APPEARANCE OF THE TRINITY TO ALEKSANDR SVIRSKIY

If you are a long-time reader here, you will recall that the “appearance” of something — whether an icon or a vision — is a yavlenie in Russian icon terminology.  And you may recall from a past posting that there is also the related form yavisya, meaning “appeared.”

That should help you with today’s icon.  Here it is:

Let’s look at the title inscription:

As you see, it abbreviates some words with certain omitted letters written above the line as superscript letters.  If we add all missing letters, it reads (modern Russian font):

ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ

There are certain forms of letters to note in the original:

You should recall that the above letter — written like an I and an A together — is one of two ways of writing the sound ya in Church Slavic.  The other form is like a capital A with a vertical line descending from the middle of the crossbar.  Both are represented in the modern Russian font by Я.  Note also that when it appears at the end of the first word, yavisya, it appears like this:

That is because the left I of the IA combination is made much smaller, and inserted into the space in the preceding letter, C.  Together, these form –sya.

Also note that in the name Aleksandr, the following Slavic letter is used for the –ks– sound, like our x in English Alexander.  In the modern Russian font it would be written as КС

 

Finally, the second part of Alexandr’s name — Svirskiy — is written here in the “to” form as Svyerskomu, using that convenient letter for –ye– that was dropped from the modern Russian font:

Don’t be surprised that the writer chose the ye sound instead of the normal i sound to write Svirsk– as Svyersk-.  Such variations in spelling are not unusual in icons.  And notice that the Р (r) in Svyersk– is written smaller and above the letter.

So, all together the title inscription is:

ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДОБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ
YAVISYA SVYATAYA TROITSA PREPODOBNOMU ALEKSANDRU SVYERSKOMU
Appeared Holy         Trinity     Venerable-to            Aleksandr   Svyersk
Or in normal English,
“THE HOLY TRINITY APPEARED TO VENERABLE ALEXANDER SVIRSKIY.”
Note the dative (or “to” form) suffixes on Prepodobnomu, Aleksandr and Svyerskomu.

If we look above Alexandr’s head (he is the fellow kneeling at the right in the image), we see his name written:

It appears as:

ПР[Е]П[ОДОБНЫЙ] АЛЕКСАНДРЪ
PR[E]P[ODOBNUIY] ALEKSANDR
“Venerable Alexander”

So much for the title.  But what is this icon type about?

The three angels at left are the members of the Holy Trinity –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — though they are not distinguished as to which is which:

And, of course, here is Alexandr Svirskiy:

Alexandr Svirskiy (1448-1533) was one of the monks of the northern Russian forests — the so-called “Northern Thebaid.”  He is called Svirskiy because he settled some 12 miles east of Lake Ladoga, in the vicinity of the Svir River, which runs between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga. There he led an ascetic and rigorous life.  It is said that in 1508 an angel appeared to him, telling him to build a church and a monastery.  He did not do so.  Later, the angel again appeared, repeating the  instructions.  Again he did not.  Finally (here again is the “third time is the charm” motif we find repeatedly in these old tales of saints and icons) the Trinity appeared to him as three men in shining garments, each with a staff in hand, telling him to build a monastery and a church in the name of the Holy Trinity (Svyataya Troitsa).  This of course recalls the appearance of Yahweh, manifested as three men, to the patriarch Abraham on the plains of Mamre, according to the Old Testament story in Genesis 18.

That is the traditional account of the origin of the Trinity Cloister at what is now called the Alexandr Svirskiy Monastery (Александро-Свирский монастырь).  A body said to be that of Alexandr, and reputed to be “incorrupt” and to manifest miracles, was returned to that monastery in 1998.

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COMMON NAMES FOR SAVIOR ICONS

Some icon types have commonly-used names that are nonetheless generally not written on the icon as a title.  There are several types of Jesus that fit into this category.

Here is one example, the “Wet Beard Savior” (Спас Мокрая Брада — Spas Mokraya Brada/Boroda):

The distinguishing feature of this type is that the beard looks wet, with the tip of the beard often (though not always) bending to the right.  The tip may be single or slightly forked.  This image of Jesus with the wet beard goes back to the legend that Jesus once pressed a cloth to his wet face, and his image was miraculously transferred to the cloth, thus creating the supposed first Christian icon.  This tale is generally referred to as the Abgar Legend  For more on this, see the earlier posting:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/the-real-origin-of-the-eastern-orthodox-icon/

The “Wet Beard Savior” may appear as just the head of Jesus, or as the head superimposed on a cloth, in which case it may have the “Not Made by Hands” inscription, as in the following example:

The inscription at the base reads (it is abbreviated on the icon)

НЕРУКОТВОРЕННЫ ОБРАЗ ГОСПОДА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА
Nerukotvorennui Obraz Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
Not-hand-made Image {of} Lord of-Us Jesus Christ
The “Not Made by Hands Image” of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Another type in which the common name is generally not written on the image (though there are exceptions) is the “Angry Eye Savior” (Спас Ярое ОкоSpas Yaroe Oko ).  The identifying characteristic of this type is that Jesus looks distinctly angry or severe, as in this example:

The third type we will look at today is a “Lord Almighty” icon commonly known as the “Golden Hair Savior” (СПАС ЗЛАТЫЕ ВЛАСЫ — Spas Zlatuie Vlasui).  Icons of this type are likely to be modern, and they are based on a particular old and damaged icon that was kept in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin in Moscow.  In this icon, the hair of Jesus is rendered in gold, rather than the usual dark color.  Here it is:

As you know, the use of gold in icons indicated heavenly light, or as the Hesychasts called it, the “Uncreated Light.”  This old icon has a damaged inscription taken from John 8:12:

Аз есмь свет миру: ходяй по мне не имать ходити во тме, но имать свет животный.
“I am the Light of the World.  Who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Copies may add the inscription:

Дондеже свет имате, веруйте во свет, да сынове Света будете
“While you have the light, believe in the light; [that you may become sons of the light].”

 

 

THE SECOND HOLY FOOL PROKOPIY

There are many little pitfalls in the identification of icons, so one must be very careful when something seems a little off.  Here, for example is an icon of a saint named Prokopiy:

It is rather odd, showing the same saint standing at left, and again dead in his coffin at right.

If we look at the title inscription, we might think at first that he is the Holy Fool Prokopiy of Ustiug/Ustiuzh, because we see the name Prokopiy (Прокопий ), and the first letters of the word following that are “Us-” ( Ус-).

But if we stopped there, we would be wrong in identification.  There are two clues to tell us that.  First, Prokopiy of Ustiug is generally shown with a beard, and this fellow is beardless.  Second, the word following the name on the icon, though it begins with “Us-,” has an ending that does not spell Ustiuzhskiy, as in Prokopiy of Ustiug/Ustiuzh.  Instead it ends in “-yan.”

If we put those clues together, then this tells us that the icon is not of the famous Holy Fool Prokopiy of Ustiug, but instead of a rather obscure saint named  Праведный Проко́пий Устья́нский —  Pravednuiy Prokopiy Ustyanskiy —  Righteous Prokopiy of Ustya, sometimes also called Усья́нский (Usyanskiy).

Further confusing the issue, this second and lesser-known Propkopiy was also considered to be a holy fool, or “Fool for Christ’s Sake” as the full title goes.

Now the really odd thing about this second Holy Fool Prokopiy is that absolutely nothing is known about his life.  No one ever heard of him, in fact, before an unidentified body was discovered in the middle of the 17th century.  It was found buried in a willow coffin exposed by the Ustya (Устья) ) River in the Vazhskiy district of Arkhangelsk Province, not far from the village of Veryuga (now Bestuzhevo).  It was said that a “fragrance” was smelled when the body was found, and that it was “incorrupt.”  In addition, it is said that healings began to occur due to the body.

Now as you may recall from a previous posting here,  in traditional Slavic belief, an undecayed body may signify either a saint or a vampire, depending on what additional events accompany such a discovery.  Fragrance is one of the traditional hints that an incorrupt body is a saint.  That is what the local people assumed in this case, so they built a chapel over the body.

The next major event in the story is that a fellow named Saveliy Ontropov (Antropov) had a dream in which the former resident of the body appeared to him, revealed his name as Prokopiy, and told him to place the body in a new coffin.  That was done, and the body in the coffin was then moved to the church, where a service to this supposed saint Prokopiy was initiated.

Later, a Solvychegodsk merchant named Ivan Ermolaev claimed Propkopiy appeared to him, giving authorization for an icon to be painted of him.  Ermolaev hired an icon painter named Onisim Karamzin to paint the first icon of this previously unknown saint Prokopiy.  The icon was made in 1652.

Making all this even stranger, around the beginning of the 19th century, the body was re-examined by authorities and found not to be genuinely incorrupt, and an official declaration was made in 1801 that prayers were not to be made to the supposed saint, but that did not stop the local people, who continued to venerate “their” saint, and the saint’s name was even included in some church lists of saints as a holy fool, and a pamphlet published in the last quarter of the 19th century listed some twenty healings attributed to this Prokopiy between 1641 and 1750, with forty more happening in the interval until 1913.  There is some confusion over the texts supporting wider veneration of Prokopiy, but nonetheless, he became a popular local saint in the northern region, and was particularly prayed to for rain in time of drought, or to prevent excessive rain.  Sometimes he was said to appear, either in the form of a young man or an old man.

The remains of the body of the supposed Prokopiy were destroyed by burning during the Soviet era (it is said that the locals may have retrieved bits from the ashes) in January of 1939, and the church where they had been kept was taken apart for its building materials.

In this old photograph we see the annual religious procession to the Vvdenie (“Entry” [of the Mother of God into the Temple]) Church where the relics of the supposed Prokopiy were kept, on the day of Prokopiy’s commemoration — July 8th/21.

Though Prokopiy was not officially “glorified” (the Eastern Orthodox version of canonization), his veneration continues to this day in the Arkhangelsk region.

As you have probably learned by now, the accumulation of the vast list of saints in Eastern Orthodoxy was often accomplished by dubious or non-existent evidence, and Prokopiy of Ustya certainly fits that pattern.

WOODEN GODS

Zavodphoto.ru

(Zavodfoto.ru / Zavodfoto.livejournal.com)

I have mentioned previously that sculpture in the round — carved, standing, three dimensional religious images — tended not to be favored in Eastern Orthodoxy, where one usually finds the two-dimensional painted icons of deity and saints.  But that does not mean such religious statues did not exist in Eastern Orthodoxy at all.

You may recall that in 1721, Peter the Great created the so-called “Most Holy Governing Synod” (Святейший Правительствующий Синод) to head the Russian Orthodox Church, taking the authority formerly held by a patriarch.  Peter replaced that patriarchate with the Synod, which continued in office until the restoration of the patriarchate in 1918.

The Synod interests us here because in 1722 it issued a decree including regulations intended to control the making of icons.  Among those regulations, it forbade “to have in churches carved or sculpted icons” (“иметь в церквах иконы резные, или истесанные”).  It blamed the presence of such icons in Russia on the Catholics and Poles.

(Zavodfoto.ru.com / Zavodfoto.livejournal.com)

As is usual with church decrees, however, it was not always and everywhere taken seriously.  That is why, in churches here and there, carved statues (usually in wood) of noted saints such as Nicholas (in the “of Mozhaisk” type), Paraskeva and George were still to be found — in fact, as we have seen in previous postings, some such statues were considered to be “wonder working,” that is, accompanied by and able to work miracles.  In the case of statues of Jesus as the sorrowing “Savior in the Dungeon” or “Midnight Savior” (Спас в темнице / Spas v temnitse,  Спас Полуночный / Spas Polunochnuiy) it was even thought such images had the power to walk about.  Incidentally, the “Savior in the Dungeon” or “Midnight Savior” type — found also in panel icon form — appeared in Russian iconography in the 17th century, apparently borrowed — as some Orthodox icon types were over the years — including certain examples considered to be “wonder working” — from western Catholic art.

(Zavodfoto.ru.com / Zavodfoto.livejournal.com)

Also mentioned in a previous posting was the use of the colloquial term “God-daubers” for icon painters.  Similarly, icon statues in Russian churches were also sometimes termed “bogi” — “gods.”  For example, in the Urals — in the province of Perm — were found the so-called “Permian Gods” (Пермские боги / Permskie bogi), the present examples of which date from the 17th-19th centuries.  Highly favored by the local people,  these statues — in spite of church decrees — held their places in the rural churches.

We should not be surprised at the term “gods” being used for these figures, because as we have seen in the development of Christian art, the biblical deity and Christian saints replaced the older polytheistic gods — not only in Egypt and Rome, but also eventually (though much later) in the Russian countryside.

For those of you who read German, there is an interesting book on the subject of Russian Orthodox three-dimensional icon statues.  It is titled Verbotene Bilder; Heiligenfiguren aus Russland (Forbidden Images; Sacred Figures from Russia) by Marianne Stößl (Stössl), Hirmer Verlag, München (Munich), 2006.

TAKING NAMES AND….

At the entrance to old Japanese Budhist temples, there were often two guardian deities.  Here is a pair dating from the Kamakura Period (13th-early 14th century):

I always think of such guardian deities when I see the two angels painted at the entrance to Orthodox Churches in Slavic countries.  These are the “Ангелы Господни, записывающие имена входящих в храм” — the “Angels of the Lord, Recording the Names of Those Entering the Church.”

When both are found (sometimes there is only one), the angel on the left (in Slavic countries) of the entry is the Archangel Michael (Mikhail), as seen here in the Church of Simeon the God-receiver at the Zverin Monastery of Novgorod.:

He threateningly holds a sword in his right hand, and a scroll in his left.

In the Greek Painter’s Manual (Hermineia) of Dionysios of Fourna, we find this:

Inside the door of the temple, on the right, the Archangel Michael; He holds a sword and a scroll with these words:  ‘I am a soldier of God, and armed with a sword. Those who enter here with fear, I defend them, I guard them, I protect them and I observe them; But those who enter with an unclean heart, I strike them mercilessly with this sword.

Sometimes in Slavic Churches, Michael’s scroll reads:

Простираю меч мой на приходящих в чистый дом Божий с нечистыми сердцами.
“I extend my sword to those who enter the pure house of God with impure hearts.”
Again, in Slavic Churches, Gabriel (Gavriil) is commonly on the right side of the entrance, though Dionysios of Fourna writes:
On the left, Gabriel holds a scroll, and writes these words with a reed: ‘I write with this reed the internal disposition of those who enter here; I take good care of the good, but I cause the bad to perish promptly.'”
Here are much more recent versions of the two Archangels, as seen in the Church of St. Kirill in Kiyev, Ukraine.
Michael at left:
And Gabriel at right:
As mentioned earlier, some churches have only a single recording angel, who is sometimes simply known as the Ангел храма — Angel Khrama — “Angel of the Church.”  It is believed that this angel becomes the protector of a church when it is consecrated, and remains on duty there until the Second Coming.  Such an angel may be depicted as standing or sitting, recording on his scroll the names of those entering the church, so that he may give his report on them at the Last Judgment.
Now obviously there is a relationship here to the standard image of the Guardian Angel in icons, who follows each person through life, recording his deeds.

PREPARATION OF THE THRONE

Today we will look at an icon type that, while sometimes found as an element in other icons, is also seen on its own.

Here is an example of its frequent use as part of an icon of the Страшный Суд — Strashnuiy Sud in a Balkan fresco — the “Terrible Judgment,” which in the West is generally called the “Last Judgment” or the “Second Coming.”

Let’s looks more closely at the central portion relevant to today’s discussion.

At left and right are two angels.  That on the left, with the “M” above his head, is Mikhail/Michael.  That on the right with the “Г” is Gavriil/Gabriel.

In the center is a table on which is a cushion and a book, and behind it a cross flanked by the symbols of the Passion of Jesus, the spear at left, and the reed with a sponge at right.  On the little footstool below the table is a footstool on which are the four nails used to crucify Jesus.

Atop the cushion on the larger table is a dove that oddly enough bears the cruciform halo peculiar to Jesus, and confirming that, we see the abbreviation IC XC just above it — signifying Isus Khrista (Iesous Khristos in Greek) — “Jesus Christ.”  The dove’s feet rest on the Book of the Gospels.  Ordinarily in this type, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, but the painter of this icon seems to have not quite grasped that, so gave it the cruciform halo and inscription abbreviation for Jesus.  The dove can be understood as the presence of the Holy Spirit as paraclete with the Church until the return of Jesus — his representative in a sense. There is also a cloth (sometimes obviously a garment) as the mantle of Jesus — frequently in royal purple,

Parts of this composition have a double meaning.  The large table is both a throne and an altar (prestol — the Slavic word for an Orthodox altar — means “throne.”  The book on it is both the Gospel book commonly found on Orthodox altars, but it also represents the book of Revelation 5:1:

And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

And it also represents the presence of Jesus.

The identifying inscription of this composition is just below the main crossbar:

OУГОТОВЛЕНИIЕ ПРЕСТОЛА
OUGOTVLENIIE PRESTOLA

Note that in the actual inscription, the “E” in the first word is written with the old Slavic letter pronounced “ye”:

The final IE in the second word is written as the old Slavic compound letter pronounced “IE” (ee-ay):

We will use the more standardized form УГОТОВАНИЕ ПРЕСТОЛА — Ugotovanie Prestola. Ugotovanie means “preparation, making ready”; Prestola is the “of” form of Prestol, meaning “throne.”  So this type is called “The Preparation of the Throne.”

In Psalm 88:15 of the Church Slavic Bible (89:14 KJV), we find:
Прáвда и судьбá уготóванiе престóла тво­егó: ми́лость и и́стина предъи́детѣ предъ лицéмъ тво­и́мъ.
Pravda i sudba ugotovanie prestola tvoego; milost i istina predeidete pred’ litsem’ tvoim’
“Justice and judgment are the preparation of your throne; mercy and truth shall go before your face.”

And in Slavic Psalm 9:8-9 (9:7-8 KJV):
И Госпóдь во вѣ́къ пребывáетъ, уготóва на сýдъ престóлъ свóй: и тóй суди́ти и́мать вселéн­нѣй въ прáвду, суди́ти и́мать лю́демъ въ правотѣ́.
And the Lord forever endures, he has prepared his throne for judgment:  and he will judge the  world in justice, the peoples in uprightness.

Here is a very basic form of the type:

The title inscription above it reads (the two sides join together):

Ἡ ἙΤΥΜΑCΙΑ

That is a rather phonetic variant of the correct spelling:

Ἡ ἙΤΟΙΜΑCΙΑ
He Hetoimasia
“The Preparation.”

In modern Greek the title is pronounced “Ee et-ee-ma-SEE-ah.

Here is a slightly more detailed mosaic version:

note the addition of what appears to be the crown of thorns to the axis of the cross.  In other examples it is a laurel wreath of victory.  The spelling used here is yet another variant:

Ἡ ΕΤΗΜΑCΗΑ
HE ETIMASIA

In this fresco version from the monastery of Dečani, the “Preparation” has become a throne carried by angels:

There is a Gospel book lying on the cloth on the throne, and all together the image forms a kind of Deisis variant, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right.  The two figures below are sometimes found in “Preparation” images.  They are Adam and Eve, and should not be confused with Mary and John the Forerunner.  If you look at the first image in this posting, you will again see Adam (at left) and Eve (at right) below the angels.

If we look more closely at the image, we can read its inscription:

It is:

ВТОРО ПРИШЕСТВИIЕ
VTORO PRISHESTVIIE
or as we more normally find it in Russian literature,

Второ Пришествие
Vtoro Prishestvie
“Second Coming”

It means, of course, the second coming of Jesus, and the angels are bringing out the throne to prepare it for the Last Judgment.  Here the Gospel book on the garment represents the presence of Jesus, and the crown on the cross is a laurel wreath.

In the example found at the Church of Saint Paul “Outside the Walls”  (San Paulo fuori le muri), we see yet more variation:

Looking more closely, we find that the laurel wreath generally found on the cross is here placed on its own stand to the left of the spear, and at right beside the sponge on a reed, we see a Eucharistic symbol — the chalice.  It holds three nails of the crucifixion (instead of four as found in the earlier example).  In some versions this chalice becomes a two-handled vessel placed on the footstool, and it may or may not have the nails within it.  Being a Roman church, in this mosaic the scrolls held by the angels are in Latin.  That at right reads GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO (“Glory to God on High”) and that at left “ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS (“And on earth peace to men.”)

The use of an unoccupied throne as the symbol of a ruler is very ancient, and long predates Christianity.

ANOTHER SAINT WITH A BIRD

In 2014 the foundations of what is reputed to be a fourth-century basilica were found just offshore in Lake İznik at the site of what was ancient Nicaea, in Turkey.  Archeologists say the church was dedicated to a martyr named Neophytos.

In iconography and hagiography, he is referred to as Neophytos of Nicaea.  Though his “acts” — that is, the account of his life and miracles — are unreliable, he may have actually been a martyr of the early 300s c.e, from just before the legalization of Christianity under the Roman Emperor Constantine.  It is said that the basilica was built for his relics (that is, his remains) on the site of his martyrdom.

Neophytos — Неофит (Neophit) in Slavic — is not a common saint in icons, but there is one interesting thing about him.  His iconography depicts him with a dove, so one should not confuse him with St. Triphon (Trifon), who is also shown with a bird.

The Stroganov Podlinnik depicts him, but gives only “Holy Martyr Neofit” as identification, without any painting instructions:

The Bolshakov Podlinnik offers only  a bit more information under his day of commemoration — January 21 — beginning with the last word of the first line here:

I svyatago muchenika neofita, mlad aki dimitriy, rizui prostuiya.
And of Holy Martyr Neofit, youth like Dimitriy [Demetrios of Thessaloniki], robe simple [meaning the ordinary, basic garment] .

I mentioned that his “acts” are unreliable and highly fanciful.  They are interesting to read as an example of the extravagance of such pious tales.

Dmitriy Rostovskiy wrote that Neophytos was born at Nicea of parents name Theodoulos and Florence.  They had him baptized and raised as a Christian.

As a little boy, Neophytos is said to have daily brought his poor school friends home and to have given them his dinner, himself going without.  He had the custom of worshiping at the eastern gate of the city, where he traced a cross on the wall and venerated it.  His little friends, having eaten, found him praying there.  He struck a stone and water poured forth from it, so that his friends could drink and satisfy their thirst.  He made them promise not to tell anyone about it.

Florence, Neophytos’ mother, had a dream in which she saw her son striking a stone and bringing forth water to give his friends, as Moses had similarly struck a stone in the Old Testament.  She woke and prayed to the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to her about her son.  A brilliantly shining white dove descended from Heaven, sat on Neophytos’ bed, and spoke these words:  “I am sent from the Savior to keep your bed clean.”

Florence was so terrified by the experience that she fell down dead.  The news quickly got around, and lots of people gathered in the house.  Word was sent to the father Theodoulos, and he rushed home in tears.

Meeting him outside the house, Neophytos said:
Зачем ты скорбишь, отец? Не умерла мать моя, а крепко уснула.
“Why are you mourning, Father?  My mother did not die, but fell asleep.”

He brought him into the house, took his mother’s hand, and said:
Встань, мать моя; ты заснула крепко.
“Wake, my mother — you fell sound asleep.”
And his mother was raised from the dead.

Having been restored to life, Florence told her husband of her visions concerning Neophytos, and word quickly spread around, so that even “pagans” were converted to Christianity.

The dove kept coming to Neophytos’ bed and talking to him.  One day it said:
Выйди, Неофит, из дома отца твоего, и иди вслед за мною.
“Go forth, Neophytos, from your father’s house, and follow after me.”

The dove led him to a cave on Mount Olympos, and in the cave lived a lion.  Neophytos said to the lion, “Get out of here, and go find yourself another cave, because the Lord has commanded me to live here.”  The lion obediently left.

Neophytos lived in the cave, and was fed by an angel.  When his parents were about to die a year later, he went to the city, kissed them goodbye, and then sold the property, giving the money to the poor.  Then he returned to his cave, where he is said to have remained until the age of 15.

At this time Decius came to the city, and announced a day when all the inhabitants of the region were to offer sacrifice to the gods.  When this happened, angels brought Neophytus from his cave, and set him down in the middle of the Nicaeans.  There he began to berate Decius for the worship of the gods.

I won’t go into all the gory details used to ornament his martyrdom, but at one point Neophytos, according to the tale, was thrown into a furnace, where he remained cool and unharmed, like the “Three Hebrew Children” in the Old Testament story from the book of Daniel (Daniel 3).  And when the “pagans” came to open the furnace, the flames shot out of it and burned them, while Neophytus was untouched by the heat.  Seeing this, the others accused Neophytos of sorcery.

Then they decided to tie him to a post and set bears upon him.  But the bears would not harm him.  Then they got a very large, recently-captured lion, and released it to attack Neophytos.  But the lion just wept, and licked Neophytos’ feet.  It was the same lion Neophytos had sent out from his cave at Mount Olympos, and it would not harm him.  Neophytos told the lion to return to his cave, and the lion, roaring loudly, broke out the gates, walking among the terrified people of the city, and went back to his former home on the mountain without harming anyone, as Neophytos had commanded him.

Finally, a vicious man with a spear ran at Neophytos, piercing him through the chest, and the saint at last died, so it is said, on January 21 at the age of 15 and four months.

This far-fetched tale gives a very good idea of how various details were assembled to create these fictional “acts” or lives of saints such as Neophytos.  We have the childhood miracles, as in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas — in this case water from a stone, as was said of Moses in Numbers 20; we have the mother raised from the dead after having been said to be asleep, as done by Jesus with a girl in the New Testament (Matthew 9:24); we have the dove, as at Jesus’ baptism; the feeding by an angel, like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:5-8; there is a friendly lion, as in the hagiographic tales of Gerasim of the Jordan and of Jerome, as well as survival inside a fiery furnace, as in Daniel 3.  These were the days before novels, and such tales provided entertainment and religious instruction for the pious, who thought all the marvels related in them quite factual.