symbolism, coral was associated with the blood and Passion of Jesus, which is why it was also used as a protective talisman for children.

Let’s move down to the base of the cross:

We see the blood dripping down the shaft, and a woman in grief embracing the cross.  She is Mary Magdalene.

The redemptive blood drips all the way down to the skull in a hollow below the cross.  It is the skull of Adam — the legendary first man — who was said to have been buried on the site of the Crucifixion.  This of course is a symbol for the reversal of the “Fall,” at least for Christian believers.  Below the skull we see devils/demons in Hades, upset by the redemptive act taking place above them.

We must not overlook this fellow with his long pole, at the top of which is a sponge.  He used it in giving Jesus vinegar to drink, as mentioned in Mark 15:36, Matthew 27:48, and John 19:29. :

Behind him is a soldier with a lance.  A lance was used to pierce the side of Jesus.

Just to his left (but notably on what would be the side at the right hand of Jesus) we see the distraught Mary being held up by the other women, and by the youthful-looking disciple John (called “the Theologian” in Eastern Orthodoxy):

Moving up to the top on the “right hand of Jesus” side, we find one of the malefactors crucified with Jesus — the one who supposedly repented (though not in all accounts:  see this posting:  In Latin Christianity he was called Dismas. Note that he is crucified facing the viewer.  Above him — among the grieving angels, we not only see the image of the sun, but just below it an angel holding an infant.  This is the soul of Dismas being carried to Paradise.

The man with a club, standing on the ladder, is breaking the legs of Dismas to ensure death.

If we look on the opposite side of the cross — the left-hand of Jesus side — the “sinister” side — we find the unrepentant malefactor Gestas.  Above him is the moon.  Below the moon is a winged devil, who has caught the departing soul of Gestas — again in the form of an infant —  on a long hook, and will take him off to punishment.

In contrast to the repentant Dismas, who is crucified facing the viewer, Gestas is crucified facing away.  On the ladder at left we see another man with a club, breaking the legs of Gestas, and to his right is the scene of Judas — who traditionally betrayed Jesus — hanging himself from a tree (though actually there are two discrepant Gospel accounts of how Judas died).

Returning to the lower right-hand of Jesus side, we see the dead rising from their graves, as described in Matthew 27:52-53:

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

On the “sinister” lower side of the icon, we see the soldiers who had “cast lots” for the garment of Jesus, as described in Matthew 27:35:

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.

The soldiers are dividing the cloth with a sword.  Note the three dice at the bottom of the image:

Andreas Pavia has filled the remainder of the painting with crowds of people, both on horseback and on foot.  He does this not only to show the importance of the event, but also to add visual interest for the buyer, who can take his time in looking from face to face and scene to scene, and feel he is getting his money’s worth in this very detailed icon.






Today we will look at an icon of the type generally known as the “Fruits of the Passion of Christ.”  Such icons are not common, and are generally  found as Russian examples from the latter part of the 1600s to the first third of the 1800s.  Here, however, is an icon from the Greek-speaking region that appears to be dated 1827:

(Photo courtesy of Benoit Harang)

The “Fruits of the Passion” type is the central image in this triptych, with the left and right wings depicting the different icon type known as the “Communion of the Apostles.”

The “Fruits of the Passion type” represents the benefits believed to have resulted from the crucifixon of Jesus.

(Courtesy of Benoit Harang)

The cross is shown as a blossoming “tree of life.”  Angels in the blossoms just above the crossbar hold symbols relating to the Passion, such as the crown of thorns, the pillar and scourge, and so on.  Among them is a “Not Made by Hands” depiction of Jesus on a cloth, which is actually out of place given its role in Eastern Orthodox Tradition, where it is not passion-related; but it reveals the Western influences that led to this type, because the depiction of Jesus on a cloth as the “Veil of Veronica” does relate to the Passion narrative in Roman Catholic tradition.

At left is a pillared church — representing the founding of the Christian Church.  In it stand the Evangelists Luke, Mark, Matthew and John.  A hand reaches down from a flower blossoming on the left end of the cross, and bestows a crown upon the “Church.”

Another hand reaches down from a blossom on the right side of the cross, and with a sword strikes down Death, who appears in the form of a skeleton.

At the top of the image is the Heavenly Jerusalem.  A hand reaches up from a blossom at the top of the cross to open the door to the Heavenly Jerusalem.  The hand commonly holds a key.

At lower left the dead are seen rising from their graves in the Resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus, and at lower right another hand reaches out of a blossom and strikes with a hammer at the image of Satan, shown in the form of a monster chained to the foot of the cross, and holding Judas in his grasp.  They, in turn, lie within the even larger mouth of Hades, depicted as a huge devouring monster.

The sun and moon are shown at upper left and right, as is common in “Crucifixion” icons.

Inscriptions on icons of this type vary.  This example has four scrolls near the hands of Jesus, but only those on the right are easily legible:


There we find these words:
 …Καί λογισθείς ἐν τοῖς νεκροῖς τόν ἐκεῖσε τύραννον ἔδησας..
“And you were numbered with the dead and there bound the tyrant…”
That is a line from the Greek Orthodox Matins for Great Friday.  So it is possible that the damaged inscription on the left side is what comes just before that line:
Τό χειρόγραφον ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ διέῤῥηξας, Κύριε…
“You tore up their manuscript [that is, a legal document with charges] on the cross, Lord…”
If that assumption is correct the scrolls all together would read:
Τό χειρόγραφον ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ διέῤῥηξας, Κύριε. Καί λογισθείς ἐν τοῖς νεκροῖς τόν ἐκεῖσε τύραννον ἔδησας…
In the modern Orthodox liturgy in English, that is rendered more loosely as:
“On the cross you destroyed the legal bond against us, O Lord.  You were reckoned with the dead and there did bind the tyrant…”
Icons of this “Fruits of the Passion of Christ” type (in Slavic Плоды Страданий Христовых — Plodui Stradaniy Khristovuikh) appear to have their origin in a Western-influenced engraving by Vasiliy Andreev that appeared in Moscow about 1682:

 As an engraving, it is given the title Распятие с чудесамиRaspyatie s Chudesami — “Crucifixion with Miracles.”  We can see that aside from the more numerous inscriptions, the engraving and the Greek icon shown above are very much the same.  On the Russian version, the text just below the crossbeam reads:

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  It is from 1 Corinthians 2:2.
A detail shows us an angel at left catching the blood of Christ in a chalice, with the instruments of the Crucifixion shown in a round medallion.  The angel at right has a medallion with the ladders of the crucifixion.
 At the top we see “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father — and the Holy Spirit as dove below him.  They are over the Heavenly Jerusalem, whose gates are being opened by the hand that reaches up from the cross, and holds a key:

At left is the new-founded Church with the Four Evangelists, with the hand reaching down from the cross with a crown:

Here Death, riding a white horse, is struck by a hand reaching down from the cross, wielding a sword:

You will recall that Death represented as a skeleton or corpse on a white horse is also found in the “Only-begotten Son” icon type.

Here is Satan holding Judas in the maw of Hades:

Finally, here are the two wings of the triptych shown at the top of the page.  As mentioned previously, together they form the “Communion of the Apostles” icon type:


Here is a Russian icon of the Crucifixion, as the title at the top,  РАСПЯТIЕ ГОСПОДНЕ — RASPYATIE GOSPODNE — “CRUCIFIXION OF THE LORD” tells us.   But as you can see, it is not only of the Crucifixion.  There are many secondary scenes included.

(Courtesy of

The main image, of course, is the Crucifixion:

At the very top is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which indicates this is likely a “Priestless” Old Believer image.  Below it is the cross, bearing several of the usual inscriptions — IC XC for Jesus Christ, “King of Glory,” “Son of God,” “We Honor (lit. bow before) Your Cross, Lord, and Praise Your Holy Resurrection,” and NIKA — “[He] Conquers.”  Soldiers at left and right raise the spear and the sponge atop a reed.

We see the sun and moon.  Below the sun is the inscription СОЛНЦЕ ПОМЕРЧЕ — SOLNTSE POMERCHE — “The Sun Darkens….”  And below the moon is ЛУНА В КРОВЬ ПРЕЛОЖИСЯ  = LUNA V KROV PRELOZHISYA  “The moon becomes as blood.”

At the left of the cross is the “Eden” story, showing the creation of Adam and Eve, their eating of the forbidden fruit, and being cast out of the garden:

At upper right is Noah, with the dove returning after the “worldwide” flood:

At left is the Tower of Babel — a scene not often found in Russian icons:

At right again is the sea monster vomiting up Jonah:

Then we can look to the left for the scene of Joseph having been cast into the pit by his brothers (Genesis 37:23-24).  He is called ИОСИФЪ ПРЕКРАСНЫЙ — Iosif Prekrasnuiy — “Joseph the Beautiful.”

Also on the left side, we find the birth and circumcision of Jesus:

Next — at left — we find the “Meeting in the Temple,” the reception of Jesus by the aged Simeon and the Prophetess Anna:

At right we see the baptism of Jesus by John:

Beside it is the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness:

Above that we see the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the healing of the infirm man at the Pool of Bethesda:

At lower right is the “Mystic Supper” — the “Last Supper.”

Moving back up to the right side of the Crucifixion, we see the removal of Jesus from the cross, and the placing in the tomb:

At the base of the Crucifixion we see the skull of Adam.  According to tradition, he was buried in the same place where Jesus was later crucified, and the blood ran down upon the bones.  Tradition also says that King Solomon once found the skull exposed, and out of respect for the Forefather Adam, had it covered up with stones, as seen here.   To the left of that scene is the “Western-style” Resurrection image that came into Russian iconography late, and running along the bottom and up the right side is the “Descent into Hades,” the traditional depiction of the Resurrection used in Eastern Orthodoxy.  The lower right scene in this image is the resurrected Jesus meeting his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias:

Next we move all the way to the top of the left side for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles…

And the final image — at bottom left — is the Dormition of Mary:

Because it essentially shows the basic images of the whole tale of the so-called “Plan of Salvation,” this icon could have truly been a “Bible of the poor,” as church images used to be regarded for the illiterate — except that an icon this detailed, and with so many scenes and persons, would have been rather expensive to buy when it was new — so a poor person could not have afforded it.


A reader in Croatia kindly sent me photos of this cast brass and enamel cross.

If you read my previous posting on cross inscriptions (, you will find some of that material repeated here.

First, this is a “Priestless” (Bezpopovtsy) Old Believer cross of the type called an “altar cross” (напрестольный крест — naprestol’nuiy krest).  One can tell it is a “Priestless” cross by looking at the image at the very top.  It is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus on the cloth, the so-called “Abgar” image that resulted from the old story that Jesus once pressed a cloth to his face, which became miraculously imprinted on the cloth, and was thus the first Christian icon.  If this had been a “Priested” (Popovtsy) Old Believer casting, it would instead have a top image of Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit as a dove; and it would also have the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).

(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)
(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)

Let’s take a closer look at the top of the cross:

We see the “Not Made by Hands” image, with the halo of Jesus having the HO ON inscription, meaning “He Who Is.”  Just below it is a Church Slavic inscription identifying the image:



If we join the two lines as they should be, they read:
Obraz Nerukotvorrenuiy, meaning “[the] IMAGE NOT-HAND-MADE,” or in more normal English, “The Image Not Made by Hands.”

Below that are two flying angels, bowing toward the crucified Jesus, their hands covered with cloths to show reverence.  Their abbreviated inscription reads:

ANGLI GOSPODNI (remember that a doubled Г Г is pronounced like English “ng”)
“Angels of the Lord”

And just below the two angels is the abbreviated inscription:


1 Corinthians 2:8 reads:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Now let’s look at the middle portion.  At the top, we see the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,”   Remember that while the Old Believers use the , Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]. and “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.


Below the IC XC are these words:

“Son of God.”

At left we see the sun, and beneath it is its name:

At right is the moon, with its name:

Below is a long inscription that runs all the way along the main crossbar.  We will begin with the left side:

It reads:

Cross Of-You We-Bow-Before Master, or in better English,
“We bow before your cross, Master…” (Vladiko means “Ruler,” “Master.”)
It is often translated simply, “We honor/venerate your cross, Lord…”

And it finishes on the right side:

…And your holy resurrection we-praise
More smoothly,
“…And praise your holy resurrection.”

So all together, the inscription reads:
“We bow before your cross, Master, and Praise your holy resurrection.”

It is a common text, found in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom as well as in that of Basil, and repeated in the liturgy of the Third Week in Lent, etc.

In the lower portion of the upright beam, we see at left a spear, and at right a sponge on a reed.  By the spear is the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod, with the sponge at its top.

In and near the lower crossbar, we see the walls and roofs of Jerusalem, and the letters НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”

At the base of the upright we see these letters:

М  Л
Р  Б

They abbreviate




[The] Place [of the] Skull Paradise Became

In normal English, “The Place of the Skull became Paradise.”  “Lobnoe” is often more loosely translated as “Execution” or Judgment,” but Mesto Lobnoe refers to the place commonly called Calvary in English, from the Latin Calvariæ Locus, “Skull Place.”

That leads us to the final two inscriptions.

At the sides of the base of the cross are the letters

Г  Г

They abbreviate

“Hill [of] Golgotha”

“Golgotha” ultimately derived from the Aramaic Gagultâ, meaning “skull.”
Remember that Church Slavic (like Russian) has no “th” sound, so it is replaced with the “f” sound.

Just below the base of the cross is an opening in which lies a skull.  This follows the tradition that the Crucifixion happened at the center of the earth, and that was supposedly where the biblical first man, Adam, was buried.  So the skull is that of Adam.  And at the sides of the skull are the letters

Г  А
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM

Some crosses (like this one) have a little plant at the base, a sprout of new life.

Now let’s look at the reverse inscription, which is the one most commonly found on these Old Believer brass crosses:

(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)

Though it has some variations in spelling (these are common), it is the standard text of the Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins, found also in the Prayer of the Praise of the Cross (Похвала кресту — Pokhvala krestu) — which is:

Крест хранитель всей вселенной;
Krest khranitel’ vsey vselennoy

Крест красота церковная;
Krest krasota tserkovnaya

Крест царем держава;
Krest tsarem derzhava

Крест верным утверждение;
Krest vernuim utverzhdenie

Крест ангелом слава;
Krest angelom slava

Крест бесом язва.
Krest besom yazva

“The Cross is the protector of the whole universe,
the Cross is the beauty of the Church,
the Cross is the might of kings,
the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful,
the Cross is the glory of angels,
the Cross is the scourge of demons.

(Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins — Festal Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Here is the Greek version, for those who may be interested:

Σταυρός, ὁ φύλαξ πάσης τῆς οἰκουμένης
Σταυρός, ἡ ὡραιότης τῆς Εκκλησίας
Σταυρός, βασιλέων τό κραταίωμα
Σταυρός, πιστῶν τό στήριγμα
Σταυρός, ἀγγέλων ἡ δόξα καί τῶν δαιμόνων τό τραῦμα

At the base of the inscription we see another eight-pointed cross (the Old Believers would not accept the Latin cross).  Though again the spelling is off, it has the usual abbreviations:



“Son of God.”


“Jesus Christ”

We see the letters K and T for Kopie and Trost‘ (spear and reed/rod).

Note that they have reversed the positions of the letters in the М  Л / Р  Б abbreviation for Mesto Lobnoe Ray Buist, but the meaning is the same — “The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”

Finally there are the letters Г Г for Gora Golgofa, “Hill of Golgotha.”

I mentioned earlier that the example discussed in this posting is an “altar cross.”  It is useful to know that cast metal Russian crosses are generally classified as follows:

1.  The altar cross (Напрестольный Крест — Naprestol’nuiy Krest):  it is placed on the altar beside the Gospel book.  These are the large crosses one often sees.

2. The pectoral cross (Нагрудный Крест — Nagrudnuiy Krest, or Наперсный Крест,  Napersnuiy Krest)These are the small to medium-sized crosses with a loop or hole at the top, so they may be worn on a cord or chain about the neck.  They are worn both by the clergy (priests, monks) and by certain pious people.

3.  The kiot or “arkcross ( Киотный КрестKiotnuiy Krest):  These are the crosses placed on the shelf in the “beautiful corner” of a room, along with the family icons.  They are of medium size, and have no hole or loop at the top.  They may also be taken on trips as a kind of temporary prayer focus.  They include those crosses one sees with side panels showing Martha and Mary (“Mother of God”) on the left of the Crucifixion and the Apostle John and Centurion Longinos (Login) at the right.  Kiot crosses are sometimes commonly known as “house crosses.”

4.  The body cross (Тельный крест — Telnuiy Krest):  These are the usually quite small crosses with a hole or loop at the top, worn around the neck on a cord or chain, and given to each person at baptism.  So any Russian Orthodox person wore a body cross.