Here is a pleasant 19th century Deisis set, which traditionally consists of a central icon of Jesus as “Lord Almighty,” an icon of Mary approaching from the left, and one of John the Forerunner approaching at right:
Jesus has the common inscription from Matthew:
“Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28):
Прiидите ко мнѣ́ вси труждáющiися и обременéннiи, и áзъ упокóю вы́ Priidite ko mnye vsi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az’ upokoiu vui
Mary, however, has an uncommon inscription for a Deisis panel:
It is the beginning of the text known in the West as the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55):
Величит душа моя Господа и возрадовася дух [мои] о Бозе Спасе моем. яко при(зре на смирение рабы своея…)
Velichit dusha moya Gospoda i vozradovasya dukh moi o Boze Space moem. Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya…
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…”
And here is the John the Forerunner panel:
The scroll of John is a bit odd too, because it uses John 1:29, but stops at the beginning letters of the usual “Behold the Lamb of God” text:
[Во утрий же] виде Иоанн Иисуса грядуща к себе и глагола: се, Аг[нец Божий, вземляй грехи мира]
“[And in the morning] John saw Jesus coming to him and said, behold the La[mb of God who takes away the sins of the world].”
One often sees individual side panels from Deisis sets that have lost their accompanying two panels.
If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily recognize this as an icon of “John the Forerunner,” who is more commonly called John the Baptist outside Eastern Orthodoxy (though sometimes within it as well).
His iconography in this example is rather typical, but here is a quick review:
John is shown clothed in a hair garment, with a cloth wrap over it. He stands in a stylized wilderness. At lower left we see an axe and a tree, which represents Matthew 3:10:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
John is winged, in keeping with the double meaning of the word angelos in Greek; it can mean both messenger, and also an angel as a messenger of God. Also, in Eastern Orthodoxy John is often called a “heavenly man and earthly angel.”
Jesus blesses John from heaven, at upper right.
At lower right we see John’s head in a salver, signifying his manner of death according to the Gospels.
Now let’s take a look at what is different — and new to us in this icon. It is the long Greek inscription on his scroll, which is not that we usually find on icons of John, but one less common:
His scroll text — addressed to Jesus — is this (with some variation in spelling):
Οράς οία πάσχουσιν, ω Θεού Λόγε, οι πταισμάτων έλεγχοι των βδελυκτέων. Έλεγχον και γαρ μη φέρων ο Ηρώδης,τέτμηκεν, ιδού, την εμήν κάραν, Σώτερ.
Here is a loose translation:
“You see how suffer, O Word of God, those who reprove the wrongs of the abominable. For not bearing reproof, behold, Herod cut off my head, Savior.”
So with his severed head in front of him, he is telling Jesus, “You see how people who reprimand the wrongdoings of the wicked suffer. Because he could not endure my criticism — look, Savior! — Herod cut off my head.”
Now there are a number of odd things about John. Among them is that he is mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, though that account disagrees with those in the canonical Gospels. Josephus says Herod had John executed because of John’s influence over crowds of people and thus raised the possibility of a rebellion. The Gospels say John was killed because he condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was already married, and so as a woman could not legally marry Herod by Jewish law. There also appears to be a discrepancy in the dating of John, who in Josephus seems to have been killed after the death of Jesus, while in the Gospels his death comes nearer the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. However, there is some disagreement among scholars over the precise placement of John in the chronology of Josephus.
Most notable is that the account of John the Baptist in Josephus does not in any way connect him with Jesus.
In the previous posting, we looked at noted saints associated with the city of Murom, among them the father-sons triad of Prince Konstantin and his sons Mikhail and Feodor. They are easy to recognize, but be careful — because of the similarity of names and iconography — not to confuse them with this other father-sons triad, seen here in a 17th century Russian icon:
At the top is the very common image of Jesus called “Not Made by Hands. It is not part of the type itself. Below it is a large central figure in monastic garb, but without an identifying name inscription:
However, if we look closely at the two others in the icon, we can make out what remains of their name inscriptions.
Here is the one at left:
The writing is damaged and faded, but if you are really clever, you might be able to recognize it as an abbreviation for КНЯЗЬ ДАВИДЪ — KNYAZ’ DAVID — “Prince David.”
And here the the one at right:
Again, the inscription is not fully there, but nonetheless it can be deciphered as КНЯЗЬ КОНСТАНТИН — KNYAZ’ KONSTANTIN — “Prince Konstantin.”
Those two names tell us — if we did not already know — that the central figure without a title inscription must be the father of these two: КНЯЗЬ ФЕОДОР — KNYAZ’ FEODOR — “Prince Feodor/Theodore” of Smolensk and Yaroslavl.
Here is how to distinguish the Murom saints Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor from the Yaroslavl saints Feodor, David and Konstantin if inscriptions are damaged or missing:
Icons with the father Feodor and the sons David and Konstantin depict the father robed as a monk, as we see in the icon above.
Icons with the father Konstantin and the sons Mikhail and Feodor depict the father robed as a prince, as we see on the left side of this central image from a larger Russian icon (the saints on the right, by the way, are Petr, Fevronia, and Iulianiya Lazarevskaya, also discussed in the previous posting).
In it, the father (Konstantin) and sons Mikhail and Feodor each wear the ornate outer cloak called a шуба/shuba, and each wears the fur-trimmed cap called a шапка/shapka. The damask-ornamented shuba and the shapka are standard garb for noble or royal Russian saints.
For a better perspective on these two father-sons triads, here is the basic information. We will take them in chronological order. First, a brief review of the father Konstantin and his sons:
I. Prince Konstantin of Murom was descended from Vladimir of Kyiv/Kiev — the fellow who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by edict.
When Konstantin was given authority over the city of Murom — which at that time was still not Christianized, he sent his son Mikhail to convert the people — so tradition says. The Muromites, however, killed Mikhail by throwing him down from the city walls, so Konstantin then took the city by armed power. The story is that the people eventually relented — influenced by seeing the “Murom” icon of Mary carried in Konstantin’s arms. His son Feodor aided in the spread of Christian belief in the Murom region.
II. Feodor of Smolensk and Yaroslavl — also known as Феодор Чёрный/Feodor Chornuiy — “Feodor the Black” — was born at the time of the Mongol invasions and died in 1298. He was originally the child Prince of Mozhaisk, but upon his marriage he also became Prince of Yaroslavl. From this first marriage, he had a son named Mikhail, who on the early death of his mother was raised by his grandmother, Princess Xenia.
This was the period of Mongol control. Feodor became allied with the Mongols in their military battles, and gained favor among them. But when he tried to return to Yaroslavl after three years with the Mongols, he was looked on as what today would be called a “collaborator,” and the people would not let him enter, saying, “This is the city of Xenia, and Mikhail is our prince.” Feodor then returned to the Mongols, and was so highly considered among them that he was allowed to marry the daughter of Khan Mengu-Timur of the Golden Horde. She became a baptized Christian under the name Anna, and with her Feodor had two more sons — David (died 1321) and Konstantin. These later sons are the ones who commonly appear with Feodor in Russian iconography.
Eventually, Feodor got word from Yaroslavl that his first son Mikhail had died. Feodor then returned to Yaroslavl, and became its prince. In 1299 he became very ill, and was carried near death to the Savior-Transfiguration Monastery, and there he took the monastic robe — which accounts for why he is depicted in a monk’s robe in iconography. This “last-minute” entry into monasticism was done by a number of Russian saints — a bit reminiscent of the deathbed baptism of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. His son David succeeded him as ruler of Yaroslavl. It is thought that his other son, Konstantin, had already died by that time.
So that is how to distinguish the two father-sons triads — the “Murom” triad of Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor, and the “Yaroslavl” triad of Feodor, David and Konstantin.
Now that the distinction is clear (I hope!), we can move on to an interesting related icon — related to the Yaroslavl father-sons triad, that is.
Here is an icon from the last part of the 17th century:
We can use it to practice reading inscriptions.
Here is the image at top center:
Now the first thing we can tell about this icon is that in spite of its traditional appearance, this is a State Church icon, not an Old Believer icon. That is obvious from the abbreviation of the name of Jesus at top left: IИС for Иисус Христос/Iisus Khristos. The Old Believers would have spelled it in the old way — IC XC for the form Ісус Хрістос/Isus Khristos. You will recall that the change came about when Patriarch Nikon insisted on a reform of religious practices and spellings in the middle of the 17th century, and that caused the Old Believers to keep to the old ways, while the State Church adopted the changes and began its persecution of the Old Believers. So we see that change already in this icon inscription.
Just below the Iisus Khristos inscription, we see another:
Ц[А]РЬ Ц[А]РЕМ И Г[О]С[ПО]ДЬ Г[О]С[ПО]ДЕМЬ TSAR’ TSAREM I GOSPOD’ GOSPODEM’ “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”
Now we can move to the main image. Usually the title of an icon type is at the top of the image in large letters, but in this example it is rather modestly beside the head of the main figure at left, and in small letters:
The triad at left is one you now know — Feodor, Konstantin, and David. You should have no trouble in reading their inscriptions:
You can see some abbreviation in the names Konstantin and David. The two sons in this example wear the damask shuba and robes, but their heads are bare, without the usual shapka — the fur-trimmed hat — on each. Their father Feodor wears the monastic garment he took at the “last minute,” when he became a monk just before his death.
Now we move to the right side of the icon:
At upper right we see the moon — ЛУНА/LUNA — just as we saw the sun –СОЛНЦЕ/SOLNTSE — on the far upper left, above Feodor.
You will recall that “good-believing” is the Slavic way of indicating that they are “Orthodox,” so благоверный/blagovyernuiy (the singular male form) is often simply translated as “Orthodox.”
Now we come to their names. The fellow at left is ВАСИЛИЙ/VASILIY, which you will recall is the Slavic form of Basil. The fellow at right is КОНСТАНТИН/KONSTANTIN, the Slavic form of Constantine. And of course he is a different Konstantin than the one in the triad at left.
Now all we need know is who these two fellows were.
Princes Vasiliy and Konstantin of Yaroslavl were brothers during the time of the Mongol/Tatar invasions. Vasiliy attempted to pacify the Mongol leader Batu Khan of the so-called “Golden Horde.” He fell ill in Vladimir, dying there in 1250. His younger brother Konstantin died in a battle against the Tatars in 1267. Some two and a half centuries later, their bodies were said to have been found incorrupt, which as you will recall, in popular Slavic belief can mean either a saint or a vampire, depending on circumstances. In this case, of course, they were considered to be saints, because their remains were believed to have been the cause of various “miracles.”
All of these “Yaroslavl Wonderworkers” are set against the background of the city of Yaroslavl.
Today we will look at a 13th century fresco from the cupola of the Boyana Church just outside of Sophia, in Bulgaria.
Of course we are already quite familiar with these “Lord Almighty” (Greek: Pantokrator) images, which are extremely common. This one, however, has a rather different Slavic inscription on the book.
Ordinarily, the book held by Jesus is the Gospels, and usually one of the standard Gospel texts is written on it. That is not what we find here.
Let’s look more closely:
When we put spaces between the words, we find it reads:
Видите, видите, яко азъ есмь Богъ и нѣсть иного развѣ мене Vidite, vidite, yako az esm’ Bog i nest’ inogo razvye mene “See, See, that I am God, and there is no other besides me.”
It is a variation on the words found in Deuteronomy 32:39 in the Old Testament:
Видите, видите, яко Аз есмь, и несть Бог разве Мене: Аз убию и жити сотворю. Vidite, vidite, yako Az esm’, i nest’ Bog razve mene: Az ubiiu i zhiti sotvoriu.
“See, see, that I am, and there is no God besides me: I kill and create life.”
Similarly, in Isaiah 45:21 we read:
Аз Бог, и несть иного разве Мене Az Bog, i nest’ inogo razve Mene
“I am God, and there is no other besides me.”
Today we will look at a Russian icon of nine saints. It offers a good opportunity for practicing the reading of title inscriptions in Church Slavic. Inscriptions on old icons are often abbreviated, and also frequently damaged by time. That means the student of icons should become familiar enough with titles and names to be able to fill in what may be missing in the inscription as written on an icon. But again, this is not as difficult as it sounds at first, because names and titles are very repetitive.
Fortunately, each saint in this icon still has most of his title inscription. Those in the top row have titles written in the upper border, and those in the bottom row have them in the halo.
Let’s examine them one by one, beginning at top left:
First, we see that he is dressed in the skhima — the robe of a monastic.
His inscription begins with the three-letter abbreviation at the top:
You should recognize the П р (Pr) as the beginning letters of Prepodobnuiy, the common title of a monastic, usually rendered in English as “Venerable,” though it really means “Most like” — most like Christ that is, or like Adam before the Fall. The д above the two letters is the “d” in Prepodobnuiy.
Next comes his actual name:
And finally comes the “locator” part of his title that tells us which Antoniy he is — that is, the place with which he is associated. The first letter is partly missing, but from the rest we can easily restore it:
If we put it all together, we see that this monastic is Prepodobnuiy Antoniy Siyskiy — Venerable Antoniy Siyskiy, or if we want to anglicize it, Venerable Anthony of Siya. Antoniy (1479–1556) founded the Antonievo-Siyskiy Monastery on the Siya River, in what is now Arkhangelsk province in northern Russia. You may recognize the “Siyskiy” part from the title from the name of the well-known illustrated painters’ manual, the Siya Icon Painting Manual (Сийский иконописный подлинник/Siyskiy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik)
From this point on, I will just transliterate the I in Church Slavic by the И used for it in the modern Russian font.
To his right is a fellow dressed in the garments of a bishop:
His title begins:
The first abbreviation is of course the very common Svyatuiy, meaning “Holy/Saint.” Note that the Slavic t is written very small to the right of the C (S), and the partial crossbar of it curves back and above the C, to indicate abbreviation.
It does not take effort to read this line as Svyatuiy Arkhiepiskop — “Holy Archbishop.”
The second line gives us first his name:
Then comes his “locator”:
“OF SERBIA.” You will recall from previous postings that the -ago ending indicates the “of” form of a word, so that is why we translate this as “Of Serbia.” Sava of Serbia, who died in 1236, was the first archbishop of the “independent” Serbian Orthodox Church. Such an independent regional church is referred to by the adjective autocephalous, meaning literally, “self-headed,” — that is, under its own ecclesiastical authority. For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was formerly under the authority of the “Patriarch of Russia and all Rus,” is now autocephalous — self-ruling and independent, under the title “The Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
The next fellow is also dressed as a bishop:
We see that same Ct (St) abbreviation at the beginning, for Svyatuiy — “Holy.” That is followed by ЕПИСКОПЪ/EPISKOP”, meaning “Bishop.” Just think of the English word “episcopal,” which comes from the same Greek root as this Slavic form.
Next comes his name:
That is followed by his “locator” title:
The -skiy ending is another way of telling us that a person is from a certain place, and this fellow is from Perm, so he is Permskiy.
Assembling all the words, we get Svyatuiy Episkop Stefan Permskiy, “Holy Bishop Stefan/Stephen [of] Perm.” Stefan of Perm (1340–1396) was the first bishop of Perm, near the Urals.
We can see that the fellow holding the scroll at far right is also dressed as a monastic:
And as we might expect, his title also begins with the letters Prd, which as you already know abbreviate Prepodobnuiy/”Venerable.”
Next comes his name:
And at the end comes his “locator” title, partly obliterated by a scratch (this kind of thing is common in old icons) and abbreviated, but we can nonetheless read it as:
So this fellow is Venerable Makariy Zheltovodskiy, or anglicized, “Venerable Macarius of Yellow Waters” [Lake]. You may also sometimes find his title given in longer form as Преподобный Макарий Унженский Желтоводский Чудотворец/Venerable “Makariy Unzhenskiy [‘of Unzha’] Zheltovodskiy Wonderworker.” He lived circa 1399-1444, and was the founder of monasteries on the Volga River.
Now we move to the first fellow at left in the bottom row.
The beginning of his inscription has been partly obliterated by time, but from what we have already seen, we can easily amend the first word to the Prd we already know, for Prepodobnuiy — “Venerable.”
Next comes his name, and though the beginning letters are damaged, we can easily emend it as:
After that comes his abbreviated “locator” title:
So this fellow is Venerable Dimitriy Prilutskiy, or anglicized, Venerable Demetrius of Priluki. He was a 14th century monastic founder in the Vologda area.
To the right of Dimitriy is this person:
His title is given as:
С[ВЯТЫЙ] ЕВФИМИЙ МИТРОПОЛИТ НОВОГОРО[ДСКИЙ] SVYATUIY EVFIMIY MITROPOLIT NOVOGORODSKIY “HOLY EVFIMIY/EUTHEMIUS METROPOLITAN OF NOVGOROD”
Evfimiy was a 15th century cleric noted for his reconstruction of many old churches. He died in 1458.
The brackets indicate letters left out in the abbreviation or difficult to see because they are tiny superscripts.
Now we come to the angel. He is easy to identify, even though some letters are gone from his title:
Nikita died in 1108, and was reputed to be a “wonderworker.”
Now we come to the last figure:
ПР[ЕПО]Д[ОБНЫЙ] САВА ВИШЕРСКАГО PREPODOBNUIY SAVA VISHERSKAGO
“VENERABLE SAVA OF VISHERSK.”
From his inscription we can see how very important the “locator” portion of a title is in accurately identifying a saint, because as noted in this icon, there is more than one Sava — and in fact there are often multiple saints with the same name. So we need the “locator” title to tell just which Sava this fellow is — and we see he is Sava of Vishersk, not Sava of Serbia or some other Sava (often anglicized as Sabbas). Sava (generally spelled Савва/Savva) of Vishersk was the very ascetic founder of a monastery on the Vishera River. He died in 1460.
Now you have had some helpful practice in reading and translating Church Slavic titles of saints in Russian icons. If you have been reading here from the beginning, you should be able to translate the titles on a great many saints with ease.
Part of the fun of icons is in trying to translate some of the roughly or oddly written inscriptions.
Here, for example, is a Greek-inscribed icon you will recognize as John the Forerunner — John the Baptist. Greek icons of John often have a “wild and wooly” appearance, almost like a combination of primitive art and more abstract art:
But it is his scroll that interests us today:
The texts used on John’s scroll in icons are usually quite limited, so one might guess at what it says, but it is best to be able to read it, though some of the spelling is phonetic rather than standard. Also, it is a little worn, but nonetheless we can make out what was intended. Here is what it looks like:
Well, with a little imagination, we can tell that the painter’s intention was a standard inscription:
Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. Metanoeite, engiken gar he basileia ton ouranon
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is drawn near.”
The painter did some (for us) odd things, for example using OI where we would expect I or H in Greek, but that is easily explained — all three have the same “ee” sound in later Greek, so again, he was just writing phonetically.
The title inscription is a bit odd in its arrangement. We see it in the upper left-hand corner:
It is meant to be read from lower left to upper left to upper right.
At lower left we have
The bottom letter above is not quite clear in the inscription, but nonetheless we can easily see that the inscription is to be understood as Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC — Ho Hagios — “The Holy…”
The name Ιωάννης/Ioannes/John at top left is abbreviated to only two letters — Ιω.
When we get to his title at upper right, we see the beginning Ὁ/Ho/”The” followed by a very elaborate ligature intended to represent — when joined to the ΟC/os ending, the word Πρόδρομος/Prodromos/ “Forerunner.”
So we see that the title intended by the abbreviations and fancy ligature is Ὁ Άγιος Ιωάννης ο Πρόδρομος — HO HAGIOS IOANNES HO PRODROMOS — “THE HOLY JOHN THE FORERUNNER.”
Today we will look at two Russian icons that were once the side panels on a three-panel Deisis set. As you know, the icon of Jesus as “Lord Almighty” would have been the central icon, with Mary approaching him at left and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right. They are painted very much in the old and traditional manner:
Deisis icons reflect a royal court in which the ruler sits enthroned, and petitioners come to him with requests.
If we look more closely at the panel of John, you will find — if you are a long-time reader here — that you can easily translate his scroll:
The common inscription can quickly be recognized by its first two Church Slavic words — АЗЪ ВИДЕХЪ/AZ VIDEKH — “I saw…” You will recall that it continues “…and witnessed concerning him, behold the Lamb of God, who takes [away the sins of the world].”
The scroll held by Mary bears a very common text given her in Deisis icons, though sometimes we find variants.
VLADIKO MNOGOMILOSTIVE GOSPODI ISUSE KHRISTE SUINE MOI PRIKLONI UKHO…
“Master most gracious, Lord Jesus Christ, my son, incline [your] ear….”
So Mary is asking Jesus to bend his ear to her and hear her petition on behalf of humans.
A владико/vladiko is a master or ruler. In Eastern Orthodoxy, one often finds the term vladiko or vladika used when addressing a bishop.
These two Deisis panels are attributed to vicinity of Syzran/Suizran (Сызрань), a town on the Volga River, which was a center for traditional icon painting by Old Believers in the 19th century. The Old Believers seem to have been in the region from the latter part of the 18th century. In the year 1878, it was noted that between Simbirsk and Syzran there were 14 parishes of “State Church” believers, but 29 parishes of raskolniki — “Schismatics,” the deprecatory State term for Old Believers.
In this map of a segment of the Volga, we see Syzran at left, and Samara (Самара) at right:
In the second half of the 19th century, there were said to be at least 70 icon painting masters and establishments doing a flourishing business in the Syzran area. The majority of them were Поморцы-Беспоповцы/Pomortsui-Bespopovtsui — that is, members of the Old Believer sect called “priestless” Pomortsui/Pomortsy. They elected lay persons to conduct their services instead of priests. In spite of this, their high-quality icons were commissioned not only by their own sect, but by others as well — including members of the State Church. That does not mean, however, that there were no religious conflicts between the State Church and those holding other beliefs in Syzran.
One characteristic often found in Syzran icons is a kovcheg/ark with a wide and dark luzga — the bevel separating the ark from the outer border. The luzga was often painted with gold or silver floral, etc. ornament, as we see in this detail from the “Mary” panel:
Syzran icon painting flourished from the late 18th to early 29th century.