If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily recognize this as an icon of “John the Forerunner,” who is more commonly called John the Baptist outside Eastern Orthodoxy (though sometimes within it as well).
His iconography in this example is rather typical, but here is a quick review:
John is shown clothed in a hair garment, with a cloth wrap over it. He stands in a stylized wilderness. At lower left we see an axe and a tree, which represents Matthew 3:10:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
John is winged, in keeping with the double meaning of the word angelos in Greek; it can mean both messenger, and also an angel as a messenger of God. Also, in Eastern Orthodoxy John is often called a “heavenly man and earthly angel.”
Jesus blesses John from heaven, at upper right.
At lower right we see John’s head in a salver, signifying his manner of death according to the Gospels.
Now let’s take a look at what is different — and new to us in this icon. It is the long Greek inscription on his scroll, which is not that we usually find on icons of John, but one less common:
His scroll text — addressed to Jesus — is this (with some variation in spelling):
Οράς οία πάσχουσιν, ω Θεού Λόγε, οι πταισμάτων έλεγχοι των βδελυκτέων. Έλεγχον και γαρ μη φέρων ο Ηρώδης,τέτμηκεν, ιδού, την εμήν κάραν, Σώτερ.
Here is a loose translation:
“You see how suffer, O Word of God, those who reprove the wrongs of the abominable. For not bearing reproof, behold, Herod cut off my head, Savior.”
So with his severed head in front of him, he is telling Jesus, “You see how people who reprimand the wrongdoings of the wicked suffer. Because he could not endure my criticism — look, Savior! — Herod cut off my head.”
Now there are a number of odd things about John. Among them is that he is mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, though that account disagrees with those in the canonical Gospels. Josephus says Herod had John executed because of John’s influence over crowds of people and thus raised the possibility of a rebellion. The Gospels say John was killed because he condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was already married, and so as a woman could not legally marry Herod by Jewish law. There also appears to be a discrepancy in the dating of John, who in Josephus seems to have been killed after the death of Jesus, while in the Gospels his death comes nearer the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. However, there is some disagreement among scholars over the precise placement of John in the chronology of Josephus.
Most notable is that the account of John the Baptist in Josephus does not in any way connect him with Jesus.
Part of the fun of icons is in trying to translate some of the roughly or oddly written inscriptions.
Here, for example, is a Greek-inscribed icon you will recognize as John the Forerunner — John the Baptist. Greek icons of John often have a “wild and wooly” appearance, almost like a combination of primitive art and more abstract art:
But it is his scroll that interests us today:
The texts used on John’s scroll in icons are usually quite limited, so one might guess at what it says, but it is best to be able to read it, though some of the spelling is phonetic rather than standard. Also, it is a little worn, but nonetheless we can make out what was intended. Here is what it looks like:
Well, with a little imagination, we can tell that the painter’s intention was a standard inscription:
Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. Metanoeite, engiken gar he basileia ton ouranon
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is drawn near.”
The painter did some (for us) odd things, for example using OI where we would expect I or H in Greek, but that is easily explained — all three have the same “ee” sound in later Greek, so again, he was just writing phonetically.
The title inscription is a bit odd in its arrangement. We see it in the upper left-hand corner:
It is meant to be read from lower left to upper left to upper right.
At lower left we have
The bottom letter above is not quite clear in the inscription, but nonetheless we can easily see that the inscription is to be understood as Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC — Ho Hagios — “The Holy…”
The name Ιωάννης/Ioannes/John at top left is abbreviated to only two letters — Ιω.
When we get to his title at upper right, we see the beginning Ὁ/Ho/”The” followed by a very elaborate ligature intended to represent — when joined to the ΟC/os ending, the word Πρόδρομος/Prodromos/ “Forerunner.”
So we see that the title intended by the abbreviations and fancy ligature is Ὁ Άγιος Ιωάννης ο Πρόδρομος — HO HAGIOS IOANNES HO PRODROMOS — “THE HOLY JOHN THE FORERUNNER.”
Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΜΗΝΑC HO HAGIOS MENAS
[The] HOLY MENAS
In hagiography he is called Menas of Egypt, and as we see from his armor, lance and shield, he is one of the warrior saints.
If we look at the base of the icon, we see the signature of the painter:
ΧΕΙΡ ΕΜΜΑΝΟΥΗΛ ΤΟΥ ΛΑΜΠΑΡΔΟΥ KHEIR EMMANOUEL TOU LAMPARDOU
“[The] Hand of Emmanuel of Lampardos”
Notice the unusual ligature of the α and Ρ (a and R).
This Emmanuel of Lampardos (more commonly known as Emmanuel Lambardos), was a painter in Heraklion/Iraklion, on Crete, active between 1593-1647. Within the last few decades scholars have determined that there were actually two icon painters by the same name, an Emmanuel Lambardos the Elder and an Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger, the latter thought to be the son of Piero Lambardos and the nephew of the former, with both elder and younger working in the same studio. Because their works are so similar, scholars are still trying to determine who painted what.
Let’s look at the scenes from the hagiographic legend of Menas:
This illustrates the tale that a certain man went to pray at a church dedicated to Menas. There he met another man who offered him lodging for the night. Realizing that his guest had gold, the host killed him, cut up his body, and put the parts in a basket. The next day a mysterious stranger in military garb, riding on a horse, appeared (who of course was St. Menas). The soldier asked the host about his overnight guest, and the host claimed to know nothing. Menas, however asked him about the basket, and so the whole story was revealed. Menas then miraculously joined all the parts of the slain man’s body together, and restored him to life. He gave him back the gold the host and taken, and sent him on his way. After scolding the host, Menas forgave him, then disappeared.
A man decided to have two silver plates made, one for St. Menas — engraved with his name — and the other for himself and bearing his own name. When the silversmith had completed the work, the plate intended for Menas turned out to be the more beautiful of the two, so the man decided to keep it for himself.
The same man went on a sea voyage, taking the plate with him, and having his food served to him on it. When he had finished eating, a servant took the plate and was washing it in the sea, when suddenly it slipped out of his hands and disappeared beneath the waves. The startled servant lost his grip and also fell into the sea. The man was so distressed at losing his servant that he prayed to Menas, telling him that if the servant’s body were to be recovered, he would give not only the remaining plate but also the cost of the lost plate to the saint.
When the ship reached land, the man looked to see if the body had washed up on the shore. But instead, he saw the servant coming out of the sea alive, holding the lost plate. The servant reported that as soon as he fell into the sea, a handsome man appeared with two others, grasping the man and traveling with him until he arrived at the shore.
A certain woman was on her way to pray at the shrine of Menas when she was attacked by a man who wanted to rape her. It happened that when he got off his horse to do the deed, he tied the horse to his right foot. Then when he attempted to rape the woman, the horse became very upset, and dragged the man off, all the way to the shrine of Menas. Once there, the horse was so violent, and whinnied so loud, that a crowd of people soon gathered. The man was worried the horse would injure or kill him, so he blurted out his confession of attempted rape before everyone, and immediately the horse became calm. The repentant rapist then asked the saint to end his suffering and pardon him.
It happened once that a crippled man and a mute woman happened to both be staying in the shrine of Menas. In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, Menas appeared to the crippled man, telling him that if he would touch the cloak of the sleeping mute woman, he would be healed. The crippled man managed to get to the mute woman, and when he grabbed her cloak she awoke, and began loudly blaming him. Fearing the woman’s noisy shouting, the cripple got up and began to run away, when suddenly both of them realized that they had been healed by the saint.
There was a Jewish man who was friends with a Christian, and trusted him so much that when he traveled to foreign lands, he would leave considerable amounts of gold behind with the Christian as safekeeping. However, once when the Jew had done this, on returning he went to the Christian and asked for his money. The Christian replied that the Jew was mistaken, that no money had been left with him. The Jew was so upset by this that he said he wanted Menas to determine the truth. So both set off for the shrine of Menas.
Now it happened that when they arrived at the shrine, the Christian repeated his claim, swearing that no gold had been left with him. Having said that, he exited the shrine with the Jew, and both got on their horses. Suddenly the horse of the Christian began behaving violently, and rearing up, it threw its rider to the ground, where he lost his kerchief, a key, and a gold seal. He got back on his horse and both continued on their way.
The Jew, however, was groaning and lamenting the loss of his gold. The Christian suggested that they stop, dismount, and pause to eat some food. As they were eating, the Christian looked up and saw that his servant from home had come, and was standing there holding the money bag of the Jew in one hand, and the lost key [a signet ring in another version, which accounts for the “gold seal”] and kerchief in the other. He was quite shocked, and asked the servant to explain.
The servant replied that a man riding a horse came, and giving the lost key [or signet ring] and kerchief to the Christian’s wife, he told her that she must send the money bag of the Jew to the Christian with great haste, so her husband would not meet with danger. And so, thinking the Christian had requested this, the wife sent the servant quickly off to him with the Jew’s gold.
The Jew was of course overjoyed, and immediately wanted to return to the shrine of the saint, where he vowed to become a Christian himself through baptism in thanks for the miracle. As for the lying Christian, he asked to be forgiven, and both returned satisfied to their homes
So those are the legendary miracles of the saint depicted on the Lambardos icon.
The last image is of the martyrdom of Menas:
Menas, by tradition, is said to have been an Egyptian Christian who became a soldier and was martyred under Diocletian after he left the army, then later returned and confessed his faith publicly during the festival games. He was said to have been tortured, then (as we see in the icon) beheaded in 304 c.e.
Menas is one of those saints whose iconography has changed over time. In the early centuries of his veneration, he was depicted not as an old man with grey hair and beard, but rather as a young and beardless man in a short tunic, without armor, standing with arms outstretched between two kneeling camels.
The camels relate to the legend of what happened to his body after death. Though there is some variation in it, the essence is that his decapitated body was placed on a camel, and the camel on which it was traveling stopped at Lake Mariout (Mariotis), and refused to go farther. This was seen as a divine sign, so the body was buried where the camel stopped, and a chapel was built there that later became a significant pilgrimage site. You perhaps recognized that the motif of an animal carrying some holy object and stopping at the place where the object is intended to remain is a common tale in stories of saints and icons. Many pottery ampullae (small clay vessels) with the image of Menas and his camels on them — eagerly purchased by visiting pilgrims — are to be found in various public and private collections. They were produced at the popular shrine, presumably as containers for supposedly holy water from the spring there, and some bear as well the inscription ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΜΗΝΑ/EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA — “The blessing of the Holy Menas.”
Now as sometimes happens with saints, there is more than one St. Menas. Another is Menas Kallikelados (Menas the Sweet-Sounding) sometimes translated as Menas the Eloquent, said to have been martyred under Maximian. But as with the multiplied saints Cosmas and Damian, scholars believe this Menas (also said to have been an Egyptian) and the better known Menas were originally one and the same, but became multiplied by their veneration at different places.
You will recall from an earlier posting that in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Evangelist John is commonly called John the Theologian. Icons of him are very common, and so is the text one usually finds on the book he holds, whether written in Greek or in Church Slavic.
Here is a Greek example from the end of the 14th century:
Here is a closer view of the text:
It is slightly worn, but we can easily emend it:
You will note the common abbreviations:
ΘC with a horizontal line above it for ΘΕΟC/Theos, “god.”
ΘΝ with a horizontal line above it for ΘΕΟΝ/Theon, “God” in the accusative form.
This is such a common text in icons and so frequently used a phrase in Christianity that everyone interested in icons should know it in Greek, at least as it is found in John 1:1-5. The portion used in the above icon text is in bold type here:
En arkhe en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton Theon, kai theos en ho logos. Houtos en en arkhe pros to Theon. Panta di autou egeneto kai khoris autou egeneto oude hen. Ho gegonen en auto zoe en, kai he zoe en to phos ton anthropon. Kai to phos en te skotia phainei, ka he skotia auto ou katelaben.
“In [the] beginning was the Word/Reason, and the Word/Reason was with [the] God, and god was the Word/Reason. All through him came-to-be, and without him nothing came-to-be that has become. In him life was [or, depending on punctuation, ‘That which came to be in him was life’], and [the] life was the light of [the] men. And the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness has not overcome/taken/understood it.”
Huge amounts of ink have flowed through history on both the proper translation and the interpretation of this. “Logos” — ordinarily translated as “Word,” was actually a common term in Greek philosophy, used more in the sense of “Reason” as the reasoned order behind the universe. Philo of Alexandria — influenced by Greek philosophy — used it to refer to the divine Reason of God — an emanation of the invisible and hidden God through which he acts in the material universe — a “second god,” as Philo called it/him. This is the usage adopted in the Gospel called “of John,” saying essentially that this Reason was in the beginning, it was with God, and it was theos — that is, god by nature — divine. Theos indicates here the nature of the Logos, just as we would say of a person, “He is man, not animal.” In the same sense the Logos is god by nature. The Greek is deliberately ambiguous, to indicate a distinction of this Logos from the hidden God.
Of course this grammatical ambiguity has resulted in endless theological bickering over the centuries as to precisely in what sense Jesus as Logos is theos, — and it continues to this day among Christian denominations.
Fortunately, all we need worry about is learning to recognize this common inscription on the book held in icons of John.
Here is an 18th century Greek icon. It depicts a fellow dressed as a bishop, but to know who he is, we must read the title inscription at upper right.
Here it is:
It is rather faint, but it reads:
Ὁ ἉΓΙΟς ΙΑΚω
ΒΟς Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟ
If we put it all together, it is:
Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΙΑΚΟΒΟC Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΘΕΟC HO HAGIOS IAKOBOS HO ADELPHOTHEOS
“[The] Holy Jacob/James the Brother [of] God”
In Greek he is called Iakobos — Jacob — but in English that is traditionally rendered as “James” when referring to this person. Adelphotheos is a composite word made from adelphos (“brother”) and Theos (“God”). That title comes from what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:18-19:
Epeita meta ete tria anelthon eis Hierosolyma historesai Kephan, kai epemeina pros auton hemeras dekapente. heteron de ton apostolon ouk eidon, ei me Iakobon ton adelphon tou kyriou.
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Cephas [Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days. But of the other apostles I saw none, except James the brother of the Lord.”
Given that in Eastern Orthodoxy Jesus is considered to be God, the title was adapted for James as “Brother of God.”
And here is his scroll text:
It is a rather tricky one, because it consists of two joined excerpts from the Liturgy of St. James. Here is the first part:
ΙΔΕ Ὁ ΑΜΝΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ Ὁ ὙΙΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ Ὁ ΑΙΡΩΝ ΤΗΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΣΦΑΓΙΑΣΘΕΙΣ ὙΠΕΡ ΤΗΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΖΩΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑΣ Ide ho amnos tou Theou ho huios tou Patros ho airon ten hamartion tou kosmou sphagiastheis huper tes tou kosmou zoes kai soterias
“Behold the Lamb of God, the son of the Father, who takes away the sins of the world, sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world.”
The second part is abbreviated in phrasing, but I have added in brackets what is missing:
Ὁ ΜΕΛΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC [ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΜΕΡΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC ΚΑΙ ΤΟΙC ΠΙCΤΟΙC ΜΕΤΑΔΙΔΟΜΕΝΟC] ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΔΑΠΑΝΩΜΕΝΟC ΕΙC ΑΦΕCΙΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ [ΚΑΙ ΖΩΗΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΝΥΝ ΚΑΙ ΑΕΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΙC ΤΟΥC ΑΙΩΝΑC] Ho melizomenos [kai me merizomenos kai tois pistois metadidomenos] kai me dapanomenos eis aphesin hamartion [kai zoen ten aionion nun kai aei kai eis tous aionas]
“Who is parted [and not divided, and distributed to the faithful] and not expended; for the remission of sins [, and the life everlasting; now and always, and into the ages.]”
That refers to the Eucharistic bread, which is, in Eastern Orthodox belief, the “Lamb of God” — Jesus.
Here is another icon of James, painted in a much simpler manner, and from the end of the 18th century”
You should be able to easily read the title inscription. But let’s look at the text on the book he holds:
This one — if you have been a careful reader of this site — should be rather easy too, if you note the common abbreviation. Remember how I always say that icon inscriptions are very repetitive, so learning a few enables one to read many icons? Well, we just saw this inscription (at least most of it) in the preceding posting on Antipas of Pergamum, and we also saw it earlier on an icon of St. Nicholas of Myra. In this example it reads:
It begins with the words
ΕΙΠΕΝ/EIPEN means “said.”
Ὁ /HO is of course the masculine definite article “the.”
ΚC/KS, you will note, has a horizontal line above it, signifying that it is an abbreviation. It abbreviates ΚΥΡΙΟC/KYRIOS, meaning “Lord.” That gives us
ΕΙΠΕΝ Ὁ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ/EIPEN HO KYRIOS
So literally it reads “Said the Lord,” but in normal English order we translate that as:
“The Lord said.”
Then it continues with the beginning of that now familiar (I hope!) text:
Ho kleptes ouk erkhetai ei me hina klepse [kai apolese. ego elthon hina zoen ekhosin kai perisson ekhosin.
“The thief comes not but to steal [and kill, and destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.]”
As one often finds on Greek icons, there are two inscriptions at the base. Here is the first:
ΧΕΙΡ κονσταντινου του κονταρινε KHEIR Konstantinou tou Kontarine
“[The] Hand of Konstantinos Kontarines”
That is the painter’s signature. He lived from 1699-1738, and we see the date 1738 above the end of the signature.
And here is the second:
ΔΕΙCΙC ΤΟΥ ΔΟΥΛΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΜΙΧΑΗΛ CΠΑΝΟΥ DEISIS TOU DOULOU THEOU MIKHAEL SPANOU
“Prayer of the Servant of God Mikhael Spanos.”
That is the standard form giving the name of the patron who had the image painted.
As for the subject of the icon, according to hagiographic tradition (which we know is generally quite unreliable), Antipa was a disciple of John the Theologian (the supposed Evangelist John), and was bishop of the city of Pergamum during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 c.e.).
Antipa is said to have preached against the worship of the traditional gods, irritating the priests of the older religion. When he persisted and refused to venerate the Gods, the priests are said to have taken him to the Temple of the goddess Artemis, where he was placed inside a hollow, red-hot copper image of a bull/ox. That is what we see in this image:
The inscription reads:
ΜΑΡΤΥΡΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ἉΓΙΟΥ ἹΕΡΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC ΑΝΤΙΠΑ MARTYRION TOU HAGIOU HEROMARTYROS ANTIPA
“Martyrdom of the Holy Priest-martyr Antipas.”
Christians retrieved his supposedly unburnt body, and placed it in a tomb in Pergamum, which later became a pilgrimage site for those seeking healing of illnesses.
Antipas of Pergamum, because of his supposed help with tooth problems, was very popular in Russia as Антипа Пергамский — Antipa Pergamskiy, and is a common subject not only in painted icons, but also in large numbers of cast metal icons.
Depending on whether you want to learn to actually READ icons or not, you will either find this posting quite interesting or else unutterably boring. In any case, here we go.
Today we will look at a Greek-inscribed image of a rather generic-looking saint called in Greek Ὁ Άγιος Ιωαννίκιος ο Μέγας ὁ εν Ολύμπω/Ho Hagios Ioannikios ho Megas Ho en Olympo — “[The] Holy Ioannikios the Great, the-one in Olympus.” You may also find him as Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ὁ Μεγάλος/Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos — Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos. You will recall that Hosios is the Greek title for a male monk-saint — the equivalent of the Slavic Prepodobnuiy, which is customarily loosely rendered as “Venerable.” And ho Megalos here has the same meaning as ho Megas — “the Great.”
In Russian iconography he is called Преподобный Иоанникий Великий/Prepodobnuiy Ioannikiy Velikiy, which means simply “Venerable Ioannikios the Great.”
It is not so much the saint that interests us today as reading his inscriptions, which are good practice. Here is his image:
If you have been a faithful reader of this site (you all are, aren’t you?), then you will easily be able to translate the title inscription. Here is what we see at top left:
That is obviously a common abbreviation for ὉἉΓΙΟC/Ho Hagios, “The Holy.”
Below that we find:
ΙΟΑΝΝΙΚΙΟC/IOANNIKIOS, the saint’s name. Notice that the second letter of the name is the old form of the letter Omega, but I have used the common modern form in representing it.
At right we see:
— which you have probably already read as HO MEGAS and have translated as “The Great.”
Now we come to the interesting part — the scroll inscription. As you already know, saints in icons speak through scrolls, just as cartoon characters speak through cartoon bubbles. Here is the inscription:
It reads (with spaces added, ligatures separated, and abbreviations completed in lighter type):
Ἡ ΕΛΠΙΣ ΜΟΥ Ὁ ΘΕΟCΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ ΜΟΥ ὉΧΡΙCΤΟC CΚΕ ΠΗ ΜΟΥ ΤΟ ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΤΟ ἉΓΙ ΟΝ
From past reading here, you already should know several of the words — those I have put in bold type here:
HO ELPIS MOU HO THEOS KATAPHYGE MOU HO KHRISTOS SKE- PE MOU TO PNEUMA TO AGI- ON
Here are those you don’t know, with their definitions:
“My hope is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”
So it turns out to be precisely the same inscription — with a slight lengthening — that is common on Greek icons of Ioannikios — only here in Church Slavic.
If you can endure a bit more of this, we should probably take a look at another Greek inscription on a fresco of Ioannikios:
You will easily recognize the triliteral abbreviation at left as Ho Hagios — “The Holy,” but it is the rest of the title inscription that concerns us here:
Though a bit worn, we can fill it in as reading:
IOANNIKIOS HO THAUMATOURGOS
“IOANNIKIOS THE THAUMATURGE/WONDERWORKER
“Thaumaturge” is just the word borrowed into English from Greek, but in Greek it means simply “Wonderworker,” someone who works miracles.
So we see that there is another title for Ioannikios the Great: “Ioannikios the Wonderworker.”
As for the hagiographic life of this Ioannikios, some say he was born in 754 or 755, others in 762 — in Bithynia, in Asia Minor. As a boy, he tended his parents’ pigs, and was illiterate. He joined the army, and is said to have been an Iconoclast (an opposer of the use of icons), but later in life converted to the opposite belief, becoming an Iconophile (an advocate of icons). Troubled by the slaughter he saw in battle, he left the army and became a monk at the Antidion Monastery on Mount Olympus.
As a monk, he was said to have miraculous abilities, and could levitate and become invisible. He predicted when a number of people would die. He had power over wild animals, and could overcome snakes and dragons (the dragon part alone tells us that as with all Eastern Orthodox hagiography, we should maintain a healthy skepticism).