Today we will look at a fresco of the Prophet Malachi, painted in 1546 at the Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos:
First, let’s look at the name inscription:
At left we see these Greek letters joined in a decorative rather than logical abbreviation:
And that of course means “Prophet.”
On the right side we see his name:
Now on to his scroll text. As you will recall, there are three basic kinds of scroll texts used for Prophets. A straight biblical quotation (often just an incomplete excerpt), a biblical quotation with an introductory phrase, and finally a text that is neither of those. Malachi’s scroll is the first kind — a straight biblical quotation:
It is taken from Malachi 3:19 (KJV numbering, 4:1 Septuagint numbering):
… ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα Κυρίου ἔρχεται καιομένη ὡς κλίβανος καὶ φλέξει αὐτούς …
… idou hemera Kyriou erkhetai kaiomene hos klibanos kai phlexei autous
“… behold, the day of the Lord is coming, burning like an oven, and it shall consume them ….”
Well isn’t that cheerful? Did it inspire you and brighten your day? Good old biblical doom and gloom. The Bible was always predicting death and destruction, and even the end of the world. And regarding that, Jesus supposedly said this in Revelation 22:12:
“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
Quickly? Well, that was some 2,000 years ago, so obviously that prediction did not work out. Jesus never came back — something many fundamentalistic Christian groups studiously ignore as they still wait for a “Second Coming.” But if we look at that quote in Greek, we can at least learn something from it other than a major failed prophecy:
Ἰδοὺἔρχομαι ταχύ, καὶ ὁ μισθός μου μετ’ ἐμοῦ, ἀποδοῦναι ἑκάστῳ ὡς τὸ ἔργον. Idou erkhomai takhu, kai ho misthos mou met’ emou, apodounai hekasto hos to ergon.
Remember the word ΙΔΟΥ/ἰδοὺ/idou, meaning “behold,” from Malachi’s scroll — because it comes up a lot in biblical texts on scrolls. And you saw it in the failed “Second Coming” prediction in Revelation 22:12 as well. And did you notice in that Revelation quote another word similar to one on Malachi’s scroll? It is erkhomai /”I come” — and on the Malachi scroll it is in the third person: erkhetai /”He/she/it comes.”
By now you should also know well the word KYRIOY/Κυρίου/Kyriou on Malachi’s scroll — the “of” form of ΚΥΡΙΟC/Kyrios — “Lord.” And so Kyriou means “of the Lord.” We often find that in scroll texts as well.
Thus endeth the lesson for the day. Have a snack and a nice cup of something warm.
Today we will look at a fresco of the Prophet Joel, painted in 1547 in the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos by Tzortzis Phouka:
Notice how simply it is painted. The face is just a few strokes of flesh coloring — lightly highlighted — over the darker base color. Similarly, the hair consists of quick strokes of grey, highlighted with white, and outlined with black.
What I really want to focus on, however, is the scroll text in Greek:
Sometimes the texts held by Prophets are straight biblical quotes, sometimes biblical quotes with an introductory phrase, and sometimes they are not biblical quotes at all. As I said in a previous posting, the Prophets are a pain, because one never knows what scroll inscription will be used.
Today’s scroll is an example of the second type — the biblical text with an introductory phrase.
Let’s look at what the text says. As is common, it uses some abbreviations. The quote itself is from Joel 2:23:
Καὶ τὰ τέκνα Σιών, χαίρετε καὶ εὐφραίνεσθε ἐπὶ τῷ Κυρίῳ Θεῷ ὑμῶν … Kai ta tekna Sion, khairete kai euphrainesthe epi to Kurio Theo humon …
“And the children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God …”
However, the writer of the scroll has eliminated the first kai/”and,” replacing it with this introductory phrase:
Τάδε λέγει Κύριος … Tade legei Kyrios …
“Thus says the Lord …
Notice the third letter in the first line which looks like a capital A in English but in Greek it is the letter Δδ — “D.” And in the second line, note the common abbreviation KC for ΚΥΡΙΟC/Kyrios — “Lord.” You will also find two abbreviations in the second line from the bottom, for Kyrio (a grammatical form of Kyrios) and for Theo (a grammatical from of Theos — “God.”
In the last line of the scroll, the writer has also apparently mistakenly written ἡμῶν/hemon (“our”) for ὑμῶν/humon (“your”), which is the Septuagint reading.
So all together, the inscription on this scroll reads (corrected):
Here is a 19th century icon with three “special needs” saints.
At left is Svyatuiy Svyashchennomuchenik Kiprian” — “Holy Priest-martyr Kiprian/Cyprian,” who was prayed to for protection from evil spells and charms.
At right is Svyatuiy Prepodobnuiy Nifont” — “Holy Venerable Niphont/Niphon,” dressed in his monk’s garments and likely intended to be Niphont of Cyprus, who was prayed to for driving away evil spirits.
The most interesting one, however, is the fellow in the middle — whose image has lost a bit of paint from the face over the years. And he is interesting for an odd reason.
He is dressed in the garments of a warrior saint. And his title inscription is quite clear:
It reads: SVYATUIY VELIKOMUCHENIK PANTELEIMON/”HOLY GREAT MARTYR PANTELEIMON.”
Note the punched ornamentation in the gold-leafed background.
The interesting thing about this is that Panteleimon was not a warrior saint. He was an “unmercenary physician.” So when this icon was painted, a very obvious mistake was made. Either the warrior saint depicted should have been given a different and correct name inscription, or the name inscription should have had an “unmercenary physician” depicted below it instead of a warrior saint.
Now why was this very obvious error not noticed when the icon was painted or sold? Well, there was a lot of illiteracy at the time, both among icon painters and icon purchasers. That means it is not uncommon to find errors of one kind or another on old icons, and this image is a good example to teach us that.
The small figure blessing from the clouds above is Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’ — Jesus as “The Lord Almighty.”
In the left border is a “family saint,” apparently the name saint of the person for whom the icon was painted — a woman.
She is Svatuiy Muchenitsa Ioustina — “Holy Martyr Justina.”
Two postings back, I happened to mention a Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Monastery — a “Savior-Transfiguration Monastery.” And that moved one of my readers to write me a note saying I did not seem to have done a page on the Transfiguration. Well, apparently she is correct, though I did mention it briefly in a discussion of icons of the major Church festivals.
So here it is — a Russian example of the Transfiguration type from 1497:
The title inscription is a bit worn, but it appears to read:
ПРЕѠБРАЖЕНИЕ ГОСПОДА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА PREOBRAZHENIE GOSPODA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST”
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is found in the Synoptic Gospels, with both “Matthew” (17:1-8) and “Luke” (9:28-36) apparently basing their accounts on that of “Mark” 9:2-9:
And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James, and John, and leads them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.
3 And his clothing became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
6 For he knew not what to say; for they were very afraid.
7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only with themselves.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man was risen from the dead.
It is possible that the author of “Mark” intended the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus to reflect Malachi 4:4-5:
4 Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
It is also likely referred to in 2 Peter 1:18-19 (current biblical scholarship considers it to be by an unknown author):
For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.
In the icon, we see Elijah standing at left, Moses at right, and Jesus in the burst of light in the center:
Below them, we see James (left) John (center) and Peter (right) falling to the ground in fear:
Now Mark had merely said the three were “very afraid,” so this dramatic falling to the ground is a detail added to Mark’s story by Matthew in 17:6:
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid.
“Luke” says nothing about falling to the ground, but does add another detail of his own (Luke 9:32) not mentioned in Mark or Matthew:
32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
Now in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Transfiguration came to have a special significance due to a doctrine found in the writings of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), who defended the notion of Hesychasm. In Hesychasm, it is believed that a person through meditative practice may become so purified that a union with God happens, and in that union a bright divine light is seen, which is considered to be the same light as that of the Transfiguration of Jesus. This “uncreated light” is therefore called in Russian the Фаворский свет/Faborskiy svyet/ “Light of Tabor,” and in Greek the Ἄκτιστον Φῶς/Aktiston Phos (“Uncreated Light”) or Θεῖον Φῶς/Theion Phos (“Divine Light”).
Now it is common knowledge in the study of meditative practices — and particularly noted in Buddhism — that certain types of meditation can lead to the experience of light, though that result is not given the interpretation found in Hesychasm, but is rather just considered a stage on the meditative journey. The doctrine of Hesychasm was very controversial in Eastern Orthodoxy, but was eventually accepted — though it was not found in Roman Catholicism and certainly not in Protestantism.
As an example of the Eastern Orthodox attitude toward this light, we may look to the account found in what are said to be the memoirs of Nikolay/Nicholas Motovilov (1809-1879) —
memoirs discovered, so the story goes, in a pile of rubbish in 1902. The account relates Motovilov’s conversation with the ascetic St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833):
“Nevertheless,” I replied, “I do not understand how I can be certain that I am in the Spirit of God. How can I discern for myself His true manifestation in me?”
Father Seraphim replied: “I have already told you, your Godliness, that it is very simple and I have related in detail how people come to be in the Spirit of God and how we can recognize His presence in us. So what do you want, my son?”
“I want to understand it well,” I said.
Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”
I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”
Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”
Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest to Thy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”
After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!
“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.
“Extraordinarily well,” I said.
“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”
I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”
And of course there is the bright light mentioned in many accounts of “near-death” experiences.
Greek icons of the Transfiguration like that below usually have the title Ἡ ΜΕΤΑΜΟΡΦѠCΙC/HE METAMORPHOSIS/”THE TRANSFIGURATION,” or some variant of it.
Note the damaged area at lower center, where paint loss has revealed the underlying fabric.
Here is a more elaborate 1600 example:
Jesus at center holds the Gospels, Elijah is at left, and at right is Moses, holding the tablets of the Law.
At lower left we see Jesus leading Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor —
And at lower right he speaks to them after the Transfiguration:
And here is a closer look at the central image of Jesus:
Now we have seen that Russians call the “Uncreated Light” the “Light of Tabor” — of Mount Tabor, that is. But oddly enough the mountain is not identified at all in the Gospels. They just call it a “high mountain” (Mark and Matthew), and “a mountain” (Luke). And it is not until the 3rd century that we find it named in the writings of Origin as Mount Tabor.
Here is a blessing cross in silver, made by the noted Russian firm and maker of ecclesiastical implements Olovyanishnikov (П. И. Оловянишникова сыновья/P. I. Olovyanishnikov’s Sons) It once had a handle at the base.
The central painted icon contained within the silver casing is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which was very popular with the Russian military. Two angels — hands covered as a sign of veneration — are at the sides.
The cross has a partly-abbreviated engraved inscription taken from Matthew 22:37:
Бога твоего всемъ
сердцемъ твоимъ и
всею душею твоею
и всею мыслию твоею
Vozliubishi Gospoda Boga tvoego vsem” serdtsem” tvoim” i vseiu dusheiu tvoeiu i vseiu muisliu tvoeiu
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”
The Olovyanishnikovs began their gradual rise as a Russian peasant family on an estate belonging to the Yaroslavl Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery (“Savior-Transfiguration Monastery”). Over generations their circumstances improved. Porfiriy Ivanovich (1822-1881) moved his family to Moscow and through the business of casting bells made the family name famous.
Porfiriy was succeeded by his sons Ivan Porfirievich (1844-1898) and Sergey Porfirevich (1856-1890). In 1882 they founded the firm П. И. Оловянишникова сыновья — “P. I. Olovyanishnikov’s Sons, which again began with the casting of bells, but later they opened a factory for the making of Church implements such as clerical vestments, icons, banners, crosses, etc. Objects in precious metals were often created in the then-fashionable Neo-Russian style.
After the death of Ivan Porfierievich in 1898, management of the company came into the hands of his widow Evpraksia Georgievna (1851-1925), with the board remaining in Moscow, and offices in St. Petersburg, Tula, and Yaroslavl.
As a result of the Revolution of October, 1917, the factory of Church utensils was closed; the bell factory was destroyed after the 1918 Yaroslavl uprising. The family fell on hard times; some were exiled or emigrated, and at least one was killed by the Bolsheviks.
Here is a photo of the family in better times, at the beginning of the 20th century:
They are, from left:
Ivan Ivanovich with wife Vera Nikolaevna; Georgiy Ivanovich; Porfiriy Ivanovich; Evpraksiya Georgievna; Nikolay Ivanovich; Tat’yana Ivanovna;
Standing from left to right:
Vladimir Ivanovich; Mariya Ivanovna; Ekaterina Nikolaevna,with husband Viktor Ivanovich
Here is the reverse of the cross, ornamented with engraved floral designs: