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:
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.
“[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.
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):
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.