Ho kleptes ouk erkhetai ei me hina klepse [kai apolese. ego elthon hina zoen ekhosin kai perisson ekhosin.
“The thief comes not but to steal [and kill, and destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.]”
As one often finds on Greek icons, there are two inscriptions at the base. Here is the first:
ΧΕΙΡ κονσταντινου του κονταρινε KHEIR Konstantinou tou Kontarine
“[The] Hand of Konstantinos Kontarines”
That is the painter’s signature. He lived from 1699-1738, and we see the date 1738 above the end of the signature.
And here is the second:
ΔΕΙCΙC ΤΟΥ ΔΟΥΛΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΜΙΧΑΗΛ CΠΑΝΟΥ DEISIS TOU DOULOU THEOU MIKHAEL SPANOU
“Prayer of the Servant of God Mikhael Spanos.”
That is the standard form giving the name of the patron who had the image painted.
As for the subject of the icon, according to hagiographic tradition (which we know is generally quite unreliable), Antipa was a disciple of John the Theologian (the supposed Evangelist John), and was bishop of the city of Pergamum during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 c.e.).
Antipa is said to have preached against the worship of the traditional gods, irritating the priests of the older religion. When he persisted and refused to venerate the Gods, the priests are said to have taken him to the Temple of the goddess Artemis, where he was placed inside a hollow, red-hot copper image of a bull/ox. That is what we see in this image:
The inscription reads:
ΜΑΡΤΥΡΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ἉΓΙΟΥ ἹΕΡΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC ΑΝΤΙΠΑ MARTYRION TOU HAGIOU HEROMARTYROS ANTIPA
“Martyrdom of the Holy Priest-martyr Antipas.”
Christians retrieved his supposedly unburnt body, and placed it in a tomb in Pergamum, which later became a pilgrimage site for those seeking healing of illnesses.
Antipas of Pergamum, because of his supposed help with tooth problems, was very popular in Russia as Антипа Пергамский — Antipa Pergamskiy, and is a common subject not only in painted icons, but also in large numbers of cast metal icons.
Depending on whether you want to learn to actually READ icons or not, you will either find this posting quite interesting or else unutterably boring. In any case, here we go.
Today we will look at a Greek-inscribed image of a rather generic-looking saint called in Greek Ὁ Άγιος Ιωαννίκιος ο Μέγας ὁ εν Ολύμπω/Ho Hagios Ioannikios ho Megas Ho en Olympo — “[The] Holy Ioannikios the Great, the-one in Olympus.” You may also find him as Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ὁ Μεγάλος/Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos — Hosios Ioannikios ho Megalos. You will recall that Hosios is the Greek title for a male monk-saint — the equivalent of the Slavic Prepodobnuiy, which is customarily loosely rendered as “Venerable.” And ho Megalos here has the same meaning as ho Megas — “the Great.”
In Russian iconography he is called Преподобный Иоанникий Великий/Prepodobnuiy Ioannikiy Velikiy, which means simply “Venerable Ioannikios the Great.”
It is not so much the saint that interests us today as reading his inscriptions, which are good practice. Here is his image:
If you have been a faithful reader of this site (you all are, aren’t you?), then you will easily be able to translate the title inscription. Here is what we see at top left:
That is obviously a common abbreviation for ὉἉΓΙΟC/Ho Hagios, “The Holy.”
Below that we find:
ΙΟΑΝΝΙΚΙΟC/IOANNIKIOS, the saint’s name. Notice that the second letter of the name is the old form of the letter Omega, but I have used the common modern form in representing it.
At right we see:
— which you have probably already read as HO MEGAS and have translated as “The Great.”
Now we come to the interesting part — the scroll inscription. As you already know, saints in icons speak through scrolls, just as cartoon characters speak through cartoon bubbles. Here is the inscription:
It reads (with spaces added, ligatures separated, and abbreviations completed in lighter type):
Ἡ ΕΛΠΙΣ ΜΟΥ Ὁ ΘΕΟCΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ ΜΟΥ ὉΧΡΙCΤΟC CΚΕ ΠΗ ΜΟΥ ΤΟ ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΤΟ ἉΓΙ ΟΝ
From past reading here, you already should know several of the words — those I have put in bold type here:
HO ELPIS MOU HO THEOS KATAPHYGE MOU HO KHRISTOS SKE- PE MOU TO PNEUMA TO AGI- ON
Here are those you don’t know, with their definitions:
“My hope is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”
So it turns out to be precisely the same inscription — with a slight lengthening — that is common on Greek icons of Ioannikios — only here in Church Slavic.
If you can endure a bit more of this, we should probably take a look at another Greek inscription on a fresco of Ioannikios:
You will easily recognize the triliteral abbreviation at left as Ho Hagios — “The Holy,” but it is the rest of the title inscription that concerns us here:
Though a bit worn, we can fill it in as reading:
IOANNIKIOS HO THAUMATOURGOS
“IOANNIKIOS THE THAUMATURGE/WONDERWORKER
“Thaumaturge” is just the word borrowed into English from Greek, but in Greek it means simply “Wonderworker,” someone who works miracles.
So we see that there is another title for Ioannikios the Great: “Ioannikios the Wonderworker.”
As for the hagiographic life of this Ioannikios, some say he was born in 754 or 755, others in 762 — in Bithynia, in Asia Minor. As a boy, he tended his parents’ pigs, and was illiterate. He joined the army, and is said to have been an Iconoclast (an opposer of the use of icons), but later in life converted to the opposite belief, becoming an Iconophile (an advocate of icons). Troubled by the slaughter he saw in battle, he left the army and became a monk at the Antidion Monastery on Mount Olympus.
As a monk, he was said to have miraculous abilities, and could levitate and become invisible. He predicted when a number of people would die. He had power over wild animals, and could overcome snakes and dragons (the dragon part alone tells us that as with all Eastern Orthodox hagiography, we should maintain a healthy skepticism).
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:
Τhey abbreviate the Greek words
Φως Χριστού ΦαίνειΠάσι
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:
“…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:
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.”
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 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. So they may actually have existed.
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 icons. This is due to a book written in the late 20th century that, with dubious scholarship, presented the premise that Sergius and Bacchus were a romantically homosexual couple.
Actually, though they have a centuries-long history of veneration in Eastern Orthodoxy and in Catholicism, to me 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.
Nonetheless, 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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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…”
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:
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:
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:
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 this particular type, because the image was borrowed very closely from Western examples — and in the West, Mary Magdalene is often seen with head uncovered.
When we think of Greek Eucharistic icons, we commonly think first of the standard type called Ο ΜΥΣΤΙΚΟΣ ΔΕΙΠΝΟΣ, Ho Mystikos Deipnos, — “The Mystic Supper.” It represents the institution of the Eucharist, what Protestants commonly call “The Lord’s Supper,” the same event depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “Last Supper” painting. It shows Jesus seated at a table with his apostles.
There are, however, other Greek Eucharistic types. There is the elaborate ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ (Theia Leitourgia), “Divine Liturgy,” which shows the liturgy being celebrated in heaven by Christ robed as a bishop, though with bare head; look for standing angels as identifying elements in this type. Instead of being seated at a table, Jesus stands, and is generally depicted twice.
There is also the similar Η ΘΕΙΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (He Theia Koinonia) “Holy Communion” type, which we generally call “The Communion of the Apostles.” It too depicts Christ standing at an altar, giving communion to the apostles, who approach from left and right. Again Christ is shown twice, at left in the so-called metalepsis of the wine, and at right in the so-called metadosis of the bread. This represents Christ giving the communion in and to the Church on earth.
I will probably discuss those latter two types in a future posting.
Today, however, we are going to look at an uncommon allegorical icon of the Eucharist that is apparently borrowed from a Western prototype. It shows Christ with blood spurting from his side into a chalice at left, and on the right his fingers rest on the eucharistic bread, which is stamped with the word NIKA, meaning “He conquers”:
The chalice and bread are the chalice of wine and loaf of bread used in the Eucharist rite, which Eastern Orthodoxy considers to be also the blood and body of Christ (a notion that relates it to the mystery religions popular in the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity’s founding).
Here is the inscription on the banner below Jesus:
ΛΑΒΕΤΑΙ ΦΑΓΕΤΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΕCΤΙ ΤΟ CΟΜΑ ΜΟΥ
ΠΙΕΤΑΙ ΕΞ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΠΑΝΤΕC TOYTO ECTI TO AIMA MOY
Labetai phagetai touto esti to soma mou
Pietai ex autou pantes touto esti to [h]aima mou
“Take, eat, this is the body of-me
Drink of it all [of you], this is the blood of-me”
The inscription is borrowed from Matthew 26:26-28:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessing, he broke it and gave it his disciples, saying:
‘Take, eat, this is my body’;
And taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying:
‘Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.‘”
You perhaps noticed that the calligrapher arranged the words of the inscription in an odd way. Here is how he did it (in transliteration):
LABE TAI PHAGE TAI TOU TOESTI TOSOMAMOU
PIE TAI E XAU TOU PAN TES TOU TOESTI TOAI
Compare that with how it should be read:
LABETAI PHAGETAI TOUTO ESTI[N] TO SOMA MOU
PIETAI EX AUTOU PANTES TOUTO ESTI[N] TO [H]AIMA MOU
You can see that the calligrapher has used some ligatures, which you must learn to recognize if you want to read Greek icon inscriptions.
First, he has joined the letters S and T in this form:
Next, he joins the Greek Y (u) and O like this, placing the Y atop the O:
He also joins the A and N (as in the word pantes, meaning “all”):
Be sure to notice the very little mark that looks like an apostrophe above the first letter A in the word [H]AIMA, meaning “blood”:
When it is written like a crescent with the opening facing the right, as it is here, it signifies what was called the “rough” breathing in ancient Greek. It means simply that you add an “h” to the beginning of the word if you want to pronounce it as in ancient Greek. In later Greek, however (including icon inscriptions), that “h” was no longer pronounced; it was silent. But the Greeks still often wrote it in, as in this inscription, though frequently it is omitted on upper case letters.
Notice also that the calligrapher has written the word “this” — TOYTO (touto)– in two ways; in one he writes it without a ligature:
But the second time he writes the same word with the ligature combining the O and Y (u):
Remember that it is very common in Greek inscriptions to see “S” written as C. That is how it is written in today’s example. But later Greek icons may instead use the form Σ. When written in lower case letters, “s” at the beginning or within a word is written as σ; but at the end of a word it becomes ς.
Here is a Cretan Eucharistic icon very influenced by Western Roman Catholic art:
Jesus sits enthroned on the creatures symbolizing the four Evangelists, his feet resting on a globe symbolizing the cosmos. Mary is at left, John the forerunner (the Baptist) at right. Blood spurts from the side of Jesus through his fingers and into a golden chalice held by a small angel. Another angel opposite him holds the Eucharistic bread. More angels above hold the symbols of the Passion — the cross and ladder, the pillar to which Jesus was tied when scourged, the crown of thorns and the sponge on a reed.
Ιf you have been a faithful reader here, you should be able to translate all the inscriptions on Mary, Jesus, and John the Forerunner.
Here is the inscription on the book:
It is taken from the Gospel of John 6:56-57: Ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένει κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ. Ho trogon mou ten sarka kai pinon mou to haima en emoi menei, kago en auto.
“Who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. καθὼς ἀπέστειλέν με ὁ ζῶν πατὴρ κἀγὼ ζῶ διὰ τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ὁ τρώγων με κἀκεῖνος ζήσει δι’ ἐμέ. Kathos apestele me ho zon pater kago zo dia ton patera, kai ho trogon me kakeinos zesetai di eme.
“As the living father sent me and I live by the Father, so who eats me, even he shall live by me.”