AN ARGUMENT OVER APPLES

In Greek iconography there is a category of saint called “New Martyr” (νεομάρτυς/neomartys).  New Martyrs are generally those martyred after Constantinople fell to the invading Muslims in 1453, which includes those martyred at any time during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule — a centuries-long period of suffering and oppression of non-Muslims commonly referred to as the “Turkish Yoke.”  There are also earlier New Martyrs, beginning from the time of the Seljuk muslim invasions of Byzantine regions in the 11th and 12th centuries.

An icon found in Greek Orthodoxy, though not so much in Russian, is that of Khrestos/Khristos/Christos/Kristo the Gardener — one of those New Martyrs.  Here is an example:

Let’s look at the inscription:

As you see, it has some ligatures (joined letters):

At left are the words Ὁ ἁΓιος — “The Holy.”  The α is joined to the Γ (g), and ς (s) is attached to the bottom of the ο.

At right is the name ΧΡΗCΤΟC.  The Ρ (r) is joined to the Η (e, pronounced “ee” in Modern Greek), and the C is joined to the Τ.  The last ς (s) is also appended from the ο.

Then comes his secondary title, which is here written as Ὁ ΑΛΒΑΝΤΙΣ — Ho Albantis — but is more generally written Ὁ Αρβανίτης — Ho Arbanites — “The Albanian.”  An Arbanite/Arvanite is traditionally an Albanian who settled in Greek territory.

Other icons of him may add the title Ὁ Νεομάρτυς — “The New Martyr,” and also Ὁ Κηπουρός — Ho Kepouros, meaning “The Gardener.”

The date 1748 and month December are also written on the icon.  1748 was the year of his martyrdom.  Khrestos’ day of commemoration is February 12, so either the painter made an error or it indicates the month in which the icon was painted.

According to his hagiography, Khrestos was an Albanian gardener who decided at age 40 to go to Constantinople.  One day he took some apples to the market to sell.  A Turk came up to him and asked Khrestos the price.  It was higher than the Turk wanted to pay, so after some bickering they could not agree, and Khrestos would not sell him the apples.

In revenge, the Turk told a judge that Khrestos had said he would become a Muslim, but was now refusing.   False witnesses were found to testify against the gardener in court, where he refused to give up his Christian beliefs and convert to Islam.  Because of his refusal to convert, he was beaten and eventually beheaded.

Just how Krestos/Khristos is depicted varies considerably.  Here is a recently painted icon that gives him a rather sly and sinister appearance, oddly enough.  As you can see, he carries a cross of martyrdom and a twig bearing two apples.

You should be able to read the inscription from the information given earlier in this posting.  At lower right we see this added signature:

ΧΕΙΡ Μ[ΟΝΑ]Χ[ΟΥ] ΜΙΧΑΗΛ ΒΙΒ
KHEIR MONAKHOU MIKHAEL BIB
“[The] Hand of Monk Michael”

The BIB is a date in letter numbers — 2012.

There is another Neomartyr named Khrestos, but he was a sailor from a Cretan vessel, who it is is said, was martyred in 1668 on the island of Kos, when he got into an argument over religion and was killed by Janissaries (Ottoman muslim soldiers) after refusing to abandon his religion and saying negative things about Islam.  This Khrestos was from the Greek town of Preveza (Πρέβεζα)

There is also an even more obscure New Martyr Khrestos/Khristos of Ioannina, but he was a priest-monk, commemorated on August 15th.

 

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IRENE AND HER APPLES

You already know that in Eastern Orthodoxy, there are lists of saints popularly believed to help with specific problems and saints who are “patrons” of this and that.  For example, Nicholas of Myra became a popular patron of Russian sailors, among other things.  And the Russian monks Zosima and Savvatiy were the patrons of beekeeping.  St. Triphon/Trifon was the fellow you prayed to if you had trouble with flocks of geese.

It is similar in other countries where Eastern Orthodoxy is found.  There is a female saint — almost unknown outside Eastern Orthodoxy — whose specialty in popular Greek thought is to make women pregnant.  How does she do this?  With apples.

Now throughout the world, in folk belief, different cultures had many different methods believed to help a woman conceive.  In Cornwall, a female who wanted a baby could have her helpers pass her — feet first — through a large Neolithic stone with a hole in it it called the Men-an-tol ring stone.  It had to be done during a full moon, and it had to be done seven times.

(Photo: Nilfanion, Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Nilfanion, Wikimedia Commons)

The saint who provides the same service — but with apples — dates to the ninth century.  Her name is Irene Chrysovalantou.  Her popularity, however, is rather modern, which accounts for the recent date of most of her icons.

You will recall that there was a huge controversy over the painting and veneration of icons in the 800s c.e.  It was not practiced by the earliest Christians, but seeped into Christianity from the “pagan” fringes, and it took centuries to be officially approved in the Church.  Finally the veneration of icons was officially enforced by the Byzantine Empress Theodora in the year 843.

Theodora had a son named Michael (aged twelve), and she wanted to find a suitable bride for him.  She sent out searchers who found an appropriately virtuous and beautiful girl of noble birth in Cappadocia.  On the journey bringing her back with them to Constantinople, the searchers allowed the girl — named Irene — to make a little side trip to visit a noted hermit who lived on Mount Olympus and get his blessing.  The hermit Ioannikos did not see just anybody, but Irene was special.  And when he met her, he not only blessed her but told her she should go to the Monastery of Chrysovalantou in Constantinople, where she would become the guide of the nuns there.  At least so the story goes.

As these things happen, when Irene arrived in the big city, she found her prospective husband, the pre-teen Michael, had already found another bride.  So Irene gave away her worldly possessions, went to the Monastery of Chrysovalantou, and became a nun there.  She was eventually made the treasurer and purchasing agent for the monastery.  As time passed, she began a very ascetic life.  And when the old Abbess died, the Patriarch Methodios of Constantinople chose Irene to be the new leader of the monastery.  Chrysovalantou, by the way, comes from χρυσος (Khrysos)  meaning “golden” and βαλαντιο (valantio) meaning “purse”).

Icons of Irene are not difficult to recognize, though one can generally expect them to be recent to quite modern.  Her icons are identified by the presence of an angel and by three apples, and often bending cypress trees.

The angel comes from the story that Irene prayed for clairvoyance so that she might better guide the nuns under her care.  God sent her an angel who stayed by her and told her everything about the private lives of the nuns — so no one in the monastery from that time on had any secrets the angel did not reveal to the Abbess Irene.

Irene continued her ascetic practices, with visions of demons, one of whom even set her clothes on fire.  She would stand all night in the yard of the monastery, praying with her arms raised, and they became so stiff that other nuns had to push them down in the mornings, and it is said one could hear the cracking noise as they were pushed down.

One day the nuns noticed handkerchiefs tied to the tips of two tall cypress trees in the yard, and wondered how anyone could have reached so high.  But a nun had seen Irene praying in the yard at night, and saw that not only was the Abbess levitated about six feet above the ground, but also that the two cypresses had bowed their tops toward the ground in veneration of her.  It was Irene who had tied handkerchiefs to the tops of the cypresses as they bowed to her.

But why apples, and how did that “eat an apple and get pregnant” belief begin?  It is said that one night Irene heard a voice telling her to welcome a sailor who would bring fruit to her that day.  Nuns found the sailor outside the gate, and brought him to the Abbess.    He told her he was from the Island of Patmos (where according to legend John the Evangelist had lived in a cave).  He and his shipmates were sailing past the far end of the island when they heard an old man shouting for them to stop.  But the coast was rocky, so the sailors made to continue on.  But the old man — who was John the Apostle and Evangelist — shouted again, and the ship stopped still in the water.  The old fellow walked across the waves to the ship, and took three apples out of his garments.  He told the sailors the apples were from Paradise, and that they were to give them to the Patriarch Methodios.  Then he took out three more very large and fragrant apples from Paradise, and asked the sailors to give them to Abbess Irene at the Chrysovalantou Monastery.  Then John disappeared and the ship moved forward in the water again.

It is said that Irene ate a piece of one of the apples every day for forty days, and no other food or water.  And when she ate a piece, her mouth became so fragrant that all the nuns in the monastery could smell it.  She gave the second apple to the nuns for them to divide and eat, and they too became fragrant and very happy.  The third apple she kept uneaten until finally she consumed it shortly before her death.

That accounts for the three apples seen in icons of Irene.  And in Greek Orthodoxy, it is believed that if a woman brings an apple to the church to be blessed on July 28th, the day of commemoration of Irene, that apple will have the power to make her conceive, if she fasts for three days before eating it (and paradoxically has no sexual relations during that time).

The original Chrysovalantou Monastery in Constantinople was destroyed some time after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.  A new monastery was founded in her name not far from Athens, in Greece, in 1930, with legends saying the nun had appeared and authorized its site during construction.

The new Irene Chrysovalantou monastery is in Lykovrisi.  Its apples are much in demand by women who want “really effective” sacred apples to make them pregnant, and Eastern Orthodox believers from all over the world still make donations to that Monastery, requesting in return a slice of the “sacred apple” to make them conceive or to supposedly heal other ills.  In the Monastery there is a kind of “no guarantees” sign in Greek reading Τρωος πιστευεις ελπηζεις — “You eat, you believe, you hope.”

Here is an icon painted (as the inscription says) by a monk named Mikhail at Karyes Monastery on Mount Athos in 1983.  The title inscription at the top reads:

Η ΑΓΙΑ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ
Η ΧΡΥΣΟΒΑΛΑΝΤΟΥ

HE HAGIA EIRENE
HE KHRYSOVALANTOU

[the] HOLY IRENE
[the] Of-CHRYSOVALANTOU

EireneKhrys1983

In the icon, we see the angel, the three apples, the bending cypress with a handkerchief tied to its top, as well as the nun peeking out behind the door and seeing Irene with the tree bowing to her.

The Lykovrisi (Λυκόβρυση) Monastery also has a so-called “miracle-working” icon of Irene — decked out in coins and other votive objects —  painted by a monk of Athos named Nektarios in 1919.  He was later martyred by the Turks.  The recent founding of the Monastery dedicated to Irene and the publicity surrounding its “sacred apples” accounts for why St. Irene Chrysovolantou icons tend to be from the 20th century or later.  She is usually titled either Οσία Ειρήνη Χρυσοβαλάντου (Hosia Eirene Khrysovalantou) or Αγία Ειρήνη Χρυσοβαλάντου (Hagia Eirene Khrysovalantou).  You will recall that Hosia is the title for a nun, and Hagia means “holy” or more loosely “saint.”

By coincidence, today — August 19th — is an “apple” holiday in Slavic Countries.  It is a pre-Christian celebration that after the conversion to Christianity became known as Яблочный Спас (Yablochnuiy Spas), meaning “Apple Savior.”  It is also called “Second Savior,” because there is a “First Savior” holiday on August 14th, called “Honey Savior” ( Медовый Спас — (Medovuiy Spas).   Apple Savior is a popular seasonal marker, considered the beginning of cooler weather and Autumn (though the temperature where I am is expected to reach 102 degrees today).  Officially it is the Church celebration of the Transfiguration of Jesus, but as a folk celebration it is the day when one can begin to eat apples, which by this day have ripened in great abundance, and in folk belief should not be eaten before Apple Savior.

There are many folk customs associated with the day, one of which (aside from eating lots of apple foods) is to gather in the evening to watch the sun set and to sing songs.  And it is considered a duty that those who have apples should share them with relatives and with the needy, and apples are even taken to the graveyards, because there is a connection between Apple Savior and the deceased.

There is a third Slavic “Savior” holiday in August along with “Honey Savior” and “Apple Savior.”  It is Ореховый Спас — Orekhovuiy Spas — “Nut Savior.”  Nut Savior happens on the 29th of August this year.  It is not nearly as popular as “Apple Savior.”

A GATHERING OF GREEK SAINTS ON AN ATHOS ICON

One sometimes encounters “Russian” icons from the 19th or early 20th century that are actually from Greece, in particular from the most famous monastic center there, Mount Athos.   Such icons often bear title inscriptions in Greek, but may have an additional “dedicatory” inscription on the back in Russian.

Today’s icon is a good example of this.  It is from the latter quarter of the 19th century, and says in Russian on the back not only that it bears a blessing from the Russian Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos, but it also includes the name of the person for whom it is intended, and a date.

Here is the image, a gathering of saints:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It is well painted, and shows a strong Western influence, common on Mount Athos at that time.

You will recall from an earlier posting that the faces of Eastern Orthodox saints in icons are for the most part (though not all) generic.  They are distinguished by changing the hair on the head, by whether a beard is added or not, and if it is, by the size and shape of the beard, and of course by the hair color in general.  They are also distinguished by the kind of garments worn and by objects held.  That is why, if one looks closely at icons of multiple saints, one can see that faces of many of them are as similar as those of twins.  A painter would have his common forms in painting the face of young male saints, of young female saints, and perhaps variations for the faces of older saints, and he would use these over and over again.

This icon is particularly useful for those practicing the reading of Greek name inscriptions.  It differs from many older icons in that it uses only Greek lower-case letters.  Let’s take a look.

Here are the saints on the left side:

The painter has placed the names of the saints above the two rows, ordered by row; and he has also helpfully placed the first letter of the saint’s name in each halo.  So we can see that the saints in the upper row are:

ο αγιος θεοδωρος τυρων
Ho Hagios Theodoros Tyron
The Holy Theodore Tyron
“Tyron” means “Recruit.”  He is a soldier.
Remember that Ho Hagios is the masculine form.

η αγια παρασκευη
He Hagia Parskeue (Paraskevi)
The Holy Paraskeva/Paraskevi
Remember that He Hagia is the feminine form  And υ in later Greek is often pronounced as “v.”  You will notice that I sometimes transliterate the Greek letter η as “e,” sometimes as “i.”  In Classical Greek it had more the “e” sound (some say “ey” as in English “hey,” and in Modern Greek it sounds like “ee.”

ο αγιος παντελεημων
Ho Hagios Panteleimon
The Holy Panteleimon
This is the unmercenary physician.

ο αγιος ευσταθιος
Ho Hagios Eustathios
The Holy Eustathios
Notice how the writer has combined the “s” and the “t”

ο αγιος χαραλαμπος
Ho Hagios Kharalampos (Kharalambos)
The Holy Kharampos
In modern Greek, the “mp” combination is pronounced as “b.”

ο αγιος απ θωμας
Ho Hagios Ap[ostolos] Thomas
The Holy Apostle Thomas.
Obviously the writer has abbreviated “Apostle”

There is another saint below the left rows.  Here he is:

His inscription reads:

ο αγιος κυρικας
Ho Hagios Kyrikas
The Holy Kyrikas
The writer has used a variant spelling.  The more common spelling is  Κήρυκος — Kyrikos.
This is the boy saint said to have been martyred in Roman times with his mother Ioulitta, with whom he is usually shown.  In Russian iconography, “Kirik and Oulitta” as they are called there, were very popular saints, particularly among the Old Believers.  Kyrikos holds a cross as a symbol of his martyrdom.

You can see that in my transcriptions, I have not included the “diacritical marks,” the little marks above the letters.  Let’s look again at Kyrikos:

You can see that there is a little mark above the first o that looks like a right-facing apostrophe.  This is the so-called “rough breathing” in Greek, which means simply that in Classical Greek, one would pronounce an “h” before it, making it Ho which is the way I have transliterated it.  But in later and modern Greek, the “h” is dropped in actual speech.

You can see also that above the first α in αγιος, there are TWO marks.  The first is the “h” mark (“rough breathing”), and the second, written as ‘, indicated where the stress is placed in the word.  Modern Greek generally ignores the “h” mark, but keeps the stress mark that indicates which syllable is emphasized.  So the Greek title of Kyrikos in this icon is pronounced O A-yos KY-rikos in Modern Greek, But Ho HA-gios KY-rikos in Classical Greek.  I generally use the Classical Greek transliteration because it tends to be less confusing for readers.

 

Let’s look at the saints on the right:

They are:

η αγια μαρινα
He Hagia Marina
This is the Marina who is said to have given the Devil a beating.

ο αγιος τρυφων
Ho Hagios Tryphon
The Holy Tryphon
Tryphon is the saint often depicted with a falcon or a goose.

ο αγιος στεφανος
Ho Hagios Stephanos
Note how again the writer has combined the letters “s” and “t” in Stephanos.

ο αγιος γεωργιος
Ho Hagios Georgios
The Holy George
This is George the warrior saint who is said to have slain the dragon.

ο αγιος δημητριος
Ho Hagios Demetrios
The Holy Demetrios
Demetrios, like George, is a warrior saint.

The saint in the second row, at left and just below the arm of the central cross, holds a ring in his hand and has this title above his head:

ο αγιος ιωσηφ μνησ
Ho Hagios Iosef Mnes[teras]
The Holy Joseph Betrothed
This is Joseph, husband of Mary, from the Christmas Story.  In Eastern Orthodoxy his full title is Ο Αγιος Ιωσηφ Ο Μνηστηρας Της Παρθενου — Ho Hagios Ioseph Ho Mnesteras Tes Parthenou — “[The] Holy Joseph the Betrothed of the Virgin.”  As you see, the writer has abbreviated Mnesteras here.

And finally, in the center of the icon is a simple crucifix with the IC XC abbreviation for Iesous Khristos, “Jesus Christ,” and at its top the letters IΝΒΙ, abbreviation the superscription [Ο] Ιησους ο Ναζωραιος Βασιλευς των Ιουδαιων  — [Ho] Iesous ho Nazoraios Basileus ton Ioudaion — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Now you have had your Greek name-reading practice for the day.  Reward yourself with something good to eat.

 

MAKING GREEK SPEAK: ICON SAINT TITLES

I have mentioned in previous postings how important it is to be able to read icon titles, in particular the titles used to identify each saint. This often makes the difference between identifying a saint in an icon or leaving the saint anonymous.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The saint depicted above is Ὁ ἉΓΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΣ in upper case, Ὁ Ἁγιος Νικολαος in mixed upper and lower; he is a very common saint, and his inscription should be easy to read for those who have been following the articles on reading Greek icon inscriptions posted here previously.

First comes the title: Ὁ Ἁγιος
Then comes the saint’s name: Νικολαος

Notice that Ἁγιος (Hagios) is abbreviated, and that the -ος (-os) at the end of the name Nikolaos is formed by writing the “o,” then adding the final “s” as a snake-like squiggle attached to the “o.” Nikolaos is just the Greek form of Nicholas. And of course the name Nikolaos is divided, with the Νι- to the left of the halo, and the -κολαος at the right. Such division of names and words to fit the space is very common in icons.

Today I would like to take a look at some of the titles and secondary titles commonly found in the inscriptions identifying saints in Greek icons. These can come in very handy, so anyone who wants to learn to read icon titles in Greek should become familiar with them. I will likely add more as time passes.

First, I want to remind you that the definite articles (the words for “the”) are very significant in the case of saints, so remember them. They are:

Ὁ ὁ : It is pronounced “HO” in old Greek, “O” in modern Greek. It is used for a male. So when you see “HO” at the beginning of the title, you know the saint is male. I have shown it in both upper and lower case letters.

Ἡ ἡ : It is pronounced “HAY” in old Greek, “EE” in modern Greek. By the way, the little curved mark you see above both ὁ and ἡ just indicates that the vowel is preceded by an unwritten “h” sound, which is dropped in modern Greek pronunciation.

I should also tell you that in Greek words, the “straight” accent mark (not the mark that indicates an “h” sound) in a word indicates stress in modern Greek pronunciation. That means, for example, that in the word

ὁ Ἀρχιδιάκονος,

the stress in the second word is on the fourth syllable, like this: ar-khi-di-A-konos. You need not remember where the stress goes in saying the word unless you want to try to impress your friends and neighbors, who will probably just want you to shut up or say something sensible for a change. But if you are like me, you will want to know that little fact anyway.

So let’s begin.

First come the two most important titles that precede the name of a saint; they are:

Ὁ Ἅγιος : Ho Hagios: It means “The Holy,” or we can loosely translate it as “Saint”; it is used for MALE saints.
Ἡ Ἁγία : He Hagia: It means “The Holy,” and is used for FEMALE saints.

Sometimes, instead of Ὁ Ἅγιος (Ho Hagios), we will find instead this:

Ὁ Ὅσιος: Ho Hosios: It loosely means “pure” or “pious,” but the important thing to remember is that it is used for MONASTIC saints; so a “Hosios Loukas” is a Loukas (“Luke”) who was a monk.

Similarly its female equivalent is

Ἡ Ὅσία: He Hosia: Used to identify a FEMALE monastic, a nun.

Those are the two most important Greek saint titles to remember. Almost every saint you see will have the name preceded by either Hagios/Hagia or Hosios/Hosia.

Now on to a few more primary and secondary saint titles (I have transliterated them “old style”:

ὁ Μάρτυρας: Ho Martyras; this means a martyr, and you know it is male by the “HO” in front of it.
ἡ Μάρτυς: He Martys: this is a female martyr.
οἱ Μάρτυρες: Hoi Martyres; “martyrs,” used for more than one; In modern Greek οἱ is pronounced “ee.”
ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς: He Megalomartys; a female Great Martyr.
ὁ Νεομάρτυρας: Ho Neomartyras; a male New Martyr.
ἡ Νεομάρτυς: He Neomartys; a female New Martyr.
ὁ Ἱερομάρτυρας: Ho Hieromartyras; a (male) Priest-Martyr.
ὁ Ὁσιομάρτυρας: Ho Hosiomartyras; a (male) Monk-Martyr.
ἡ Παρθενομάρτυς: Ho Parthenomartys; a (female) Virgin Martyr.
ὁ Πρωτομάρτυρας: Ho Protomartyras; a (male) First Martyr.
ἡ Παρθένος: He Parthenos; a female Virgin.
ὁ Ἐπίσκοπος: Ho episkopos; a bishop.
ὁ Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος: Ho Arkhiepiskopos; an archbishop.
ὁ Ἀρχιδιάκονος: Ho Arkhidiakonos; an archdeacon.
ὁ Διάκονος: Ho diakonos; a deacon.
ὁ Ὁμολογητής: Ho Homologetes; a Confessor.
ὁ Μοναχός: Ho Monakhos; a Monk.
ὁ ἀσκητὴς: Ho Asketes; an Ascetic or Hermit.
Ὁ Προφήτης: Ho Prophetes; a male Prophet.
Ἡ Προφήτιδα: He Prophetida; a female Prophet.
ὁ Ἀπόστολος: Ho Apostolos; a (male) Apostle.
ὁ Ἱσαπόστολος: Ho Isapostolos; a male saint “Equal to the Apostles.”
ὁ Θαυματουργὸς: Ho Thaumatourgos; a male Wonderworker, “thaumaturge.”
ἡ Θαυματουργos: He Thaumatourgos; a female Wonderworker.
ὁ Πρεσβύτερος: Ho Presbyteros; a Presbyter, Elder.
ὁ Δίκαιος: Ho Dikaios; “The Righteous,” used for male Old Testament “saints.”
ὁ Ἀνάργυρος: Ho Anargyros; “Without Silver,” meaning “Unmercenary,” used for saints who did not charge money for services.
ὁ Νέος: Ho Neos; “The New,” used to distinguish a later male saint with the same name as an earlier saint.
ἡ νέα: He Nea: “The New,” used to distinguish a later female saint with the same name as an earlier saint.
ὁ νεώτερος: Ho Neoteros; “The Younger.”
ὁ διὰ Χριστὸν Σαλός: Ho dia Khriston Salos, literally “The Through-Christ Fool,” a “Fool for Christ,” a “Holy Fool.”
ὁ Μέγας: Ho Megas; “the Great.”
ὁ Ἔγκλειστος: Ho Engkleistos; literally “the Enclosed,” meaning “The Recluse.”
ὁ Ζωγράφος: Ho Zographos; “The Painter” (used for icon painters, as is the following);
ὁ εἰκονογράφος: Ho Eikonographos; “The Image/Icon Painter.”
ὁ Στρατηλάτης: Ho Stratelates; “The General/Commander.”
ὁ Ἐρημίτης: Ho Eremites; “The Eremite,” “The Hermit.”

Well, that’s sufficient for today. There are of course a few more primary saint titles, and quite a number of secondary ones, but we shall work more on those another time (really, don’t you have anything else to do?).

PAGAN RITES, CHRISTIAN SAINTS: KHARLAMPIY

Today I would like to talk a bit about this icon of Kharlampiy:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Kharlampiy, in Eastern Orthodox tradition, was a priest who was martyred in the year 202 at the age of 113 (others say 107; these stories often vary in details). I will not repeat his story, which is easily available elsewhere. Suffice it to say that it follows the usual form of hagiography, which should not be confused with history. The lives of the early saints, though there may be some historical elements now and then, are largely pious fictions that follow similar patterns and present similar motifs.

What I do want to emphasize is that the veneration of Kharlampiy, like that of other saints, continues the pre-Christian practice of venerating and asking favors of deities both great and minor. When Christianity declared the old gods to be “demons,” the populace needed a substitute, and that substitute was found in Christian saints such as Kharlampiy. His name is just a Slavicized version of the Greek Χαράλαμπος — Kharalampos, pronounced “khar-A-lam-bos” in modern Greek. He is a very popular saint in Greece, and is often found in Russian icons as well. Among other things, Eastern Orthodox pray to Kharlampiy for relief of mental problems. That relates to one of the “miracles” of Kharlampiy, in which he drove out a devil from a possessed person. On the island of Lesvos (Lesbos), there is a tradition of sacrificing a bull at the chapel of Kharlampiy/Kharalambos — the unfortunate victim is decorated with garlands, just as was done in pre-Christian times.

Kharlampiy is shown here robed as a bishop. In his left hand he holds a cloth supporting the Gospel book (the cloth is to show veneration when touching sacred objects). His right hand is held up with the fingers forming the sign of blessing favored by the Old Believers, who were separated from the main body of the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-1600s over disputes about ritual forms, etc., one of which was this distinctive way of making the sign of blessing. It is a useful way to recognize Old Believer icons, which in any case are often more traditional and stylized in form than those of the State Church in the following centuries.

If we look more closely at Kharlampiy’s face, we can easily see the method of painting. The entirety of the hair, face and beard are first painted in a dark brownish color (sankir), and then the features of the face are created by superimposing layers of the same base color, only progressively lightened with the addition of white (belila), with highlights being very white. The hair and beard are painted simply by adding thin, curving strokes of white over the sankir base. A few darker details are added, and it is finished. But still the sankir base color is easily seen behind the added layers.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)