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:
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.
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:
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 чудесами — Raspyatie 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:
НЕ СУДИХЪ БО ВЕДЕТИ ЧТО ВЪ ВАСЪ ТОЧИЮ ИИСУСА ХРИСТА И СЕГО РАСПЯТА NE SUDIKH BO VYEDYETI CHTO V VAS TOCHIIU IISUSA KHRISTA I SEGO RASPYATA “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.
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.
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 ).
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, menaing “[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:
АГГЛИ Г[ОСПО]ДНИ 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:
Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”
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:
СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ SUIN” BOZHIY
“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:
КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛАНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLANAEMSYA VLADIKO
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:
И СВЯАТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM”
…And your holy resurrection we-praise
“…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:
МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ MESTO LOBNOE
РАЙ БЫСТЬ RAI BUIST’
[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
ГОРА ГОЛГОФА GORA GOLGOFA
“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
abbreviating ГОЛОВА АДАМА GOLOVA ADAMA
[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:
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
“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 and scourge of demons” (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins — Festal Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
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:
Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”
СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”
IСУСЪ ХРИСТОС ISUS” KHRISTOS
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 “ark” cross ( Киотный Крест — Kiotnuiy 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.
Eastern Orthodoxy has been generally suspicious of statuary — of images in three dimensions. Historically, statues are not entirely absent. Even as early as the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, such three-dimensional images existed in Christianity. But over time — and particularly after the Iconoclastic period — Eastern Orthodox art has tended to avoid the use of religious statuary. But one does encounter icons in relief, carved into stone, cast into metal, impressed in clay or carved in wood.
That is why one sometimes finds wooden relief icons of one kind or another in Russian iconography, though they are in general more scarce than painted icons.
Wood carving has been a part of Russian folk art since pre-Christian times, and when one finds carved icons in the 18th and 19th centuries, they still have much the appearance of folk art objects, though they were used just as were painted icons.
Here is a carved wooden icon depicting the Crucifixion. It is depicted as though in a church interior, which is why we see seven church domes above it:
We see the usual figures found in painted Crucifixion icons — Jesus in the center, his mother Mary and another Mary at left, and at right the disciple John and the Centurion Longinus (Login Sotnik). Even the inscriptions are carved in wood, and considerable time must have been required for such detail. When the carving was finished, the icon was painted in suitable colors and then varnished. The surface has oxidized and aged over the years, which is why the surface now has a rather dark appearance:
Each figure has its title inscription, and above Jesus we see the usual inscription, written here as IНЦI, abbreviating “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” And at the sides of his head is the common IC XC, abbreviating “Jesus Christ.”
Most notable, however, is the very long carved text in the outer borders of the icon. The novice student of Russian icons might at first despair of determining what it signifies, but one should always keep in mind that icon inscriptions tend to be very repetitive. Also, certain texts tend to be associated with certain images. Given that, can we possibly make any sense out of all those hundreds of letters carved without punctuation or even separation into individual words?
Fortunately, it is not as difficult as it looks. In fact if you have read the earlier postings on this site, you will already have been given the key to translating it.
What does one do with such an unfamiliar inscription? One first looks for the familiar, whether in words or phrases. And if we go to the beginning of the text, which is at the upper left corner, we can begin to work with it. In general the starting point in most icons for a sequence of images or a long text is at upper left:
That is a bit dark, so it would be helpful to brighten the image to add clarity, like this:
We can now see, looking carefully, that the inscription begins with these letters:
Where have we seen that before? The most logical place to look is in materials dealing with Crucifixion images. You may recall that some time ago I did a posting titled “The Instant Expert on Russian Crosses“:
In that article, I gave the standard inscriptions associated with the Crucifixion type. And among them, you will find this:
Da Voskresenet’ Bog’ i Razuidyutsya Vrazi Ego, I da Byezhat’ Ot’ Litsa Ego Vsi Nenavidashchey ego…
ДА ВОСКРЕСЕНЕТЪ БОГЪ И РАЗЫДУТСЯ ВРАЗИ ЕГО И ДА БЕЖАТЪ ОТЪ ЛИЦА ЕГО ВСИ НЕНАВИДЯЩЕЙ ЕГО…
“Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomy Kresty — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”
Now one thing we will notice about the form of the text on this icon is that its wording in Church Slavic is a bit different than the standard Russian Orthodox version. That is because this icon uses the old text, not the revised wording used by the State Church after the separation from the Old Believers. That tells us this is an Old Believer icon, and indeed such carved relief icons tend to be found more commonly among Old Believers than in the State Church.
Here is the Old Believer text:
Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его, яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут, яко тает воск от лица огня,тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменающихся крестным знамением, и да возвеселимся рекуще: радуися, Кресте Господень, прогоняя бесы силою на Тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Исуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго, и поправшаго силу диаволю, и давшаго нам Крест Свой Честныи на прогнание всякаго супостата. О Пречестныи и Животворящии Кресте Господень, помогай ми, с Пресвятою Госпожею Богородицею и со всеми святыми небесными силами, всегда и ныне и присно и во веки веком, аминь.
And here is the text as found in State Church prayer books:
Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его. Яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут; яко тает воск от лица огня, тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменующихся крестным знамением, и в веселии глаголющих: радуйся, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень, прогоняяй бесы силою на тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Иисуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго и поправшаго силу диаволю, и даровавшаго нам тебе Крест Свой Честный на прогнание всякаго супостата. О, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень! Помогай ми со Святою Госпожею Девою Богородицею и со всеми святыми во веки. Аминь.
You can see that there are some differences, but not enough to prevent us from recognizing the text in both cases. Do not be intimidated by this. All it means for practical purposes is:
If the beginning words read:
Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его… then we know it is likely an Old Believer icon. But if we see the text beginning like this:
Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатсяврази Его… then we know it is a State Church image.
Keep in mind that one need not be concerned about minor differences in spelling, but differences in wording help us to distinguish icons of the Old Believers from those of the State Church in Russia after the latter part of the 17th century. One can even see slight differences between the form of the text used on the carved icon and that given above as the Old Believer form of the full prayer. The reason is that the text on the icon more closely follows the spelling used in the Ostrog Bible (Острожская Библия ) — the first complete printed Church Slavic Bible in the corrected edition of 1581.