TWO EUCHARISTIC ICON TYPES

Today we will take a look at two Eucharistic types  — more of those “mystic-didactic” icons that became prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The first is titled “Let All Human Flesh be Silent.”  The title is taken from this excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil, used in the Eucharistic celebration on Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in place of the usual “Cherubic Hymn.”

Да молчит всякая плоть человеча, и да стоит со страхом и трепетом, и ничтоже земное в себе да помышляет; Царь бо царствующих, и Господь господствующих, приходит заклатися и датися в снедь верным. Предходят же Сему лицы ангельстии со всяким Началом и Властию, многоочитии Херувими, и шестокрилатии Серафими, лица закрывающе, и вопиюще песнь: Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя.

Let all human flesh be silent, and let it stand with fear and trembling, and let itself consider nothing earthly; for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes forth to be sacrificed and given as food to the believers; and there go before him the choirs of Angels, with every Dominion and Power, many-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and singing out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

What we see in the 16th century example above is the so-called “Great Entrance,” when the clergy bring the bread and wine to be placed upon the altar.  We see the “Three Hierarchs” — Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom and Basil the Great standing by the altar.  The procession coming from the left side is led by a deacon with a candle, followed by another holding a chalice (potir in Slavic) and a censer (kadilo in Slavic).  Behind him comes a bishop holding a diskos above his head.  That is the vessel on which the liturgical bread lies — represented in the icon by the body of Christ Immanuel (Jesus as child or youth).  The asteriskos (the open metal  support for the covering cloth) that represents the Star of Bethlehem is over it.  The last person in the procession holds aloft the aer (vozdukh in Slavic) — the covering cloth that will lie upon the asteriskos (zvezditsa in Slavic) to cover the diskos.  In the air above, we see various ranks of angels — cherubim, seraphim, thrones (the names “Dominion” and Power”  in the liturgical excerpt represent ranks of angels).  We also see other familiar figures, among them apostles and John the Forerunner (with wings), as well as the Repentant Thief Rakh holding his cross.  The crowds of  people without halos in the foreground represent the “All Human Flesh” that is supposed to be silent.  God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) is at upper left, with the Holy Spirit as a dove proceeding from him.  The general idea of the icon is that the ranks of angels are present and participating invisibly in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Here is another “Stroganov School” example from the 17th century:

damolchitstrog17theeuw_1

(Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Here is a rather more elaborate 17th century version of the same type, showing the ranks of angels separated into different circles, along with many more saints of various kinds:

The other Eucharistic icon type we will look at today is “Who Mystically Represent the Cherubim,” a title which is taken from the so-called “Cherubic Hymn” of the liturgy.  This hymn is the one ordinarily sung during the liturgy, but on Holy Saturday it is replaced, as we have seen, by the “Let All Human Flesh be Silent” version.

Иже херувимы тайно образующе,
и Животворящей Троицѣ трисвятую пѣснь припѣвающе,
Всякое нынѣ житейское отложимъ попеченіе.
Яко да Царя всѣхъ подъимемъ,
ангельскими невидимо дориносима чинми.
Аллилуіа

“[We] who cherubim mystically represent
And to the Life-bearing Trinity the “Thrice Holy” hymn sing,
All cares of life let us now put aside
So we may receive the Tsar of all,
By invisible ranks of angels escorted.
Alleluia.

The “Thrice Holy” hymn is of course the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of Isaiah 6:1-3:

And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory.  And seraphim stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

We see the Cherubic Hymn written in Slavic across the top of this example, a 16th century icon from the Annunciation Cathedral in the city of Solvuichegodsk (Сольвычегодск):

(Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

In the top circle — surrounded by angels — is the Otechestvo — the “Fatherhood” — showing God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) with Jesus as Immanuel on his lap.  Below him is Jesus robed as the Great High Priest, celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy, surrounded by angels and saints.  At his far left and far right, angels perform the Proskomedia — the preparation of the bread and wine for the Eucharist.  At lower left we see angels forming the procession of the Great Entry, and Jesus again at the lower center.  The figures without halos at lower right are said to represent the wealthy Stroganov family, patrons of the Solvuichegodsk Cathedral.

 

DOUBLED JESUS: THE “COMMUNION OF THE APOSTLES” TYPE

In an earlier posting, we looked at the Tainaya Vechera type — the “Mystic Supper,” which is the form in which the “Last Supper” is commonly presented in Eastern Orthodox iconography.  I also briefly mentioned a related type:  the “Communion of the Apostles.”  In Greek it is generally called  Η ΘΕΙΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (He Theia Koinonia) “Holy Communion,” and in Slavic  Причащения Апостолов — Prichashcheniya Apostolov. the “Communion of the Apostles.”  It depicts Christ standing at an altar, giving communion to the Apostles, who approach from left and right.  Christ is generally shown twice, at left in the so-called metadosis (imparting) of the bread, and at right in the so-called metalepsis (partaking) of the wine. This represents Christ giving the communion in and to the Church on earth — the Church as one related communion.

Here is a rather basic pattern of the type.  instead of the room of the last supper, it is a church; and instead of the table with the Apostles around it, there is an altar (shown twice in this example), often with a canopy above it.  In the finished icon, Jesus would be holding bread at left, and a chalice (or sometimes a jug) at right:

When inscriptions are present in this type (which may be found in churches above the “Tsar Doors” to the altar or on the wall of the eastern apse) they are generally these texts from Matthew 28 in Church Slavic (in Slavic regions) or Greek (in Greek-speaking areas):

Slavic, at left:
Прiими́те, яди́те: сié éсть тѣ́ло моé
Priimite, yadite: cie est’ tyelo moe

Greek, at left:
Λάβετε φάγετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.
Labete phagete, touto estin to soma mou.

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

Slavic, at right:
Пíйте от­ нея́ вси́:  сiя́ бо éсть крóвь моя́, нóваго завѣ́та, я́же за мнóгiя изливáема во оставлéнiе грѣхóвъ.
Piite ot neya vxi: siya bo est’ krov’ moya, novago zavyeta, yazhe za mnogiya izlevaema vo ostavlenie gryekhov.

Greek, at right:
Πίετε ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν·
Piete ex autou pantes, touto gar estin to haima mou tes diathekes to peri pollon ekkhunnomenon eis aphesin hamartion.

“Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

In some examples, one may find an excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil:
(Slavic here)

Нас же всех, от единаго Хлеба и Чаши причащающихся, соедини друг ко другу во единаго Духа Святаго причастие.

“Unite us all, who receive of one bread and chalice, one with another in the communion of one Holy Spirit.”

In the basic pattern shown on this page, the number of apostles included is indistinct.  But commonly there are eleven, six at left and five at right.  You may recall that in the New Testament, there are twelve until the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  In this icon type, Judas is generally omitted, because this is a liturgical icon showing a scene “in eternity” as the saying goes,  and Judas is not considered part of that eternal celebration.  Nonetheless, some painters included Judas, who may be shown turning away, or even in some examples with a black halo to distinguish him from the “accepted” apostles.

A EUCHARISTIC IMAGE AND MORE ON READING GREEK

When we think of Greek Eucharistic icons, we commonly think first of the standard type called Ο ΜΥΣΤΙΚΟΣ ΔΕΙΠΝΟΣ, Ho Mystikos Deipnos, — “The Mystic Supper.” It represents the institution of the Eucharist, what Protestants commonly call “The Lord’s Supper,” the same event depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “Last Supper” painting. It shows Jesus seated at a table with his apostles.

There are, however, other Greek Eucharistic types. There is the elaborate ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ (Theia Leitourgia), “Divine Liturgy,” which shows the liturgy being celebrated in heaven by Christ robed as a bishop, though with bare head; look for standing angels as identifying elements in this type. Instead of being seated at a table, Jesus stands, and is generally depicted twice.

There is also the similar Η ΘΕΙΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (He Theia Koinonia) “Holy Communion” type, which we generally call “The Communion of the Apostles.” It too depicts Christ standing at an altar, giving communion to the apostles, who approach from left and right. Again Christ is shown twice, at left in the so-called metalepsis of the wine, and at right in the so-called metadosis of the bread. This represents Christ giving the communion in and to the Church on earth.

I will probably discuss those latter two types in a future posting.

Today, however, we are going to look at an uncommon allegorical icon of the Eucharist that is apparently borrowed from a Western prototype. It shows Christ with blood spurting from his side into a chalice at left, and on the right his fingers rest on the eucharistic bread, which is stamped with the word NIKA, meaning “He conquers”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The chalice and bread are the chalice of wine and loaf of bread used in the Eucharist rite, which Eastern Orthodoxy considers to be also the blood and body of Christ (a notion that relates it to the mystery religions popular in the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity’s founding).

Here is the inscription on the banner below Jesus:

It reads:

ΛΑΒΕΤΑΙ ΦΑΓΕΤΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΕCΤΙ ΤΟ CΟΜΑ ΜΟΥ
ΠΙΕΤΑΙ ΕΞ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΤΕC TOYTO ECTI TO AIMA MOY

Labetai phagetai touto esti to soma mou
Pietai ex autou pantes touto esti to [h]aima mou

“Take, eat, this is the body of-me
Drink of it all [of you], this is the blood of-me”

The inscription is borrowed from Matthew 26:26-28:

Ἐσθιόντων δὲ αὐτῶν λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ δοὺς τοῖς μαθηταῖς εἶπεν,
Λάβετε φάγετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.
καὶ λαβὼν ποτήριον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων,
Πίετε ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessing, he broke it and gave it his disciples, saying:
‘Take, eat, this is my body’;
And taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying:
‘Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.
‘”

You perhaps noticed that the calligrapher arranged the words of the inscription in an odd way. Here is how he did it (in transliteration):

LABE TAI PHAGE TAI TOU TOESTI TOSOMAMOU
PIE TAI E XAU TOU PAN TES TOU TOESTI TOAI
MA MOU

Compare that with how it should be read:

LABETAI PHAGETAI TOUTO ESTI[N] TO SOMA MOU
PIETAI EX AUTOU PANTES TOUTO ESTI[N] TO [H]AIMA MOU

You can see that the calligrapher has used some ligatures, which you must learn to recognize if you want to read Greek icon inscriptions.

First, he has joined the letters S and T in this form:

Next, he joins the Greek Y (u) and O like this, placing the Y atop the O:

He also joins the A and N (as in the word pantes, meaning “all”):

Be sure to notice the very little mark that looks like an apostrophe above the first letter A in the word [H]AIMA, meaning “blood”:

When it is written like a crescent with the opening facing the right, as it is here, it signifies what was called the “rough” breathing in ancient Greek. It means simply that you add an “h” to the beginning of the word if you want to pronounce it as in ancient Greek. In later Greek, however (including icon inscriptions), that “h” was no longer pronounced; it was silent. But the Greeks still often wrote it in, as in this inscription, though frequently it is omitted on upper case letters.

Notice also that the calligrapher has written the word “this” — TOYTO (touto)– in two ways; in one he writes it without a ligature:

But the second time he writes the same word with the ligature combining the O and Y (u):

Finally, just a reminder that it is very common in Greek inscriptions to see “S” written as C. That is how it is written in today’s example. But later Greek icons may instead use the form Σ. When written in lower case letters, “s” at the beginning or within a word is written as σ; but at the end of a word it becomes ς.