THE PATRON OF ALCOHOLICS

Here is another prominent icon saint to add to your list of the fictional:

His name on Old Believer icons is generally spelled Внифантий/Vnifantiy or Вонифантий/Vonifantiy; on State Church icons Вонифатий/Vonifatiy.  His “location” title is Вонифатий Тарсийский/Tarsiyskiy — “Boniface of Tarsus,” or Римский/Rimskiy — “of Rome,” or both.  He is classified as a мученик/muchenik — a martyr.

Though supposedly martyred near the beginning of the 4th century (generally 307 c.e., though others say 290), his veneration did not really get under way until after his “acts” appeared in the 9th century — a strong indication that we are dealing with another one of those saints whose lives are fiction rather than history.

That suspicion is only confirmed when we look at his “life.”  It reads like one of those rather racy old Hollywood “biblical” movies.

His tale relates that Boniface was a slave in Rome (where he would have been named Bonifatius), and property of a very wealthy and attractive young Roman woman named Aglaia or Aglaida.  Aglaida and Boniface were carrying on a very torrid sexual relationship, which by the standards of the times was considered quite improper — a young woman and a male slave.  Aglaida was said to have other lovers as well.  Boniface, in addition to his liking for sex, was also supposedly addicted to drink.  Nonetheless, he was basically a nice guy — helping out the poor, aiding strangers, and doing other such good deeds.

Well, as these stories go, one day Aglaida was feeling pangs of guilt over her sexual relationship with Boniface.  She had heard that honoring the Christian martyrs then (supposedly) suffering in the East would be a big help in the salvation of sinners, so she wanted a martyr’s relics (read bodily remains, mostly) for her house, so she could venerate them and have the dead martyr as a heavenly advocate.  She sent Boniface off to get suitable relics and bring them back.

He jokingly asked her whether if he could not find relics, if she would accept his remains if he were martyred for Jesus during his search.

Now of course when Boniface got to his destination — the city of Tarsus — a crowd of Christians were being gruesomely martyred under the Emperor Diocletian and his co-ruler Maximian.  Boniface embraced and kissed the martyrs.  When the judge asked who he was, he replied that he was a Christian, and he refused to make the customary sacrifice to “idols” (i.e. the non-Christian gods).

Then follows the usual unlikely sequence of tortures commonly found in the tales of the saints.   Boniface is hung upside down, beaten to the bone, needles are driven under his fingernails and toenails, molten metal is poured down his throat, but no torture seems to harm him.  The next day he is thrown into a kettle of boiling tar, but that doesn’t harm him either.  He is helped by an angel who descends from heaven and pours the burning tar out at the onlookers.

Finally, it was decided to behead Boniface.  When that was done, milk and blood poured from the cut.

Now supposedly the companions of Boniface thought at first that he was somewhere enjoying women, but eventually they found that he had been martyred, and they looked for the body.  When they found it, they wept at their former misunderstandings about him.   They put his head back in place, and Boniface opened his eyes and gave them a gentle look.  Nonetheless, he was still dead, so they paid for the body, and brought it with them back to Rome.

Meanwhile, an angel appears to Aglaida, telling her to prepare to receive the martyr’s relics, and that the dead Boniface is to be her heavenly patron.  She receives his relics,  has a church built on the site where Boniface is buried, then enters a convent and spends the next 18 years of her life in repentance, and at her death she is buried near Boniface — she too having become a saint.

One can almost hear the swelling music at the end of the Technicolor, wide-screen movie.

As we have learned, however, being a fictional saint means little in Eastern Orthodoxy.  No one bothers to tell the masses of believers when a saint is fictional.  Instead, they are told to pray to Boniface of Tarsus for relief from alcoholism — he being the patron saint helper of those addicted to drink — alcoholism being a common curse in Russia as well as in many other countries of the world.

In icons, one may find Boniface/Vnifantiy/Vonifatiy depicted “with the life,” as in the first example on this page.  He may also be found standing with one or more other saints, as well as being depicted alone, either full-figure or often to the waist, as in the late State Church example below.

 

 

 

 

COOKING WITH APPLES

You may remember the tale associated with the popular Greek female saint Irene Chrysovolantou — that the Apostle and Evangelist John sent her — via some sailors — three apples from Paradise.  You will find the story here:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/irene-and-her-apples/

This motif of the three apples from Paradise is also found in the hagiography of the saint depicted in this fresco from Meteora:

We can see enough of his title  inscription to translate it:

At the top is the usual Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC  — Ho Hagios abbreviation, meaning “[the] Saint.” Here it is represented by just the three letters O A Γ.

Then comes the name of the saint, written here as

ΕΥΦΡω
CΙΝΟς

When we join the parts, it forms Euphrosinos, but it is more commonly written as Ευφροσυνος  —  Euphrosynos.

Notice the ligature (“joining”) of the letters E and Υ (E and U in English) as:

If we look to the right of his head, we find his secondary title:

It reads

Ὁ ΜΑΓΗΡος — HO MAGIROS

The common spelling of this is Ὁ ΜΑΓΕΙΡΑC — HO MAGEIRAS, but as we know from past experience, Greek spelling on icon images often varies, though the pronunciation is usually much the same.

HO MAGIROS/MAGEIRAS — means “the cook,” so we have identified this saint as “Euphrosynos the Cook.”

The tale associated with him — his “hagiography” — relates that he worked as the cook in a kitchen in a monastery.  He took a lot of abuse from the other monks (as cooks often do from those they serve), but through it all he remained patient and humble, though the others did not think much of him.

Now as the tale goes, a priest in the monastery wanted to know what life was going to be like for the “righteous” in the next world.  He prayed fervently for God to show him.

One night the priest had a dream.  In it, he found himself in Paradise, and who should he see there but the abused cook from his own monastery kitchen!  He was quite amazed, and asked Euphrosynos how he managed to be there.  The cook replied that it was just through the goodness of God.

Surrounded by all the beauty of the Garden of Paradise, the priest asked the cook if he might have something from Paradise to take back with him.  The cook picked three juicy apples from a tree, wrapped them in a cloth, and gave them to the priest.

The priest woke suddenly when the semantron (that “gong” board used in old monasteries) was struck.  He found himself in his own room, still thinking of his strange dream.  But he smelled a wonderful fragrance, and found something wrapped in a cloth beside him.  When he opened the cloth, he found there the three apples the cook had given him in Paradise.

The priest hurried to the cook, and when he found him, he asked him where he had been the night before.  The cook replied simply that he had been where the priest had been.

The excited priest went off to tell the rest of the monks about what a holy person the cook they were always complaining about really was, but when the monks went to honor him, he was nowhere to be found, and they never saw him again.  All that was left were the three fragrant apples from Paradise.  Whoever ate them was healed of all physical problems.

Now if we look more closely at this story, we find it is severely lacking in details.  The story does not say when it happened, or precisely where.  Some say it happened in a monastery in Palestine, others say Alexandria in Egypt, and still others say it happened in a monastic community on Mount Athos in Greece.  It is just a kind of pleasant folk tale, the religious equivalent of a fairy tale (which many lives of saints actually are), and it served much the same purpose, both entertaining and teaching a lesson.

Now you know why icons of Euphrosynos picture him holding a branch with three apples on it.  And you also know why icons of Euphrosynos the Cook are commonly found in Greek monastery kitchens, and in many ordinary Greek restaurant and home kitchens as well.  Euphrosynos has become the patron saint of Greek cookery.

We have one more little detail to notice — the little cross with letters on the garment:

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that IC XC abbreviates Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ,” and the NK abbreviates the Greek word NIKA, meaning “He Conquers.”

 

RECYCLED BOYS

This very well-painted icon depicts one of the miracles traditionally attributed to St. Nikolai/Nicholas of Myra:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

The title inscription at the base identifies it:

It reads:

S[V]YATUIY NIKOLAE CHUDOTVORETZ IZBABI AGRIKOVA SUINA OT SARATSUIN’
“HOLY NICHOLAS [the] WONDERWORKER SAVES AGRIK’S SON FROM [the] SARACENS”

The story relates that in the region of Antioch there lived a pious man named Agrik/Agkrikos.  Every year on the day of commemoration of St. Nicholas, he would go to the church consecrated to St. Nicholas and pray, then return to his home and have a big dinner for his friends, relatives, and beggars.

It happened that one year, when the day to honor Nicholas came, he told his son Vasiliy/Basileios/Basil — who was aged 16 — to go to the church and pray to Nicholas and attend the liturgical services, while the father stayed home to prepare for the customary dinner.

While the son was at Matins at the church, it was attacked by Saracens, who captured the son and took him to the island of Crete.  There, because he was an extremely beautiful lad, he was made the cupbearer of the Muslim Prince.

The parents were grief-stricken, so sorrowful with weeping that they neither attended church nor commemorated Nicholas for two years.  Even into the third year they kept this up, until finally in the third year, on the day before St. Nicholas was to be commemorated,  the father said to his wife that it was no use to weep; they should go to the church with oil and candles and pray to St. Nicholas for their son.  So again they attended on St. Nicholas Day, prayed fervently to Nicholas, and came home to have the customary guests for the special annual dinner.

While everyone was seated at the meal, the dogs in the yard began to bark loudly.  Agrik sent his servants out to see what was happening.  When they returned, they said they saw no one, and nothing at all.  But the barking not only continued, but got worse, so Agrik himself went to investigate.  He was surprised to see a handsome young man in saracen clothes standing outside, holding a container of wine in his hands.  Agrik, walking toward him, recognized his own son.  The puzzled boy told him he did not know what had happened.  He had just been pouring wine into the cup of the Muslim Prince on Crete,  when suddenly the lad felt someone grab his hand, and he was carried off by St. Nicholas as though in a whirlwind, and then found himself outside his own home.

Now if you are a regular reader here, you will know it is not unusual in Eastern Orthodox hagiography for stories or parts of stories to be recycled from saint to saint.  So perhaps you immediately recognized that the tale of the boy carried off to become a cupbearer, and saved and brought home by a Saint, is essentially the very same “rescued boy” motif that we find in the hagiography of St. George.  You will find it in this previous posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/st-george-the-enigmatic/

And here, again, is the iconographic image of the boy being rescued by St. George, with the wine pitcher still in his hand.

We can look back even farther for the more ancient origin of this tale.  In Book 20 of Homer’s Iliad, we find these lines (233-235):

Τρωὸς δ᾿ αὖ τρεῖς παῖδες ἀμύμονες ἐξεγένοντο, Ἶλός τ᾿ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης, ὃς δὴ κάλλιστος γένετο θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων· τὸν καὶ ἀνηρείψαντο θεοὶ Διὶ οἰνοχοεύειν 235κάλλεος εἵνεκα οἷο, ἵν᾿ ἀθανάτοισι μετείη.

And from Tros again three matchless sons were born, Ilus, and Assaracus, and godlike Ganymedes, who was born the most beautiful of mortal men; wherefore the gods caught him up on high to be cupbearer to Zeus by reason of his beauty, that he might live with the immortals.”

Yes, the abduction, in ancient Greek mythology, of the youth Ganymede, who because of his great beauty was made cupbearer to Zeus.

Here is a closer look at the father (and mother) seeing their son standing outside with St. Nicholas:

 

Here are the dinner guests, and a barking dog out in the yard:

 

 

 

THE “TEN MARTYRS OF CRETE”

As you know, there are a number of “group” icons showing saints associated with a particular story, like the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, and so on.

Today we will take a brief look at another group icon.  Here is an example painted by Emmanuel Tsanes (Εμμανουήλ Τζάνες, 1610 – 1690):

It is identified by title (in Greek) as:

ὉΙ ἉΓΙΟΙ ΔΕΚΑ ὉΙ ΕΝ ΤΗ ΚΡΗΤΗ
HOI HAGIOI DEKA HOI EN TΕ KRETE
“THE HOLY TEN THOSE IN CRETE”

A fuller title would be:
ὉΙ ἉΓΙΟΙ ΔΕΚΑ ΜΑΡΤΥΡΕΣ ὉΙ ΕΝ ΤΗ ΚΡΗΤΗ
HOI HAGIOI DEKA MARTYRES HOI EN TΕ KRETE
“The Holy Ten Martyrs those in Crete.”

In normal English, it would be “The Holy Ten Martyrs of Crete.”

In this icon they are:

Top row, left to right:
Ευαρεστος  — Euarestos
Πομπιος  — Pompios
Ζωτικος — Zotikos
Αγαθοπους — Agathopous
Βασιλιδης Βασιλειαδης — Basilides/Basileiades

Second row:
Θεοδουλος — Theodoulos
Cατορνινος — Satorninos
Ευπορος — Euporos
Γελασιος — Gelasios
Ευνικιανος — Eunikianos

The name Pompios is sometimes replaced in lists of the ten by either Cleomenes or Mobios.
Each holds a cross of martyrdom.

The cult of the “Ten Martyrs” became particularly popular on Crete (then Candia) near the end of the rule of the island by Venice, which terminated in 1669.

The tales of their martyrdom is found in a work written sometime between the 6th and 8th century, though it is supposedly based on a lost earlier text.

We get a good idea of their hagiography from the pages of The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Volume 12.  This massive work by Alban Butler was first printed in london from 1756 to 1759 (the pages shown are from an 1800 Edinburgh printing):

 

 

 
There is today a village on the Island of Crete called Agioi Deka — “Holy Ten,” because it is where these saints were said to have been martyred.  Around the turn of the century there was a small, dark and stagnant lake where animals were taken to drink at the edge of the village that traditionally had been called Αγία Λίμνη — Aya Limni in modern pronunciation — “Holy Lake.”  Its waters reputedly had healing powers.  There is a story that a young man had a vision of the Ten in 1898, and they told him to drink the water to be healed of fever.   In 1902 Bishop Vasileos Markakis of Gortyna and Arkadia had the waters drained, and what are said to be the “tombs” of the Ten were revealed.  A small church still called “Holy Lake” was then built over them in 1915-1917.  Here is an image of the “tombs” beneath the church:

As we see from the account of the Ten found in the work by Alban Butler, the remains of the Ten were said to have been long before taken to Rome.

 

IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

Today’s icon, from the first half of the 17th century,  is a well-known example by the Stroganov painter Никифор Истомин Савин — Nikifor Istomin Savin.  The subject is, as the title tells us, the “Miracle of the Great Martyr of Christ Feodor Tiron and the Serpent.”  Serpent and dragon are virtually synonymous here.

The tale depicted is this:  It happened that in the town where Feodor’s mother lived, a fierce dragon took over the well that supplied the people with water, demanding tribute such as cows and sheep.  One day when the saint’s mother took a horse to the well to give it a drink, she herself was captured by the serpent.  In the image below, we see her (and the horse) being taken down into the well:

 

Now Fedodor’s mother happened to be so pretty that the serpent — who is a kind of king of serpent demons — decided to make her his wife, and so presented her with rich gifts.  In the image below, we see her deep within the earth, seated on a throne, and a crown is  being placed upon her head by subordinate serpents.

Needless to say, all this did not please Feodor.  He engaged in battle with the great serpent.  Here we see an image of the local authorities watching as Feodor and the serpent fight:

Here Feodor cuts off the bearded head of the serpent (“The vorpal blade went snicker-snack”):

Then Feodor lead his mother out of the depths of earth:

Finally, an “Angel of the Lord” flies down from Heaven and places a crown of victory upon Feodor’s head.

I cannot help thinking of the line from the old black and white thriller King Kong:  “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”  And fantastic religious stories such as this about Feodor and the Serpent entertained people in the days before such movies — or even science fiction — existed, and they took them quite seriously.