Lately, I have been discussing the so-called “mystic-didactic” icons. Remember that mystic-didactic icons illustrate Eastern Orthodox dogma, as well as biblical and liturgical excerpts. A common Russian term for such icons today is богословско-дидактические иконы — bogoslovsko-didakticheskie ikonui — “theological-didactic icons.” In Russia the “classic” period for this kind of icon was the 16th-17th century. Today we will look at another “mystic-didactic” icon from that period (17th century).
Here it is:
At first glance, it may seem just a random collection of random scenes, but it is not. It actually illustrates lines from the latter part of the Liturgy of John Chrysostom:
Во гробе плотски, во аде же с душею яко Бог, в раи же с разбойником, и на престоле был еси, Христе, со Отцем и Духом, вся исполняяй неописанный.
Vo grobe plotski, vo ade zhe s dusheiu yako Bog, v rai zhe s razboinikom, i na
prestole buil esi, Khriste, so Otsem i Dukhom, vsya ispolnyayay neopisnnuiy
“In the grave fleshly, and in Hades with the spirit as God, and in Paradise with the Thief, and on the throne you were, Christ, with the Father and Spirit, all-filling, unlimited.”
Here is how the scenes illustrate it:
In the grave fleshly…
It depicts the standard scene Russians call the “Placing in the Tomb” and Greeks the “Lamentation.” Jesus lies in the tomb with Mary holding him as his other followers lament.
And in Hades with the spirit as God…
This shows a variant of the old “Descent into Hades” type. At left is Jesus, who has broken down the Gates of Hades. In the center is the “Spirit” as a nude, winged angel, and at right is Adam, and behind him Kings David and Solomon. Some examples eliminate the “Spirit,” and just show the conventional “Descent to Hades” type, which was the original Russian manner of depicting the resurrection of Jesus.
And in Paradise with the Thief…
At right we see John the Forerunner and Kings David and Solomon and others exiting Hades and moving toward Paradise. At left we see the Gates of Paradise, and inside the Garden is Jesus (at right), an angel, and the Repentant Thief Rakh, holding his cross. A red six-winged angel guards the gates with a sword.
And on the throne you were, Christ, with the Father and Spirit, all-filling, unlimited.
This depicts Jesus sitting on a throne inside the “Royal Doors” of Heaven. He is seated with God the Father (at right), and above them is the Holy Spirit as a dove. They are surrounded by angels. It is very much a “New Testament Trinity” image.
The “In the Grave Fleshly” type is another of the less common mystic-didactic types, unlike others such as “Wisdom has built Herself a House” and “The Only-begotten Son,” which are frequently seen.