AN ESSENTIAL NICHOLAS TEXT

As you know, people often write to me asking for help with the identification of icons.  One such recent request involved this image:

(Bequest of Edith Waetjen)

It is a late Russian icon, and if you are a long-time reader here, you will recognize the subject as  Svyatuiy Nikolai Chudotvorets — “Holy Nicholas the Wonderworker — that is, St. Nicholas of Myra, who was believed to be a miracle worker.  Nicholas was extremely popular in Russia, and countless icons of this type were painted.  In this example we see the usual elements — the circle enclosing Jesus at left, giving Nicholas his Gospel book, and that of Mary at right, bestowing the bishop’s stole (omophorion) on Nicholas.

I particularly want to take a look at the Church Slavic text held by Nicholas, because it is the most common text used on his icons.  As students of icons you should learn to recognize it, because it will enable you to translate a great many icons of Nikolai/Nicholas.   Here it is:

It reads:
VO VREMYA ONO STA ISUS NA MESTE RAVNE I NAROD OUCHENIK EGO I MNOZHESTVO MNOGO  LIUDEI OT VSEYA IOUDEI I [I]EROUSALIMA [I] PO[MORIYA TYRSKA I SIDONSKA….]

Rather literally,

“At that time Jesus stood on a level place and the group of his disciples and a multitude of many people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon….”

The King James version gives it as:
And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon….

 

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“GOT ANYTHING TO EAT?”

Today we will look at a 16th century fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece.  Unfortunately, part of the image is blocked by the gaudy, gilt baroque-style woodwork in front of it, but nonetheless we can see enough of the image for our purposes.  Here it is:

This icon image is a good example of how helpful it is to have general biblical knowledge when trying to identify a scene.

Obviously, it is a boat full of men fishing, and one man swimming toward shore:

If we look to the right, we can see a figure (partially hidden by the woodwork in the foreground) identifiable as Jesus.  How do we know?  First, he has the halo with three points of the cross visible in it.  That is characteristic of Jesus.  Second, we see the Greek letters IC XC above his head, abbreviating  Iesous Khristos  — “Jesus Christ” — so there is no doubt about who it represents:

We should also look down below Jesus, where we see — again partially hidden by the woodwork — a round loaf of bread marked with a cross, and part of a fish lying on what look like red rocks.  That is another clue.

If you know the New Testament reasonably well, you probably already identified the scene.  But if there is any doubt, we need only look at the fragment of Greek inscription at upper right:

The beginning is not visible, but we can see at least this much:
–ΑΔΕΞΙΑΜΕΡΗΤΟΥΠΛΟΙΟΥΤΟΔΙΚΤΥΟΝ
ΚΑΙΕΥΡΗCΗΤΕ

As is common in older Greek inscriptions, the letters are all run together, without spaces separating the words.  At the beginning of this portion, we see a T followed by the joined letters O and U, with the U looking like a V and placed on top of the O.   can see the ligature joining the letters O and U.  And we also see at the end the joined letters T and O, with the T placed atop the O.  You will be familiar with those ligatures from past articles here.

Here is the visible portion of the inscription again:

–ΑΔΕΞΙΑΜΕΡΗΤΟΥΠΛΟΙΟΥΤΟΔΙΚΤΥΟΝ
ΚΑΙΕΥΡΗCΗΤΕ

If we separate it into words, we get:

–[T]Α ΔΕΞΙΑ ΜΕΡΗ ΤΟΥ ΠΛΟΙΟΥ ΤΟ ΔΙΚΤΥΟΝ
ΚΑΙ ΕΥΡΗCΗΤΕ

It is not a title inscription.  It is Jesus talking, and we find his words in the Gospel called “of John,” chapter 21:

 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Βάλετε εἰς τὰ δεξιὰ μέρη τοῦ πλοίου τὸ δίκτυον, καὶ εὑρήσετε.
Ho de eipen autois Balete eis ta dexia mere tou ploiou to diktuon, kai
euresete.

“And he said to them, Cast to the right side of-the boat the net, and
you-shall-find.

So that tells us this is a scene from the story told in John 21.  It is the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  Here is the portion relevant to the fresco image:

1.  After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and in this manner he showed himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

Simon Peter says to them, I am going fishing. They say to him, We also are going with you. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus says to them, Children, have you anything to eat*? They answered him, No.

And he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to pull it [in] because of the multitude of fishes.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Lord.  Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him, (for he was naked,) and cast himself into the sea.

8 And the other disciples came in a little boat; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

Notice that in this story, as mentioned in previous postings about the ability of Jesus to appear in “another form,” the disciples do not at first recognize him.

Also, it is interesting to note that the word translated above as “anything to eat,” when Jesus asks the disciples if they have any, is προσφάγιον/prosphagion in the original Greek.  It commonly means cooked fish as food, but it can also mean other things eaten with/on bread — literally something “to eat.”

Notice that we also now know what the little “red rocks” are that the fish is lying on in the fresco — they are the hot coals mentioned in 21:9:

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

The round loaf of bread is reminiscent of the Eucharist.

The image of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias is a common part of later Russian “Resurrection” icons that combine several related scenes.  If we look at this central image from a 19th century Palekh (that famous icon-painting village) icon of the Resurrection and Major Church Festivals, we see the “Appearance at the Sea of Tiberias” at lower right:

The painter of this image has given the disciples a rather grand sailing ship with three masts.  We see Peter in the water, and Jesus standing on the shore at left.

AN UNUSUAL “JESUS” TEXT

Today we will look at a 16th century dome image from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos:

It depicts Jesus as an Emmanuel figure “in glory,” surround by the symbols of the Four Evangelists and a couple of seraphim.

What I want to focus on, however, is the text on the book he holds.  Usually in icons of Jesus we find a Gospel text.  This one, however is different.  Here is a closer look:

And now let’s look at the Greek text he holds.

Here it is as it appears on each page:

ΙΔΕΤΕ Ι-
ΔΕΤΕ, ὉΤΙ Ε-
ΓΟ ΕΙΜΙ Κ[ΑΙ]
ΟΥΚ ΕCΤΙ Θ[ΕΟ]C

ΠΛΗΝ ΕΜΟΥ.
ΕΓΟ ΑΠΟ-
ΚΤΕΝΩ ΚΑΙ
ΖΗΝ ΠΟΙΗ

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ οὐκ ἔστι Θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ· ἐγὼ ἀποκτενῶ καὶ ζῆν ποιήσω

Idete idete, hoti ego eimi, kai ouk esti Theos plen emou.  Ego apokteno kai zen
Poieso.

“Behold, behold, that I am, and not is God except me.  I kill and to-live
I-make”

In more normal English,

“See, See that I am, and there is no God except me.  I kill and make alive.”

Having translated it, we can see that it is the Septuagint Greek text of Deuteronomy 32:39, from the Old Testament.  So this text is representing Jesus both as Emmanuel and as the God of the Old Testament.

If you have been paying attention to all my postings on reading Greek icon inscriptions, you will recognize the abbreviation for kai — meaning “and”; it is a K with a stroke across the base of the letter:

You will also recognize the ligature joining the letters C and T (s and t) in Greek:

And finally, you will recognize the very common abbreviation ΘC for Theos — “God.”

 

 

UN ICONA COMMUN, UN INSCRIPTION DIFFERENTE

Hodie nos va vider un icona Russe.  Le typo es multo commun, ma le inscription non es.  Como vos sape, le typo es Gospod’ Vsederzhitel — “Le Domino Omnipotente”:

Today we will look at a Russian icon.  The type is very common, but the inscription is not.  As you know, the type is Gospod Vsderzhitel — “The Lord Almighty.”

Le digitos del mano dextere forma le signo de benediction le qual usa le Credentes- Anciane.
The fingers on the right hand form the blessing sign used by the Old Believers.

Que nos vide le inscription sur le libro:
Let’s look at the inscription on the book:

Il dice:
It says:

Не убоися малое стадо яко благоизволи Отецъ вашъ дати вамъ царство небесное Продадите  имения ваша и далите  нищимъ Сотвори[те себе]….

Ne uboisya maloe stado; iako blagoizvoli otets vash dati vam tsarstvo nebesnoe.
Prodadite imyeniya vasha i dadite nishchim.  Sotvori[te sebye]….

Non time, grege parve, pro que il place tu patre dar te le regno del celo.  Vende lo que tu possede, e da lo al pauperes. Fac[e pro vos]….

“Fear not, little flock, because it pleases your Father to give you the Kingdom of Heaven.  Sell what you possess, and give it to the poor.  Mak[e for yourselves]….”

Istos parolas veni del evangelio nominate “secun Luka,” 12:32-33.
These words come from the Gospel called “according to Lukee,” 12:32-33.

E ora un question importante:  Quante de vos pote leger e comprender iste articulo?
And now an important question:  How many of you can read and understand this article (the non-English version)?

THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL INSCRIPTIONS

Today, thanks to a reader question, we will take a look at a 14th century icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens.  It represents the Archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies.

{Byzantine Museum, Athens – St. Michael: 14th century – Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Nov 12 2009)

The question asked was, what do the letters in the round mirror (depicted as a transparent sphere here) held by St. Michael mean?

Let’s look at them:

First, we need to know that the letters are Greek, which makes sense, given that it is a Byzantine icon.

The first letter — at the top — is Χ.  It stands for Χριστος — Khristos — “Christ.”
It would be easy to mistake the second letter, at left, for an Α.  But actually it is the letter Δ, which is often found written in this manner in old icons.  It stands for Δικαιος — Dikaios — meaning “Righteous.”
The third letter, at right, is Κ, for Κριτης — Krites — “Judge.”  It is related to our English words “critic” and criticism.”

All together, the letters abbreviate Χ(ριστός) Δ(ίκαιος) Κ(ριτής). — “Christ [the] Righteous Judge.”  It is an expression that recalls the words of John 7:24:

μὴ κρίνετε κατ’ ὄψιν, ἀλλὰ τὴν δικαίαν κρίσιν κρίνετε
Me krinete kat’ opsin, alla ten dikiaian krisin krinete
Not judge according-to appearance, but the rightous judgment judge
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

You may recall that  a variant of this phrase is often found as a Gospel text in Russian icons of Jesus as “Lord Almighty.”

Не на лица судите сынове человечестии, но праведен суд судите: им же бо судом судите, судят вам и в нюже меру мерите, возмерится вам.

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

There is also a title inscription on the Michael icon that we should examine.  It is divided into left and right parts:

At left:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ[ΩΝ]….
HO ARKHON
Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC
HO MEGAS

Notice how the the A and the P (R) are joined, and how the X (KH) in Arkhon is placed above, below a curved line indicating abbreviation.

At right:

…ΜΙΧΑ[Η]Λ
MIKHAEL
…ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
TAXIARKHIS

Notice that the Λ (L) in MIKHAEL is placed above the last two letters.

This title inscription is read with the first line jumping from the left to right side, as does the second, like this:

Ὁ ΑΡΧ(ΩΝ) ΜΙΧΑΗΛ Ὁ ΜΕΓΑC ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΗC
HO ARKHON MIKHAEL HO MEGAS TAXIARKHES

“THE PRINCE MICHAEL THE GREAT COMMANDER”

That title recalls the Old Testament book of Daniel, 12:1, in the Septuagint Greek version:

Και ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ ἀναστήσεται Μιχαὴλ ὁ ἄρχων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ἑστηκὼς ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ λαοῦ σου·
“And in that time shall stand up Michael the great prince, that stands over the sons of your people.”

Thanks to the reader who asked this question, because it helps everyone to advance a bit in the study of icons.

WEDDING AND TEMPTATION

Today we will look at a fresco painted in 1527 at the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, at Meteora in Greece.  Here is an image:

We can see its positioning here, on the upper right-hand wall:

Perhaps you recognize some of the other large images.  To the left of the doorway, we see the “second entry” into Paradise, with Peter at the door, and the Repentant Thief inside, and a soul sitting in the “bosom of Abraham” in the Paradise Garden.  Above the doorway and to its right is a large image of the “Terrible Judgment” — the “Last Judgment.”  But we want to consider the smaller image on the upper left side of the right-hand wall.

Perhaps you have already recognized the depiction.  It is identified by the title inscription at the top:

It reads:

ὉΕΝΚΑ
ΝΑΓΑΜΟC

As is common in Greek inscriptions, the words run together.  We can separate them as:

Ὁ ΕΝ ΚΑΝΑ ΓΑΜΟC

Ho en Kana Gamos
“The in Cana Marriage”

In normal English,
“The Wedding at Cana.”

It depicts the incident recorded in the Gospel called “of John,” 2:1-11:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:   And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus says to him, They have no wine.  Jesus says to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it.  And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

Jesus says to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he says to them, Draw out now, and take it to the governor of the feast. And they took it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and says to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

At left we see Jesus and Mary, identified by their usual inscriptions (abbreviated here) — Meter Theou (“Mother of God”) for Mary, and Iesous Khristos for Jesus, who has the cross in his halo.

To their right, we see a servant filling a jug with the water that is to be miraculously made into wine:

So that is the basic image.  But what is going on at the right side?

The painter has blended the edge of one event into another.  The scene at right is actually a part of a larger type depicting the “Temptation of Jesus” in the wilderness, which chronologically happens right after his baptism by John.

The Gospel called “of Mark” (1:12-13) tells us bluntly and briefly:

And immediately the spirit drives him into the wilderness.  And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

The Greek text says literally,
Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.
“And immediately the Spirit casts him out (ekballei) into the wilderness.”  Ekballei is the same term used for the casting out of demons.

Luke and Matthew, however, embroider the event considerably, and that is what we see in this depiction.  Here is Matthew’s account covering the portions we see in the fresco (the second we see only in part):

Matthew 4:1-7:

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

That is what we see here:  the Devil is telling Jesus to turn the stones into bread:

4 “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And says to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said uto him, It is written again, You shalt not tempt the Lord your God.”

The portion of the image we can see, however, shows only the Devil pointing to the ground.  Jesus is out of the image and to the right, standing higher up on the Jerusalem temple.

You may recall that according to the biblical story, the Devil also tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and offering to give him all the kingdoms of the world.  We find that in the continued Matthew account:

Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And says to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

10 Then says Jesus to him, Get you away, Satan: for it is written, You shalt worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

In this Russian example of the “Temptation,” (a kleimo (“border image”) from an icon of “The Lord Almighty” enthroned, painted in 1682), we see all three of the temptations:

The large image in the foreground shows the Devil (note the tail!) tempting Jesus to make stones into bread.  At upper right, he takes Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple and tells him to cast himself down so angels may save him.  And at upper left, he takes him to a high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world.

Take a close look at the name abbreviation by the head of Jesus in the foreground:

It appears to read IИС ХС for  IИСУС ХРИСТОС.  That extra И in the name of Jesus — making it Iisus Khristos — is the reformed spelling used by the State Church after the Old Believers split off from the State Church   The Old Believers continued to spell the name of Jesus Isus, while the State Church added another letter, making it Iisus.  Oddly, however, the background images of Jesus in this example still have the old IC XC form.

THAT IMAGE AT THE TOP…

A curious reader in Germany asked about the image in my blog “header” — what icon it is from, who the figures are, and what the inscription on the scroll means.

It is a detail from this icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer”:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a wider view of the “header” detail:

The saints depicted in it are from upper left (below the angel):
Prepodobnuiy Maron — Venerable Maron
Svyashchennomuchenik Antipa — Priest-martyr Antipas
Prepodobnuiy Sergiy Radonezhskiy — Venerably Sergiy of Radonezh
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Novgorodskiy — Venerable John of Novgorod
Prepodobnuiy Ioann Damaskin  — Venerable John of Damascus.

The scroll held by John reads:

Твоя по-
бедите-
льная деснице [-а]
Боголеп-
но в к-
репости
просла
[-вися: та бо, Безсмертне, яко всемогущая, противныя сотре, Израильтяном путь глубины новосоделавшая.]

It is the Irmos from the Canon of the Resurrection, Ode 1:

Your victorious right arm  in godly manner has been glorified in strength;
[it continues:  for, Immortal One, as almighty it struck the adversary, for the Israelites making the path of the deep anew.“]

The Canon of the Resurrection was written by John of Damascus.

The scroll just below the angel is the Stikhera, tone 2 from the Moleben to the “Joy of All Who Suffer” icon.

Всемъ скорбящимъ радость
и обидимымъ предстателница  и
алчущимъ питательница страннымъ…

Joy of all who sorrow, and intercessor for the offended, and feeder of the hungry, of travelers…
[it continues “… the consolation, harbor of the storm-tossed, visitation of the sick, protection and intercessor for the infirm staff of old age, you are the Mother of God on high, O Most Pure One”]

So that is the origin and significance of the present “header” image on this blog.