There are two icon types that appear visually similar but should not be confused, because they are really quite different in what they represent.

Here is the first, in a 17th century example from the Stroganov School, by Nikifor Istomin Savin.  It bears a title inscription reading:

Святы Ангел хранит спящего человека душу и тело
Svyatuiy Angel Gospoden Khranit Spyashchego Cheloveka Dushu i Telo


“The Holy Angel of the Lord Protects the Sleeping Man, Soul and Body.”

(State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg)

It depicts a generic righteous man asleep on his bed.  The Guardian Angel (at left), watches over him, with sword in one hand and cross in the other.  A demon, seeing this protector, flees away at right.  Above the sleeping man is an icon of the Deisis.

Here is another and later example of the same type, though the inscription is slightly different:

“The Holy Guardian Angel Protects the Sleeping Man.”:

It has additions — the image of the same man while awake, praying before the Deisis icon.  The Guardian Angel too is seen a second time (at far right), recording this good deed of the man on his scroll, along with all the rest of his actions.

Both versions are sometimes called simply “The Sleep of the Righteous.”

But be careful.  Here — as mentioned — is a visually similar type, but it is not at all the same in meaning as the two shown above, and should never be confused with them.  It is an Old Believer image of a type popular in the Guslitsa (Гуслица) region — a center of the Old Belief — in the 19th century.

It is easy to see why some misidentify this icon as the first type.  There is a man on a bed, an angel standing by him, and an icon on the wall behind them.  But this type is actually an icon of  Ioann Ogorodnik/Иоанн Огородник  — “John the Gardener.”

The tale comes from the Prolog, November 8th.  It is said that there was once a gardener named John, who was very concerned about the poor.  Consequently, he kept only a small part of his income, and gave the rest away in charity.  But after this had been going on for some time, John began to worry what would become of him when he got old, and if he were to become ill.  So instead of giving away a good part of his money to the poor, he instead began to collect the silver coins for himself, to use in age and illness.

Soon — just as he feared, it seemed — he was stricken with an ailment.  The flesh on his leg began to turn putrid and was covered with sores.  He went to many doctors, and spent a huge amount of money, but none could cure him.  Finally a doctor who was supposed to be the most skilled of all of them told him that there was nothing to be done but to cut the leg off.  John had to agree, and the doctor was to come the next day and perform the operation.

That night, John was in tears.  He prayed to Jesus:
Господи, помяни мои первые дела, когда я был щедр на милостыню, и исцели меня!»

“Lord, remember my first actions, when I was generous in charity, and heal me!

Hardly had he said this when an angel of God appeared before him, saying “Now, where is all the silver you had accumulated?”

John confessed he had sinned, and said that if the Lord would heal him, he would do so no more.

The angel then touched John’s leg (as shown in the icon above) and he was healed.

The next day when the doctor came to cut off the leg, he found John was not home.  He asked where John was, and the reply came that John had left early, to work in his garden.  The doctor set off for the garden, and when he arrived, there was John working away.  Seeing this, the doctor exclaimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.”

Here is a four-part icon with “The Suffering of John the Gardener” type at lower left:

(Courtesy of

The inscription at the base tells not only the title, but also what is happening, beginning with the angel asking John, “Now where is your silver?”





One encounters many icons that show two or more saints that seem to have been randomly thrown together, but of course originally they were not random.  They were either the “name” saints of members of the family who owned the icon (called a семейная икона — semeinaya ikona — “family icon”) or sometimes a combination of “name” saints and saints chosen because they were specialists in helping with certain things (patron saints, as they are called in the West).

Here is a typical example of such an icon:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Let’s look at the inscriptions:


That at left reads:

ПР(Д) ИОАСАФЪ ЦАРЕВИ(Ч).  The letters in parentheses are superscript (written above) letters.  So in full, the inscription would read transliterated:


You already know that Prepodobnuiy (literally “most like”) is the title used for a monk saint. Ioasaf (or Ioasaph) is his name.  And Tsarevich is his secondary title.  It means literally “Son of the Tsar,” which can be either “Son of the Emperor” or “Son of the King.”  Here it means “Son of the King,” or more loosely, “Prince.”

Now who was this fellow, shown as a monk here?  Well, if the painter had had more space, he would have added an additional word, like this:

Прп. Иоасаф Царевич Индийский
Prepodobnuiy Tsarevich Indiyskiy

That last word — Indiyskiy — means “of India.”  So this saint is “Venerable Ioasaf, Prince of India.”

Now if you have read every posting in the archives (well, maybe you have nothing else to do), you will recall from an earlier article that the saint named Ioasaf, Prince of India has a very interesting origin.  He was actually originally not a Christian saint at all.  He was, in fact the Buddha.  When the story of his early life came west on the Silk Road, spread by Buddhist missionaries, it was taken up in the Christian West and modified to make the “Prince of India” a Christian saint.  So, as I always say, the official Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar actually commemorates the Buddha in a “Christian” guise.

There are two ways of depicting Ioasaf.  The first is to show him robed as a King, often with his fictional advisor Varlaam (Barlaam); the second is to show him after he became an ascetic, robed as a monk, which is how he is depicted in this icon.   However he is shown, his icons make interesting conversation pieces because of Ioasaf’s unusual Silk Road origins.

The middle figure in the icon is:

Svyatuiy Angel Khranitel’ — “Holy Angel Guardian,” or in better English, “The Holy Guardian Angel.”  This is a generic figure representing the guardian angel that is believed in Eastern Orthodoxy to accompany each believer.  He is often shown with a sword to demonstrate his power to protect.  The Guardian Angel is a very common figure both in icons and as a border image.

The third saint in this icon, the one at right, is:

Prepodobnuiy Simeon Stolpnik — “Venerable Simeon the Pillar-guy,” or as it is usually translated, “Venerable Simeon Stylites.”  Simeon (died 459) did exist.  He was one of those wild and odd Middle Eastern ascetics.  In his case, he  chose to live atop a pillar in Syria, supposedly to get away from crowds of people (no, that’s not likely to attract attention).   He stayed atop his pillar for some 37 years, and of course made such a spectacle of himself that he attracted even larger crowds of people, and became quite famous, a celebrity in his day.

Now why were these particular saints chosen for this icon?  The Guardian Angel served an obvious purpose as a daily protector.  As for Simeon, today he is often considered the fellow to pray to in order to bring back those who have left the Church (he must be very busy with the numbers leaving these days), but it is more likely that he was chosen for this icon simply because he is the name saint of someone named Simeon.

As for Ioasaf, he too was chosen because he was the name saint of a person involved with the icon.  Given that there is no female saint depicted, we may reasonably assume that this icon was painted for two brothers in a family, brothers named Ioasaf and Simeon, and that the Guardian Angel in the center was expected to represent the guardian of each of the brothers.

At the top of the icon is a small depiction of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus — the image, according to legend, that was created when Jesus pressed his wet face against a cloth.





In a previous posting I discussed the icon type known generally as the New Testament Trinity.  Here is an example of the basic type:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

It depicts the three persons of the Trinity seated in heaven.  Jesus is at left, and to the right is God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) depicted, as was common, as an old man with a white beard.  Above them is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  In a ring around them are cherubim and seraphim, and in the outer points are the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

There is a slightly more detailed type that, while utilizing the same basic image, adds to it Mary at the left and John the Forerunner (Baptist) at the right, approaching the Trinity on behalf of mankind.  This makes the New Testament Trinity into a kind of Deisis variant.

The image below is an example of that.  The inscription painted at the top gives it the rather grand title, “IMAGE OF THE THREE-HYPOSTATIC GODHOOD.”  The royal orb at center, surmounted by a cross, symbolizes divine rule over the world.  So we can see that when we look at New Testament Trinity icons, we are supposed to be seeing the heavenly court, which believers pictured very much in the likeness of the earthly court of a Byzantine Emperor or a Russian Tsar, with supplicants approaching to ask favors.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

There is an even more complex and interesting type of the New Testament Trinity that is popularly called the New Testament Trinity “AMONG THE POWERS.”  What are these powers?  They are the various ranks of angels, also found in the heavenly court, who are also referred to as the “Bodiless Powers,” because unlike humans, their forms are not material.

In the example below, we see angels (at top) and archangels (at the sides), as well as cherubim and seraphim and the odd kind of angel called “Thrones,” which are seen at the feet of the Trinity.  The “Thrones” are those odd, winged wheels.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The archangels bear the symbols commonly associated with each.  If you look closely at the angel just to the left of Mary, you will see that he has a small boy with him, and the boy holds a fish.  That angel is the Archangel Raphael, and the boy with him is Tobias, from the apocryphal Book of Tobit, which tells the peculiar folk tale of how Raphael told the boy Tobias to catch a fish and to remove its organs, which turn out, when burnt, to be able to drive out demons.

Here is another example of the New Testament Trinity “Among the Powers.”  This example adds a few saints to the angels at the top.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

We also see Raphael and Tobias again, and Tobias still has his large fish, better seen in this detail:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

At the lower left is a Guardian Angel leading the small figure of a girl before God (it is a boy in some examples).  This is a generic figure representing the soul of the Christian believer, and is here given the title, “The Righteous Soul” (Dusha Pravednaia).  There is also an angel at lower right with a boy.  Customarily this boy has no halo, and represents the “Sinful Soul” (Dusha Greshnaya) being led before God by the generic figure of the Angel Khranitel, the Guardian Angel who watches over each Christian person in Eastern Orthodox belief.

Here is another example — a 19th century icon from a workshop in the Urals.  It again bears the title “Image of the Three-Hypostatic Godhood, Father and Son and Holy Spirit”  (ОБРАЗ ТРIИПОСТАСНАГО БОЖЕСТВА ОЦА И СЫНА И СВЯТАГО ДУХА — Obraz Triipostasnago Bozhestva Otsa i Suina i Svyatago Dukha).


This example puts strong emphasis on the Archangels, their names and actions in its inscriptions.  In these more detailed “Three-Hypostatic Godhood” versions, one often finds a Church Slavic text in a rather baroque-looking cartouche at the bottom (as in the above icon), reading:

Отца Безначальна, Сына Собезначальна, Духа Соприсносущна, / Божество Едино, / херувимски славословити дерзающе, глаголем: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш, молитвами всех святых Твоих помилуй нас.

Beginningless Father, co-beginningless Son, co-eternal Spirit, one Godhood, we glorify in the manner of the Cherubim, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God; through the prayers of all saints have mercy on us.

It is from a Hymn to the Trinity (a Троичен — Troichen), tone 3:

Троице Единосущная и Нераздельная, / Единице Триипостасная и Соприсносущная, / Тебе, яко Богу, Ангельскую песнь вопием: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш:

Слава: Отца Безначальна, Сына Собезначальна, Духа Соприсносущна, / Божество Едино, / херувимски славословити дерзающе, глаголем: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш, молитвами всех святых Твоих помилуй нас.

O Trinity, of one essence and undivided, three-hypostatic and co-eternal Unity, to you as God we sing the Angelic hymn:  Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God.

Beginningless Father, co-beginningless Son, co-eternal Spirit, one Godhood, we glorify in the manner of the Cherubim, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God; through the prayers of all saints have mercy on us.


In a future posting I may talk more about the ranks of angels, their textual origins, and their role in icons.  But for now, if you have read this posting  you will be able to recognize the New Testament Trinity type and its variants.

Just one final word:  Why is it called the New Testament Trinity?  That is to distinguish it from the Old Testament Trinity type, which shows the three persons of the Trinity represented as the three angels who visited the Patriarch Abraham at the Oak of Mamre as recorded in the Old Testament.  The Greeks call that type the “Hospitality of Abraham.”




I have spoken earlier of how often icon saints are just generic images.  That is particularly obvious in the image of the Guardian Angel (Angel Khranitel) who represents each individual believer’s guardian angel —  “one image fits all.”

The Guardian Angel was believed to watch over each Orthodox believer, keeping note of his or her good and bad deeds.  He is generally shown with a cross in the right hand — representing faith — and a sword in the left, signifiying his power to protect from evil.

In the example shown here, the Guardian Angel stands on a cloud depicted, as Russian icon clouds generally are — as a collection of snail-like curls.  The Guardian Angel is sometimes the main icon figure, but more often he is found in the company of other saints, and he is also a very common border image.

The other saint in this image is Svayataya Prepodobnaya Feodosiya.  If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that Svyataya means “holy” or “saint,” and Prepodobnaya signifies a female monastic — a nun.  And this nun saint’s name is Feodosiya, or if we put it in a western form, Theodosia.  Remember when reading icon inscriptions that the Church Slavic in which icon titles are written has no “TH,” and uses “F” instead.

This icon most likely belonged to a girl or woman named Feodosiya.  Using it, she could pray both to the saint for whom she was named and to her Guardian Angel.

The little image at the center of the top border — between the two inscriptions identifying the saint and angel below — is the “Not Made By Hands” image of Christ (I discussed this image in an earlier posting).  It holds the place that generally would be taken by an image of Gospod’ Savaof — God the Father painted as an old man with a white beard.  One sect of Old Believers abjured the “Gospod’ Savaof” image, and used the “Not Made By Hands” image in its place, as here and at the top of crucifix icons.

Did you notice that the main images in this icon — painted near the beginning of the 20th century — are on a central field surrounded by a raised border?  The border and recessed field form a kovcheg — literally an “ark,” but more simply a “box,” meaning a kind of visual box in which sacred things are found — the sacred things in this case being the two figures.  The use of the kovcheg is generally characteristic of much older icons, but from the late date of this particular image, we see that it is by no means an infallible indicator of date.  Note also that though the sacred figures in this icon all have haloes, there is no real svyet’ (literally “light”) — no bright or gilded background such as is often found on other icons.