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:
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:
Ἰδοὺἔρχομαι 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):
What does this handsome young fellow have in common with the Archangel Michael?
When Christianity displaced the old Greco-Roman gods, Michael eventually took over the duties of the fellow above — the god Hermes/Mercury — as the conductor of the soul into the afterlife. The term for such a person is psychopomp, from the Greek ψυχοπομπός/psychopompós, meaning “soul guide.” So both Hermes and Michael are psychopomps. And before Hermes, there was Anubis and Wepwawet in Egypt, who performed similar functions. So the names change, but the notion continues.
I hope you remember the previous discussion of the Arkhistrategos Michael and the two variants when there is a person beneath him.
On the one hand, it may be the Devil, whose form may range from human-appearing to human with “bat wings” etc., to a monstrous appearance, as in this 18th century Russian “State Church” icon:
On the other hand, the person beneath Michael may be a dying or dead man, bringing us back to Michael’s role as psychopomp, as in this Greek-inscribed example from the 17th century:
Michael stands on a male body, its eyes closed in death:
Above the body is this inscription:
Φρήξον ψυχή μου τα ορώμενα
It is a shortened version of this:
Φρήξον ψυχή μου τα ορώμενα, φρήξετε πάντες αδελφοί το πικρόν ποτήριον του θανάτου
Frexon psukhe mou ta oromena, frexete pantes adelphoi to pikron poterion tou thanatou
“Tremble, my soul, at the sight, tremble all, brothers, at the bitter cup of death.”
If we look at Michael’s upraised left hand, we can see that he holds the soul of the dead man in the form of an infant wrapped in what the King James Bible calls “swaddling clothes.” It comes from the old practice of binding infants in strips of cloth to restrain their movements and calm them — a practice that largely fell out of use in Europe in the 17th century. In icons it is common to depict the soul of the dead as a new-born infant.
We see the same depiction of the soul as infant in icons of the Dormition, in which it is the soul of Mary.
For the previous discussion of Michael and the person beneath him as the “soul of the rich man,” go to this posting:
And what is done with the soul? Well, in a practice that goes all the way back to the religion of ancient Egypt, Michael weighs the soul of the dead to see if its good deeds outweigh the bad — and that determines its fate in the afterlife, whether Heaven or Hades/Hell — as in this recent depiction:
Again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here — on an old Egyptian papyrus — is a depiction of Anubis weighing the heart of the dead person, to decide the fate of the person in the afterlife:
And here is a western European depiction of Michael weighing souls at the Last Judgment — a detail from the Beune altarpiece, by Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399-1464):
Two postings back, I happened to mention a Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Monastery — a “Savior-Transfiguration Monastery.” And that moved one of my readers to write me a note saying I did not seem to have done a page on the Transfiguration. Well, apparently she is correct, though I did mention it briefly in a discussion of icons of the major Church festivals.
So here it is — a Russian example of the Transfiguration type from 1497:
The title inscription is a bit worn, but it appears to read:
ПРЕѠБРАЖЕНИЕ ГОСПОДА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА PREOBRAZHENIE GOSPODA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST”
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is found in the Synoptic Gospels, with both “Matthew” (17:1-8) and “Luke” (9:28-36) apparently basing their accounts on that of “Mark” 9:2-9:
And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James, and John, and leads them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.
3 And his clothing became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
6 For he knew not what to say; for they were very afraid.
7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only with themselves.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man was risen from the dead.
It is possible that the author of “Mark” intended the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus to reflect Malachi 4:4-5:
4 Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
It is also likely referred to in 2 Peter 1:18-19 (current biblical scholarship considers it to be by an unknown author):
For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.
In the icon, we see Elijah standing at left, Moses at right, and Jesus in the burst of light in the center:
Below them, we see James (left) John (center) and Peter (right) falling to the ground in fear:
Now Mark had merely said the three were “very afraid,” so this dramatic falling to the ground is a detail added to Mark’s story by Matthew in 17:6:
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid.
“Luke” says nothing about falling to the ground, but does add another detail of his own (Luke 9:32) not mentioned in Mark or Matthew:
32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
Now in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Transfiguration came to have a special significance due to a doctrine found in the writings of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), who defended the notion of Hesychasm. In Hesychasm, it is believed that a person through meditative practice may become so purified that a union with God happens, and in that union a bright divine light is seen, which is considered to be the same light as that of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This “uncreated light” is therefore called in Russian the Фаворский свет/Faborskiy svyet/ “Light of Tabor,” and in Greek the Ἄκτιστον Φῶς/Aktiston Phos (“Uncreated Light”) or Θεῖον Φῶς/Theion Phos (“Divine Light”).
Now it is common knowledge in the study of meditative practices — and particularly noted in Buddhism — that certain types of meditation can lead to the experience of light, though that result is not given the interpretation found in Hesychasm, but is rather just considered a stage on the meditative journey. The doctrine of Hesychasm was very controversial in Eastern Orthodoxy, but was eventually accepted — though it was not found in Roman Catholicism and certainly not in Protestantism.
As an example of the Eastern Orthodox attitude toward this light, we may look to the account found in what are said to be the memoirs of Nikolay/Nicholas Motovilov (1809-1879) —
memoirs discovered, so the story goes, in a pile of rubbish in 1902. The account relates Motovilov’s conversation with the ascetic St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833):
“Nevertheless,” I replied, “I do not understand how I can be certain that I am in the Spirit of God. How can I discern for myself His true manifestation in me?”
Father Seraphim replied: “I have already told you, your Godliness, that it is very simple and I have related in detail how people come to be in the Spirit of God and how we can recognize His presence in us. So what do you want, my son?”
“I want to understand it well,” I said.
Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”
I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”
Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”
Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest to Thy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”
After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!
“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.
“Extraordinarily well,” I said.
“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”
I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”
And of course there is the bright light mentioned in many accounts of “near-death” experiences.
Greek icons of the Transfiguration like that below usually have the title Ἡ ΜΕΤΑΜΟΡΦѠCΙC/HE METAMORPHOSIS/”THE TRANSFIGURATION,” or some variant of it.
Note the damaged area at lower center, where paint loss has revealed the underlying fabric.
Here is a more elaborate 1600 example:
Jesus at center holds the Gospels, Elijah is at left, and at right is Moses, holding the tablets of the Law.
At lower left we see Jesus leading Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor —
And at lower right he speaks to them after the Transfiguration:
And here is a closer look at the central image of Jesus:
Now we have seen that Russians call the “Uncreated Light” the “Light of Tabor” — of Mount Tabor, that is. But oddly enough the mountain is not identified at all in the Gospels. They just call it a “high mountain” (Mark and Matthew), and “a mountain” (Luke). And it is not until the 3rd century that we find it named in the writings of Origin as Mount Tabor.
A reader sent me a very fuzzy picture this morning, asking me about the scroll inscriptions. Often the photos emailed by readers are too small or too unclear, making deciphering the inscriptions a challenge — or even impossible. That is why I always say “large and clear photos are best.”
Nonetheless, I try to do what I can, though I am not David the Miracle Worker — and fortunately, in this case the problem can be solved, though the photo is blurry.
First, it is an icon of the three archangels Gabriel (left), Michael (center), and Raphael (right). Each carries a scroll with a Greek inscription. Here are the scroll texts commonly found in icons of this type (you may encounter recent copies of the image):
Kai eipen auto ho angelos anateme ton Ikhthun kai labon ten kardian kai to hepar …
“And the angel said to him, open the fish and take the heart and the liver …”
The quote is taken from Tobit 6:4.
Good grief. You people do not let me get away with anything. Not long after I posted this, a reader asked me to explain what is beneath the feet of the archangels, and what the mention of liver and gall is all about. Well, here goes.
Gabriel stands on a stone. Though its significance is not entirely clear, it may represent the “stone cut from a mountain without hands,” that is, the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary, supposedly without a human father. And of course Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.
Michael stands on a prostrate male. Just how that figure is interpreted depends on which iconography one follows. As I mentioned in this previous posting (https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/borrowed-angel-a-bulgarian-fresco), in some icons Michael is shown tormenting the prostrate soul of a rich man, on whom he stands. The rich man usually has a beard, as does the figure in this icon. That would appear to be the origin of the prostrate man here. Some, however, interpret him as Satan, because in some icons Michael is shown standing on the body of the defeated Satan. In that case, however, Satan is usually depicted with “devilish” characteristics, which is not the case here. So some people will interpret the fallen figure one way, some (often those not familiar with the “Michael and the soul of the rich man story) another.
Now, as for the gall and liver, those, as I indicated above, come from the book of Tobit in the Apocrypha. Here is the immediately relevant portion. It begins with the travels of the Archangel Raphael (disguised as a man named Azarias) and the young Tobias:
1 And as they went on their journey, they came in the evening to the river Tigris, and they lodged there. 2 And when the young man went down to wash himself, a fish leaped out of the river, and would have devoured him. 3 Then the angel said to him, Take the fish. And the young man laid hold of the fish, and drew it to land. 4 To whom the angel said, Open the fish, and take the heart and the liver and the gall, and put them up safely. 5 So the young man did as the angel commanded him; and when they had roasted the fish, they ate it: then they both went on their way, till they drew near to Ecbatana. 6 Then the young man said to the angel, Brother Azarias, to what use are the heart and the liver and the gall of the fish? 7 And he said to him, Concerning the heart and the liver, if a devil or an evil spirit troubles anyone, we must make a smoke thereof in front of the man or the woman, and the person shall be no more bothered. 8 As for the gall, it is good to anoint a man who has whiteness in his eyes, and he shall be healed.
There is more to the story, but that much of it explains the fish beneath the feet of Raphael, as well as the text on his scroll. For the rest, you may go to the book of Tobit, chapter 6.