AN INSCRIPTION REVISITED

Here is an 18th century Greek icon:

The title — which you should be able to read on your own if you have followed past postings here — is:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟς ΑΝΤΙΠΑC
Ho Hagios Antipas
“The Holy Antipas.”

This Antipas is  the Hieromartyr (Priest-martyr) Antipas of Pergamum — traditionally the go-to saint for those suffering from toothache.

In this icon he is a serious-looking fellow:

He holds an open book of the Gospels.  Usually we find book texts in Greek icons written in upper case letters, but this inscription includes lots of lower case, rather cursive letters:

Don’t let it worry you.  Cursive inscriptions, when clearly written, are not that difficult; and in fact we have already seen this inscription on an icon of St. Nicholas:
(https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/a-greek-nicholas-text/)

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα· δι’ ἐμοῦ ἐάν τις εἰσέλθῃ, σωθήσεται, καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται, καὶ νομὴν εὑρήσει.

Ego eimi he thura: di emou ean tis eiselthe, sothesetai, kai eiseleusetai kai exeleusetai, kai nomen euresei.

It is from John 10: 9:

I am the door: by me if anyone enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

This inscription adds to that earlier text, continuing with the beginning of John 10:10:

ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ [καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ· ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν].

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.

“OH, NO! NOT MORE GREEK!” OR “YAY! MORE GREEK!”

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 MegalosHosios 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:

Γ
ὉἉ

That is obviously a common abbreviation for ἉΓΙΟC/Ho Hagios, “The Holy.”

Below that we find:

ΙΩΑΝΝΙ
ΚΙΟς

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:
Ὁ ΜΕ
ΓΑC

— 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
ΘΕΟC ΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ
ΜΟΥ Ὁ ΧΡΙCΤΟC 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:

ΕΛΠΙC/ELPIS/HOPE
ΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ/KATAPHYGE/REFUGE
CΚΕΠΗ/SKEPE/PROTECTION

We can read the whole inscription like this:

Ho Elpis mou ho Theos;
Kataphyge mou ho Khristos;
Skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion

Literally,

The Hope of-me the God;
Refuge of-me the Christ;
Protection of-me the Spirit the Holy

And in normal English — the way we would translate it — it means:

My Hope is God;
My Refuge is Christ;
My Protection the Holy Spirit.

This inscription — which is a common inscription on icons of Ioannikios — is a variation on what was said to be a frequent prayer of his:

Η ελπίς μου ὁ Πατήρ, καταφυγή μου οὙιός, σκέπη μου το Πνεύμα το Ἁγιον, Τριάς Ἁγία, δόξα σοι.

He elpis mou ho Pater, kataphyge mou o Huios, skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion, Trias Hagia, doxa soi.

Literally:

The help of-me the Father, refuge of-me the Son, protection of-me the Spirit the Holy, Trinity Holy, glory to-you

In normal English,
“My help is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”

In Eastern Orthodoxy, it has become a Trinitarian prayer that is often inserted into longer prayers.

Let’s look now at a late printed icon of Ioannikios that is inscribed in both Greek and Church Slavic:

We see his title written beside his head, first in Greek, then in Church Slavic, both of which you should now be able to read.  But what about his scroll text?

As we shall see, it is nothing to worry about.  It reads (I am using a modern Russian font):

Упование мое
Отец, прибежи-
ще мое Сын,
покров мой Ду-
х Святый, Тро-
ице Святая
слава Тебе.

Upovanie moe Otets, pribyezhishche moe Suin, pokrov moy Dukh Svyatuiy, Troitse Svyataya, slava Tebye.

“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:

dd

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:

ΙΩΑΝ[N]IΚΙΟ[C]
Ὁ ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟC

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).

He is said to have died in 846 c.e.

THE MYSTERIOUS LETTERS ON THE NICHOLAS OMOPHORION

Every now and then, someone asks me about the letters sometimes seen on Greek icons of Nicholas of Myra — specifically on his omophorion, the stole bishops wear about the neck.

Let’s look more closely:

They can be quite mystifying, but the mystery is easy to solve.

First, the most common are those seen on the right in the image above.  They should be read in this order:

Φ Χ
Φ Π

Τhey abbreviate the Greek words

Φ[ΩΣ] Χ[ΡΙΣΤΟΥ]
Φ[ΑΙΝΕΙ] Π[ΑΣΙ]

In full,

Φως Χριστού Φαίνει Πάσι
Phos Khristou Phainei Pasi
“The light (PHos) of Christ (KHristou ) Shines (PHainei) on all (Pasi )

“The Light of Christ Shines Upon All.”

You may also see the last word in Greek as Πάσιν/pasin, with the same meaning.

During the weekdays of Lent, the Eucharistic liturgy — that is, the one in which the bread and wine are consecrated — is not used.  Instead the evening liturgy used is called the “Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.”  When communion is given during this vespers liturgy, the “gifts” used — that is, the bread and wine — were previously consecrated during the Eucharistic liturgy of the preceding Sunday.  That is why they are called “presanctified gifts.”

Now at one point in that Vespers communion liturgy, the priest looks at the icon of Christ and says:

Φώς Χριστού…
Phos Khristou
“The light of Christ…”

Then he turns to the congregation and says:

…φαίνει πάσι
phainei pasi.”
“…shines upon all.”

So that is the origin of the  ΦΧΦΠ.

Another abbreviation is also sometimes seen on the omophorion, as in the image on this page.  It is:

IC XC
N K

You may have already guessed that the IC is for ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ — Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”  You will of course remember that on Greek icons the older form of “S” is C and the newer form Σ.

You might at first be puzzled by the N K, until you recall the very common cross abbreviation:

IC XC NIKA
Iesous Khristos Nika
“Jesus Christ Conquers.”

And that is what the N K on the omophorion stands for:  N[I]K[A] — “[he] Conquers.”

SAINTS WHO NEVER WERE: SERGIUS AND BACCHUS

There are quite a number of traditionally paired saints in Eastern Orthodox iconography — Zosima and Savvatiy, Cosmas and Damian, Florus and Laurus, and so on.

Today I would like to briefly discuss another prominent pair of saints.  Their names in latinized form are Sergius and Bacchus.

Traditionally, Sergius and Bacchus were supposed to have been Roman soldiers and secret Christians martyred in the 4th century during the reign of the Roman emperor Galerius Maximianus (305-11) because they refused to sacrifice to the gods.  Their names were included in early accounts of martyrs, and they were popularly venerated as early as the 5th century, but their tale is filled with anachronisms and pious fantasy.  It is likely that they never existed at all, at least as they are represented in their hagiography.

However their story came to be, oddly enough Sergius and Bacchus are best known today as “gay” icons, and some newly-painted images with that focus depict them in rather more intimate closeness than the majority of older images.  This is due to a book written in the late 20th century that, with not unquestioned scholarship, presented the premise that Sergius and Bacchus were a romantically homosexual couple.

Well, as we have seen, though they have a centuries-long history of veneration in Eastern Orthodoxy and in Catholicism, the most interesting thing about Sergius and Bacchus is that they apparently never existed at all as the traditional lives of saints depict them.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states “their existing Acts are not genuine,” which is a polite way of saying that the accounts of their lives and martyrdom are as historical as Pinocchio.  Eastern Orthodoxy, however, has never reviewed its vast list of saints to try to separate those who are “fake” from those who did exist, so there are quite a number of saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church calendars and icons today who — like Sergius and Bacchus — have fictional life stories or who did not exist at all.

That leaves us with the question of whether Sergius and Bacchus are represented anywhere in their hagiography as a romantically homosexual couple, and there we do find some strong evidence, at least in one period of time.

In the 10th century revision of the “passion” of Sergius and Bacchus by Symeon/Simeon Metaphrastes, (included in his Menologion), we find a segment describing the state of Sergius after the martyrdom of his companion Bacchus:

Ὁ σύναθλος δέ Σέργιος ἀπολειφθεὶς λύπῃ τε διὰ τὸν χωρισμὸν καὶ ἡδονῇ πάλιν διὰ τὰ προσδοκώμενα ἐμερίζετο. Ἀλλ’οὺ περιεῖδεν αὐτὸν τῷ χωρισμῷ κάμνοντα ὁ γλυκὺς ἑταῖρος καὶ ἐραστής: ἀλλὰ φαιδρᾷ τῇ ὄψει ὁ θεῖος Βάκχος καὶ συνήθει τῷ τῆς στρατείας    σχήματι νυκτὸς ἐπιφανεὶς καὶ διαλεχθεὶς τῷ φίλῷ καὶ θάρσους ἐμπλήσας, τὸ σκυθρωπὸν τε τῆς ἀθυμίας διέλυσε, καὶ ἀσφαλέστερον ἅμα καὶ γενναιότερον πρὸς τὰς μελλούσας τιμωρίας διέθηκεν. [Metaphrastes, 1024.]

In it, the martyred Bacchus is described as ὁ γλυκὺς ἑταῖρος καὶ ἐραστής / ho glykys hetairos kai erastes — the “sweet friend/companion and lover” of Sergius.  In Greek, an erastes was commonly the dominant figure in a romantic/sexual relationship.  Even in modern Greek, an erastes is a “lover” in the sexual sense.  We can hardly go back and ask Simeon Metaphrastes why those specific words were used, but we can certainly see that as they stand, whether so intended or not, they are easily interpreted as indicating a romantic and sexual relationship between Sergius and Bacchus.  It is no wonder then that the the pair of saints, though they probably never existed, have become known as homosexual “icons,” much to the dismay of more conservative Eastern Orthodox believers.

Aside from all that, Sergius and Bacchus can still be put to some practical use in helping improve ability to read Greek icon inscriptions, so let’s take a look at some examples.

Here is a 16th-century fresco of the pair by Theophanes the Cretan, found in the Lavra of Athanasios on Mount Athos.  Note that each holds a cross, signifying martyrdom for the Christian faith.

The title inscriptions should be easy for you to read if you have been following my earlier postings on reading Greek inscriptions.

Here is the left inscription:

sergiosinsc

By now you should know that the three letters at upper left stand for Ο ΑΓΙΟC — Ho Hagios — meaning “The Holy.”  Below that is the saint’s name, written partly to his left, partly to his right:  CΕΡΓΙΟς — Sergios.

And here is the right inscription:

We see the same Ho Hagios abbreviation at upper left, and below is the saint’s name:  ΒΑΚΧΟC — Bakkhos, which we usually see in its latinized form, Bacchus.  You will recall that the letter X (chi) in Greek has the rough, gutteral pronunciation of the last ch in the name of the composer Bach.

That was really easy, so here is something more challenging, the inscription from another Mount Athos fresco of the martyrdom of Sergius and Bacchus, this time by the 16th-century Cretan painter Tzortzis:

It is quite gruesome, as are many scenes of martyrdom in Eastern Orthodox iconography, so let’s concentrate on the title inscription at the top:

It reads:

ΜαΡΤυΡΙοΝΤωΝΑΓΙωΝ
CΕΡΓΙουΚΑΙΒΑΚΧΟΥ

MARTYRIONTONHAGION
SERGIOUKAIBAKKHOU

If we separate the words in that, we get:

Martyrion Ton Hagion Sergiou Kai Bakkhou
Martyrdom of-the Holy Sergios and Bakkhos

As you can see, the word Hagios and names Sergios and Bakkhos take on different grammatical endings here.

You should know that the Greek word μαρτύριον (martyrion) originally meant a testimony, as in giving one’s testimony or witness; it gradually took on the looser meaning of “martyrdom” — being killed for one’s testimony or cause.

Here is a less sophisticated 17th century icon of Sergios and Bakkhos, from the Khilandari Monastery on Mount Athos:

 

 

 

SWALLOWED BY A SEA MONSTER: A JONAH INSCRIPTION

A reader asked about a Greek inscription.  It is on a 16th century fresco of the Old Testament Prophet Jonah from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted by the Cretan Tzortzis.  Somehow it feels very appropriate to talk about Jonah after an American presidential election that makes a great many of us feel as though we had been suddenly thrown into the sea and swallowed up by a monster.

Jonah, as almost everyone knows, is the fellow who was told by his god to go to the great city of Nineveh and prophesy there of the deity’s coming wrath.  Jonah did not like the job he was given, so he took a ship at Joppa, going away from Nineveh toward Tarshish.  While on this journey, a great storm arose.  The sailors cast lots (an old form of divination) to determine what had brought the storm upon them, and the result was that the lot fell on Jonah.  So to save themselves, the sailors tossed him into the stormy sea, where he was swallowed by what in Greek is called a κῆτος (ketos).  Ketos was a rather vague word that applied to any sea monster or huge fish.  Much later, people began to think of it as meaning a whale, which is why we usually speak of the tale of Jonah as “Jonah and the Whale.”   Spending three days and nights in the belly of the sea monster,  Jonah prayed to his god and repented for trying to run away.  The sea monster vomited him up, and he went to Ninevah to tell them their city would be overthrown because of its wickedness.

The image of Jonah being vomited up by the sea monster is one of the few later icon images that can be found also as a common motif in the pre-icon art of the early Christians, where it was apparently used as a symbol of salvation and resurrection.  It is found both in painted form (as in the catacombs) and in the round, as in this 3rd century example in marble:
ionasketos3rdc
Let’s take a look to see what can be made of the inscriptions on the fresco:
We see first that they are in Greek.  And there are two of them, one in the upper right-hand corner, which we may reasonably suspect is the “title” inscription for the image.  The other is on the scroll held by Jonah.  And we all know that in icons, scrolls are the “cartoon bubbles” through which persons speak to the viewer.
Let’s look first at the upper right inscription.  We see that as in most older Greek icon inscriptions, the words are not separated as they would be in modern writings.
ionasinscright

It is divided into three lines, which we can place together and transliterate:

ΗΕΕΚΤΟΥΚΥ  ΤΟΥCΑΝΑΔΟCΙC   ΤΟΥΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥΙωΝΑ
HEEKTOUKU TOUSANADOSIS     TOUPROPHETOUIONA
If you have been reading past postings here on reading Greek inscriptions, you should recognize the words Ἡ — He — the feminine form of “the.”  And you should recognize the word ΤΟΥ — tou — even though it is abbreviated, as “of the.”  And you might recognize the similarity of the letters ΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥ — prophetou — to our English word “prophet.”  Notice that it begins with the joined letters Π (p) and  Ρ (r).  So let’s go on to divide the inscription into its individual words:
ΗΕ ΕΚ ΤΟΥ ΚΥΤΟΥC ΑΝΑΔΟCΙC ΤΟΥ ΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥ ΙωΝΑ
HE EK TOU KUTOUS ANADOSIS TOU PROPHETOU IONA

Literally translated, that is:

The (he) out (ek) of-the (tou) sea-monster (kutous=ketous) vomiting (anadosis) of-the (tou) prophet (prophetou) Jonah (Iona)

We can put it into normal English as:

“The Vomiting of the Prophet Jonah by the Sea Monster”

Or if we want to make it less blunt,

“The Sea Monster Expels the Prophet Jonah”
From previous  postings here, you should now be familiar with every ligature in this and the following scroll inscription:
  ionasinscleft_1

Transliterated, it is:

ΕΒΟΗCΑ ΕΝ ΘΛΙΨΕΙ ΜΟΥ ΠΡΟC Κ[ΥΡΙΟ]Ν ΤΟΝ Θ[ΕΟ]Ν ΜΟΥ Κ[ΑΙ] ΕΙCΗΚΟΥCΕ[Ν] ΜΟΥ
EBOESA EN THLIPSEI MOU PROS K[URIO]N TON TH[EO]N MOU K[AI] EISEKOUSE[N] MOU
There are some abbreviations, and I have supplied the missing letters in parentheses.

The inscription on the scroll is the words of Jonah as found in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, in Jonah 2:3:

Καὶ εἶπεν ᾿Εβόησα ἐν θλίψει μου πρὸς κύριον τὸν θεόν μου, καὶ εἰσήκουσέν μου· ἐκ κοιλίας ᾅδου κραυγῆς μου ἤκουσας φωνῆς μου.

Kai eipen Eboesa en thlipsei mou pros kurion ton theon mou, kai esiekousen mou
ek koilias hadou krauges mou ekousas phones mou.

And [he] said, I-cried in affliction of-me to [the] Lord the God of-me, and [he] hearkened [of] me; out of the belly of Hades cry of-me [he] heard voice of-me.

So we could translate the portion written on the scroll as:

I cried in my affliction to the Lord my God, and he hearkened to me.”

Now if we could only get out of the next four years as easily as Jonah got out of the sea monster in this old tale.