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 are not interested in old icon painter’s manuals (podlinniki), prepare to be bored stiff. This posting is a look at, and a comparison of, two descriptions of a saint in two Russian podlinniki. It is likely to be of interest only to those who want to know more about painter’s manuals and to those who are learning to read them.
Here’s a quick comparison of entries from:
1: The late (1903) Bolshakov Podlinnik and
2: The 18th century Svodnuiy Podlinnik in the Filimonov redaction of 1874.
It is the first saint for the month of June:
Myesats Iiun’ imat’ dniy 30.
[The] month of June has days 30
“The month of June has 30 days.”
Svyatago muchenika Iustina filosofa, sredniy, rus, brada kozmina, plat’ okolo shei byel, riza lazor’ ispod kinovar’ z byelilom, rukoiu blagoslovlyaet, v lyevoy svitok.
“Of the holy martyr Justin [the] Philosopher; middle[-aged], [hair] rus, beard of Kosmas, scarf around neck white, robe blue, under cinnabar with white, hand blesses, in the left a scroll.”
It begins with Svyatago — “of the holy” — because this is the day of commemoration of Justin. Podlinnik entries for saints (and old Church calendar entries) generally begin thus, with the “of” form.
Justin has brada kozmina — the beard of Kosmas/Cosmas — the popular unmercenary saint of the common icon pair Kosmas and Damian. It simply means he is painted with a beard the same size and shape as Kosmas.
Rus as a hair color means that color typical of many Russians, which is dark blond-light brown.
The plat’ — “cloth” — generally meaning a scarf or shawl in the case of a male, depending on circumstances — is byel — “white.” And the white scarf is okolo shei — “about [the] neck.” If any of you have seen the translation of the Bolshakov Podlinnik that appeared some years back (1995) under the title An Icon Painter’s Notebook, you will notice that the translator of that book incorrectly read shei in this entry for Justin as “silk” rather than “neck,” and so made the line oddly read “… he has a cloth around of white silk” instead of the correct reading, “[the] scarf around [the] neck [is] white.”
You will recall that a riza is a robe in podlinnik usage, and in this entry it is lazor’, ispod kinovar z [s] byelilom — dark blue, under[-robe] cinnabar [red] with white. The best lazor’ was made from powdered lapis lazuli, and of course kinovar is the red to reddish-orange made from powdered mercury sulphide.
When an entry just says “[his] hand blesses,” it means the right hand. And then, as here, we are told what the left hand is holding — in this case a svitok — a scroll.
And here is the entry for Justin in the Svodnuiy Podlinnik:
You should be able to easily guess the meaning of the heading, even though spelling and form varies somewhat. And you should be able to read the first four words — “Of the holy martyr Justin the Philosopher.”
Then it tells us:
…bye v lyeto 5642
…”[he] was in the year 5642.
We can easily see that 5642 (written in Arabic instead of Cyrillic numerals here) is one of the old “from the Creation of the World” dates. Russian Orthodox thought (and some still do) that the world was created in the year 5,508 before the birth of Jesus. So to convert such a date as we find in the podlinnik to our modern dating system, we must subtract 5,508 from 5,642, which gives us the year 94 c.e. (Common Era). Modern accounts of Justin’s life tend to say he was born circa 100 c.e, so the date here is not too far from that.
The podlinnik goes on to tell us:
You already know that rus is the hair color — dark blond to light brown. Podobiem refers here to Justin’s “likeness” (подобие/podobie). We can understand it to mean he is “painted like this,” i.e. rus hair, etc.
It goes on to tell us: vlasui s ushei kratki
hairs to [the] ears short
— meaning his hair is short, down to the ears.
So we know thus far that Justin’s hair is dark blond-light brown, and that it is short, down to his ears, instead of the long hair we find on some icon saints.
It agrees with the Bolshakov Podlinnik in telling us his
brada aki Kozmina…
beard [is like] Kosmas…
okolo shei plat’ byeloy…
about [the] neck [is a] scarf white…
“about the neck is a white scarf…”
But it differs somewhat in saying that
v rukakh kniga
“in [the] hands [a] book”
You will recall that in the Bolshakov Podlinnik, he holds a scroll rather than a book.
The description finishes by telling us that Justin is dressed in a
riza lazorevaya, ispod svyetlokrasnaya.
“robe blue, under[-robe] bright-red.
Now if we look at old icons of Justin, we can sometimes find icons closely matching a podlinnik description, such as this 17th century example from a calendrical icon:
We see the light brown hair down to his ears, and his beard is not too far beyond the range of “like Kosmas.” He has a white scarf or shawl about his neck, and his outer robe is blue, while his under-robe is cinnabar red. He holds a scroll rather than a book.
Compare that with this 19th century example:
We can see some changes, such as a cross held in the right hand instead of blessing, and a book instead of a scroll in the other hand. We find also a the reversal of the garment colors, and the forms of the garments are more like the example given in the old Stroganov Podlinnik:
If we look further at old examples of Justin, we find even more variance from the two podlinnik descriptions. Here, for example, is a 16th century image of Justin painted by Theophanes of Crete:
The Greek inscription reads: Ho Hagios Iustinos ho Philosophos “[The] Holy Justin the Philosopher”
As you can see, there is no white scarf about the neck, no book or scroll in the left hand, and there is variation in the garments and their coloring, as well as a difference in the style of the hair.
What does all this tell us? Well, we should learn from it that a description in a given podlinnik may not be a precisely accurate description of all icons of a saint from all periods and places. One finds many variations. Even in old Russian painter’s manuals, one often finds after a description of a saint the words, “but elsewhere it is written…” — and then a differing description is given. So even the old podlinniks recognized that there were differences and disagreements as to how a given saint was to be painted.
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.
This icon type is known as Муромская/Muromskaya — the “Of Murom” icon of Mary, or simply the “Murom” icon:
It is said that the original of this icon was brought in the early 12th century from Kyiv/Kiev to the city of Murom by Prince Konstantin of Murom, and it supposedly so impressed the non-Christian inhabitants when it was shown to them that they gave up their resistance against the authority of Constantine and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
The legends of this icon also relate that near the end of the 12th century, when Vasiliy was Bishop of Murom, rumors went about that he was not leading a holy life. The rumors were so bad that the people of the city planned to kill him. But when he heard of this, he asked the people to delay his death until the next morning. During the night he supposedly prayed before the Murom icon, and then he took the icon to the Oka River. There he spread out his mantle on the waters of the river, and stood on it with the icon. His mantle supposedly miraculously floated and upheld him, and a strong wind came that blew him against the current of the river, all the way to Old Ryazan (Старая Рязань/Staraya Ryazan). There he was well received by the people, but fearing the invasion of the Tatars (Mongols), he eventually took the icon with him to another place with a similar name — New Ryazan. And so the icon got the second part one often finds in its name — the Muromskaya-Ryazanskaya (Муромская-Рязанская) icon.
On some examples of the Murom icon, one may find its troparion written at the base:
Глас 4/”tone” 4
Днесь светло красуется град Муром, Today brightly rejoices the city of Murom,
яко зарю солнечную,
As the brightness of sunshine,
восприемши, Владычице, чудотворную Твою икону, having received, Lady, your wonderworking icon,
к нейже ныне мы притекающе и молящеся, to whom now we are resorting and praying,
Тебе взываем сице: to you calling thus:
О Пречудная Владычице Богородице, O most wonderful Lady, Birthgiver of God,
молися из Тебе воплощенному Христу Богу нашему, pray, to from you incarnate, Christ our God,
да избавит град сей и вся грады и страны христианския Let him save this city and all Christian cities and lands,
невредимы от всех навет вражиих unharmed from all slanderous enemies,
и спасет души наша, яко Милосерд. and save our souls, for he is merciful.
Now on to the main saints associated with Murom:
Prince Konstantin of Murom (died 1129) was descended from Vladimir of Kyiv/Kiev — the fellow who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by edict.
When Konstantin requested and 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 and decided to be baptized — influenced by seeing the “Murom” icon of Mary carried in Konstantin’s arms. His son Feodor is said to have aided in spreading Christian belief among the pagans, and so all three are generally found together on icons as saints.
Here is an icon depicting the city of Murom, and above it are two sets of saints, and kneeling below is another saint:
The group at left is Prince Konstantin and his sons Mikhail and Feodor.
At right is the noted husband-wife pair of Murom saints, Petr (Peter) and Fevronia.
Here are two panel icons of the latter pair:
There is a fanciful long tale about Petr and Fevronia, but in reality, the accounts of their lives are rather confused. No one is quite certain whether they were actually the husband and wife pair David And Evfrosiniya, who took the monastic names Petr and Fevronia, and died c. 1228, or whether they were the pair Petr and Evfrosiniya who ruled Murom in the 14th century.
In any case, this in brief is the popular tale of their lives:
It is said that the wife of Prince Pavel/Paul was visited and seduced by a serpent demon, whom others could only see as disguised in the form of Prince Paul. The wife finally told her husband what was happening, and he asked her to slyly get out of the demon how he could be killed. She found that the only person able to dispatch the serpent was Pavel’s brother, Petr (Pyotr/Peter). But when he did so, the blood spilled on his skin, and he broke out in terrible sores and rashes and scabs.
No one seemed to know what to do about this affliction until a servant of Peter came across a peasant girl in the Ryazan region named Fevronia, who claimed she could cure him. But to do this, she demanded a high price; she asked him to make her his wife.
Desperate for a cure, Petr agreed to marry Fevronia. But after she cured him, instead of proceeding with the marriage, he instead just sent her expensive gifts. However, he did not get away with that, because Fevronia refused the gifts, and Peter’s affliction returned, and again he suffered. So finally he married Fevronia, and was again cured.
When Pavel died, Peter and Fevronia ruled over Murom. The wealthy citizens — the boyars, were not happy to have a lowly peasant girl as their princess, and though the ordinary people were fond of her, the boyars demanded that Fevronia leave the city. As inducement for doing so, they offered her whatever wealth she wished to take with her. But Fevronia tricked them. The wealth she wished to take was her husband Petr.
The two left Murom, but the city without its Prince was in such strife that the townspeople asked the pair to return. They did so, and ruled well over Murom, until in old age they both took the monastic habit, and Peter took the name David, and Fevronia took the name Evfrosiniya. That accounts for why Petr and Fevronia are commonly depicted in monastic garb. Both supposedly died on the same day, and through the intervention of a miracle, were eventually buried in the same tomb.
If you would like to read more of the fairy-tale-like story of Peter and Fevronia, you will find a version of the folk tale here:
Well, that leaves us with only one remaining noted Murom saint to discuss. It is the chronologically later woman kneeling below Petr and Fevronia. She is Iulianiya Lazarevskaya.
Her story relates that Iulianiya/Juliania was born to a noble couple in the town of Ploshin in the 16th century. She was orphaned, and her grandmother took her to the city of Murom. After the grandmother died, Iulianiya, aged 12, was taken in by the grandmother’s daughter as part of her already large family.
Iulianiya was a pious — one might say unnaturally pious — girl. She preferred prayer and fasting to the entertainments other children enjoyed. She took a lot of ridicule for this, but persisted in her ways. She also became devoted to helping the needy.
At the age of 16, Iulianiya married, and continued her pious life and care of the poor and ill. Over the course of her life she had ten sons and three daughters, of whom seven died as infants, and later two more sons died.
Iulianiya, in her sorrow, wanted to enter a monastery, but had to remain with her husband to care for the remaining children.
On the death of her husband, Iulianiya only increased her efforts to live an ultra-pious life and to aid the poor. She constantly repeated the “Jesus Prayer,” even in her sleep. She is said to have once been saved from the attacks of demons by St. Nikolai/Nicholas, who appeared and chased them away with a club.
The country fell on hard times, and even Iulianiya did not have enough to eat, but still she did what she could to feed others. She died on January 10, 1604. Because of her constant care for the unfortunate, she became known as Праведная Иулиания Лазаревская, Милостивая/Pravednaya Iulianiya Lazarevskaya, Milostivaya — “Righteous Iulianiya of Lazarevo, the Merciful.”
So now you know about and can identify the “Murom saints” in icons — as well as the Muromskaya icon.
A reader requested a discussion of this detailed image:
If we look in the lower right corner, we see this Latin inscription:
ANDREAS PAVIAS PINXIT DE CANDIA
That really tells us a lot. First, it reveals the name of the painter — Andreas Pavias; — Pinxit means “painted it.” And de Candia — “of Candia”– tells us where he worked. Candia was both the name for the island of Crete when it was a colony of the Venetian Republic, and of the island’s capital city. So we know this is an icon from the Cretan school of icon painting. And because we know it is by Andreas Pavias, we know also his dates — 1440 to somewhere within or near the first decade of the 1500s. That it is written in Latin rather than Greek tells us that this image was intended for a “Latinate” customer — A Roman Catholic rather than a Greek Orthodox, and we already know that icon painters on Crete worked for both kinds of customers, and did a very large business in selling icons to Venetian buyers.
As you can see, there is a great deal of information condensed into this icon. Let’s begin by looking at the focal center of the icon — the image of Jesus on the cross. Around him are grieving angels, some catching his blood in chalices:
Let’s begin with the inscriptions and the upper portion of the cross:
On the titulus — the “name board” of the cross — we see the letters VNRI. This is a variant of the standard spelling INRI — abbreviating Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Below that — written in red letters — we see the Greek inscription identifying the image. It is divided by the vertical beam of the cross:
Ἡ CΤΑΥ ΡѠCΙC
We read it as:
HE STAUROSIS — “THE CRUCIFIXION”
And of course you recognize the IC XC abbreviations for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”
But look at the image just above the very top of the cross. That is something we do not ordinarily see in Greek iconography. It is a popular Western Christian symbol — a pelican tearing open her own breast with her beak, in order to feed the blood to her young, and thus give them life. It is put here as a symbol of Jesus giving his blood in the Crucifixion, to give life to believers. If you look at what is supporting the nest in which the pelican and her brood are found, it appears to be a branching coral. In Christian symbolism, coral was associated with the blood and Passion of Jesus, which is why it was also used as a protective talisman for children.
Let’s move down to the base of the cross:
We see the blood dripping down the shaft, and a woman in grief embracing the cross. She is Mary Magdalene.
The redemptive blood drips all the way down to the skull in a hollow below the cross. It is the skull of Adam — the legendary first man — who was said to have been buried on the site of the Crucifixion. This of course is a symbol for the reversal of the “Fall,” at least for Christian believers. Below the skull we see devils/demons in Hades, upset by the redemptive act taking place above them.
We must not overlook this fellow with his long pole, at the top of which is a sponge. He used it in giving Jesus vinegar to drink, as mentioned in Mark 15:36, Matthew 27:48, and John 19:29. :
Behind him is a soldier with a lance. A lance was used to pierce the side of Jesus.
Just to his left (but notably on what would be the side at the right hand of Jesus) we see the distraught Mary being held up by the other women, and by the youthful-looking disciple John (called “the Theologian” in Eastern Orthodoxy):
Moving up to the top on the “right hand of Jesus” side, we find one of the malefactors crucified with Jesus — the one who supposedly repented (though not in all accounts: see this posting: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/the-repentant-thief-who/). In Latin Christianity he was called Dismas. Note that he is crucified facing the viewer. Above him — among the grieving angels, we not only see the image of the sun, but just below it an angel holding an infant. This is the soul of Dismas being carried to Paradise.
The man with a club, standing on the ladder, is breaking the legs of Dismas to ensure death.
If we look on the opposite side of the cross — the left-hand of Jesus side — the “sinister” side — we find the unrepentant malefactor Gestas. Above him is the moon. Below the moon is a winged devil, who has caught the departing soul of Gestas — again in the form of an infant — on a long hook, and will take him off to punishment.
In contrast to the repentant Dismas, who is crucified facing the viewer, Gestas is crucified facing away. On the ladder at left we see another man with a club, breaking the legs of Gestas, and to his right is the scene of Judas — who traditionally betrayed Jesus — hanging himself from a tree (though actually there are two discrepant Gospel accounts of how Judas died).
Returning to the lower right-hand of Jesus side, we see the dead rising from their graves, as described in Matthew 27:52-53:
“And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.“
On the “sinister” lower side of the icon, we see the soldiers who had “cast lots” for the garment of Jesus, as described in Matthew 27:35:
“And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.“
The soldiers are dividing the cloth with a sword. Note the three dice at the bottom of the image:
Andreas Pavia has filled the remainder of the painting with crowds of people, both on horseback and on foot. He does this not only to show the importance of the event, but also to add visual interest for the buyer, who can take his time in looking from face to face and scene to scene, and feel he is getting his money’s worth in this very detailed icon.
The more naturalistic depiction of his features as well as the position of the fingers of his right hand as it blesses tell us that this is a State Church icon, not one painted by the Old Believers. And in fact he would not be numbered among Old Believer saints, because he was not officially “glorified” (somewhat the Russian Orthodox equivalent of canonization) until 1861, and then only by the post-Schism State Church, whose authority was not accepted by the Old Believers. We know from all this that his icons will be from the latter part of the 19th century or later.
Tikhon (born Timofei in 1724) had a miserable, very poor and very difficult childhood, but later studied at the Novgorod Seminary. He became a monk in 1758, then a year later Rector of the Tver Seminary. He was made a bishop in 1761, at the age of 37, being first in Novgorod, then in Voronezh.
Now very interestingly, even though this was in the latter half of the 18th century, the people of Voronezh still celebrated an annual holiday in the late spring in honor of the deity Yarilo (Ярило) — a god of the return of spring, of growth of vegetation and fertility.
The holiday was observed in rather riotous fashion — and had been so carried on since the days before the arrival of Christianity. Now as one might imagine, Bishop Tikhon did not like this at all, and he showed up in the public square in the middle of the festivities, denouncing the celebration with such vehemence that the fun stopped, and that was the end of the Yarilo celebrations each year in Voronezh — at least according to the traditional story of Tikhon’s life.
Tikhon’s health declined, and he spent the years from 1767 until his death in 1783 at the Zadonsk Monastery, where he lived in a small stone house attached to the bell tower by the monastery gate. His health was likely not helped by his sleeping only four or five hours in the day, and his difficult lifestyle.
If accounts of his life are to be believed, he was a very humble person with a sincere care for the poor and suffering, visiting prisoners and donating his pension to charity. Supposedly he was telepathic, able to read people’s minds, and clairvoyance is also attributed to him, as it is said he predicted (in so many words) the later invasion of Russia and defeat of Napoleon. Whatever the truth may have been, Tikhon was credited in popular belief with the ability to work miracles.
Tikhon died on August 13, 1783. His relics — meaning his bodily remains — were said to be incorrupt (you will remember that in Russian folk belief, that indicated either a saint or a vampire), and in 1861 his official “glorification” as a saint took place.
Icons of Tikhon of Zadonsk are rather frequently encountered.