Today we will look at a fresco of the Prophet Malachi, painted in 1546 at the Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos:

First, let’s look at the name inscription:

At left we see these Greek letters joined in a decorative rather than logical abbreviation:


They abbreviate

And that of course means “Prophet.”

On the right side we see his name:



Now on to his scroll text.  As you will recall, there are three basic kinds of scroll texts used for Prophets.  A straight biblical quotation (often just an incomplete excerpt), a biblical quotation with an introductory phrase, and finally a text that is neither of those.  Malachi’s scroll is the first kind — a straight biblical quotation:

It is taken from Malachi 3:19 (KJV numbering, 4:1 Septuagint numbering):
… ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα Κυρίου ἔρχεται καιομένη ὡς κλίβανος καὶ φλέξει αὐτούς …
idou hemera Kyriou erkhetai kaiomene hos klibanos kai phlexei autous
“… behold, the day of the Lord is coming, burning like an oven, and it shall consume them ….”

Well isn’t that cheerful?  Did it inspire you and brighten your day? Good old biblical doom and gloom.  The Bible was always predicting death and destruction, and even the end of the world.  And regarding that, Jesus supposedly said this in Revelation 22:12:

 “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Quickly?  Well, that was some 2,000 years ago, so obviously that prediction did not work out.  Jesus never came back — something many fundamentalistic Christian groups studiously ignore as they still wait for a “Second Coming.”  But if we look at that quote in Greek, we can at least learn something from it other than a major failed prophecy:

 Ἰδοὺ ἔρχομαι ταχύ, καὶ ὁ μισθός μου μετ’ ἐμοῦ, ἀποδοῦναι ἑκάστῳ ὡς τὸ ἔργον.
Idou erkhomai takhu, kai ho misthos mou met’ emou, apodounai hekasto hos to ergon.

Remember the word ΙΔΟΥ/ἰδοὺ/idou, meaning “behold,” from Malachi’s scroll —  because it comes up a lot in biblical texts on scrolls. And you saw it in the failed “Second Coming” prediction in Revelation 22:12 as well.  And did you notice in that Revelation quote another word similar to one on Malachi’s scroll?  It is erkhomai /”I come” — and on the Malachi scroll it is in the third person: erkhetai /”He/she/it comes.”

By now you should also know well the word KYRIOY/Κυρίου/Kyriou on Malachi’s scroll — the “of” form of  ΚΥΡΙΟC/Kyrios — “Lord.”  And so Kyriou means “of the Lord.”  We often find that in scroll texts as well.

Thus endeth the lesson for the day.  Have a snack and a nice cup of something warm.


Today we will look at a fresco of the Prophet Joel, painted in 1547 in the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos by Tzortzis Phouka:

Notice how simply it is painted.  The face is just a few strokes of flesh coloring — lightly highlighted — over the darker base color.  Similarly, the hair consists of quick strokes of grey, highlighted with white, and outlined with black.

What I really want to focus on, however, is the scroll text in Greek:

Sometimes the texts held by Prophets are straight biblical quotes, sometimes biblical quotes with an introductory phrase, and sometimes they are not biblical quotes at all.  As I said in a previous posting, the Prophets are a pain, because one never knows what scroll inscription will be used.

Today’s scroll is an example of the second type — the biblical text with an introductory phrase.

Let’s look at what the text says.  As is common, it uses some abbreviations.  The quote itself is from Joel 2:23:

Καὶ τὰ τέκνα Σιών, χαίρετε καὶ εὐφραίνεσθε ἐπὶ τῷ Κυρίῳ Θεῷ ὑμῶν …
Kai ta tekna Sion, khairete kai euphrainesthe epi to Kurio Theo humon …
“And the children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God …”

However, the writer of the scroll has eliminated the first kai/”and,” replacing it with this introductory phrase:

Τάδε λέγει Κύριος …
Tade legei Kyrios …
“Thus says the Lord …

Notice the third letter in the first line which looks like a capital A in English but in Greek it is the letter Δδ — “D.”  And in the second line, note the common abbreviation KC for ΚΥΡΙΟC/Kyrios — “Lord.”  You will also find two abbreviations in the second line from the bottom, for Kyrio (a grammatical form of Kyrios) and for Theo (a grammatical from of Theos — “God.”

In the last line of the scroll, the writer has also apparently mistakenly written  ἡμῶν/hemon (“our”) for ὑμῶν/humon (“your”), which is the Septuagint reading.

So all together, the inscription on this scroll reads (corrected):

Τάδε λέγει Κύριος τὰ τέκνα Σιών, χαίρετε καὶ εὐφραίνεσθε ἐπὶ τῷ Κυρίῳ Θεῷ ὑμῶν…

Tade legei Kurios ta tekna Sion, khairete kai euphrainesthe epi to Kyrio Theo humon …

“Thus says the Lord:  ‘Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God …'”



Here is a fresco with a Greek inscription:

It is not difficult to tell what is happening; it is a stoning.  But who is the victim?  And what does the title inscription say?  Well, both questions are answered when we read what is written:

It says:


It is an easy one.

You already know that Ὁ /HO is the masculine definite article — “the.”
And you know the word lithos from use in English words such as lithograph and lithosphere, both involving the word “stone.”  So you can probably easily deduce that  ΛΙΘΑCΜΟΣ/LITHASMOS means “stoning.”  And you remember (I hope) that ΤΟΥ/TOU is the male form of “of/of the.”

That leaves us with ΠΡѠΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC /PROTOMARTYROS.  Well, you know many English words beginning with proto-, like prototype and protoplasm.  And if you know what those mean, you will know that proto– here means “first.”  And it should be simple for you to guess that ΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC/MARTYROS means “martyr.”

So up to this point we have:

The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr …

All we need now is the last word in the inscription, which gives his name:


It is not hard to see that STEPHANOU is the “of” form of the Greek name Stephanos, and that the English equivalent is  “Stephen.”

So the inscription is:

“The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr Stephen.”  Or if you wish, you can use “Protomartyr” instead of “First Martyr.”

In the fresco, stephen anachronistically wears the colored band called an orarion, part of the costume of a protodeacon.  It is customarily embroidered with these words:


Here is a Russian icon of the same fellow:

(Courtesy of

The title inscription is:


Stephen is dressed anachronistically — this time in Russian robes.  He holds a censer in his right hand and a stone (symbolic of his means of martyrdom) in his left.

You will find the account of Stephen in Acts 6-7.


A reader sent me this image of a recent Greek Marian icon of the Glykophilousa (“Sweetly-Loving”) type — along with a question:

He asked not about the type of the icon, but about the inscription found in the border of Mary’s garment, as seen here:

I have to admit it puzzled me at first (it shouldn’t have) — until I realized it is to be read all in a sequence, like this:


Now as you know, in icon inscriptions Greek words are commonly run together, with no spaces between them.  But if we add the appropriate spaces, we get this:


And what is that?  Well, it is only a fragment of a longer phrase:

Παρέστη ἡ Βασίλισσα ἐκ δεξιῶν σου, ἐν ἱματισμῷ, διαχρύσω, περιβεβλημένη, πεποικιλμένη …

Pareste he Vasilissa ek dexion sou, en himatismo, diakhruso, peribeblemene, pepoikilmene …

It comes from Psalm 44:10 in the Septuagint Greek version (Psalm 45:9 KJV):

“The queen stood at your right in garments woven with gold, in various [colors].”

Now you may recall that we already know that phrase from the common title of a certain form of Deisis image found in Russian iconography:

It depicts Mary standing at the right hand of Jesus, crowned and in royal robes.  It is called “Predsta Tsaritsa” — “The Queen did Stand” — and again it comes from Psalm 44:10 — though in Church Slavic here rather than Greek.

Now of course that phrase from the Psalms originally had nothing whatsoever to do with Mary, but Eastern Orthodoxy commonly applies it to her; so when we see “The Queen Stood at Your Right,” we know it is a Marian reference, and we know it signifies Mary standing at the right hand of Jesus.

That is why we find it also as the inscription on the left side of this modern Greek icon type (in very garish neon colors) called Παναγία Βασίλισσα/Panagia Vasilissa — the “All-Holy Queen.”  Near as I can find, it seems to have been painted by a woman in Athens, Greece, named Eleni Dadi (Ελένη Ντάση):

Παρέστη ἡ βασίλισσα ἐκ δεξιῶν σου ἐν ἱματισμῷ διαχρύσῳ περιβεβλημένη, πεποικιλμένη.
Pareste he basilissa ek dexion sou en himatismo diakhruso peribeblemene, pepoikilmene.

“The queen stood at your right in garments woven with gold, in various [colors].”

If we look more closely at the garments of the Panagia Vasilissa, we again see part of Psalm 44 — in this case from 44:14 (45:13 KJV) — written in the golden border just above the fringe:

Πᾶσα ἡ δόξα τῆς θυγατρὸς τοῦ βασιλέως ἔσωθεν, ἐν κροσσωτοῖς χρυσοῖς περιβεβλημένη, πεποικιλμένη.
Pasa he doxa tes thugatros tou basileos esothen, en krossotois khrusois
peribeblemene, pepoikilmene.

… “All the glory of the daughter of the King is within, clothed in golden fringe, in many colors.”

And on the right side of the icon, we find the beginning of Psalm 44:12 (45:11 KJV):

Καὶ ἐπιθυμήσει ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ κάλλους σου,  [ὅτι αὐτός ἐστι Κύριός σου] …
Kai epithumesei ho basileus tou kallous sou, [hoti autos esti Kurios sou] …

“And the King has desired your beauty, [for he is your Lord].”

The King is of course Jesus — though when the Old Testament phrase is applied to Jesus and his mother, it sounds rather incestuous.  That is one of the hazards of re-applying Old Testament quotes to uses for which they were never intended.







As I have mentioned previously, the prophets can be a real pain for students of icons.  The problem is not in identifying them.  That is usually easy.  It is in their scroll inscriptions.

The podlinniki — the manuals of icon painting — give descriptions of how prophets are to be painted, and they also generally give scroll inscriptions for each.  One would think that would make the matter easy, but it does not.  The podlinnik instructions for prophets’ scroll inscriptions are frequently not the inscriptions we encounter on actual icons of them, so one never knows what inscription might be used on an old icon for a given prophet.  That is where the difficulty lies.

The best one can do then — aside from being familiar with the podlinnik inscriptions — is to take each icon case by case, and that is not always easy, particularly if a scroll inscription is damaged or fragmentary.

Nonetheless, let’s have a go at an example:

Here is a 16th century fresco of a prophet from the Dionysiou Monastery at Mt. Athos:

As usual, he is easy to identify by his title inscription:


He is the prophet ΜΑΛΑΧΙΑC / MALAKHIAS — the Greek form of Malachi.

Now we come to his scroll inscription:

As is common in old inscriptions, there are some abbreviations and some ligatures — joined letters.

It begins with these words:

The first letter is I; the second letter that looks like an A in Roman lettering is actually one way of writing a D (Δ) in Greek.  And the third letter is a combination of two letters —  ΟΥ — OU in English — with the O below and the Y on top.  So all together, they make the Greek word

ΙΔΟΥ — Idou — meaning “Behold.”

The second word — a bit worn in the inscription — is ΕΡΧΕΤΑΙ/ERKHETAI, meaning (he/she/it) “comes.”  It begins on the first line and ends on the second.

Then we find the first abbreviation:

It is a Κ and C  — K and S in English — and that little horizontal curved line above is, you may recall, the sign of abbreviation.  Those two letters together signify the word ΚΥΡΙΟC/KURIOS, meaning “Lord.”

And then comes a real give-away word:

The first three letters of the word are squeezed into the end of the line:

ΠΑΝ — with the A smaller and a small N written above it.

Then comes T and O, with the O written beneath the T.  Then comes the end of the word:

All together, they spell a very common icon word: ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΑΤωΡ/PANTOKRATOR — meaning “Almighty.”  Remember that the ω here is the same letter as Ω in the modern Greek alphabet, and it is pronounced the same as the letter O.

Thus far we have IDOU ERKHETAI KURIOS PANTOKRATOR — which is easy to translate as:
“Behold, comes [the] Lord Almighty…”

And if you are clever (you must be, if you are reading this peculiar blog site), you will then suspect that it is likely to be something written in the Old Testament book of Malachi.  So the next step — given that the inscription is in Greek — is to look for those words in the Septuagint Greek version of the book of Malachi.

And behold, what we find there in Malachi 3:1-2 is:

ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται λέγει κύριος παντοκράτωρ καὶ τίς ὑπομενεῖ ἡμέραν εἰσόδου αὐτοῦ …

Idou erkhetai legei kurios pantokrator kai tis hupomenei hemeran eisodou autou

It reads just the same as the icon scroll text except for the third word λέγει/legei, meaning “[he] says.”

If we put it into English, we get this:

“Behold, he is coming, says the Lord Almighty.  And who will endure the day of his coming?”

So, if we remove the word legei/”says” from the text in the book of Malachi, we will have the text on the icon scroll:

Idou erkhetai kurios pantokrator kai tis hupomenei hemeran eisodou autou

Behold comes Lord Almighty and who will-endure the day coming-of his

Or in normal English,

“Behold the Lord Almighy comes, and who will endure the day of his coming?”

It is not uncommon to find that the writers of icon scrolls vary a text slightly, as has been done here by removing one word.

You may recall that this abbreviation in the latter part of the inscription  — a K with a diagonal stroke at right bottom …

… is the word και/kai, meaning “and.”

And you should also remember this ligature — the one that looks rather like a 9 in English:

It is the joined letters ει/ei, and in the inscription we find it in the word

ὑπομενεῖ / hupomenei — meaning “endure,” and also at the beginning of the word

εἰσόδου /eisodou — meaning “entrance,” or more loosely, “coming.”

If you recall the two similar ligatures

— which joins A and N,


— which joins A and U —

that should take care of the scroll inscription — except to note, as mentioned at the beginning, that it is not the scroll inscription given — for example — in the Greek painter’s manual known as the Hermeneia of Dionysios of Fourna:

According to that manual, his inscription should be:

Tade legei Kurios:
apo anatolon heliou kai eos dusmon to onoma mou

“Thus says the Lord:
‘From the rising of the sun and until setting my name …'”

That is a fragment from Malachi 1:11.

Now having gone through all that, you might pause and ask yourself what on earth you are doing here wasting your time with all this esoteric stuff about translating Greek icon inscriptions. Well, if you are a regular reader of this site, it is a rather hopeless question.  People are what they are, and some find themselves interested in and curious about the strangest and most useless things.  So don’t worry.  Don’t bore your neighbors with it, and you will be fine.  Just continue to act normal in public.