THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL INSCRIPTIONS

Today, thanks to a reader question, we will take a look at a 14th century icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens.  It represents the Archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies.

{Byzantine Museum, Athens – St. Michael: 14th century – Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Nov 12 2009)

The question asked was, what do the letters in the round mirror (depicted as a transparent sphere here) held by St. Michael mean?

Let’s look at them:

First, we need to know that the letters are Greek, which makes sense, given that it is a Byzantine icon.

The first letter — at the top — is Χ.  It stands for Χριστος — Khristos — “Christ.”
It would be easy to mistake the second letter, at left, for an Α.  But actually it is the letter Δ, which is often found written in this manner in old icons.  It stands for Δικαιος — Dikaios — meaning “Righteous.”
The third letter, at right, is Κ, for Κριτης — Krites — “Judge.”  It is related to our English words “critic” and criticism.”

All together, the letters abbreviate Χ(ριστός) Δ(ίκαιος) Κ(ριτής). — “Christ [the] Righteous Judge.”  It is an expression that recalls the words of John 7:24:

μὴ κρίνετε κατ’ ὄψιν, ἀλλὰ τὴν δικαίαν κρίσιν κρίνετε
Me krinete kat’ opsin, alla ten dikiaian krisin krinete
Not judge according-to appearance, but the rightous judgment judge
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

You may recall that  a variant of this phrase is often found as a Gospel text in Russian icons of Jesus as “Lord Almighty.”

Не на лица судите сынове человечестии, но праведен суд судите: им же бо судом судите, судят вам и в нюже меру мерите, возмерится вам.

“Judge not according to the appearance, sons of men, but judge righteous judgment.  For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure, you shall be measured.”

There is also a title inscription on the Michael icon that we should examine.  It is divided into left and right parts:

At left:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ[ΩΝ]….
HO ARKHON
Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC
HO MEGAS

Notice how the the A and the P (R) are joined, and how the X (KH) in Arkhon is placed above, below a curved line indicating abbreviation.

At right:

…ΜΙΧΑ[Η]Λ
MIKHAEL
…ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
TAXIARKHIS

Notice that the Λ (L) in MIKHAEL is placed above the last two letters.

This title inscription is read with the first line jumping from the left to right side, as does the second, like this:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ(ΩΝ) ΜΙΧΑΗΛ Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
HO ARKHON MIKHAEL HO MEGAS TAXIARKHES

“THE PRINCE MICHAEL THE GREAT COMMANDER”

That title recalls the Old Testament book of Daniel, 12:1, in the Septuagint Greek version:

Και ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ ἀναστήσεται Μιχαὴλ ὁ ἄρχων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ἑστηκὼς ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ λαοῦ σου·
“And in that time shall stand up Michael the great prince, that stands over the sons of your people.”

Thanks to the reader who asked this question, because it helps everyone to advance a bit in the study of icons.

WEDDING AND TEMPTATION

Today we will look at a fresco painted in 1527 at the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, at Meteora in Greece.  Here is an image:

We can see its positioning here, on the upper right-hand wall:

Perhaps you recognize some of the other large images.  To the left of the doorway, we see the “second entry” into Paradise, with Peter at the door, and the Repentant Thief inside, and a soul sitting in the “bosom of Abraham” in the Paradise Garden.  Above the doorway and to its right is a large image of the “Terrible Judgment” — the “Last Judgment.”  But we want to consider the smaller image on the upper left side of the right-hand wall.

Perhaps you have already recognized the depiction.  It is identified by the title inscription at the top:

It reads:

ὉΕΝΚΑ
ΝΑΓΑΜΟC

As is common in Greek inscriptions, the words run together.  We can separate them as:

Ὁ ΕΝ ΚΑΝΑ ΓΑΜΟC

Ho en Kana Gamos
“The in Cana Marriage”

In normal English,
“The Wedding at Cana.”

It depicts the incident recorded in the Gospel called “of John,” 2:1-11:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:   And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus says to him, They have no wine.  Jesus says to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it.  And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

Jesus says to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he says to them, Draw out now, and take it to the governor of the feast. And they took it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and says to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

At left we see Jesus and Mary, identified by their usual inscriptions (abbreviated here) — Meter Theou (“Mother of God”) for Mary, and Iesous Khristos for Jesus, who has the cross in his halo.

To their right, we see a servant filling a jug with the water that is to be miraculously made into wine:

So that is the basic image.  But what is going on at the right side?

The painter has blended the edge of one event into another.  The scene at right is actually a part of a larger type depicting the “Temptation of Jesus” in the wilderness, which chronologically happens right after his baptism by John.

The Gospel called “of Mark” (1:12-13) tells us bluntly and briefly:

And immediately the spirit drives him into the wilderness.  And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

The Greek text says literally,
Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.
“And immediately the Spirit casts him out (ekballei) into the wilderness.”  Ekballei is the same term used for the casting out of demons.

Luke and Matthew, however, embroider the event considerably, and that is what we see in this depiction.  Here is Matthew’s account covering the portions we see in the fresco (the second we see only in part):

Matthew 4:1-7:

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

That is what we see here:  the Devil is telling Jesus to turn the stones into bread:

4 “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And says to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said uto him, It is written again, You shalt not tempt the Lord your God.”

The portion of the image we can see, however, shows only the Devil pointing to the ground.  Jesus is out of the image and to the right, standing higher up on the Jerusalem temple.

You may recall that according to the biblical story, the Devil also tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and offering to give him all the kingdoms of the world.  We find that in the continued Matthew account:

Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And says to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

10 Then says Jesus to him, Get you away, Satan: for it is written, You shalt worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

In this Russian example of the “Temptation,” (a kleimo (“border image”) from an icon of “The Lord Almighty” enthroned, painted in 1682), we see all three of the temptations:

The large image in the foreground shows the Devil (note the tail!) tempting Jesus to make stones into bread.  At upper right, he takes Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple and tells him to cast himself down so angels may save him.  And at upper left, he takes him to a high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world.

Take a close look at the name abbreviation by the head of Jesus in the foreground:

It appears to read IИС ХС for  IИСУС ХРИСТОС.  That extra И in the name of Jesus — making it Iisus Khristos — is the reformed spelling used by the State Church after the Old Believers split off from the State Church   The Old Believers continued to spell the name of Jesus Isus, while the State Church added another letter, making it Iisus.  Oddly, however, the background images of Jesus in this example still have the old IC XC form.

ANOTHER “WOUNDED” ICON: THE ANDRONIKOV IMAGE

There are some Marian icons that one recognizes easily and immediately (if one is generally familiar with Marian icons), and one of these is the “Andronikov” icon — Андрониковская — Andronikovskaya, also called the  Греческая- Андроникова — Grecheskaya-Andronikova — the “‘Greek’-Andronikov” image.

Here is a typical example, which though lithographed, is nonetheless an old presentation icon from about 1900, set into a silver and also velvet frame.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Russian examples of this icon commonly date from the latter 19th-early 20th century.  It is recognized easily by the distinctive crown worn by Mary, and by the slight inclination of her head to the right.

At the bottom of the image was a knife case containing a bone-handled steel knife, said to have been used by a Turk in attacking the image, causing a cut on the neck which bled; the wound is visible in copies of the image.  This notion of an icon bleeding when cut is one of the standard old motifs we encounter in these often fanciful origin stories, which again reflects how icons were traditionally regarded in pre-modern thinking — as persons that could move about on their own volition and even bleed.

It is said that the original icon (yes, it is another of those wishfully but falsely attributed to the hand of St. Luke) was a family icon of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1297-1341).  He is said to have given it to a monastery on the peninsula of Monemvasia, which was in the southern Greek region then called Morea, but more classically known as the Peleponnese.

In 1821 when the Ottoman Turks attacked Greece, the head of the monastery fled with the icon to the city of Patras.  He bequeathed the icon to a relative who happened to be the Russian Consul General, N. I Vlassopoulos.  The Consul General’s son, A. N. Vlassopoulos, sent the icon in 1839 to Odessa and on to the Emperor of Russia, Nikolai Pavlovich (Nicholas I, ruled 1825-1855). For almost thirty years it was in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, then several years in the Trinity Cathedral, and in 1877 it was taken to the Kazan Convent near the town of Vuishny Volochok, in Tver Province.  There it was placed in a special kiot (icon case) in the monastery church.  A special gathering of pilgrims used to be held before it three times a year.

In 1984 the Andronikov icon was stolen, and its whereabouts remain unknown.

The Greek inscription on the image begins Η ΚΥΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚΟΥ ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟΣ  — He Kyria tou andronikou autokratoros …  “The Lady of Andronikos, Autocrat…,” referring to Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, the donor to the Monemvasia monastery (the icon is sometimes also known as the “Monemvasia” icon). Αυτοκρατορος — Autokratoros — “autocrat” was the title used by Byzantine emperors, somewhat the equivalent of the Latin Imperator — “Emperor.”

VISION OF PETER OF ALEXANDRIA

In a previous posting, we looked at a fresco at the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted by the Cretan iconographer Tzortzis Phouka.  Today we will examine another of his works from the same place, and the year 1547.  In Greek and Russian iconography, there are a number of types called the “Vision” of this or that person.  There is the “Vision of Pakhomios,” the “Vision of Tarasiy,” etc. etc.  Today’s example is another of those “vision” types.  It is commonly called “The Vision of St. Peter of Alexandria.”  This type began appearing in churches in the 13th century, though an illustration of it (combining the vision with Peter’s martyrdom) is known from as early as c. 1000, in the Menologion of Basil II, and another illustration is the miniature found in the late 11th-early twelfth century liturgical scroll from the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

First, let’s look at the Greek inscriptions:

We can tell from his garments that the fellow at left is a bishop.  His identifying inscription reads:

Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΠΕΤΡΟC ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΕΙΑC
HO HAGIOS PETROS ALEXANDREIAS
[the] HOLY PETER [of] ALEXANDRIA

You will notice in the inscription several ligatures (joined letters) that we have seen here in previous discussion of Greek ligatures.

The next inscription is a bit more tricky.  Peter is speaking, and what he says is:

ΤΙC CΟΥ ΤΟΝ ΧΕΙΤΟΝΑ CΟΤΕΡ ΔΙΕΙΛΕΝ
TIS SOU TON KHEITONA SOTER DIEILEN
WHO YOUR THE GARMENT SAVIOR TORE

It is a question:  “Who tore your garment, Savior?”

The phrase is found in Vespers for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, written as

Τίς σου τόν χιτώνα Σώτερ διείλεν.
Peter is asking the question of the little guy in the skimpy clothes at upper right.  We can easily identify who this little fellow is from his inscription:
IC XC  — Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”
So the little figure is Jesus, and he answers the question of Peter by saying,
ΑΡΕΙΟC Ο ΑΦΡѠΝ
AREIOS HO APHRON
“ARIUS  THE FOOL”
The small figure with the turban cowering below the feet of the diminutive Jesus is identified by inscription as
ΑΡΕΙΟC
AREIOS
“ARIUS”

Now this is one of those icons having to do with the history of Eastern Orthodox dogma, and the bitter interclerical battle over whether Jesus is God and equal to God the Father, and of the “same substance,” which resulted in the declaration of the First Nicene Council that Jesus is fully God, equal to the Father, “of the same substance.”  However the text upon which this icon is based is another of those fictionalized accounts of saints’ lives, in this case the Acts of Peter of Alexandria.  The relevant portion deals with the answer of Peter to clerics who came to him, asking that Arius be reinstated in the Church:

“For in this night, while I was solemnly pouring forth my prayers to God, there stood by me a boy of about twelve years, the brightness of whose face I could not endure, for this whole cell in which we stand was radiant with a great light. He was clothed with a linen tunic divided into two parts, from the neck to the feet, and holding in his two hands the rents of the tunic, he applied them to his breast to cover his nudity. At this vision I was stupefied with astonishment. And when boldness of speech was given to me, I exclaimed: Lord, who has rent your tunic? Then said he, Arius has rent it, and by all means beware of receiving him into communion; behold, tomorrow they will come to entreat you for him. See, therefore, that you be not persuaded to acquiesce: nay, rather lay your commands upon Achillas and Alexander the priests, who after your translation will rule my Church, not by any means to receive him. You shall very quickly fulfill the lot of the martyr.”

The general idea is that Arius “tore the garment of the Church,” that is, he caused a schism in the Church — the “body of Christ” — by his disagreement with those who believed Jesus to be fully God and equal to the Father, and so Arius was not be be allowed back in the Church.

Peter was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century, and was the person who excommunicated Arius over doctrinal differences in 311 regarding the nature and divinity of Jesus.  Peter was executed on orders from the Emperor Maximian.

Oddly enough, given its subject matter, the type “Vision of St. Peter of Alexandria” became associated with the Eucharistic Liturgy.  That is likely due to the semi-nude image of the 12-year-old Jesus in the “Vision,” reminiscent of the image of the Child Christ lying on the diskos (paten) as the “Lamb of God,” the Eucharistic bread that Eastern Orthodox believe is the body of Jesus.

Here is a 14th century example of the type, from the Gračanica Monastery, Serbia

 

EVEN MORE ON LIGATURES IN GREEK ICON INSCRIPTIONS

Here is a rather long posting that will likely severely bore anyone who is not interested in learning to read Greek icon inscriptions.  But it is a helpful posting for those peculiar souls who do want to learn that rather esoteric skill.  In any case, it is something any serious student of icons should know.

A reader asked about inscriptions on icons of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene.  That gave me a good excuse to talk a bit more about ligatures in Greek icon inscriptions.  “Ligature,” in writing, is the linking or joining of letters together.  When icon students first encounter ligatures, they find them mystifying and confusing, but really the principle is quite simple once one knows what to look for.

First, let’s take a look at the main portion of an example of such an icon type in this fresco from Mt. Athos:

Here is what Mary is saying to Jesus in the inscription:

kurieeisu

Let’s look a little closer:

It begins with an abbreviation:  ΚΕ.  But notice the horizontal line above the two letters.  Do you remember that such a line (sometimes curved, but still horizontal) indicates an abbreviation?  Here, the two letters abbreviate ΚΥΡΙΕ (Kyrie).  You may recall that ΚΥΡΙΟC (Kyrios) is the Greek word for “Lord.”  KYRIE is just another form of it — the form used in addressing someone — in talking to them directly.   So here KYRIE also means”Lord” (but see below).

Now in a previous “lesson,” I told you that when encountering unfamiliar inscriptions, one should look at the visual context, at what is in the image.  And here the context is the biblical story of Mary talking to Jesus after his resurrection.  So all we need ask is, where in that context does she address him as “Lord?”  We must also remember that Kyrie is the standard respectful way for a woman to address a male in Greek — which is why the King James version of the Bible sometimes translates it as “Sir.”  So again, where in this context does Mary address Jesus as “Lord” or “Sir?”  We find it in the Gospel called “of John,” Chapter 20, verse 15:

Jesus says to her, Woman, why weep you? whom seek you? She, supposing him to be the gardener, says to him, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

The next step, of course, is to take a look at the same verse in a Greek New Testament, so that we can verify that we have chosen correctly:

ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΗ ΙΗCΟΥC ΓΥΝΑΙ ΤΙ ΚΛΑΙΕΙC; ΤΙΝΑ ΖΗΤΕΙC; ΕΚΕΙΝΗ ΔΟΚΟΥCΑ ΟΤΙ Ο ΚΗΠΟΥΡΟC ΕCΤΙΝ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΩ ΚΥΡΙΕ ΕΙ CΥ ΕΒΑCΤΑCΑC ΑΥΤΟΝ ΕΙΠΕ ΜΟΙ ΠΟΥ ΕΘΗΚΑC ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΑΓΩ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΑΡΩ

Now, let’s compare that with the inscription on the icon:

Here’s where we run into the ligature issue.  We already know that the first two letters, KE, abbbreviate KYRIE — “Lord”/”Sir.”  that means, if we have the chosen the correct text, the next two letters should be EI in Greek.  But in the actual icon inscription, the third symbol does not look like any recognizable letter at all.  The reason is that it is a ligature, a joined letter.  We find it it two places in the inscription:

The first occurance is somewhat marred by a crack in the painting surface, but the second, almost just below the first, is quite clear.  It looks rather like the number nine.  But the rounded part to the left is the “E” portion of the ligature, and the vertical line is the “I.”  So we can be reasonably certain that we have the correct text, because the third and fourth letters in the inscription are EI, meaning “if.”

The next two Greek letters in the inscription look like CV:

C in Greek is “s” in English.  And the V is actually just a way of writing the Greek letter Y, which in lower case is υ.  So the word in Greek is CY, which we can transliterate as SY or sy.  Sy is Greek for “you.”

Up to this point we have:

Lord/Sir if you…

The next word in the inscription is not complete:

 

It has one ligature, the fourth symbol.  That is a combination of C and T in Greek.  So it reads  EBACTAC — Ebastas.  But the word is shortened.  It is really EBACTACAC — Ebastasas, meaning “carried off”

The next word is also missing its ending:

The first symbol is a ligature of a and u, so the three letters shown are aut, which if written in full would be auton, meaning “him.”

Next come these words, all pushed together, as is often common in Greek inscriptions:

eipemoi

The first letter is the ligature of e and i that we have already seen.  With the next two letters, it makes the word ΕΙΠΕ — EIPE–, meaning “tell.”  That is followed by the word MOI, meaning “me.”  And the final word in the line has a common ligature of the letters O and Y, with the Y placed atop the O.  So it is the word ΠΟΥ — POU –, meaning “where.”

So now we have:

“Lord/Sir, if you carried off him, tell me where…”

Then comes:

ethek

The first four letters are ΕΘΗΚ — ethek, but the writer has left off the ending.  The whole word would be ΕΘΗΚΑC — ethekas — meaning “[you] have laid.”  That is followed by the abbreviation for AUTON (AVT) that we have already seen, and so we know AUTON means “him.”  The last four letters form the combined word KAΓω — KAGO –, and the two words put together to make it are ΚΑΙ ΕΓω, kai ego, meaning “and I.”

Adding that to what we already have, it gives us:

Lord/Sir, if you carried off him tell me where you have laid him, and I...”

Then come the last words of Mary’s little speech:

Here the word AYTON — auton, which we saw earlier in its shortened form, is spelled out in full.  You will recall it means “him.”  Next comes a ligature, the letters A and P (R) joined, so the last word is ARω — ARO, meaning ” [I] will take away.”

So the inscription, in our rather literal translation so far, is

Lord/Sir, if you carried off him tell me where you have laid him, and I him will take away.

If we put that into more normal English order, we get,

Sir, if you carried him off, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

Now keep in mind that you did not have to know the entire inscription to know what it was.  You determined that from the first few words, seen in the context of the image shown — Mary kneeling before the resurrected Jesus.  Then all you had to do was to find those few words in the Greek text of the New Testament where the story of Mary before the resurrected Jesus is told.  Using that process enables one to recognize a great many inscriptions without knowing the entire vocabulary of the text at first glance.

We can see how useful that is if we look at another icon of the same type, also with a Greek inscription:

If we look at what Mary is saying to Jesus in this example, we find it to be:

It is very much the same as the inscription in the first example, with only slight differences in writing.  And the one word separated at the bottom is easy.  In Greek letters it is ΡΑΒΒΟΥΝΗ — RABBOUNI — an Aramaic word that means loosely “My Master/Teacher.”  That, according to the Gospel called “of John,” was the exclamation of Mary to Jesus when she finally recognized him.

Just for completeness, let’s deal with the other inscriptions one is likely to find on icons of this type.  First, there is the identifying inscription above Mary:

Picture 089

Picture 089

As you might guess, it just reads:

Η ΑΓΙΑ ΜΑΡΙΑ Η ΜΑΓΔΑΛΙΝΗ — HE HAGIA MARIA HE MAGDALINE

You probably noticed that the HAGIA is abbreviated.  In the name “Mary,” the A and Ρ (R) are joined, and the HE (H) is linked to the M in Η ΜΑΓΔΑΛΙΝΗ — “the Magdalene.”

And of course the title as a whole means “THE HOLY MARY THE MAGDALENE.”

There is also an inscription found in this type that you should already recognize from a previous posting.  For it, we will go back to this example in the first image:

The inscription is just above the empty grave of Jesus (with the graveclothes lying in it):

Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΤΑΦΟC — HO HAGIOS TAPHOS — “The Holy Sepulchre.”

Let’s also look back at that first image to see what Jesus is saying to Mary:

memou

The IC at the top is of course just the standard abbreviation for “Jesus.”  But the inscription below it has the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene:

ΜΗ ΜΟΥ ΑΠΤΟΥ  — ΜE MOU APTOU  — “ME NOT TOUCH”

In normal English that is “TOUCH ME NOT,” or more modern, “DO NOT TOUCH ME.”  That accounts for the common Latin title often given these images in the West, Noli Me Tangere, which is just the translation of Me Mou Aptou.

I hope you noticed that the letters ΜΗ are joined in a ligature, as are ΟΥ in the word ΜΟΥ, and there is another ligature joining the letters Π and Τ in ΑΠΤΟΥ.

Finally, let’s take a look at the title inscription of the whole image at the very top of the first example.  It is cut off in the photo, but we can fill in what is missing:

memouaptitle

Η ΜΕΤΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΓΕΡCΗΝ ΠΡΟC ΤΗ ΜΑΓΔΑΛΙΝΗ[Ν] ΜΑΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ  ΣωΤΗΡΟΣ ΕΜΦΑΝΙΑ

HE META TEN EGERSEN PROS TE MAGDALINE[N] MARIA TOU SOTEROS EMPHANIA
The After the Resurrection to the Magdalene Mary of the Savior Appearance

In normal English,

“THE APPEARANCE OF THE SAVIOR TO MARY MAGDALENE AFTER THE RESURRECTION”

One will often find little variations in Greek spelling (as in ΕΓΕΡCΗΝ / ΕΓΕΡCΙΝ in the above example), but usually they are not severe enough to cause confusion.

You may also wish to know that this ME MOU APTOU icon type of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is another of those borrowings into Eastern Orthodox art from Western Catholic art, from the time when Venice controlled the island of Crete, and the icon painters there worked to supply both Greek Orthodox and Western Catholic markets for paintings.  You may have also noticed that Mary Magdalene’s head is bare in these icons, which is a little unusual, given that most women have their heads covered in icons.  But it is usual for Mary’s hair to be seen in these particular type, because the image was borrowed very closely from Western examples — and in the West, Mary Magdalene is often seen with head uncovered.

 

 

THE “TREE HOUSE” OF DAVID OF THESSALONIKI

Here is an icon pattern from the Russian Stroganov Podlinnik   Today’s focus is on the fellow in the tree, shown in this example from the month of June:

davidsolunskiy

The inscription above him — written in the handwriting style of the late 16th-early 17th century — reads:

ПР[Е]П[О]Д[O]БНАГО ОЦА НАШЕГО Д[А]В[И]ДА ИЖЕ В СЕЛУНИ СЕД РЯСА ВОХРА З БЕЛИЛОМ

PREPODOBNAGO OTSA NASHEGO DAVIDA IZHE V SELUNI
VENERABLE        FATHER   OUR        DAVID   who-is  In THESSALONIKI

RYASA VOKHRA Z BELILOM
HABIT  IN OCHRE WITH WHITE

ИЖЕ = IZHE is a Church Slavic word found often in the old painters’ manuals and in the calendar of saints.  It means approximately “which/who is,” “the one which is” or “the one who is.”  It often distinguishes saints by the place traditionally associated with them.  When used of saints in this manner,  it means loosely “the one in…”  In today’s case, this David, to distinguish him from others, is “the one in Thessaloniki.

So all together, it means:

Our Venerable Father David, the one in Thessaloniki;
Grey, habit in ochre with white.

The first part of the text identifies the saint:  David of Thessaloniki.   The second part tells how to paint him: Grey (hair and beard), and his monastic habit ochre with white.

Being of Thessaloniki, David is one of the many Greek saints celebrated in Russian Orthodoxy as well.  Here is a Greek icon of him:

davidthessaloniki

Being in red, the inscription above the saint is a bit difficult to make out, but it looks to be much the same as the usual inscription for him in Greek icons: O όσιος Δαβίδ ο εν Θεσσαλονίκη — in old pronunciation, Ho Hosios Dabid, ho en Thessaloniki, but in modern Greek, O Osios David o en Thessaloniki.  You will recall that Hosios/Osios is the title used for a monastic male saint in Greek.

The icon shows David sitting in his almond tree residence, and a non-saint kneeling at right.  We know he is not a saint because he has no halo.

At left is seated a crowned figure identified by another red inscription, partly abbreviated as:

Ο ΠΡΟΦ ΔΑΒΙΔ
Ο Προφήτης Δαβίδ
Ho Prophetes Dabid/O Prophetes David
THE PROPHET DAVID

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the King David of the Old Testament is commonly titled as “Prophet.”  In this Greek icon, King David holds a scroll reading:

δικαιος ως φοινιξ ανθησει ωσει κεδρος

That is an excerpt from Psalm 92:12 (91:13 Septuagint):
δίκαιος ὡς φοῖνιξ ἀνθήσει, ὡσεὶ ἡ κέδρος ἡ ἐν τῷ Λιβάνῳ πληθυνθήσεται.
The righteous shall flourish as a palm-tree: he shall be increased as the cedar in Lebanon.

Remember that in icons, people speak through their scrolls, like in cartoon bubbles.  So King David is saying that David of Thessaloniki is one of the righteous, and of course the mention of two kinds of trees relates to David of Thessaloniki living in a tree.

The figure shown in the clouds above is of course Jesus.

So much for the linguistic and symbolic aspect of these images.  But just who was David of Thessaloniki, and why did he live in a tree?

Well, you know from earlier postings about the odd kind of saint called a “stylite,” one who lives on a pillar.  The term for tree-dwelling saints is “dendrite.”  So David of Thessaloniki is a dendrite.

To make a long story short, David is said to have been an ascetic monk living roughly between 450-550 c.e.  He was thought to have come to Thessaloniki in Greece from Mesopotamia.  He entered the monastery of Saints Theodore and Merkourios.  While there, he somehow got it into his head that the thing to do was to make his dwelling up in the branches of the almond tree that grew beside the monastery church.  He thought that if he did that, he would somehow learn God’s will for him.  So he lived in the tree in the heat of summer and cold of winter for three years.  After that time, an angel appeared to him, saying that God had heard his prayers, but that it was time for David to climb down and live in a monastic cell like other monks.  Because of his eccentric asceticism, David gained a local reputation as a holy man and healer, and was visited by many people seeking his help.

For some reason, these stories tend to leave out details such as how the fellow living in the tree managed the sanitary necessities of being a human, but then such things are seldom mentioned in hagiography.

Greek icons of David of Thessaloniki often have him holding a scroll upon which is written:

Μοναχός εστιν αληθώς ο μηδέν έχων εν τω παρόντι βίω ει μη μόνον τον Χριστόν.

It means loosely:

“The true monk is one who in this life has nothing but Christ.”

 

GOING UP? ICONS OF THE ASCENSION

Today we will take a look at the the  “Ascension” type, called Voznesenie in Russia, and in Greek icons He Analepsis Η ΑΝΑΛΗΨΙC.
In the Bible, we find Ascension narratives only in the Gospel attributed to Luke and in the book of Acts.  Both are rather minimal.  There is also a very brief mention in the Gospel called “of Mark,” but it is not found in the earliest manuscripts, and is a later addition.

Here is a pleasant late Russian example of the Ascension type painted in the traditional manner:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The Church Slavic inscription reads ВОЗНЕСЕНИЕ ГОСПОДНЕ — Voznesenie Gospodne — “Ascension of the Lord.”

At both sides are Twelve Apostles, identified by inscription as “Apostles of the Lord.”  And in the center, as is common in “Ascension” icons, stands Mary.

Above is Jesus, rising into heaven in a circle of light carried by two angels.  Note that Jesus sits on a rainbow.  That element (not mentioned in the Gospels) comes from two main sources, the first being the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, chapter 1:

26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.

28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

The second source is the book of Revelation, the “Apocalypse of John”:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

What we see in this icon, then, is not the usual Western European depiction of a standing Jesus slowly rising into the clouds, but rather a depiction of Jesus raised up to the heavenly throne on which he sits and is said to come in judgment.

Here is an earlier image of the Ascension found in the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, usually dated to the 6th century, though the book as a whole may be a composite volume of more than one date.  This depiction borrows elements from Ezekiel and from the Revelation:

In it, Jesus is not seated but standing, and there is no rainbow.  There are six “standard” angels (four above, two beside Mary).  Two hold the oval in which Jesus stands, two approach Jesus with wreaths of victory, and two look toward the apostles. But just below Jesus, we see a creature with four faces, wings filled with eyes, and wheels at both sides.  This too comes from Ezekiel 1 and from the Revelation 4.  The four heads, in Eastern Orthodox tradition, symbolize the four Evangelists Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.  The wheels, in Eastern Orthodox theology, are the rank of angel called “Thrones.”

If you look carefully to upper left and right of the image, you will see the moon and the sun depicted as living beings.  Here is the moon:

And here the sun:

If we look at the group of Apostles, we see there are twelve.  As the Gospels relate, at the time of the Ascension there were only eleven, Judas having betrayed Jesus and committed suicide.  But the Rabbula image and many later examples of the Ascension add Paul as a twelfth apostle in the type (the twelfth was actually Matthias, chosen after the Ascension and not depicted in it).  Of course the presence of Paul is an anachronism, but Eastern Orthodoxy likes to see the Ascension icon as also an image of the Church, and so we see Mary at center (also considered an image of the Church on her own), as well as those apostles later considered the two chief apostolic founders of the Church, Peter and Paul.

Here is a much later Russian example that has neither rainbow nor the symbols of the Evangelists nor “Thrones” nor Paul.  It is influenced not only by Western and less anachronistic depictions of the Ascension, but also shows the increased realism favored by the State Church in later times.  Here the three chief figures at bottom are Mary, the Apostle Peter at left, and the Apostle John at right:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is another Russian example, this time again painted in the traditional “stylized” manner, with much attention given to the hill from which Jesus is rising:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The Ascension type is found not only as a separate icon, but also in icons showing the Resurrection and major Church festivals.

Now the interesting thing about Ascension icons is that they perpetuate right into modern times the ancient, pre-scientific notion of a universe that has humans living on a flat earth above which is a solid firmament, and above that firmament is not only a sea but also the throne of God.  “Heaven” in traditional Jewish and Christian belief was the sky, so of course when Jesus ascends, he ascends into the sky.  Now, however, thanks to science, we know that the firmament is not a solid dome, that there is no sea above it, and no throne room of God up there, where he sits like an ancient king.  Consequently, many modern Christians, in an attempt to adapt, have begun thinking of Heaven not as the sky, but as somehow in a separate dimension.  That view, however, is not in keeping with the Ascension icons nor with biblical accounts.  But early Christians, not knowing that the earth was round, and not knowing that the earth is only a tiny particle in an immense universe, thought that all Jesus had to do to reach Heaven was to go up.  Of course “up” would take one in multiple and different directions of space, depending on where and when on the globe one went up, as the earth revolves in its path around the sun.  And we know that one can go light years (the distance light travels in a year) in any direction and not find a physical Heaven as described in the Old and New Testaments.  All this provides major problems for today’s “literalist” Christians, which is why they tend not to think about the matter.