A CROSS IN PINK

In previous postings I discussed Russian crosses and their inscriptions in considerable detail, so if you were paying attention, today’s image will present no serious problems.  It is a relief-carved and painted wooden cross, probably from around the end of the 18th-early 19th century.  It should give you a useful review of cross inscriptions.

Again, from the previous postings you should be able to recognize that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross.  We can tell that from the presence of “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father — at the top of the crucifix, and also the presence (though partly hidden by the halo) of the letters ИНЦИ.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Can we further identify this cross?  Again, if you were paying attention the the previous articles on crosses and their inscriptions, that should be possible.  A major clue is not only the traditional painting style used on the figure of Jesus, but also what is found at the top of the cross.  Let’s look more closely:

There are two important elements here:  the image of “Gospod’ Savaof” — “Lord Sabaoth,” that is, God the Father, and second the presence of the ИНЦИ abbreviation (though it is partly hidden by the halo of Jesus).  These together tell us that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross — that segment of the Old Belief who kept the notion of the priesthood.  You will recall that when Lord Sabaoth is replaced by the “Not Made by Hands” image,  and the inscription is also absent on such a cross, it is likely to be a “Priestless” Old Believer cross.

Though you should know the inscriptions on the cross by now if you are a regular reader here, we will go through them again just to make sure:

At the top of the cross, we see the carved inscription:

Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ
TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”

Just below that is the painted inscription:

КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОК-
ЛОНАЕ-МСЯ
В[ЛАДИ]КО И С[ВЯА]ТОЕ В[О]СКРЕСЕ-
НИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ

KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM

Meaning,

“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”

We see the usual Gospod’ Savaof inscription by God the Father, and with him we see the darkened sun and the moon that has become red as blood, identified like this:

At left:
С[О]ЛНЦЕ
SOLNTSE
“Sun”

At right:
ЛУНА
LUNA
“Moon”

Each of the two flying angels has the abbreviation АГ — AG — abbreviating Ангел Господен –Angel Gospoden — “Angel of the Lord.”

Just below them, we see the abbreviated superscription on the cross, the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).

Along the upper part of the main crossbeam, we find the partially-abbreviated inscription that is really the title of the type:

РАСПЯТИЕ ГОСПОДА БОГА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА
RASPYATIE GOSPODA BOGA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD GOD JESUS CHRIST.”

You can easily recognize the large carved abbreviation IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,”   Remember that while the Old Believers use the Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]; “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.

Now let’s look at the lower portion:

We see divided from left to right the painted inscription:

С[Ы]НЪ Б[О]ЖIЙ
SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”

And carved in large letters, again jumping left to right, is the Greek word НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”

With the carved images of spear and sponge on a reed, we see we see by the spear the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod.

Below that are the two letters:

Г  Г

They abbreviate

ГОРА ГОЛГОФА
GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”

By the skull — traditionally that of Adam, the mythical first man, buried on the site of the crucifixion, we see the identifying letters:

Г  А
abbreviating
ГОЛОВА АДАМА
GOLOVA ADAMA
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM

And finally, right at the bottom, we find these carved letters:

МЛ  РБ

They abbreviate

МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ РАЙ БЫСТЬ
MESTO LOBNOE RAI BUIST’

“The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”

It is finding little variations on the usual common themes that helps to make the study of icons enjoyable, so it is interesting to see this wooden cross with its rosy pink background and the two very folkish plants sprouting at the sides of the cross.

AN EASY ICON TO RECOGNIZE: LET ALL THAT HAS BREATH PRAISE THE LORD

Today’s icon type is based upon a phrase from Psalm 150.

Here it is, from the King James Version, with the relevant phrase in bold type:

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen:  http://www.russianicons.net/)

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.russianicons.net)


In Church Slavic the phrase (and the title of this icon type) is:

Всякое дыхание да хвалит Господа.
Vsyakoe duikhanie da khvalit Gospoda

Vsyakoe means “All.”
Duikhanie means “things that breathe.”
And then comes that construction I advised you to remember for your basic knowledge of Church Slavic — da, followed by a verb.  You may recall that it has the sense of “may it be,” “let it be.”  So if we combine that with the next word,
Khvalit — meaning “to praise,” we get the meaning “let praise.”Gospoda of course means “[the] Lord.”

So the meaning of Vasyakoe duikanie da khvalit Gospoda is literally,
“Let All That Breathe Praise the Lord,”
or as it is often rendered,
“Let All That has Breath Praise the Lord.”

And that is the title of this icon type.

At the top, in the starry heaven, we see Jesus enthroned, holding the open Gospels, and surrounded by angels.  Below him, Mary stands at left, with more angels, and at right is John the Forerunner, also with angels.

Below them are rows of saints (note the halos), and below them crowds of more ordinary people (without halos).

Around the stylized hill in the center, with its rather abstract trees, we see flights of delightfully-speckled birds, and on and below the hill is an assortment of various kinds of animals and birds, ending with geese swimming in the pool at the base.

This is an easy type to recognize:  just look for all the birds and creatures.

 

THE “OUR FATHER” ICON TYPE

In the third quarter of the 17th century, and under the influence of Western European  religious engravings, icons of the type called Otche Nash — “Our Father” — began to appear in Russia, first in the Armory School of Moscow, then elsewhere.  Icons of this type were never common, and those one finds are somewhat variable in the scenes included.

Here is an example from 1813, painted in the village of Pavlovo na Oke, in Nizhny Novgorod Province:

(Private Collection)

(Private Collection)

Let’s examine the rather formidable-looking Church Slavic inscription at the top:

It reads (put into the modern Russian font):

ОТЧЕ НАШЪ ИЖЕ ЕСИ НА НЕБЕСЕХЪ ДА СВЯТИТСЯ ИМЯ ТВОЕ ДА ПРИИДЕТЪ ЦАРСТВИЕ ТВОЕ
OTCHE NASH” IZHE ESI NA NEBESEKH” DA SVYATITSYA IMYA TVOE DA PRIIDET”
TSARSTVIE TVOE

As I have said many times, one does not have to learn the whole Church Slavic language in order to read the great percentage of icon inscriptions.  They are very repetitive, so a vocabulary of words commonly used in such inscriptions proves surprisingly useful in the number of icons one is able to read.  So don’t waste your time trying to learn the whole language unless you want to go deeply into Slavic studies; learn something else that is pleasant, like Italian, or Romanian, or anything reasonably practical or pleasant.

How then, are we going to translate that long-looking icon inscription?  Well, it is not really as intimidating as it looks, and here’s why:  We already know it is an icon of the “Lord’s Prayer” — Otche Nash.  That is a huge clue, because if we look at the first two words of the inscription, we see they are precisely that — OTCHE NASH.

To translate the remainder of the inscription all we have to do is look at the “Lord’s Prayer” in Church Slavic, and here it is:

otchenash

I will transliterate and translate it rather literally:

OTCHE             NASH”     IZHE      ESI      NA   NEBESYEKH”     DA    SVYATITSYA
FATHER           0F-US       WHO      IS        IN   [the] HEAVENS   MAY-BE    MADE-HOLY
Note:  Previously, we have seen otche in the form otets — “father.”  when da (the common Russian word for “yes”) is followed by a verb in Church Slavic as here, it takes on the sense of “may it be…”  “let it be…” — so “Da Svyatitsya” means basically “let it be made holy” — “May it be sanctified.”  You already know its root Svyat, meaning “holy.”  This “da + verb” usage is known as the “optative” form, which expresses a wish that something may be so.  Izhe means literally “which,” but we can say “who” here.

IMYA             TVOE       DA     PRIIDET”         TSARSTVIE      TVOE:    DA    BUDET”
NAME         OF-YOU   MAY    COME            KINGDOM         OF-YOU MAY BE
Note:  There are two “da” form phrases in this line:  da priidet” — “may [it] come,” and da budet”, “may [it] be.”

VOLYA           TVOYA      IAKO       NA     NEBESI        I     NA     ZEMLI.        KHLEB”
WILL          OF-YOU      AS            IN     HEAVEN      ALSO    ON    EARTH        BREAD
Note:  Notice that the word i, normally meaning “and”, means “also” in this line.  “As in heaven [so] also on earth.”

NASH”          NASOUSHCHNUIY  DAZHD’        NAM”       DNES’        I       OSTAVI
OF-US          NECESSARY           GIVE             US      TODAY      AND       FORGIVE

NAM”              DOLGI        NASHYA      IAKOZHE      I        MUI        OSTAVLYAEM”

US                   DEBTS      OUR            JUST-AS      ALSO  WE        FORGIVE

DOLZHNIKOM”                      NASHUIM”:           I       NE     VVEDI           NAS”      VO

DEBTORS                               OF-US               AND   NOT    LEAD          US        INTO

ISKOUSHENIE             NO    IZBABI          NAS”   OT    LOUKAVAGO       AMIN’

TEMPTATION           BUT      DELIVER        US     FROM [the] EVIL-ONE   AMEN”

So we can see that the title inscription at the top of the icon reads basically, “Our Father, who is in the heavens, may your name be made holy, may your kingdom come….

In the icon shown above, each scene depicts part of the prayer:

Here is : “Our Father, who is in the heavens…”

“Let your name be made holy”

“May your kingdom come…”

“May your will be done on earth as in heaven…”

“Give us this day our necessary bread…”

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”

“And lead us not into temptation…”

“But deliver us from the Evil One.”

The very last and astronomical scene has the text of Psalm 103:24 (104:24 KVJ):

ИАКО ВОЗВЕЛИЧИШАСЯ ДЕЛА ТВОЯ ГОСПОДИ ВСЯ ПРЕМУДРОСТИЮ СОТВОРИЛЪ ЕСИ
IAKO VOZVELICHISHASYA DELA TVOYA GOSPODI VSYA PREMUDROSTIIU
SOTVORIL” ESI

“How manifold are your works, Lord; in Wisdom all is made.”

MORE CROSS TALK

A reader in Croatia kindly sent me photos of this cast brass and enamel cross.

If you read my previous posting on cross inscriptions ( https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/the-instant-expert-in-russian-crosses), you will find some of that material repeated here.

First, this is a “Priestless” (Bezpopovtsy) Old Believer cross of the type called an “altar cross” (напрестольный крест — naprestol’nuiy krest).  One can tell it is a “Priestless” cross by looking at the image at the very top.  It is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus on the cloth, the so-called “Abgar” image that resulted from the old story that Jesus once pressed a cloth to his face, which became miraculously imprinted on the cloth, and was thus the first Christian icon.  If this had been a “Priested” (Popovtsy) Old Believer casting, it would instead have a top image of Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit as a dove; and it would also have the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).

(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)

(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)

Let’s take a closer look at the top of the cross:

We see the “Not Made by Hands” image, with the halo of Jesus having the HO ON inscription, meaning “He Who Is.”  Just below it is a Church Slavic inscription identifying the image:

ꙌБРАЗЪНЕРУКОТ
ВОРЕННЫЙ

OBRAZNERUKOT
VORENNUIY

If we join the two lines as they should be, they read:
Obraz Nerukotvorrenuiy, menaing “[the] IMAGE NOT-HAND-MADE,” or in more normal English, “The Image Not Made by Hands.”

Below that are two flying angels, bowing toward the crucified Jesus, their hands covered with cloths to show reverence.  Their abbreviated inscription reads:

АГГЛИ Г{ОСРО}ДНИ
ANGLI GOSPODNI (remember that a doubled Г Г is pronounced like English “ng”)
“Angels of the Lord”

And just below the two angels is the abbreviated inscription:

Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ
TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”

1 Corinthians 2:8 reads:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Now let’s look at the middle portion.  At the top, we see the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,”   Remember that while the Old Believers use the , Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]. and “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.

krestmiddle

Below the IC XC are these words:

СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ
SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”

At left we see the sun, and beneath it is its name:
С[О]ЛНЦЕ
SOLNTSE
“Sun”

At right is the moon, with its name:
ЛУНА
LUNA
“Moon”

Below is a long inscription that runs all the way along the main crossbar.  We will begin with the left side:

It reads:

КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛАНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО
KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLANAEMSYA VLADIKO
Literally,
Cross Of-You We-Bow-Before Master, or in better English,
“We bow before your cross, Master…” (Vladiko means “Ruler,” “Master.”)
It is often translated simply, “We honor/venerate your cross, Lord…”

And it finishes on the right side:

И СВЯАТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM”
Literally,
…And your holy resurrection we-praise
More smoothly,
“…And praise your holy resurrection.”

So all together, the inscription reads:
“We bow before your cross, Master, and Praise your holy resurrection.”

It is a common text, found in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom as well as in that of Basil, and repeated in the liturgy of the Third Week in Lent, etc.

In the lower portion of the upright beam, we see at left a spear, and at right a sponge on a reed.  By the spear is the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.”   And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating  ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod, with the sponge at its top.

In and near the lower crossbar, we see the walls and roofs of Jerusalem, and the letters НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”

At the base of the upright we see these letters:

М  Л
Р  Б

They abbreviate

МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ
MESTO LOBNOE

РАЙ БЫСТЬ
RAI BUIST’

meaning,

[The] Place [of the] Skull Paradise Became

In normal English, “The Place of the Skull became Paradise.”  “Lobnoe” is often more loosely translated as “Execution” or Judgment,” but Mesto Lobnoe refers to the place commonly called Calvary in English, from the Latin Calvariæ Locus, “Skull Place.”

That leads us to the final two inscriptions.

At the sides of the base of the cross are the letters

Г  Г

They abbreviate

ГОРА ГОЛГОФА
GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”

“Golgotha” ultimately derived from the Aramaic Gagultâ, meaning “skull.”
Remember that Church Slavic (like Russian) has no “th” sound, so it is replaced with the “f” sound.

Just below the base of the cross is an opening in which lies a skull.  This follows the tradition that the Crucifixion happened at the center of the earth, and that was supposedly where the biblical first man, Adam, was buried.  So the skull is that of Adam.  And at the sides of the skull are the letters

Г  А
abbreviating
ГОЛОВА АДАМА
GOLOVA ADAMA
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM

Some crosses (like this one) have a little plant at the base, a sprout of new life.

Now let’s look at the reverse inscription, which is the one most commonly found on these Old Believer brass crosses:

(Courtesy of Nino Rilović)

Though it has some variations in spelling (these are common), it is the standard text of the Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins, found also in the Prayer of the Praise of the Cross (Похвала кресту — Pokhvala krestu) — which is:

Крест хранитель всей вселенной;
Krest khranitel’ vsey vselennoy

Крест красота церковная;
Krest krasota tserkovnaya

Крест царем держава;
Krest tsarem derzhava

Крест верным утверждение;
Krest vernuim utverzhdenie

Крест ангелом слава;
Krest angelom slava

Крест бесом язва.
Krest besom yazva

“The Cross is the protector of the whole universe,
the Cross is the beauty of the Church,
the Cross is the might of kings,
the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful,
the Cross is the glory of angels and scourge of demons

(Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins — Festal Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

At the base of the inscription we see another eight-pointed cross (the Old Believers would not accept the Latin cross).  Though again the spelling is off, it has the usual abbreviations:

Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ
TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”

And

СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ
SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”

Also:

IC XC
IСУСЪ ХРИСТОС
ISUS” KHRISTOS
“Jesus Christ”

We see the letters K and T for Kopie and Trost‘ (spear and reed/rod).

Note that they have reversed the positions of the letters in the М  Л / Р  Б abbreviation for Mesto Lobnoe Ray Buist, but the meaning is the same — “The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”

Finally there are the letters Г Г for Gora Golgofa, “Hill of Golgotha.”

I mentioned earlier that the example discussed in this posting is an “altar cross.”  It is useful to know that cast metal Russian crosses are generally classified as follows:

1.  The altar cross (Напрестольный Крест — Naprestol’nuiy Krest):  it is placed on the altar beside the Gospel book.  These are the large crosses one often sees.

2. The pectoral cross (Нагрудный Крест — Nagrudnuiy Krest, or Наперсный Крест,  Napersnuiy Krest)These are the small to medium-sized crosses with a loop or hole at the top, so they may be worn on a cord or chain about the neck.  They are worn both by the clergy (priests, monks) and by certain pious people.

3.  The kiot or “arkcross ( Киотный КрестKiotnuiy Krest):  These are the crosses placed on the shelf in the “beautiful corner” of a room, along with the family icons.  They are of medium size, and have no hole or loop at the top.  They may also be taken on trips as a kind of temporary prayer focus.  They include those crosses one sees with side panels showing Martha and Mary (“Mother of God”) on the left of the Crucifixion and the Apostle John and Centurion Longinos (Login) at the right.  Kiot crosses are sometimes commonly known as “house crosses.”

4.  The body cross (Тельный крест — Telnuiy Krest):  These are the usually quite small crosses with a hole or loop at the top, worn around the neck on a cord or chain, and given to each person at baptism.  So any Russian Orthodox person wore a body cross.

A COMMON PATTERN WITH A USEFUL TEXT: THE LORD ALMIGHTY

Today we will look at one of the icon patterns taken off old Russian icons by the icon painter and restorer Vasiliy Pavlovich Guryanov (1867-1920).  These patterns are collected in the book Transfers from Old Icons; Collected and Executed by the Icon Painter and Restorer V. P. Guryanov, St. Petersburg, 1902  (Переводы с древних икон, собранные и исполненные иконописцем и реставратором В. П. Гурьяновым. СПб. 1902), and put out by Alexandr Ivanovich Uspenskiy (1873-1938).

gspdvsedrublgury

 

There is nothing extraordinary about the image — just one of countless examples of the “Lord Almighty” type.  What I want to emphasize is the text in the Gospel book held by Jesus.  Let’s look closer:

It reads:

Left page:

Не на лица
судите
, сынове чело
вечестии

но праве

Ne na litza sudite, suinove chel vechestii, no prave-

Right page:

ден суд
судите
Им же бо су
дом судите,
но судя[т вам]

-den sud sudite. Im zhe bo sudom sudite, no sudya[t vam]

It is a composite text.  The first part is a variant of John 7:24, and the second another variant, from Matthew 7:2.  If we put left and right pages together and join the separated segments of the words, we get:

Не
на лица судите, сынове человечестии но праведен суд судите
Им же бо судом судите, но судя[т вам]

“Judge not according to the appearance, sons of men, but judge righteous judgment.  For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.”

Now oddly enough, this composite text from John and Matthew is rather common as a book inscription in icons of the “Lord Almighty” type, so it is good to learn to recognize it.

And by the way, the little note below the icon pattern says essentially “After the tradition of Andrey Rublov.”

 

 

 

 

THE VISION OF EZEKIEL ON THE RIVER CHEBAR

Today we shall look at a very uncommon icon type.  Why then discuss it?  Because uncommon types are the “spice” of the subject of iconography — something that catches our interest after seeing countless copies of such common icon types as the “Kazan” Mother of God and the “Lord Almighty.”  But there is also another reason to look at it.  Its title gives us more words to add to our practical Slavic vocabulary for reading icons.

This icon is Russian, from the 16th century.  We might guess it is early,  because instead of having the usual one-piece riza (metal cover), it has the kind of ornate frame-shaped covering called a basma ((басма) around its outer edges.  A basma is composed of sheets of embossed or engraved metal nailed to the surface of an icon.  Use of the basma faded out near the end of the 17th century, when it was gradually replaced by the one-piece metal cover called a riza (literally “robe”).  A riza was usually fastened to an icon by nails inserted at the outer sides of the wooden panel, but a basma was just nailed right onto the icon surface, which is why we often find nail holes in the surface of very old icons where a basma cover was once placed.

Note the added metal halos nailed onto the icon above the figures at both sides of the lower portion.

The common title of this icon type (which begins in the larger inscription seen near the top of the basma), is:

ВИДЕНИЕ ПРОРОКА ИЕЗЕКИИЛЯ НА РЕКЕ ХОВАР
VIDENIE     PROROKA IEZEKIILYA     NA  REKE KHOVAR

Videnie means “vision.”

Proroka is the “of” form of prorok, “prophet.”

Iezekiilya is the “of” form of Iezekiil’ (Иезекннль)  the name Ezekiel.

Na means “on/at.”

Reke is a form of reka, “river.”

Khovar is the name of the river, called Chebar in the King James translation of the Bible.

So the title all together means:

“[The] VISION OF THE PROPHET EZEKIEL ON THE RIVER CHEBAR”

The text relating to this icon type comes from the first chapters of the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  Here are some relevant excerpts:

Now it happened in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God…

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.

And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.

And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.  And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.  As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you. 2And the spirit entered into me when he spoke unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spoke unto me.

And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that you find; eat this roll, and go speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.  And he said to me, Son of man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

So that is basically it.  The man on the throne in Ezekiel’s vision becomes the image of Christ Immanuel in the icon itself.  And down below, Ezekiel is seen standing on the left side, observing the vision.  He is seen a second time at the lower right side, eating the scroll (“roll”) that is being handed down to him from Heaven.

The fluffy things at both sides of the circles enclosing Christ Immanuel are stylized clouds, showing that portion is in the sky.  Then come the stylized rocks representing the ground, and in the middle of the bottom portion is stylized water, representing the river Chebar.

Having said all that, perhaps you may remember that in a much earlier post on the icon type called the “All-Seeing Eye of God,” we also find Ezekiel and his vision of wheels within wheels, and his eating of the scroll, in the more elaborate versions of that type, also known as the “Coal of Isaiah.”

THE NOVGOROD “FATHERHOOD” ICON

If you have done any reading on the history of icons, you have probably come across this well-known 14th-century image of the Trinity, painted in the northern Russian city of Novgorod, once so famous as a wealthy trading center that it was called “Novgorod the Great.”

This icon type of God the Father seated on a throne, with Jesus as Immanuel (the youthful Christ) on his lap, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, is very common in Eastern Orthodoxy, and it is a “New Testament Trinity” type called Отечество — Otechestvo — meaning the “Fatherhood” or “Paternity.”

In addition to the basic elements of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this type shows two seraphim (a category of angel) beside the throne, and the winged circles supporting the Father’s footstool that are another bizarre kind of angel called “Thrones.”  At left, atop his pillar, is the Stylite (pillar-dweller) saint Daniel, and at right another Stylite (called a Stolpnik in Russian icons), Simeon.  At lower right is an apostle.

But what I want to focus on today is the inscription at the top of the icon:

As you already know, if you have been reading here long, in icon inscriptions we often find little variants in spelling.  This inscription is abbreviated, which as you also know is common in icon inscriptions.  You can tell that by the lines above the words.  Here is how it is written on the icon:

ОЦЬ        IСИНЪ

IС Т Ы    ДУХЪ

Don’t be confused by the writer’s using a form of Ц (ts) that looks more like the letter Ч (ch); it is Ц  that he intended.

Now we have to “un-abbreviate” the inscription, to write it in full:

ОТЕЦЬ I СЫИНЪ
I СВЯТЫЙ ДУХЪ

OTETS’ I SUIN”
I SVYATUIY DUKH”

OTETS means “Father”:
I (И) means “and”;
SUIN means “Son”;
And SVYATUIY DUKH means “Holy Spirit.”

So we can easily translate the inscription, keeping in mind that Church Slavic has no article “the,” as:

[The] FATHER AND [The] SON AND [The} HOLY SPIRIT

Or we could translate it quite literally as:

FATHER AND SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

It is not surprising to find God the Father (also called “Lord Sabaoth” in icons) frequently depicted as an old and bearded man.  People have always visualized their gods in human form.

In the Septuagint Greek Bible used by the early Christians (and by Greek Orthodoxy) we find these words in the Book of Genesis:

καὶ εἶπεν θεός ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν…
Kai eipen ho theos poiesomen anthropon kat’ eikona hemeteran kai kath’ homoiosin…

“And God said, let us make man after our image and after the likeness…”

So Adam was believed to be an eikona — an image — an icon — of God.  And so God was thought to have two arms, two legs, and in fact to be in the same form as a human.  And of course in the Middle East in biblical times, humans had kings ruling over them, and so God the Father was visualized as a king sitting on his throne in heaven, which in those days was simply the sky.

Of course later religious thinkers “spiritualized” this notion to mean that humans were somehow in the “spiritual” likeness of God, but that is not what the text originally meant.  It meant simply that humans were given the same form God had.  And notice that Genesis says “Let US make man in OUR image.”  This was later given a Trinitarian interpretation, but it is likely that originally it was simply a leftover of the days when the Hebrews believed that there was more than one divine being in the sky, just as in the Babylonian creation myth, humans were created by the gods.  In Chapter 5 of Septuagint Genesis, we read:

αὕτη βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν θεὸς τὸν Αδαμ κατ’ εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν
ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτοὺς καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτούς καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῶν Αδαμ ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς
ἔζησεν δὲ Αδαμ διακόσια καὶ τριάκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν κατὰ τὴν ἰδέαν αὐτοῦ καὶ κατὰ τὴν εἰκόνα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Σηθ

“This is the book of the generation/origin of men in the day when God made Adam, after the image (eikona) of God he made him.
Male and female he made them and blessed them, and called his name Adam the day he made him.
And Adam lived two hundred and thirty years, and begot according to his form and according to his image (eikona), and called his name Seth.”

So “man” was made in the form/image of God, and Seth was in the form/image of his father Adam.  It meant simply the physical appearance, the physical likeness.  So the “image” of God (Greek eikona, Hebrew tselem) meant simply that Adam was made to look like God, and Seth, Adam’s son, was born looking like Adam.  It is not talking about abstractions such as a “spiritual image” that later were introduced into the matter. It means simply that God looked like Adam (a head, two arms, two legs, etc.) and Adam looked like God, just as Seth looked like Adam.

People are always trying to “update” biblical stories to make them seem more compatible with what we learn of the world, but really the mental world of the Bible and of Christianity in the days before the advancement of science was quite primitive and folkloric.  Until fairly recent times Russian believers held the date of Creation to be only a few thousand years ago, and no doubt some still do.