Here is an icon which, as we can tell from the geometrical border ornamentation, dates to around the end of the 19th century.
One encounters a great many icons that depict — as this one does — groups of saints. They are chosen for particular reasons. Often they are saints bearing the names of family members, or a mixture of such saints with others that have particular specialties in Russian belief, such as curing fevers or protecting flocks.
The saints in this group all have commemorations on October 17th. So why should that be significant? Well, it is not for most people, but for someone whose “Angel Day” comes on October 17th, it would have meaning. The “Angel Day” is the day on which a saint after whom one is named is commemorated in the Russian Orthodox Church. And that day is celebrated by the person so named every year.
My purpose in showing you this icon, however, is to discuss a practical if somewhat boring topic: how to find the traditional “life” of a saint when all one has is the name in Church Slavic.
Well, of course first one has to know the Church Slavic alphabet. That enables one to read the name title generally found either in the halo of the saint or close by. So if we look at the saints in the above icon (left to right, top to bottom), we find they are:
СВЯТЫЙ БЕЗСРЕБРЕННИК КОЗМА = HOLY UNMERCENARY KOZMA
СВЯТЫЙ БЕЗСРЕБРЕННИК ДАМИАНЪ = HOLY UNMERCENARY DAMIAN”
ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ АНДРЕЙ КРИТСКИЙ = VENERABLE ANDREY KRITSKIY
СВЯТЫЙ ПРОРОК ѠСИА = HOLY PROPHET OSIA
СВЯТЫЙ ПРАВЕДНЫЙ ЛАЗАРЬ = HOLY RIGHTEOUS LAZAR’
Now as you already know, Bezsrebrennik — literally “without silver” — is a title used for physician saints who did not charge for their services — unlike modern medicine, in which you have to sell your firstborn son to pay for a doctor’s appointment (at least in the U.S.A). And if you do not have a firstborn son, you are out of luck (yes, I am joking, but it seems almost that bad).
So, we have the name КОЗМА for the first saint at top left. And we know (you all do, don’t you?) that we can transliterate it as KOZMA.
It is a peculiar thing, but Internet sites in English that have the traditional “lives” of saints generally use a Latinized form of the name. So to look up Kozma, one has to know that male Slavic names beginning with K often change that letter to C in the Latinized form. And male names ending in -a usually have the -as ending in their Latinized form. And also the internal letter “z” may take the form of “s” in Latinized names. So to find the “life” of this saint on the Internet, one should try either Cozmas or Cosmas — and you will soon discover that Cosmas is the commonly used form. You will find the same happens with the saint САВВА, whose name becomes Sabbas in Latinized form. You will sometimes find it also as Savvas on Greek-influenced English-language sites. That is because the B in CABBA is pronounced as “V” in both Church Slavic and Modern Greek, but the Greek B is generally translitered into English as “B.”
When male names end in a consonant in the Slavic form — as in Damian (you can generally ignore the Ъ which is sometimes used at the end of words and sometimes omitted) — the Latinized form will either end the same way, or it will add the Latin -us ending. In this case the form you will find used is Damian — so no big difference there.
When we get to АНДРЕЙ КРИТСКИЙ/ANDREY KRITSKIY — we find that ANDREY in Latinized form becomes “Andreas” — but here we find an irregularity, because on English sites, the King James Bible form “Andrew” is commonly used. So when one looks him up, one has to look for Andrew “of Crete,” because that is what his “locator” title Kritskiy means. His “rank” title Prepodobnuiy, by the way, is generally rendered into English as “Venerable,” though it literally means “Most-like.”
As for the Prorok (Prophet) Osia, his name is often spelled Osiya in Slavic. But given that he too is a biblical saint, his “life” is generally found under the King James Bible title Hosea. Roman Catholic Internet sites sometimes use the form Osee, but that is rather old-fashioned now, and most go with Hosea.
Finally we come to Lazar’. Now as we have seen already, male names ending in a consonant generally either stay the same way in English usage, or else they add the Latin -us ending — and the latter is the case here. So this saint is Holy Righteous Lazarus. That “Righteous” is important when searching for his life on the Internet, because it helps to distinguish him from any other saint named Lazarus, just as the Prepodobnuiy/Venerable title tells us that a male saint was a monk.
Now this Lazarus is also a biblical saint, which might seem odd given that he is dressed as a bishop. This guy is known in Eastern Orthodoxy as “Lazarus the Four-days Dead” or as “Lazarus Friend of Christ,” but you will also find him as “Lazarus of Bethany.” Yes, this is the Lazarus who Jesus supposedly raised from the dead in the New Testament story. But why is he dressed as a bishop here, instead of in the usual “Bible” robes? Because in Eastern orthodox tradition, he later went to Cyprus, and there he was a bishop of the Church.
Now you can see that finding the “English” form for a Slavic name, so that one may look up the traditional “life” on English-language sites can be a bit tricky and sometimes takes a little time. But once you become accustomed to reading saints’ names, it becomes very easy. Just remember that the “lives” of many saints are heavily fictionalized and some are entirely fictional — so do not take them in general as factual history, only as traditions that help to explain icons and iconography and the beliefs of Eastern Orthodox cultures.
Well, if you have not yet abandoned reading this page out of total boredom, we should look at one more thing.
As you see, Osia/Osiya/Hosea is carrying a scroll with a text on it:
Ot ruki adovui izbavliu ya, i ot smerti iskupliu ya: gde prya tvoya, smerte, gde osten” tvoy ade.
Now perhaps you have noticed a trend in the choice of saints here: two physicians, Lazarus who was raised from the dead, Hosea with his scroll about victory over death, and Andrew of Crete, to whom believers prayed for repentance. His Canon, Ode 3, contains these words:
“In you, the Destroyer of death, have I found the fountain of life, and now from the heart I cry out before my death, “I have sinned. Be merciful and save me.”
So all of the saints depicted in this icon relate in some way to illness and healing, or to victory over death — which gave it great significance to anyone facing these problems in old Russia.