LEGENDS OF MENAS

Today we will look at a 17th century Cretan icon:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:
Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΜΗΝΑC
HO HAGIOS MENAS
[The] HOLY MENAS

In hagiography he is called Menas of Egypt, and as we see from his armor, lance and shield, he is one of the warrior saints.

If we look at the base of the icon, we see the signature of the painter:


It reads:

ΧΕΙΡ ΕΜΜΑΝΟΥΗΛ ΤΟΥ ΛΑΜΠΑΡΔΟΥ
KHEIR EMMANOUEL TOU LAMPARDOU
“[The] Hand of Emmanuel of Lampardos”

Notice the unusual ligature of the α and Ρ (a and R).

This Emmanuel of Lampardos (more commonly known as Emmanuel Lambardos), was a painter in Heraklion/Iraklion, on Crete, active between 1593-1647.  Within the last few decades scholars have determined that there were actually two icon painters by the same name, an Emmanuel Lambardos the Elder and an Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger, the latter thought to be the son of Piero Lambardos and the nephew of the former, with both elder and younger working in the same studio.  Because their works are so similar, scholars are still trying to determine who painted what.

Let’s look at the scenes from the hagiographic legend of Menas:


This illustrates the tale that a certain man went to pray at a church dedicated to Menas.  There he met another man who offered him lodging for the night.  Realizing that his guest had gold, the host killed him, cut up his body, and put the parts in a basket.  The next day a mysterious stranger in military garb, riding on a horse, appeared (who of course was St. Menas).  The soldier asked the host about his overnight guest, and the host claimed to know nothing.  Menas, however asked him about the basket, and so the whole story was revealed.  Menas then miraculously joined all the parts of the slain man’s body together, and restored him to life.  He gave him back the gold the host and taken, and sent him on his way.  After scolding the host, Menas forgave him, then disappeared.

A man decided to have two silver plates made, one for St. Menas — engraved with his name — and the other for himself and bearing his own name.  When the silversmith had completed the work, the plate intended for Menas turned out to be the more beautiful of the two, so the man decided to keep it for himself.

The same man went on a sea voyage, taking the plate with him, and having his food served to him on it.  When he had finished eating, a servant took the plate and was washing it in the sea, when suddenly it slipped out of his hands and disappeared beneath the waves.  The startled servant lost his grip and also fell into the sea.  The man was so distressed at losing his servant that he prayed to Menas, telling him that if the servant’s body were to be recovered, he would give not only the remaining plate but also the cost of the lost plate to the saint.

When the ship reached land, the man looked to see if the body had washed up on the shore.  But instead, he saw the servant coming out of the sea alive, holding the lost plate.  The servant reported that as soon as he fell into the sea, a handsome man appeared with two others, grasping the man and traveling with him until he arrived at the shore.

A certain woman was on her way to pray at the shrine of Menas when she was attacked by a man who wanted to rape her.  It happened that when he got off his horse to do the deed, he tied the horse to his right foot.  Then when he attempted to rape the woman, the horse became very upset, and dragged the man off, all the way to the shrine of Menas.  Once there, the horse was so violent, and whinnied so loud, that a crowd of people soon gathered.  The man was worried the horse would injure or kill him, so he blurted out his confession of attempted rape before everyone, and immediately the horse became calm.  The repentant rapist then asked the saint to end his suffering and pardon him.

It happened once that a crippled man and a mute woman happened to both be staying in the shrine of Menas.  In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, Menas appeared to the crippled man, telling him that if he would touch the cloak of the sleeping mute woman, he would be healed.  The crippled man managed to get to the mute woman, and when he grabbed her cloak she awoke, and began loudly blaming him.  Fearing the woman’s noisy shouting, the cripple got up and began to run away, when suddenly both of them realized that they had been healed by the saint.

There was a Jewish man who was friends with a Christian, and trusted him so much that when he traveled to foreign lands, he would leave considerable amounts of gold behind with the Christian as safekeeping.  However, once when the Jew had done this, on returning he went to the Christian and asked for his money.  The Christian replied that the Jew was mistaken, that no money had been left with him.  The Jew was so upset by this that he said he wanted Menas to determine the truth.  So both set off for the shrine of Menas.

Now it happened that when they arrived at the shrine, the Christian repeated his claim, swearing that no gold had been left with him.   Having said that, he exited the shrine with the Jew, and both got on their horses.  Suddenly the horse of the Christian began behaving violently, and rearing up, it threw its rider to the ground, where he lost his kerchief, a key, and a gold seal.  He got back on his horse and both continued on their way.

The Jew, however, was groaning and lamenting the loss of his gold.  The Christian suggested that they stop, dismount, and pause to eat some food.  As they were eating, the Christian looked up and saw that his servant from home had come, and was standing there holding the money bag of the Jew in one hand, and the lost key [a signet ring in another version, which accounts for the “gold seal”]  and kerchief in the other.  He was quite shocked, and asked the servant to explain.

The servant replied that a man riding a horse came, and giving the lost key [or signet ring] and kerchief to the Christian’s wife, he told her that she must send the money bag of the Jew to the Christian with great haste, so her husband would not meet with danger.  And so, thinking the Christian had requested this, the wife sent the servant quickly off to him with the Jew’s gold.

The Jew was of course overjoyed, and immediately wanted to return to the shrine of the saint, where he vowed to become a Christian himself through baptism in thanks for the miracle.  As for the lying Christian, he asked to be forgiven, and both returned satisfied to their homes

So those are the legendary miracles of the saint depicted on the Lambardos icon.

The last image is of the martyrdom of Menas:


Menas, by tradition, is said to have been an Egyptian Christian who became a soldier and was martyred under Diocletian after he left the army, then later returned and confessed his faith publicly during the festival games.  He was said to have been tortured, then (as we see in the icon) beheaded in 304 c.e.

 

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TWO TRINITY INSCRIPTIONS

Today we will look at a couple of Russian icons of a type you already should recognize– the “New Testament Trinity,” so called to distinguish it from the Old Testament Trinity icon in the form of the three angels that appeared to the patriarch Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.

The reason for revisiting this type is to add a couple of Church Slavic inscriptions sometimes found on New Testament Trinity icons to your repertoire.  Here is the first icon:

As you know (I hope!), it depicts the Trinity as Jesus sitting on the throne with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit hovering above in the form of a dove.  At left is Mary, at right John the Forerunner (the Baptist).  The throne is supported by Seraphim, and surrounded by a ring of cherubim, a single one of which is in the middle between the Father and Son.  Symbols of the Four Evangelists extend from the blue ring of cherubim.  The Archangel Michael is visible at upper left, and the Archangel Gabriel at upper right.

Now on to the main topic of discussion — the inscription above Jesus and God the Father.  We will enlarge it, and view it in two parts.  Here is the left side:

We are concerned with the inscription that is above the Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’ (Lord Almighty) title above the halo of Jesus.  It reads:

БЛ[А]ГОСЛОВЕННО Ц[А]Р[С]ТВО
Blagoslovenno Tsarstvo…
“Blessed-is [the] Kingdom…

And here it continues on the right side, above the Gospod’ Savaof’ (“Lord Sabaoth”) title of God the Father:

It reads ..ОЦА И С[Ы]НА И С[ВЯ]ТАГО Д[У]ХА
…Otsa i Suina i Svyatago Dukha
“…[of the] Father and [of the] Son and [of the] Holy Spirit.”

So all together, the inscription is this:

БЛ[А]ГОСЛОВЕННО Ц[А]Р[С]ТВО ОЦА И С[Ы]НА И С[ВЯ]ТАГО Д[У]ХА
BLAGOSLOVENNO TSARSTVO OTSA I SUINA I SVYATAGO DUKHA
“BLESSED IS THE KINGDOM OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

Now we will look at an inscription on another icon, heavily ornamented with baroque designs in the border:

We need to look more closely to see the inscription.  It is in the inner ring of cherubim:

It is a bit damaged, and tends to fade out in the bottom half of the circle.  But if we look at the more clear part in the upper half, we can determine what it says.

Here is the left side of it:

And here is the right side:

Because half of the inscription is so worn as to be illegible, we must work with what is there.  Remember that in the case of unfamiliar inscriptions, the procedure is to look for words you recognize.  Because this is a circular inscription, we have to find the beginning.  If we look on the right side, we see these words:

The first word is a bit faint, but after it we can clearly see:

ГОСПОД ГОСПОДЕВИ/GOSPOD’ GOSPODEVI

And if we are clever, we might decide that the next word is МОЕМУ/MOEMOU

So it would read

ГОСПОД ГОСПОДЕВИ МОЕМУ
…[the] Lord [to] Lord My…
“..The Lord to my Lord…”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, if you are at all familiar with the Psalms and the Gospel “of Matthew,” you will recognize it as the beginning of this phrase:

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.

Now if we look at that quote in the Church Slavic Bible, we find it is right at the beginning of Psalm 109 (110 KJV):


Reche Gospod’ Gospodevi moemu: syedi odesnuiu mene, dondezhe polozhu vragi tvoya podnozhie nog” tvoikh”.
Zhezl” silui poslet” ti Gospod’ ot Siona, i gospodstvuy posredye vragov” tvoikh”.
S” toboiu nachalo v” den’ silui tvoeya, vo svyetlostekh” svyatuikh” tvoikh”: iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.

The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion: and rule in the midst of your enemies.
With you is dominion in the day of your power, in the splendors of your saints: I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

We can see on the left side of the icon the words “ot Siona” — “out of Zion,” so that just confirms that we have found the right inscription, though in the icon it ends about there and does not include the last line of verse 3, which we have seen before:

iz chreva prezhde dennitsui rodikh” tya.
“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.”

If you do not remember where we saw that line in a previous icon inscription, you will find it in the discussion of the last icon pictured in this posting:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/the-blessed-silence-icon-and-lots-of-noisy-talk-about-it/

It is not unusual to find this “The Lord said to my Lord” inscription on icons of the New Testament Trinity, so now you will recognize it when you see it.

 

WATER AND HONEY

Here is today’s icon type:


To find out what it is, we need only read the title inscription on the banner that is at the top:

As you can see, it is rather long — so we shall take it part by part:


The first word is ОБРАЗ, with the final З written lying just above the A.  If you have been reading this site for some time (or you can go to the archives for older postings), you will recognize ОБРАЗ/Obraz as the word for “image.”  The saints below are Vasiliy Velikiy (Basil the Great) and the Meter Theou (Mother of God);

The following words are: ПРОИСХОЖДЕНIЕ (ПРОИСХОЖДЕНИЕ) — PROISKHOZDENIE;
ЧЕСТНАГО — CHESTNAGO (remember that the -ago suffix indicates an “of” form);

И ЖИВОТВОРЯЩАГО КРЕСТА –– I ZHIVOTVORYASHCHAGO KRESTA, with the IC XC abbreviation for Jesus just below);

ГОСПОДЬНЯ НА ИСТОЧНIКЬ (ИСТОЧНИКЬ ) — GOSPOD’NYA NA ISTOCHNIK’, with John the Forerunner and Grigoriy Bogoslov (Gregory the Theologian) just below;

Now if we put the whole inscription together, we get:

ОБРАЗ ПРОИСХОЖДЕНИЕ ЧЕСТНАГО И ЖИВОТВОРЯЩАГО КРЕСТА ГОСПОДЬНЯ НА ИСТОЧНИКЬ

OBRAZ PROISKHOZHDENIE CHESTNAGO I ZHIVOTVORYASHCHAGO KRESTA GOSPOD’NYA NA ISTOCHNIK’

“[THE] IMAGE [of the] PROCESSION OF THE HONORABLE AND LIFE-CREATING CROSS [of the] Lord to the WELLSPRING.”

So this icon type is the “Image of the Procession of the Honorable and Life-creating (we can say “life-giving” in English) Cross of the Lord to the Wellspring” (or in English we can just say spring or fountain).

We can call it:
The Image of the Procession of the Honorable and Life-giving Cross of the Lord to the Fountain.”  It represents the origin of a minor church festival that takes place on August 1st (August 14th in the “new style” calendar).

The festival has a rather confused origin, being associated with four different events.

The first two were victories in battle:

1.  The victory of the Russian forces of Great Prince Andrey Bogoliubskiy against the Bulgarians on August 1st, 1164; an icon of Mary and an image of the cross were used by the Russians in the Battle.

2.  The victory of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel (1143-1180) over the Saracens — also on August 1, in which an icon of Mary and an image of the cross were also said to have been used.

3.  The annual practice, in the city of Constantinople, of taking what was supposed to be the wood of the cross of Jesus from the Royal Treasury on July 31st, and carrying it through the streets to dispel disease, placing it on the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom, then, on the following day, taking it to the Dormition Church, and letting it be venerated by the people.  Then on August 14th it was taken back to the Imperial palace.

4.  There was also a custom in Constantinople of consecrating the waters and the springs, generally on the 1st of each month, and with this the celebration of the supposed “true cross” was also associated.

In any case, what we see in the icon is the blessing of the waters in Constantinople with the cross, as depicted in this portion, with the Emperor and Empress and a crowd of people and clerics looking on as the cross is used to bless the  waters in a stone wellspring from which a stream flows:

All kinds of people come to the sanctified water flowing from the wellspring, reminiscent of the crowds coming to the waters in the Живоносный источник/Zhivonosnuiy Istochnik/”Life-giving Fountain” type.  Here we see one fellow dipping water from the stream, two others giving it to a prostrate ill woman, and a crippled man with pads on his legs and hands:

Here an ill girl, holding her cup, is brought to the stream in a wheelbarrow;


At right, a boy bathes in the waters as a standing man drinks them from a glass.  And at far right, a demon is expelled from the mouth of a possessed man:


All of this elaborate scene takes place outside the walls of Constantinople.  Note the figure holding the icon of Jesus, with its decorative cloth hanging below it.


If we return to the sky above, we see Jesus blessing from Heaven, with Mary at left and John the Forerunner at right:

Below him are three cherubim, with their title in Slavic separated among the three halos, like this:

ХЕРУ   ВИ  МИ

Херувими/Kheruvimi — “Cherubim.”

Below those three is an angel identified only as a “Holy Angel of the Lord” (with “Holy” and “Lord” abbreviated).

There is some variation from example to example of this type, most notably in who dips the cross into the wellspring in the central scene.  While in this example it is done by a поп/pop — a “priest,” as the Filimonov Podlinnik describes him, in others the cross is dipped by a standing “Angel of the Lord,”

proiskhsangel.jpg

in some by an “Angel of the Lord” flying down,

proiskhozdangelskres.jpg

and in others by three “Angels of the Lord.”

proiskhtrangeli.jpg

The use of an angel is reminiscent of the story of the angel troubling the waters of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5, 1-5, and some icons of that type (the icon for the Sunday of the Paralytic) depict the angel.  Also, some examples depict the wellspring as cross-shaped instead of square or rectangular, as found also in some icons of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman — the “Woman at the Well.”

In Russia, this festival became associated also with the “Baptism” — the conversion — of Russia (actually, originally Kievan Rus, not what we know today as Russia) to Orthodox Christianity in 988 c.e.  On this day there is a lesser blessing of the waters in Russia.  Also, on August 14th now, “Honey Savior” (Медовый Спас/Medovuiy Spas) is celebrated.  It is a pre-Christian festival that was carried on into Christian times.  “Honey Savior” is the first of three such ancient autumn festivals, the following two being “Apple Savior” on August 19th and “Nut Savior” on August 29th.  On “Honey Savior,” people bring their honey from the hives to the church to be blessed, and believe it should not be eaten before that time.  So August 1st is, in folk belief, the beginning of autumn.

Because of its association with the “Baptism of Russia,” August 1st was also Мокрый Спас/Mokruiy Spas — “Wet Savior” — the day on which the waters were blessed, and people took their horses and cattle to the rivers and streams to be bathed.

THE TWO “PRIIDITES”

Today we will look at two different inscriptions often found as the text of the Gospel book held by Jesus in icons of the “Lord Almighty” (Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’) type.  I like to call them the “two Priidites,” because both usually begin with the Church Slavic word ПРИИДИТЕ/PRIIDITE, meaning “Come.”

Here is an icon with the first and most common of the two:

The Gospel text (Matthew 11:28-30) reads:

Priidite ko mnye vxi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az oupokoiu vui:
vozmite igo moe na sebe i nauchitesya ot mene, iako krotok esm i
smiren serdtsem: i obryashchete pokoy dusham vashuim:
igo bo moe blago, i bremya moe legko est.

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy leaden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The inscription in the icon above stops with “na sebe/upon you.”  I have included the rest, as some icons do.

Here is the second “Priidite” inscription:

It is Matthew 25:34-36:

The inscription usually begins with the seventh word, as shown in the icon:

[Togda rechet tsar sushchuim odesnuiu ego:] Priidite, blagoslovennii Otsa moego,
nasleduite ougotovannoe vam tsarstvie ot slozheniya mira:
vzalkakhsya bo, i daste mi iasti: vozzhadakhsya, i napoiste mya: stranene
byekh, i vvedoste mene:
nag, i odyeyaste mya: bolen, i posyetiste mene: v temnitsye byekh, i
priidoste ko mnye.

“[Then shall the king say to those on his right:]  Come, you blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.
Naked, and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”

Just knowing the two “Priidite” inscriptions will enable you to read the Gospel texts on huge numbers of icons of Jesus.  Of course there are other texts than the “Priidites” also found, but we can discuss more of those another day.

By the way, did you notice that on the second icon, the abbreviation for Jesus Christ (written in Greek, though it is a Russian icon) uses the later Greek form of “S” (sigma) in IΣ ΧΣ, instead of the earlier form IC ΧC?

Also, did you notice the abbreviations used in the Bible texts given in Church Slavic letters above?  I filled in the missing letters in the transcriptions.

 

A TRICKY ONE AND AN EASY ONE

Here is an 18th century Greek icon.  It depicts a fellow dressed as a bishop, but to know who he is, we must read the title inscription at upper right.

(Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens)

Here it is:

It is rather faint, but it reads:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟς ΙΑΚω
ΒΟς Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟ
ΘΕΟς

If we put it all together, it is:

Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΙΑΚΟΒΟC Ὁ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΘΕΟC
HO HAGIOS IAKOBOS HO ADELPHOTHEOS
“[The] Holy Jacob/James the Brother [of] God”

In Greek he is called Iakobos — Jacob — but in English that is traditionally rendered as “James” when referring to this person.  Adelphotheos is a composite word made from adelphos (“brother”) and Theos (“God”).  That title comes from what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:18-19:

Ἔπειτα μετὰ ἔτη τρία ἀνῆλθον εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἱστορῆσαι Κηφᾶν, καὶ ἐπέμεινα πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡμέρας δεκαπέντε· ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου.

Epeita meta ete tria anelthon eis Hierosolyma historesai Kephan, kai epemeina pros auton hemeras dekapente. heteron de ton apostolon ouk eidon, ei me Iakobon ton adelphon tou kyriou.

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Cephas [Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days.  But of the other apostles I saw none, except James the brother of the Lord.”

Given that in Eastern Orthodoxy Jesus is considered to be God, the title was adapted for James as “Brother of God.”

And here is his scroll text:

It is a rather tricky one, because it consists of two joined excerpts from the Liturgy of St. James.  Here is the first part:

ΙΔΕ Ὁ ΑΜΝΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ Ὁ ὙΙΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ Ὁ ΑΙΡΩΝ ΤΗΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΣΦΑΓΙΑΣΘΕΙΣ ὙΠΕΡ ΤΗΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΖΩΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑΣ
Ide ho amnos tou Theou ho huios tou Patros ho airon ten hamartion tou kosmou sphagiastheis huper tes tou kosmou zoes kai soterias

“Behold the Lamb of God, the son of the Father, who takes away the sins  of the world, sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world.”

The second part is abbreviated in phrasing, but I have added in brackets what is missing:

Ὁ ΜΕΛΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC [ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΜΕΡΙΖΟΜΕΝΟC ΚΑΙ ΤΟΙC ΠΙCΤΟΙC ΜΕΤΑΔΙΔΟΜΕΝΟC] ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΔΑΠΑΝΩΜΕΝΟC ΕΙC ΑΦΕCΙΝ ἉΜΑΡΤΙΟΝ [ΚΑΙ ΖΩΗΝ ΤΗΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΝΥΝ  ΚΑΙ ΑΕΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΙC ΤΟΥC ΑΙΩΝΑC]
Ho melizomenos [kai me merizomenos kai tois pistois metadidomenos] kai me dapanomenos eis aphesin hamartion [kai zoen ten aionion nun kai aei kai eis tous aionas]

Who is parted [and not divided, and distributed to the faithful] and not expended; for the remission of sins [, and the life everlasting; now and always, and into the ages.]”

That refers to the Eucharistic bread, which is, in Eastern Orthodox belief, the “Lamb of God” — Jesus.

Here is another icon of James, painted in a much simpler manner, and from the end of the 18th century”

(Velimezis Collection)

You should be able to easily read the title inscription.  But let’s look at the text on the book he holds:

This one — if you have been a careful reader of this site — should be rather easy too, if you note the common abbreviation.  Remember how I always say that icon inscriptions are very repetitive, so learning a few enables one to read many icons?   Well, we just saw this inscription (at least most of it) in the preceding posting on Antipas of Pergamum, and we also saw it earlier on an icon of St. Nicholas of Myra.  In this example it reads:

Left page:

ΕΙΠΕΝ
ὉΚΣ ΕΓ
ω ΕΙΜΙ
ἩΘΥΡα

Right page:

ΔΙ ΕΜΟΥ
ΕΑΝ ΤΙΣ
ΕΙΣΕΛ
ΘΗ σω

It begins with the words

ΕΙΠΕΝ
ὉΚC

ΕΙΠΕΝ/EIPEN means “said.”
Ὁ /HO is of course the masculine definite article “the.”

ΚC/KS, you will note, has a horizontal line above it, signifying that it is an abbreviation.  It abbreviates ΚΥΡΙΟC/KYRIOS, meaning “Lord.”  That gives us

ΕΙΠΕΝ Ὁ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ/EIPEN HO KYRIOS

So literally it reads “Said the Lord,” but in normal English order we translate that as:
The Lord said.”

Then it continues with the beginning of that now familiar (I hope!) text:

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα· δι’ ἐμοῦ ἐάν τις εἰσέλθῃ, σω– [θήσεται, καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται, καὶ νομὴν εὑρήσει].

Ego eimi he thura: di emou ean tis eiselthe, so-[thesetai, kai eiseleusetai kai exeleusetai, kai nomen euresei.]

And of course it is from John 10: 9:

I am the door: by me if anyone enters in, he shall be sa- [ved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture].”

WHO ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM? WHY ARE THEY HERE?

I watch the statistics on this site from day to day, and am always surprised by how many people read it (I suppose I could remove the cause, but not the symptom).  The number of followers seems to keep rising, with even more new people recently.

I am also frequently puzzled, because I can see how many people read certain postings from day to day.  Some days a large number of people will read one or another posting from the archives — apparently all coming here due to some kind of discussion involving that posting — taking place on another site somewhere — but just what that discussion is and precisely where it takes place is generally a mystery to me.

I also generally know nothing about the majority of subscribers, because many like to subscribe with the minimum of personal information.  Because some do contact me, I know there are art restorers, museum staff, dealers in old icons, artists, and quite a miscellaneous grouping of others among the now many readers of this site.  I always appreciate getting a note from new readers, telling me a bit about them and why they are reading such an esoteric site as this (recognizing your problem is the first step toward overcoming it).

I am quite an informal fellow, so no one need feel shy about leaving me a message now and then.

Now back to the usual topic.  Here is an 18th century icon from the Prophets Tier of an iconostasis at Kizhi, Russia:

If we look at the title inscription, we can see that the writer got a bit grand by writing the Greek word Hagios, meaning “Holy” (but in Cyrillic letters), instead of the usual Slavic Svyatuiy (and it is abbreviated).  The next word is Slavic — the abbreviated word Prorok, meaning “Prophet.”  And you should have no trouble, if you are a long-time reader here, in transliterating the third word — the prophet’s name — as Iezekiil — Ezekiel in English.  So the title inscription reads:

Hagios Prorok Iezekiil
“Holy Prophet Ezekiel.”

As you can see, Ezekiel is pointing to an image of a door.  And if we look at his scroll, we see it reads:

АЗЬ ТЯ ВИДЕХЬ ДВЕРЬ ЗАТВОРЕНУ
AZ TYA VIDEKH DVER ZATVORENU
“I SAW YOU [AS] A CLOSED DOOR”

In the book of Ezekiel, we find this at 44:1-2:

Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary that looks eastward; and it was shut.  And the Lord said to me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it, and it shall be shut.

That gate is the “door” in the icon inscription.  In some Slavic translations, we find instead the word врата/vrata, meaning “gate/gates.”

Though it originally had nothing at all to do with a Marian interpretation, Eastern Orthodoxy developed the notion that this excerpt from Ezekiel was a prophecy and prefiguration of the supposed virgin birth of Jesus.  Mary as a virgin is seen as the “closed door/gate” shut and not opened, through which Jesus was born.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 390 c.e.) wrote:

Who is this gate, if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity.”

We often find this “Closed Door/Gate” title of Mary in Eastern Orthodox writings.  So that is why we see a door in the icon of the Prophet Ezekiel.

SPIT, SMEAR, WASH

The sixth Sunday after Easter, in the Eastern Orthodox Calendar, commemorates the rather lengthy story found in John 9 — the healing of the man born blind.  It seems to be a long allegory in nature, finishing up with the implied lesson:

Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind‘”

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’

Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

In the story, Jesus, passing by, sees a man born blind.  His disciples ask him a question that has troubled interpreters ever since:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

For such a question even to be asked, there had to be a belief among some that the soul can exist before birth — before it is united with the body — and that the soul can “sin,” which then may affect the body at birth.

We find this notion in the apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon (8:19-20):

παῖς δὲ ἤμην εὐφυὴς ψυχῆς τε ἔλαχον ἀγαθῆς,
μᾶλλον δὲ ἀγαθὸς ὢν ἦλθον εἰς σῶμα ἀμίαντον.

For I was a clever child, and had a good spirit.
Rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled.

We already know from his “Logos” doctrine that the writer of John shared some Hellenistic notions with Philo of Alexandria.  One of Philo’s concepts was the pre-existence of souls.  We find it, for example, in his On the Confusion of Tongues, XII:

For this reason all the wise men mentioned in the books of Moses are represented as sojourners, for their souls are sent down from heaven upon earth as to a colony; and on account of their fondness for contemplation, and their love of learning, they are accustomed to migrate to the terrestrial nature.

We find the notion also in Josephus, for example in his War of the Jews 8:5:

The bodies of all men are indeed mortal, and are created out of corruptible matter; but the soul is ever immortal, and is a portion of the divinity that inhabits our bodies.

Josephus attributes that view to the Essenes (2:8:)

For their doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most subtle air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward.”

In any case, in the account given in John, Jesus says that the man was born blind neither due to his own sins nor those of his parents, but rather “that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  In other words, he is blind so that Jesus can use him to demonstrate the power of God.

Jesus uses a rather odd healing method here.  He mixes his own spit with earth, rubs the wet clay mixture onto the blind man’s eyes, then tells him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam.  The man does so, then returns, able now to see. Similarly,  In Mark 8:23 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida by spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him.  In Mark 7:32-35 he heals a deaf man, and also cures his speech impediment by spitting on his tongue.

A rather typical example of the icon type for the Sunday of the Healing of the Blind Man — Κυριακή του τυφλού/Kyriake tou typhlou — is this one, from the 16th century and the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece:

The inscription is not difficult:

If we fill out the abbreviation and separate the words, it reads:

Ὁ ΧΡΙCΤΟC ΙΩΜΕΝΟC ΤΟΝ ΤΥΦΛΟΝ
Ho Khristos Iomenos Ton Typhlon
“Christ Heals the Blind [man]”

At left we see Jesus applying the wet clay to the blind man’s eyes:

And at right we see the blind man gaining his sight as he washes the clay from his eyes in the Pool of Siloam:

Note that the pool is represented in the form of a cruciform well, much as we see the well often depicted in icons of the Samaritan “Woman at the Well” story, commemorated on the Sunday preceding this one.  In icons we often find this cross shape used for wells and pools, of course for symbolic reasons.

This icon type of Jesus healing the blind man completes the group of six Pascal (post-Easter) Sundays in the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar.  The icon type following this one in that now completed liturgical sequence is that of the Ascension of Jesus.