THE HEALING OF THE CENTURION’S — WELL, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Two postings back, I discussed the prevalence of slavery in the New Testament and its survival in Christianity (see https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/jesus-slaves/).  Today we will look at an interesting related issue.  Be cautioned — this requires careful reading, because it can be rather confusing — a confusion that is reflected in iconography.

There is an icon type depicting the healing story found in Matthew 8:5-13:

In it, a Roman centurion (we see him with Jesus in the above image) comes to request healing for his παῖς/pais:

“[Jesus] Having entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion [ἑκατόνταρχος/hekatontarkhos], beseeching him and saying, ‘Lord, my pais [παῖς] is lying in the house paralyzed, terribly tormented.’  And he [Jesus] says to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’

But the centurion, answering him, said, ‘Lord [Kyrie], I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only speak the word and my pais will be healed.  For even I — a man — am under authority.  I have under me soldiers, and I say to this one, Go! and he goes, and to that one, Come! and he comes, and to my slave [doulos] Do this! and he does it.’   Jesus hearing him was amazed, and said to those following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel.'”

Now the question is, what did the Centurion in the story mean by pais?  The usual English translation will say (euphemistically) that the pais here is his servant, however that is not at all clear from the context.  Indeed, when the Centurion is telling Jesus how he just gives a command and is obeyed by his soldiers, he adds that all he has to do is say to his slave (doulos) “Do this!” and the slave does it.  Now again, in most English translations, both pais and doulos are commonly and euphemistically translated as “servant.”

A doulos, however, is not a servant as we understand the term.  A doulos is quite literally a slave, and the legal property of his owner.  Pais, however, can mean a child, a boy; it can also be a term used for a male slave (just as slave owners in the American South used the term “boy” when referring to a male slave, with the appellation surviving even in post-slavery times as an implied disrespectful deprecation in the southern United States when used for men of African descent).  A pais may even signify the male sex partner of the slave owner (those who favor this interpretation point out that in New Testament times, centurions were not allowed to marry, though of course some had female sex partners).

So, was the pais of the Centurion in “Matthew” his son?  Was he asking Jesus to heal his boy?  Or was he asking him to heal his slave, and if so, why does he use pais in one place, and doulos in another, as though he is speaking of two different persons?  I will leave the “male sex partner” possibility for others to ponder.

In any case, how is it that most English translations  — given this uncertainty — render pais here as “servant” and not “boy”?

The answer is that the translators go to the parallel story in the gospel called “Of Luke.”  As you know, “Mark” is considered to be the first gospel written of the New Testament four, and both “Matthew” and “Luke” are expanded, edited versions of Mark, adding additional material (notably birth and resurrection appearance stories at beginning and end, as well as other material in the main body of the text).

Mark, however, has no tale of a centurion coming to Jesus and asking for healing.  But there is a version of the story in “Luke” 7:1-10:

“And when he [Jesus] had finished all his words in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capernaum.  And a certain slave [doulos] of a centurion was ill, about to die, who was precious to him.

And hearing about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, begging him to come cure his slave [doulon].  And coming to Jesus, they begged him earnestly, saying, ‘Worthy is he to whom he will grant this, for he loves our nation, and built a synagogue for us.’  And Jesus went with them.

And when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  Therefore I did not consider myself worthy to come to you.  But say the word, and my pais shall be healed.  For I a man am appointed under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this one, Go! and he goes, and to another, Come! and he comes, and to my slave [doulo] Do this! and he does it.’

And having heard these things, Jesus was amazed by him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I did not even find such faith in Israel.'”

Now obviously this is just a variation on the same story, though in Luke’s version, the Centurion does not himself come to Jesus, but instead sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come.   But in the Lukan version (unlike “Matthew”) it is quite clear that the Centurion’s doulos and his pais are one and the same person — his slave.  And that is why translators, reading Luke, make the Centurion’s pais in Matthew his “servant” and not his boy (though as we have seen, doulos really means “slave.”

We have, however, also seen that there are differences in the two stories, and so we cannot know for certain that the pais in Matthew was the Centurion’s slave and not his own son.

In fact the matter is only further confused if we take a look at another story, found in the gospel “Of John,” 4:46-54:

“So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official [βασιλικὸς/basilikos], whose son [υἱὸς/huios] was ill in Capernaum.

He, hearing that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, asked that he would come down and heal his son, for he was about to die.  Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.’

The royal official [basiliskos] says to him, ‘Lord [Kyrie], come down before my child [παιδίον/paidion] dies.’

Jesus says to him, ‘Go, your son [υἱός/huios] lives.’

The story continues for a few more lines, but that is the essence of it.

Now it seems this tale in “John” is just another variant of the same tale told in Matthew and Luke.  The Centurion becomes a “royal official,” and the pais of Matthew  becomes quite clearly the “son” of the official in John.  In fact when the official asks Jesus to come before his son dies, he uses the word παιδίον/paidion, which is just a diminutive form of παῖς/pais.

So that leaves us still not knowing what “Matthew” intended the pais of the Centurion to be, though it may well have been his son, as in John, and not his slave.  Luke makes it quite clear that in his story, the pais is a slave.  But in John, the official’s paidion is quite clearly his huios, his son.

Now, those brave and patient souls among you who have read all of that, will now know the confusion that lies behind the presence of two quite different images in Eastern Orthodox iconography.  We have already seen the first, which shows the Centurion beseeching Jesus to heal his pais, which is generally interpreted to be his slave by the admixture of Luke’s version of the story with that of Matthew.

John’s story, however, results in quite a different icon type, in which the Centurion (not just “royal official”) has Jesus heal his son.

Here is an example from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos:

We see Jesus and his disciples at left, and the Centurion at right, beside the bed on which his son lies.

The Greek inscription reads:

Ὁ Χριστός ιώµενος τον ὑιον του εκατοντάρχου
Ho Khristos iomenos ton huion tou [h]ekatontarkhou

“Christ Healing the Son of the Centurion.”

Now in Eastern Orthodoxy, Matthew’s tale of the healing of the Centurion’s “servant” is read on the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.  John’s tale of the Royal Official’s (“Nobleman’s”) son is read on Monday of the 3rd week In Pascha.  They are treated as two quite separate “miracles.” But in practice — including in iconography — they are often confused, as we see from the Dionysiou fresco, in which we find the Centurion (not “royal official/nobleman”) of Matthew and Luke, but the Centurion’s son (from the Gospel of John) is the one being healed, not his slave.

If your head is spinning after all that, relax, sit down, have a nice hot cup of herbal tea.

 

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COOKING WITH APPLES

You may remember the tale associated with the popular Greek female saint Irene Chrysovolantou — that the Apostle and Evangelist John sent her — via some sailors — three apples from Paradise.  You will find the story here:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/irene-and-her-apples/

This motif of the three apples from Paradise is also found in the hagiography of the saint depicted in this fresco from Meteora:

We can see enough of his title  inscription to translate it:

At the top is the usual Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC  — Ho Hagios abbreviation, meaning “[the] Saint.” Here it is represented by just the three letters O A Γ.

Then comes the name of the saint, written here as

ΕΥΦΡω
CΙΝΟς

When we join the parts, it forms Euphrosinos, but it is more commonly written as Ευφροσυνος  —  Euphrosynos.

Notice the ligature (“joining”) of the letters E and Υ (E and U in English) as:

If we look to the right of his head, we find his secondary title:

It reads

Ὁ ΜΑΓΗΡος — HO MAGIROS

The common spelling of this is Ὁ ΜΑΓΕΙΡΑC — HO MAGEIRAS, but as we know from past experience, Greek spelling on icon images often varies, though the pronunciation is usually much the same.

HO MAGIROS/MAGEIRAS — means “the cook,” so we have identified this saint as “Euphrosynos the Cook.”

The tale associated with him — his “hagiography” — relates that he worked as the cook in a kitchen in a monastery.  He took a lot of abuse from the other monks (as cooks often do from those they serve), but through it all he remained patient and humble, though the others did not think much of him.

Now as the tale goes, a priest in the monastery wanted to know what life was going to be like for the “righteous” in the next world.  He prayed fervently for God to show him.

One night the priest had a dream.  In it, he found himself in Paradise, and who should he see there but the abused cook from his own monastery kitchen!  He was quite amazed, and asked Euphrosynos how he managed to be there.  The cook replied that it was just through the goodness of God.

Surrounded by all the beauty of the Garden of Paradise, the priest asked the cook if he might have something from Paradise to take back with him.  The cook picked three juicy apples from a tree, wrapped them in a cloth, and gave them to the priest.

The priest woke suddenly when the semantron (that “gong” board used in old monasteries) was struck.  He found himself in his own room, still thinking of his strange dream.  But he smelled a wonderful fragrance, and found something wrapped in a cloth beside him.  When he opened the cloth, he found there the three apples the cook had given him in Paradise.

The priest hurried to the cook, and when he found him, he asked him where he had been the night before.  The cook replied simply that he had been where the priest had been.

The excited priest went off to tell the rest of the monks about what a holy person the cook they were always complaining about really was, but when the monks went to honor him, he was nowhere to be found, and they never saw him again.  All that was left were the three fragrant apples from Paradise.  Whoever ate them was healed of all physical problems.

Now if we look more closely at this story, we find it is severely lacking in details.  The story does not say when it happened, or precisely where.  Some say it happened in a monastery in Palestine, others say Alexandria in Egypt, and still others say it happened in a monastic community on Mount Athos in Greece.  It is just a kind of pleasant folk tale, the religious equivalent of a fairy tale (which many lives of saints actually are), and it served much the same purpose, both entertaining and teaching a lesson.

Now you know why icons of Euphrosynos picture him holding a branch with three apples on it.  And you also know why icons of Euphrosynos the Cook are commonly found in Greek monastery kitchens, and in many ordinary Greek restaurant and home kitchens as well.  Euphrosynos has become the patron saint of Greek cookery.

We have one more little detail to notice — the little cross with letters on the garment:

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that IC XC abbreviates Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ,” and the NK abbreviates the Greek word NIKA, meaning “He Conquers.”

 

TEN SUNDAYS AND THEIR ICONS

(Prepare yourself; get cup of tea and a cookie or twenty, because this is mind-numbingly long)

In the liturgical calendar of Eastern Orthodoxy, there are five pre-Lent Sundays, followed by five Lent Sundays.  There is an iconographic image associated with each.

The pre-Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography are;

FIFTH SUNDAY BEFORE:  SUNDAY OF ZACCHAEUS:
Here is a 14th century Serbian Fresco showing Jesus and his disciples at left, and at right Zaccheus up a tree.

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:

Х[РИСТО]С  ПРИЗИВАЕТЬ ЗАКХЕИ ОТ СИКОМОРIЕ
KHRISTOS PRIZIVAET ZAKKHEI OT SIKOMORIE
“Christ calls Zacchaeus out of the Sycamore.”

I have transliterated the Church Slavic inscription using a modern Russian font, but note that the original uses the old symbol for ot (meaning “out of,” “from”), which looks like a Greek omega with a small T atop it — in other words, a combination of o and t:

And in the word Sikomorie/Sycamore, it uses that same “omega” symbol — minus the T — for the letter o.

The story of the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus — a staple of Sunday School classes for little children — is found in Luke 19:1-10:

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at your house.

And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

4TH SUNDAY BEFORE: SUNDAY OF THE PUBLICAN AND THE PHARISEE:

Here is another 14th century Serbian fresco, the image for this Sunday:

The title inscription, which is rather difficult to see in this illustration, reads:

ПРИТЧА О МИТАРИ И ФАРИСЕЙ
PRITCHA O MITARI I PHARISEI
“[The] Parable of [the] Publican and [the] Pharisee.”

If you are wondering what all those brackets are about, remember that Church Slavic — like Russian, has no definite or indefinite articles — no “the” or “a,” so we have to supply them for good English.

The  short words above the two figures are just abbreviations of “Pharisee” (Фарисей; the central figure at left) and “Publican” (Митар; the central figure at right).

Note that the icon is really divided into two halves, and we see two images of the Publican and two of the Pharisee.  At left the proud Pharisee is praying and thanking God that he is not like that miserable Publican, toward whom he gestures with his left hand.  Below him is the Publican, shown humbly striking his breast with both fists.

In the right half of the icon we see the Publican, represented as the righteous one of the two by the halo that is now given him.  Notice the ray of heavenly light extending to his head.  Below him is the Pharisee, skulking out of the Temple with no halo — a sign of his divine rejection because of his pride.

In the upper portion of the image, we see the long reddish cloth hanging from building to building.  This is the velum — the old standard symbol telling us the scene is taking place in an interior.  At the center of the image is the temple altar, shown in the form of an Orthodox Church altar.

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is found in Luke 18:10-14:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

Perhaps you noted the similarity between the prayer of the Publican and the “Jesus Prayer” repeated over and over in Russian Orthodoxy:
Господи Иисусе Христе, Сыне Божий, помилуй мя, грешного.
Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, Suine Bozhiy, pomiluy mya,greshnogo
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

THIRD SUNDAY BEFORE:  SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON:

Ιcons of the Prodigal Son vary in their details and complexity.  Here is a modern page showing one Greek example:

The incriptions above the two figures in the foreground are:
Left:  ὁ άσωτος ὑιός — ho asotos huios — “the prodigal son”

In modern Greek, it is pronounced “o asotos eeos.”

Right: ὁ φιλόστοργος Πατήρ — ho philostorgos Pater — “the loving father”

At upper left the Prodigal Son is shown sitting depressed and hungry among the pigs, and at right we see him leaving the pigs and walking back to his home.

The rather lengthy and well-known story of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32.  I won’t repeat it here.

Note the signature in the lower right corner of the image.  It reads:

Χειρ φωτιου Κοντογλου
Κheir Photiou Kontoglou
“Hand [of] Photis Kontoglou”

If you are a long-time reader here (I keep saying that, don’t I!), you will not only be able to read that inscription on your own, but you will also recognize the name Photis Kontoglou (Φώτης Κόντογλου, 1895-1965).  He is noted for his 20th-century revival and adaptation of earlier iconographic styles and the creation of a new “retro” movement in modern Greek icon painting, which had a wide influence.

2ND SUNDAY BEFORE:  SUNDAY OF THE LAST JUDGMENT:

Another name for this day is “Meatfare Sunday,” because it is the last day on which believers can eat meat before Lent.

The icon for this Sunday is the Страшный суд Strashnuiy Sud — “Terrible Judgment” as the Russians call it, representing the judging of all the living and dead at the second coming of Jesus. Here is a 15th century example from Novgorod:

(Tretyakov Gallery)

Here is the link to my previous discussion of this icon type:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/terrible-judgment-iconography/

1ST SUNDAY BEFORE:  CHEESEFARE SUNDAY/EXPULSION OF ADAM AND EVE FROM PARADISE:

The icon for this day (as you might have guessed from the heading) is the “Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise”/Изгнание Адама и Евы из Рая/Izgnanie Adama i Evui iz Raya.  The tale is found in Genesis 3:22-24.

Here is a 17th century Russian example — a fresco from the portal of the Church of Nicholas Nadeina in Yaroslavl (in case you are wondering where the Nadeina comes from,  it derives from the name of the wealthy merchant who paid for its construction — Епифаний Свешников/Epiphaniy Sveshnikov, who was nicknamed  Надей/Nadey.  The church was so called to distinguish it from other St. Nicholas Churches in that city.

It depicts Adam and Eve exiting through the gate of Paradise, and an angel making sure they leave and do not return.  This image is often found in combination with other scenes relating to Adam and Eve.

The rather odd English name of this Sunday derives from the Church practice of making this the last day on which believers are allowed to eat dairy products such as cheese (as well as eggs) before the beginning of the Lenten fasting (they are already fasting from meat).    The Russian name for this day is Масленичная неделя/Maslenichnaya Nedelya — “Butter Sunday,” and the week before Lent is celebrated as МaсленицаMaslenitsa — from the Russian word for “butter” (масло/maslo).  Maslenitsa is a very old Slavic celebration dating to pre-Christian times, when it was the festival welcoming the sun and the beginning of spring.  The standard Russian food for Maslenitsa is блины/blinui/bliny — the little round thin pancakes made of flour, eggs, milk and butter or oil.  Their round shape represented the sun.

Another popular Russian name for this Sunday is Прощёное Воскресенье — Proshchonoe Voskresen’e — “Forgiveness Sunday.”

The Greeks call Cheesefare Sunday Κυριακή Της Τυροφάγου — Kyriake Tes Tyrophagou — “Sunday of Cheese-eating.”

Now we move onto the The Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography.  They are:

1ST SUNDAY:  THE TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY:

This celebrates the triumph in the year 843 c.e.  of those who favored the making and veneration of icons (the Iconophiles) over those who decried it as an unchristian survival of paganism (the Iconoclasts).  The main figures in the icon are the byzantine Empress Theodora, shown crowned at left, with her son Michael III.  In the center is the Hodegitria (“Way-shower”) icon.  To its right stand the Patriarch of Constantinople, Methodios, and Bishop Theodoros.

(British Museum)

2ND SUNDAY: ST. GREGORY PALAMAS:

As one might expect from the name, this Sunday commemorates Gregory Palamas (Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς/Gregorios Palamas, c. 1296 – 1359).  Gregory was an Athonite monk and prominent defender of Hesychasm — the meditative practice in Eastern Orthodoxy — and its theology.  He later became Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and was glorified as a saint in 1368.  Here is a 15th century Greek icon of him:

(Pushkin Museum)

The inscription is rather worn, but still legible.  The top line is read from the left to right sides, and the remainder also from left to right.  Here is the left side:

At the top is the partly-obliterated Ὁ Άγιος/Ho Hagios/”The Holy,” followed by a word divided into two parts — Αρχιεπί-σκοπος/Arkhiepiskopos/”Archbishop.”

And here is the right:

At top is the name Γρηγόριος/Gregorios/”Gregory,” followed by two divided words.  The first is Θεσσαλονί-κης/Thessalonikes/”of-Thessaloniki, and the second is  Ὁ Παλα-μάς/Ho Palamas/”the Palamas.”

If we put them together as they are meant to be read, we get:
Άγιος Γρηγόριος Αρχιεπίσκοπος Θεσσαλονίκης Ὁ Παλαμάς
Ho Hagios Gregorios Arkhiepiskopos Thessalonikes Ho Palamas
“The Holy Gregory, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, (the) Palamas”

It may seem peculiar that there is a major Sunday commemoration just for Gregory; the thinking behind it is that the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy celebrates the victory of the Iconophiles over the Iconoclasts (considered “heretics” in Eastern Orthodoxy), and Gregory’s triumph over those opposing the practice of Hesychasm similarly was another victory of what came to be considered Orthodoxy over opposing doctrines.

3RD SUNDAY: THE VENERATION OF THE CROSS:

There are two icons generally associated with this day.  The first is the same as that for the Major church feast called the “Elevation of the Cross.”  Here is a 19th century Russian example:

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

The Inscription at the top reads:
ВОЗДВИЖЕНИЕ ЧЕСТНАГО КРЕСТА ГОСПОДНЯ
VOZDVIZHENIE CHESTNAGO KRESTA GOSPODNYA
“Elevation of the Honorable Cross of the Lord.”

The icon depicts the raising of the cross on which Jesus was crucified for the veneration of the people of Jerusalem.  St. Helena — mother of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized and supported Christianity in the Roman Empire — according to legend discovered the cross of Jesus buried in Jerusalem in 326 c.e.  In the icon Helena stands at left, and on the left side of the cross is Bishop Makariy/Makarios/Macarius of Jerusalem, and on the other side another bishop.

The second icon associated with the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross is the type generally called simply ПОКЛОНЕНИЕ КРЕСТА — POKLONENIE KRESTA — “Veneration of the Cross.”  Here is a 12th century Russian example.

(Tretyakov Gallery)

It depicts the empty cross ornamented with a wreath, standing on Golgotha with the skull of Adam visible within the hill.  At left is the sun, and at right the moon.  The Archangel Michael is at left, holding the spear of the crucifixion, and at right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding the sponge on a reed.  In the sky above are six-winged cherubim at the sides, and at each side of the upper bar of the cross are seraphim bearing ripida — the ceremonial fans used in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.

The liturgical phrase associated with the Veneration of the Cross (and found on countless Crucifixion icons) is:

КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛОНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО И СВЯАТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ

KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM

“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”

4TH SUNDAY: JOHN OF THE LADDER:

This day commemorates the 6th-7th century monk and writer Ἰωάννης τῆς Κλίμακος/Ioannes tes Klimakos/John of the Ladder.  The Russians call him Иоанн Лествичник/ Ioann Lestvichnik/John the Ladder-guy.  He is discussed — along with the icon of the “Ladder of John Klimakos” — in this previous posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/

This commemoration celebrates the effort and virtue needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here is a 13th century icon of John Klimakos from the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai, where he was abbot:

The title inscription is easy; it reads:

Ὁ ἉγιοςἸωάννης ὁ τῆς Κλίμακος
Ho Hagios Ioannes ho tes Klimakos
“The Holy John the [one of the] Ladder”

5TH SUNDAY: MARY OF EGYPT:

Mary of Egypt is one of the most common figures in Russian icons.  Traditionally, she was a desert ascetic living in the wilds in the region of the Jordan River.  She and her iconography are discussed in this previous posting:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/mary-of-egypt/

This commemoration calls to mind the importance of repentance (Mary was once a raging nymphomaniac).

Here is a Russian icon of her:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads simply:
С[ВЯ]ТАЯ П[РЕПОДОБНАЯ] МАРИЯ ЕГИП[ЕТСКАЯ]
SVYATAYA PREPODOBNAYA MARIYA EGIPETSKAYA
“Holy Venerable Mary of Egypt.”

If you managed to get through this posting, you are either a very serious student of icons, or you have nothing else at all to do.  I hope it is the former, but I have my suspicions.

 

CLIMBING TO HEAVEN (OR NOT)

Here is a 12th century icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai:

It represents an allegory of the spiritual ascent of monks.  The image is derived from a book written by Ioannes tes Klimakos (Ἰωάννης τῆς Κλίμακος) — John of the Ladder.  He is also called Ιωάννης ο Σιναϊτης/Ioannes ho Sinaites — “John the Sinaite.”   Almost nothing certain is known about him, not even his precise dates.  He is said to have died in 649 at age 80.  His standard life says he became the abbot of the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai.  His book is called Ἡ Κλῖμαξ/He Klimax  — The Ladder, also  Ἡ Κλίμαξ Θείας ανόδου — The Ladder of Divine Ascent.  First intended for monks as an instruction book in ascetic virtues, it eventually became a popular book of religious counsel in Eastern Orthodoxy.  In Slavic it is called Лествица/Lestvitsa, and John himself is Иоанн Лествичник/Ioann Lestvichnik.

It is not hard to guess where the inspiration for this subject came from.  In Genesis 28:10-12, we find the story of Jacob’s Ladder:

“And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.  And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.”

The angels on the ladder in the biblical story are replaced in this icon by monks climbing or falling, while the icon angels are just onlookers.

Now the Ladder as a book has 30 chapters, each corresponding to a rung on the ladder in the icon.  As you see, the icon ladder has 30 rungs.  So this icon depicts monks using the moral steps prescribed in the Ladder in order to ascend to heaven.  Some them fail to keep those standards, and are pulled off the ladder and down by demons, shown here as winged black figures.  These failed monks fall into the mouth of a dark head at the bottom, representing Hades.  Those who make it all the way meet Jesus, shown at top right.

Here is the first fellow to make it to the top in the icon:

He is identified by the Greek inscription (the first two words are heavily abbreviated) above him as:

άγιος Ιωάννης τις (της) Κλί-
μακος
,
Ho Hagios Ioannes tes Klimakos
“The Holy John of-the Ladder”

Next up the ladder — and just below John, is this fellow:

His inscription identifies him as:

Ὁ Άγιος Αντώνιος Αρχιεπί-
σκοπος

Ηο Hagios Antonios Arkhiepiskopos
“The Holy Antonios, Archbishop.”

Some scholars assume that this Archbishop Antonios was likely the abbot of the Monastery at the time when the icon was painted, following John of the Ladder both in succession and up the Ladder — but that is not certain.

A group of monks at lower right contemplate the lesson provided by the ladder.  The first among them — at left — is interpreted in many examples of the type as John himself, looking toward his ladder, and often holding a scroll:

Here is an interesting later Greek example of the type:

It adds many interesting little details:

Jesus at the top end of the ladder holds a scroll:

It is Matthew 11:28:

Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς.
“Come to me, all you are labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.”

On the top of Mount Sinai at left, we see
Ἡ ΚΟΙΜΕCΙC ΤΗC ἉΓΙΑ ΑΙΚΑΤΕΡΙΝΗ
HE KOIMESIS TES HAGIA AIKATERINE
“The Dormition of the Holy Catherine.”

Below that is Mary shown with Christ Emmanuel in the Burning Bush, here bearing the title Ἡ ἉΓΙΑ ΒΑΤΟC — HE HAGIA BATOS — “The Holy Bush.”

Just below the Burning Bush is a kneeling figure identified by inscription as:
Ὁ ΠΡΟΦΗΤΗΣ ΜΟΗCΗC — HO PROPHETES MOISES — “The Prophet Moses.”

This scene of Mary within the Burning Bush and Moses kneeling before it is an icon type in itself; it is the usual Greek way of depicting the Burning Bush as a prefiguration of Mary’s bearing of Jesus; just as the Old Testament bush burned but was not consumed, so Mary is considered in Eastern Orthodoxy to have been filled with the fire of divinity, but not consumed thereby.  In Greek this type may be titled Ἡ φλεγόμενη και μη κατακαιόμενη βάτος — He Phlegomene kai Me Katakaiomene Batos — “The Burning and Not Consumed Bush,” or it may be called simply — as here — Ἡ Ἡαγια βατος — He Hagia Batos — “The Holy Bush.”  Russians preferred a different image to show this — the often complex icon type called Неопалимая Купина — Neopalimaya Kupina — the “Unburnt Thornbush.”

Below that we find this scene of a hooded angel talking to a man:

Now if you have been a careful reader of this blog over time, you will recognize this scene as a specific icon type, and even be able to easily read the inscription.  It is the image of the hooded angel and the monk Pakhomios, and you will find it described here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/the-hooded-angel-pakhomios-and-the-skhima/

The inscription is the words of the angel to Pakhomios, and it reads:

ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΤѠ  CΧΗΜΑΤΙ CѠΘΗCΕΤΑΙ ΠΑCΑ CΑΡΞ Ѡ  ΠΑΧΟΜΙΕ
EN TOUTO     TO   SKHIMATI SOTHESETAI   PASA SARX  O    PAKHOMIE
In   this          the     skhima      shall-be-saved all       flesh    O    Pakhomios

Or in more normal English,
“In this skhima shall all flesh be saved, O Pakhomios.”  The skhima, you will recall is the habit/garment of an Eastern Orthodox monk.

So that scene is the icon type called “The Vision of Pakhomios.”

In the lower right corner of the icon we see a demon pitchforking one of the fallen monks into Hades at left, and to the right of that stands John of the Ladder himself, gesturing toward the ladder and holding a scroll in his hand that reads:

Αναβαίνετε, αναβαίνετε, αδελφοί
Anabainete, anabainete, adelphoi
“Climb, climb brothers.”

For simplicity, we may call icons of this type “The Ladder of John Klimakos.”  Russian examples generally call it (with some variation) Видение преподобного Иоанна ЛествичникаVidenie prepodobnogo Ioanna Lestvichnika  “The Vision of  Venerable John of the Ladder.”  Russian examples vary in detail and complexity, but we shall examine those another day.

 

 

 

AN UNUSUAL “JESUS” TEXT

Today we will look at a 16th century dome image from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos:

It depicts Jesus as an Emmanuel figure “in glory,” surround by the symbols of the Four Evangelists and a couple of seraphim.

What I want to focus on, however, is the text on the book he holds.  Usually in icons of Jesus we find a Gospel text.  This one, however is different.  Here is a closer look:

And now let’s look at the Greek text he holds.

Here it is as it appears on each page:

ΙΔΕΤΕ Ι-
ΔΕΤΕ, ὉΤΙ Ε-
ΓΟ ΕΙΜΙ Κ[ΑΙ]
ΟΥΚ ΕCΤΙ Θ[ΕΟ]C

ΠΛΗΝ ΕΜΟΥ.
ΕΓΟ ΑΠΟ-
ΚΤΕΝΩ ΚΑΙ
ΖΗΝ ΠΟΙΗ

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ οὐκ ἔστι Θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ· ἐγὼ ἀποκτενῶ καὶ ζῆν ποιήσω

Idete idete, hoti ego eimi, kai ouk esti Theos plen emou.  Ego apokteno kai zen
Poieso.

“Behold, behold, that I am, and not is God except me.  I kill and to-live
I-make”

In more normal English,

“See, See that I am, and there is no God except me.  I kill and make alive.”

Having translated it, we can see that it is the Septuagint Greek text of Deuteronomy 32:39, from the Old Testament.  So this text is representing Jesus both as Emmanuel and as the God of the Old Testament.

If you have been paying attention to all my postings on reading Greek icon inscriptions, you will recognize the abbreviation for kai — meaning “and”; it is a K with a stroke across the base of the letter:

You will also recognize the ligature joining the letters C and T (s and t) in Greek:

And finally, you will recognize the very common abbreviation ΘC for Theos — “God.”

 

 

MEGA-GREEK INSCRIPTIONS FOR THE “MEGAS ARKHIEREUS”

Today we will look at a Greek-inscribed icon of Jesus as Ὁ ΒΑCΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΒΑCΙΛΕΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΓΑC ΑΡΧΙΕΡΕΥC — Ὁ Βασιλεύς των Βασιλέων καί Μέγας Ἀρχιερεύς  — Ηο Basileus ton Basileon kai Megas Arkhiereus:
“The King of Kings and Great High Priest.”

(Photo Courtesy of Luisa Ghirimoldi)

The type depicts Jesus enthroned, robed in the garments of a bishop, with crown/mitre and omophorion (the stole around his neck).  This particular example has added twelve apostles around the head of Jesus, which are not present in all icons of the type.

His robe in this icon is richly decorated with all kinds of flowers, among which are roses, lilies, and interestingly enough, irises:

The title of this type comes from these biblical excerpts:

The first is Revelation 19:16:

Καὶ ἔχει ἐπὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν μηρὸν αὐτοῦ ὄνομα γεγραμμένον, Βασιλεὺς βασιλέων καὶ κύριος κυρίων.

And he has on his robe and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Then Hebrews 2:17:

Ὅθεν ὤφειλεν κατὰ πάντα τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοιωθῆναι, ἵνα ἐλεήμων γένηται καὶ πιστὸς ἀρχιερεὺς τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν, εἰς τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ λαοῦ.

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like his brothers, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people

And Hebrews 4:14:

Ἔχοντες οὖν ἀρχιερέα μέγαν, διεληλυθότα τοὺς οὐρανούς, Ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, κρατῶμεν τῆς ὁμολογίας.

For we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

And Hebrews 6:20:

…ὅπου πρόδρομος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν εἰσῆλθεν Ἰησοῦς, κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισεδὲκ ἀρχιερεὺς γενόμενος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

From where the forerunner is for us entered, Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek.

Let’s turn to texts commonly found in the book Jesus holds in icons of this type.

Here is an example by Michael Damaskinos (Μιχαήλ Δαμασκηνός, 1530/35–1592/93), a noted Cretan iconographer:

(Photo: Byzantine and Christian Museum, Greece)

Here the book inscription combines two texts.

The first — on the left page — is from John 18:36:

ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου· εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἦν ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή οἱ ὑπηρέται ἄν οἱ ἐμοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο ἵνα μὴ παραδοθῶ τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις·

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews….”

The second — on the right page — is very like the words used in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25:

καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν, καὶ εἴπεν, Λάβετε, φάγετε, Tοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν κλώμενον· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

Ὡσαύτως καὶ τὸ ποτήριον, μετὰ τὸ δειπνῆσαι, λέγων, Tοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, ὁσάκις ἂν πίνητε, εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

“And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, after he had eaten, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

What we find on the icon book, however, is not precisely that text in wording.  Instead, it varies somewhat, because it is actually the words spoken by the priest in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

Λάβετε, φάγετε, τοῦτό μού ἐστι τὸ σῶμα, τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν κλώμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.

Labete, phagete, touto mou esti to soma, to huper humon klomenon eis aphesin hamartion.

“Take, eat, this is my body, which for you is broken for the forgiveness of sins.”

Now as we can see, the first page associates the icon with Jesus as king, and the second page with the “high” priest performing the Eucharist, in keeping with the titles “King of Kings” and “Great High Priest.”  So this type is considered a Eucharistic icon.

If we take a look at the inscription at the bottom of the icon, we find this:

Δ[ΕΙCΙC ΤΟΥ ΔΟΥΛΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΛΕΟΝΤΙΟΥ ΙΕΡΕΥC ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙCΤΟΦΟΡΟΥ:  ΧΕΙΡ ΜΙΧΑΙΛ ΤΟΥ ΔΑΜΑCΚΗΝΟΥ

D[EISIS] TOU DOULOU TOU THEOU LEONTIOU HIEREUS TOU KHRISTOPHOROU: KHEIR MIKHAIL TOU DAMSKENOU

“Prayer/supplication of the Servant of God Leontios, Priest of Christopher:  The Hand of Michael Damascene [literally “of Damascus” — a family name].

As an alternate, one may also find this text, from John 14:27:
Εἰρήνην ἀφίημι ὑμῖν, εἰρήνην τὴν ἐμὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν· οὐ καθὼς ὁ κόσμος δίδωσιν, ἐγὼ δίδωμι ὑμῖν.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you.”

Now we are ready to return to the text on the first icon on this page, which is a bit tricky because it is written in an ornate manner, with many ligatures.

Here is the left-hand page:

Having now seen the inscription on the Michael Damaskinos book, we should be able to read it as:

Λάβετε φά-
γετε τούτο μου
εστί το σώμα
το υπέρ υμών
κλώμενον
[εις άφεσιν αμαρτιών]

Labete, phagete, touto mou esti to soma, to huper humon klomenon eis aphesin hamartion.

“Take, eat, this is my body, which for you is broken for the forgiveness of sins.”

And here is the right-hand page:

It reads:

Πίετε εξ αυτού πάν-
τες τούτο εστί το
Αίμα μου το της
Καινής Διαθή-
κης, το υπέρ υμών
[και πολλών εκχυνόμενον εις άφεσιν αμαρτιών]

Piete ex autou pantes. Touto esti to haima mou, to tes kaines diathekes, to huper humon kai pollon ekkhunomenon eis aphesin hamartion.
“Drink of this all [of you].  This is my blood of the new covenant, which for you [and many is shed for the forgiveness of sins].”
The portions given in brackets above are the last lines on each page, too faint to see in the photo.
One may also find this composite, combined text on some examples of this icon type.  It is adapted from John 6:35:
Αμήν αμήν λέγω υμίν, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς· ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρός με οὐ μὴ πεινάσῃ· καὶ ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ διψήσῃ πώποτε
 And from John 6:53:
και ἐὰν μὴ φάγητε τὴν σάρκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πίητε αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς.
 “Truly, Truly I say to you, I am the Bread of Life.  Who comes to me will never hunger, and who believes in me will never thirst.”
“And if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Returning to the first icon shown on this page, we have noted the presence in this example of the Twelve Apostles arranged in a twining vine near the head of Jesus. You may recall, if you are a long-time reader here, that the  addition of those apostles relates this icon to another type  called Η ΑΜΠΕΛΟC — He Ampelos in Greek — “The Vine.” It depicts Jesus sitting near the top of a many-branched grape vine, and around him in the branches are the Twelve Apostles.  That relationship accounts for why some icons of the “King of Kings and Great High Priest” having the “vine apostles,” also have these words as the text on the book held by Jesus, from John 15:1-2:

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν. Πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπόν, αἴρει αὐτό· καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον, καθαίρει αὐτό, ἵνα πλείονα καρπὸν φέρῃ. I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

Now you should be an expert in reading and interpreting Greek-inscribed “King of Kings and Great High Priest” icons.

 

BOWING AND SCRAPING IN GREEK

As mentioned in a previous posting, the characters commonly called “The Three Wise Men” in the West are known as Magoi in Greek and Volsvi in Slavic.  Here they are in a fresco:

Let’s take a look at the Greek inscriptions

The first two should be easy for you.  They are:

ΜΡ ΘΥ and ΙωCΙΦ

As you already know, ΜΡ ΘΥ abbreviates Meter Theou — “Mother [of] God”, and you should be able to easily recognize the second as the name IOSIF — JOSEPH — with the first I written above and as a part of the letter ω.

Next comes this inscription:

As is usual, the words are not separated, but all run together.  When we separate them, we get:

Ἡ ΠΡΟCΚΥΝΗCΗC ΤΟΝ ΜΑΓΟΝ
HE PROSKYNESES TON MAGON

He, you will recall, is the feminine form of “the” in Greek.
Proskyneses is a phoneticized spelling of the Greek word common in the Bible and church literature, proskynesis (προσκύνησις).  Greek inscriptions often confuse Η (e) and Ι (i), because in later spoken Greek they both were pronounced as “ee.”

Prokynesis means to bow or prostrate yourself as a sign of respect or abnegation.  It began as an eastern custom in the royal court of Persia, and was adopted by Alexander the Great as the means of showing honor to him, though previously the Greeks had regarded proskynesis as something done only before a god or goddess.  Proskynesis — which could originally have been as mild as a kiss (pros means “toward,” kyneo means “kiss”) varied in its nature, and whether it was just a kiss or a bow or a full prostration on the ground (“kissing the ground”) depended on the status of those meeting.  The bow or prostration was a sign of obeisance or submission — and, in the case of a deity, of worship.

In the Gospel called “of Matthew” (no one knows who really wrote it; the earliest manuscripts are anonymous), we find this in 2:1-2:

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα λέγοντες, Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying “Where is the one born King of the Jews; for we have seen his star in the East and are come to give him obeisance.”
Obeisance here is proskynesai — to perform proskynesis in front of him.

The King James translation commonly translates proskynesis as “worship,” so in that version the Magi say,
Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

So that is what we have in the fresco inscription:

Η ΠΡΟCΚΥΝΗCΗC ΤΟΝ ΜΑΓΟΝ
HE PROSKYNESES TON MAGON
“The Proskynesis [Obeisance] of the Magi.”

There is a lot of discussion in theological circles over whether the writer of Matthew intended to indicate the proskynesis of the Magi as that done to show honor to a king (as would make sense here), or whether proskynesis before a deity was intended (if Matthew considered Jesus to be a deity).  In any case, proskynesis was something done before a deity, a ruler, or it could even be before a highly-respected person, as a show of the performer’s subordinate status.  In Eastern Orthodox Church usage, proskynesis is done before icons and relics of the saints.

You may recall the common inscription on Russian crosses:

“We honor [bow before] your cross, Lord, and praise your holy resurrection.”

In the Greek liturgy of John Chrysostom, we find it as:

Τὸν Σταυρόν σου, Χριστέ, προσκυνοῦμεν καὶ τὴν ἁγίαν σου Ἀνάστασιν ὑμνοῦμεν καὶ δοξάζομεν·

Ton stauron sou Khriste proskynoumen kai ten hagian sou anastasin hymnoumen [praise in song] kai doxazomen.

“Your cross, Christ, we proskynoumen [perform proskynesis before] and your holy resurrection we hymn and glorify.”

On to the last inscription.  It is:

ΟΙ ΜΑΓΥ ΑCΤΡΟΛΟΓΟΥΝΤΕC

This again has a phonetic spelling in ΜΑΓΥ (Magy), which should be ΜΑΓΟΙ (Magoi).  Here again, in later Greek oi and y have the same “ee” sound when spoken.  But we should understand the inscription as:

ὉΙ ΜΑΓΟΙ ΑCΤΡΟΛΟΓΟΥΝΤΕC
HOI MAGOI ASTROLOGOUNTES
“THE MAGI ASTROLOGERS.”

We see in the fresco that one of the Magi is looking up in the sky, where the Star of Bethlehem would be.

In the next posting, we will take a closer look at who the Magi (Magoi) were, and trace their development in Christian art and icons.