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):
What does this handsome young fellow have in common with the Archangel Michael?
When Christianity displaced the old Greco-Roman gods, Michael eventually took over the duties of the fellow above — the god Hermes/Mercury — as the conductor of the soul into the afterlife. The term for such a person is psychopomp, from the Greek ψυχοπομπός/psychopompós, meaning “soul guide.” So both Hermes and Michael are psychopomps. And before Hermes, there was Anubis and Wepwawet in Egypt, who performed similar functions. So the names change, but the notion continues.
I hope you remember the previous discussion of the Arkhistrategos Michael and the two variants when there is a person beneath him.
On the one hand, it may be the Devil, whose form may range from human-appearing to human with “bat wings” etc., to a monstrous appearance, as in this 18th century Russian “State Church” icon:
On the other hand, the person beneath Michael may be a dying or dead man, bringing us back to Michael’s role as psychopomp, as in this Greek-inscribed example from the 17th century:
Michael stands on a male body, its eyes closed in death:
Above the body is this inscription:
Φρήξον ψυχή μου τα ορώμενα
It is a shortened version of this:
Φρήξον ψυχή μου τα ορώμενα, φρήξετε πάντες αδελφοί το πικρόν ποτήριον του θανάτου
Frexon psukhe mou ta oromena, frexete pantes adelphoi to pikron poterion tou thanatou
“Tremble, my soul, at the sight, tremble all, brothers, at the bitter cup of death.”
If we look at Michael’s upraised left hand, we can see that he holds the soul of the dead man in the form of an infant wrapped in what the King James Bible calls “swaddling clothes.” It comes from the old practice of binding infants in strips of cloth to restrain their movements and calm them — a practice that largely fell out of use in Europe in the 17th century. In icons it is common to depict the soul of the dead as a new-born infant.
We see the same depiction of the soul as infant in icons of the Dormition, in which it is the soul of Mary.
For the previous discussion of Michael and the person beneath him as the “soul of the rich man,” go to this posting:
And what is done with the soul? Well, in a practice that goes all the way back to the religion of ancient Egypt, Michael weighs the soul of the dead to see if its good deeds outweigh the bad — and that determines its fate in the afterlife, whether Heaven or Hades/Hell — as in this recent depiction:
Again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here — on an old Egyptian papyrus — is a depiction of Anubis weighing the heart of the dead person, to decide the fate of the person in the afterlife:
And here is a western European depiction of Michael weighing souls at the Last Judgment — a detail from the Beune altarpiece, by Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399-1464):
ѠБРАЗ СВЯТАГО НИКОЛЫ ЧУДОТВОРЦА OBRAZ SVYATAGO NIKOLUI CHUDOTVORTSA
“IMAGE OF HOLY NICHOLAS THE WONDERWORKER.”
Nicholas holds a sword in one hand and a church in the other. When he is depicted in this way, he is called “Nicholas of Mozhaisk.” The title of the type originated in the belief that Nicholas was the miraculous defender of the city of Mozhaisk from the invading Tartars. The church in his hand is sometimes shown as a miniature city.
To the left of Nicholas, we see Jesus in the clouds, and to the right, Mary.
Let’s take a closer look at the face of Nicholas:
Nicholas is flanked by saints on both sides. Here are those at left:
“Holy Martyr Tatiana”
“Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene”
“Holy Alexei, Metropolitan”
Here are those at right:
“Holy Great Martyr Anastasia”
“Holy Alexandra, Empress”
“Holy Olga, Princess”
The painter certainly had a definite way of painting faces — so much so that these saints all look very similar in facial features.
The icon is heavily gold leafed, and that enabled the painter to incise baroque ornamentation in the corners of the image and floral ornaments on the garments, such as we see on the robe of Nicholas:
Well, that covers most everything on the icon. But if we left it at that, we would miss the most significant thing about the image. Let’s look again at the names of the saints depicted:
Now if you know anything at all about Russian history, those should sound very familiar — because they are the names of the last Russian Tsar and his family. And that is the most significant thing about this icon; it represents the saints for whom the members of the ill-fated last Russian Imperial Family were named.
The icon was painted in what was then the Province of Chernigov, and is now the town of Shelomy in Bryansk Oblast, Russia.
If we look at this old map, there are three red dots from the top to the “Tschernigow” (Chernigov) name in large letters. The third red dot down from the top is the Old Believer settlement of Starodub. Go straight West from Starodub, and the first village you come to is “Schelomy” — Shelomy. And if we continue West from Shelomy and cross the red border, we come to Wjetka — “Vetka.” These were all Old Believer settlements.
An inscription on the reverse says the icon was painted by an Old Believer for presentation on the “Angel Day” — the name-saint day — of Tsar Nicholas, in 1906.
Now there is something odd about that, and it is that an Old Believer is not likely to have had any interest in painting anything for or having to do with the Tsar of Russia, whom Old Believers in general considered a heretic. But it is very like that this particular Old Believer was one of the Eдиноверцы/Edinovertsui — that is, one of the Uniates. The Uniates were a religious category that began in the latter part of the 18th century — an attempt by the State Russian Orthodox Church to make some accommodation that would allow Old Believers to have a certain unity with the State Church while still keeping their practice of using the old rituals. Many Old Believers would have nothing to do with the arrangement, but some communities did make the transition. The project seems to have really begun as an attempt to bring the Old Believers back into the State Church, but even though some accepted the Edinovertsui/Uniate designation, the attempt to make them fully “State Church” was a failure. They preferred to keep their own ways.
In the previous posting I discussed a multiple icon — one of those with four separate icon images on a single panel. And on such icons we often — but not always — find a central image as well.
As you see, that is the case with today’s icon. You will recall (hey, it was only yesterday!) that on the previous icon, the central image was the Crucifixion. Well, on today’s image it is a circle containing the so-called “Image Not Made by Hands” — also known as the Mandylion.
If you have been a diligent student of my past postings, you will be able to easily read every inscription in the circle.
But just in case, I will translate the top and bottom inscriptions:
To that we need only add the name inscriptions of the two angels. That at left is
СВЯТЫЙ МИХАИЛЪ АРХАНГЕЛ/Svyatuiy Mikhail Arkhangel/”Holy Michael, Archangel — and that at right is СВЯТЫЙ ГАВРИИЛЪ АРХАНГЕЛ/Svyatuiy Gavriil Arkhangel/”Holy Gabriel, Archangel.”
Now on to the second icon type. Here it is with its title inscription:
НЕЧАЕННЫЯ РАДОСТИ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ NECHAENNUIYA RADOSTI PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“UNEXPECTED JOY MOST-HOLY GOD-BIRTHGIVER
In normal English, the “‘Unexpected Joy’ Most Holy Mother of God.”
The title is often found as Нечаянная Радость/Nechayannaya Radost’/”Unexpected Joy.”
I discussed the “Unexpected Joy type previously in some detail here:
To that explanation, I should add here a mention of the words extending from Mary to the kneeling man, and from him to Mary — their conversation:
As you can see, the line bearing Mary’s words is upside-down, to distinguish it from the man’s initial question, which is right-side-up.
He says to Mary,
О Госпоже, кто сие сотвори/O Gospozhe, kto sie [siya] sotvori/ “O Lady, who did this?”
ты и протчия [прочии] грешники грехами сына / Tui i protchiya [prochii] greshniki grekhami suina / “You and other sinners with sins my son …”
Mary’s response is cut short in this example. What she replies in full is generally, “You and other sinners with [your] sins have crucified my son, like the Jews.” It is only the first part of a longer conversation. So in this tale we find again the anti-Semitic motif that the “Jews” crucified Jesus — the notion that caused so much suffering and persecution of Jewish people over the centuries.
The tale of the “Unexpected Joy” icon is found in the literary work Руно орошенное/Runo oroshennoe/”Dew-wet Fleece, written by the hagiographer and saint Dimitriy Rostovskiy (1651-1709). Customarily, icons of the “Unexpected Joy contain the text box seen in this example:
“A CERTAIN LAWLESS MAN HAD A DAILY RULE TO PRAY TO THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WITH THE WORDS OF THE ARCHANGEL’S GREETING.”
The “words of the Archangel’s greeting” are the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation: Радуйся, Благодатная! Господь с Тобою … / Raduysya, Blagodatnaya! Gospod’ s Toboiu … / Rejoice, Blessed One! The Lord is With You …” Or as it is commonly rendered in English, “Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you …” etc.
Expect some variation in spelling and length of text from example to example.
The fourth icon image is at lower left:
As the small title inscription above Mary’s shoulder says, it is the
Today’s example is very useful in learning to read inscriptions, so I will dwell on those in some detail, in order to help those of you who are just beginning to learn to translate Church Slavic inscriptions.
First we should look at the title inscription at the top: It begins at left, and continues at right:
ѠБРАЗ ВСЕМ СКОРБЯЩИМЪ OBRAZ VSEM SKORBYASHCHIM”
IMAGE [of] TO-ALL SUFFERING
РАДОСТЬ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ RADOST’ PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
JOY MOST-HOLY GOD-BIRTHGIVER
If we put it all together we get:
ѠБРАЗ ВСЕМ СКОРБЯЩИМЪ РАДОСТЬ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ OBRAZ VSEM SKORBYASHCHIM” RADOST’ PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“IMAGE OF THE JOY TO ALL WHO SUFFER MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”
Now as you can see, the final translation has been put into normal English. This type is also often called in English the “Joy of All Who Suffer” Mother of God.
Here is the icon:
At top center we see ГОСПОДЬ САВАѠФЪ/GOSPOD’ SAVAOF” — “LORD SABAOTH” — God the Father. He blesses with his right hand and holds a cross-topped orb — the symbol of universal rule and authority — in has left:
Now the position of the fingers in his blessing hand tells us that this is an Old Believer icon, which is not surprising, given its stylized form.
Below and to the left of Lord Sabaoth, we see this:
It is of course the sun, and we see the Church Slavic word СОЛНЦЕ/SOLNTSE — “SUN” just above it.
On the right of the icon is the moon — ЛУНА/LUNA — among the stars.
It is common in Russian iconography for the sun and moon to be given faces — anthropomorphized. You may recall that the other icon type in which the sun and moon are commonly found is the Crucifixion, but in that type the sun is darkened and the moon is blood red, in contrast to this type, in which the sun and moon are represented normally.
If you are a long-time reader here, you will recognize the central image of Mary and the child Jesus as a version of what is called in German the Strahlende Madonna — the “Radiant Madonna.” And you may recall that in some versions of this icon type, Mary is shown without the child Jesus on her arm: Here both are crowned, and Mary has a string of painted jewels in her halo:
The abbreviation above her is the standard Greek ΜΡ ΘΥ, identifying her as Μήτηρ Θεού / Meter Theou — “Mother of God.” While all other inscriptions on Russian icons are generally in Church Slavic, Russian iconography nonetheless kept this abbreviation as the identifying mark of Mary. And as you can see, it also kept the standard Greek abbreviation used to identify Jesus in Russian icons: IC XC for Ιησούς Χριστός / Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.” Each abbreviation has the curved horizontal line indicating abbreviation above it.
If we look at Jesus in the arms of Mary, we can see that his halo contains the usual inscription used for him in the cross outline visible behind his head.
The Greek form of the halo inscription is Ὁ ѠN — HO ON — meaning “The One Who Is” — a title of God found in Exodus 3:14. The letters are read top-left-right, as they usually also are in Bulgarian icons. In Russian icons, however, the left letter is commonly changed from Ѡ to Slavic Ѿ — pronounced “ot” — which enables them to read the inscription left-top-right while giving it various fanciful interpretations. That is what we see here. Some like the letters to represent the members of the Trinity, interpreting them as abbreviations for the Three-Hypostatic Godhood, represented in the letters as Ѿ (ot) for Ѿтеческий/Otecheskiy — “Of the Father’s”; О for Оум/Oum — “Mind”; and Н for Непостижимъ Сыин/Nepostizhim Suin — “Unfathomable Son.”
Still others read it as abbreviating От небес приидох — Они же Мя не познаша — На кресте распяша Ot nebes priidokh — Oni zhe mya ne poznasha — Na kreste raspyasha
“From heaven I came — They knew me not — On the cross I was crucified.”
Now for some practice in reading saints’ names. Let’s begin with those just to left of Mary, beginning at the top:
At the very top, we see this saint wearing a monk’s garments:
ПРД ЗОСИМЪ СОЛ PRD ZOZIM” SOL
The first and last words are abbreviated. In full the title is:
ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ ЗОСИМЪ СОЛОВЕТСКИЙ PREPODOBNUIY ZOSIM” SOLOVETSKIY
“VENERABLE ZOSIM/ZOSIMA OF SOLOVETSK”
You may recall that he is one of a pair of saints often found in icons: Zosim and Savvatiy Solovetskiy — the founding fathers of the Solovetskiy/Solovkiy Monastery and the patron saints of beekeeping. Remember that Prepodobnuiy (literally “most-like” — meaning most like Christ, or most like Adam before the Fall) is commonly translated into English as Venerable — and that this is the masculine form, the common title for a monk.
Now as you can see, the PRD here abbreviates PREPODOBNAYA — the female form of Prepodobnuiy, and it is the common title for a nun. And as we see, Feodosiya is wearing a nun’s garments. Presumably she is Theodosia of Constantinople.
Now oddly enough, the writer has given the saint at right the PRD abbreviation too — which he usually does not have, because he was not a monk. So we will omit it here. He is:
ВАСИЛИЙ БЛАЖЕННЫЙ VASILIY BLAZHENNUIY
“VASILIY THE BLESSED.”
BLAZHENNUIY is a title commonly used for “Holy Fools,” those called “Fools for Christ’s Sake.” And this Vasiliy/Basil is the same fellow for whom the St. Vasiliy/Basil Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow is named. Vasiliy was prayed to for safety from fire, for the cure of eye problems, and for help when beginning a new task in a workshop.
Next come two very familiar saints:
At left is:
СВЯТЫЙ ПАВЕЛЪ АПОСТОЛ SVYATUIY PAVEL” APOSTOL
“HOLY PAVEL/PAUL APOSTLE”
So he is the Apostle Paul, from the New Testament. He is often prayed to for protection of children from death. And beside him is
And that is St. Peter from the New Testament. Notice that he holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in one hand, and also a scroll reading:
ТЫ ЕСИ ПЕТР НА СЕМ КАМЕНИ TUI ESI PETR NA SEM KAMENI
“YOU ARE PETER: ON THIS ROCK”
The words are taken from Matthew 16:18: ты еси Петр, и на сем камени созижду Церковь Мою, и врата адова не одолеют ей: Tui esi Petr, i na sem kameni sozizhdu tserkov’ moiu, i vrata adova ne odoleleiut ey
“You are Peter; on this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not Prevail against it.”
Peter was prayed to for relief from fevers, and Paul — like the Holy Fool Vasiliy — for help when beginning a new work in a workshop.
Then we have two saints robed as bishops, with the bishop’s stole (Slavic omofor/Greek omophorion around their necks and the Gospel book in their hands:
“Nikita” is the more common spelling, but in icons it is not unusual to find spelling variations — usually phonetic. We find here the relatively common substitution of “o” for “a.” It is a spelling change frequent in Russian icons because the unstressed “o” in Russian sounds rather like “a.”
At left below him, dressed in warrior’s garments and holding the cross of martyrdom, is:
СВЯТЫЙ ГЕОРГИЙ ВЕЛИКОМУЧЕНИК SVYATUIY GEORGIY VELIKOMUCHENIK
“HOLY GEORGE GREAT-MARTYR
He is the famous saint of “St. George and the Dragon” icons. He was often prayed to for the protection of flocks.
To the right of George is:
СВЯТАЯ АННА ПРАВЕДНАЯ SVYATAYA ANNA PRAVEDNAYA
“HOLY ANNA RIGHTEOUS”
This is the Anna who in apocryphal sources such as the Protoevangelion of James was the mother of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her title Pravednaya/Righteous (male form Pravednuiy) is often used for saints considered to be in some way “Old Testament” — and Anna and her husband Joachim were predecessors of the Gospel. Notice that Svyataya is the female form of male Svyatuiy (“Holy”). Anna was often prayed to for conceiving children.
Next comes a pair of brothers often found together in icons:
The title Bezsrebrenik means literally “without (bez-) silver (-srebre/серебро) guy (-nik). It is generally used for physicans who treated patients without asking payment. Note that as we saw in the name “Nikito,” in Russian icons the letters o and a are often interchanged in the spelling of Domean/Damian. The two were prayed to for educational matters and of course for healing.
The last two saints on the main part of the icon are both dressed as bishops, with omophorion and Gospel book:
At left is one of the most frequently found saints in Russian iconography, after Mary and Jesus. he is:
Nicholas the Wonderworker is Nicholas of Myra, who later morphed into the American Santa Claus. His name is generally found as Nikola or Nikolai — and in regions such as Belarus as Mikola. He was often prayed to for safety on the water and protection from drowning.
Last, to his right, is:
СВЯТЫЙ ИОАННЪ ЗЛАТОУСТ SVYATUIY IOANN” ZLATOUST
“HOLY JOHN CHRYSOSTOM”
His name in Slavic means literally “Golden (zlat-) Mouth (-oust).” He is one of the “Three Hierarchs” often found together in Russian icons. He was an archbishop of Constantinople and a noted orator, but also, unfortunately, a virulent anti-Semite. It was thought helpful to pray to John Zlatoust/Chrysostom when in despair.
You perhaps noticed that the titles on this icon are arranged in the halos like this:
SVYATAYA ANNA PRAVEDNAYA
“HOLY ANNA RIGHTEOUS”
Ordinarily, however, they are like this:
SVYATAYA PRAVEDNAYA ANNA
“HOLY RIGHTEOUS ANNA”
Of course the outcome is the same, but the second form is that generally found in icons.
Though we will not look at them individually, in the outer left and right borders of the icon — commonly the location of saints for whom the members of the family were named, we find these:
Left, from top:
Holy Great Martyr Dimitriy/Demetrios
At right, from top:
Holy Great Martyr Artemiy/Artemios
Holy Martyr Anastasia
Venerable Maria/Mary of Egypt
Now the inscription in the rectangle at the base:
On Marian icons, we often find an inscription with lines from a Marian hymn or a prayer to Mary. In this case it is the former.
At the beginning, we see these words in red:
ТРОПАРЬ ГЛАСЪ Д TROPAR’ GLAS” D
TROPARION VOICE 4
Note that the letter Д (D) here is used as a number.
A troparion is a brief hymn found in liturgical texts. By “voice” is meant “tone” — and by that is meant a musical mode. There are traditionally eight modes — categories of melodies — in Eastern Orthodox hymns.
So we know this text is a hymn, and by its context, most likely a Marian hymn. But which one is it?
Well, here is the text in a modern Russian font (note that the letter ъ is often omitted at the end of some words in modern form):
Тропарь, глас 4.
К Богородице прилежно ныне притецем грешнии, со смирением припадающе и покаянием, вопиюще из глубины душевныя, Владычице помози милосердовавши на ны, и потщися яко изгибаем от множества грехов. Не отврати раб Своих тощ, Тебе бо Едину Помощницу имамы.
“To the Mother of God let us sinners now earnestly run, with humility falling down in repentance, crying from the depths of the soul: O Lady, mercifully help us, and make haste, for we perish from the multitude of sins. Turn not your servant away empty, for you are our only hope.”
It is from the “Canon to the Most Holy Mother of God.”
Do not expect to always find the same text on icons of the “Joy to All Who Suffer.” The text used varies from example to example. And keep in mind that the wording on Old Believer icons often differs somewhat from that used in the “revised” State Orthodox Church liturgical books.
Perhaps you might like to hear a “State Church” setting by A. Arkhangelskiy of this Troparion:
Well, that’s it for today. Now go for a walk to work off all those cookies you have eaten while reading this.