Today we will look at a Marian icon type suggested by a reader curious about its inscriptions.

The main inscriptions (aside from the usual abbreviations for “Mother of God” and “Jesus Christ”) are unusual in that they rhyme, forming a rather odd poem — but of course they do not rhyme in English.  Here is a very loose translation of those inscriptions, as well as the originals, for those who may wish to make a more literal translation:

Very-well chosen Mary, the bride,
Prayer to her leads one to the good place.
O sweetest Jesus my savior,
Grant that I may always be your lover.

Преизбранная Маріа невѣста
Молящимся ей даетъ в пользу мѣста.
О пресладчайшій Христе мой спаситель
Даждь мнѣ да буду присно твой любитель.

With your ruling scepter Mother everywhere
Guide me that I may stand before you
Of this the Mother with the Son converses
That all believers may inherit Heaven.

Скиптро начальствой мати повсюду
Управляи мя да при тебе буду
Мати съ сыномъ о томъ бесѣдуетъ
Да всякій верный въ небе царство наслѣдуетъ,

With the son, the mother in blessing
Protects people, directing them to Heaven.

С сыномъ мати в благодати
Людей сохраняютъ въ небе оуправляют.

Beautiful as the moon, Virgin
Sweet-sounding [musical] string.

Красна яко луна дева
Доброгласна струна Мария

Contemplate now the virgin and Mother with the Son
Turn mind and heart to them, people.
That is what Christ God desires from us;
Mary the Virgin will help us with that.

Зде деву и матерь съ сыномъ созерцати
умъ и сердце ним моди обращати
Зане Христосъ Богу от насъ то желает
Мария дева въ томъ намъ помогает

Birth-giver of God, most holy Virgin
Save me from evil and give us all good
Who keeps all creatures
In his hand
Keep me in purity
Unto Heavenly rest.

Богородице дево пресвятая
Спаси мя от бедъ и дажд намъ всемъ благая
Содержай тварь всякую
Своею рукою
Держи мя въ чистоти
Къ небесному покою

Радуися богоневесто жезле таины цветъ неувядаемый процветший
Rejoice, bride of God, mystic rod, blossoming with the unfading flower

There is some confusion about just how far back this image goes, but the image as it is generally depicted was painted in 1765 by a monk (or priest) named Evfimiy, at the Savior Cholnskiy Monastery in the town of Trubchev, in what was then Orel Province — thus the title of this icon type.  It is said to have first come to notice at the end of the 18th century, when it was carried in procession and credited with ending a cholera epidemic, and so became considered “miracle-working.”

Under the Communist regime, the icon was carelessly treated when placed in a local history museum, but was “rediscovered” in 1994.

The icon was in rather bad condition:

It is said to have since been restored.



The Sporuchnitsa Greshnuikh –– the “Guarantor/Surety of Sinners” type of Marian icon — was popular in the 19th – early 20th century.  The icon is characterized by the inscription that borders the central image.  The position of the hand of the Christ Child in this example is a bit unusual, in that he holds a scroll; generally he just touches his mother’s hand with both of his.

(Courtesy of

The inscription around the central image is:

Аз Споручница грешных к Моему Сыну; Сей дал Мне за них руце слышати Мя выну, да тии, иже радость выну Мне приносят, радоватися вечно чрез Меня испросят

Az Sporuchnitsa greshnuikh k moemy suiny; Cey dal mne za nikh rutse sluishati mya vuiny, da tii, izhe radost’ vuiny mne prinosyat, radovatisya vechno chrez menya isprosyat.

“I am the Surety/Guarantor of sinners for My Son; he has given me for them the hand [i.e. the assurance] to hear those who come to me;  that those who bring joy to me in coming shall rejoice eternally through me.”

No one really knows the origin of this icon.  An example, long ignored, was in the chapel behind the gates at the Nikolaevsk-Odrin Monastery in Orlov diocese.  It was old and dusty, and the icon had become so dark that its image was barely visible.

In the summer of 1844 the wife of a merchant named Pochepin, whose two-year-old son was having seizures, had a prayer service (moleben) before the icon, and her son got immediately better, so that gave the icon a reputation for miracle working.  Consequently the icon was cleaned up.  Later — in 1847-1848 — the icon was credited with saving people from a plague of cholera in the region, as well as with other supposed miracles.

There are two other icons under the same name celebrated in the Russian Orthodox calendar.  The first — the “Moscow” Surety of Sinners — is a copy of the Nikolaevsk-Odrin Monastery icon, and the copy also gained a reputation is miracle working.    Eventually placed in the Nikolo-Khamovnicheskaya Church in Moscow., it is said to have developed drops of healing oil on its surface in 1848, and a number of other cures are attributed to it by Russian Orthodox believers

There is also the “Koretskaya” Surety of Sinners icon, kept at the Holy Resurrection-Trinity Convent in Korets, Ukraine, where it is said to have been since the 17th century.  Examples of this type generally lack the inscription characteristic of the icon from Orlov diocese.


This is a Marian icon of the Chernigov (Черниговская/Chernigovskaya) type:

There are actually two old “Chernigov” type icons classified as “miracle working” in Russian Orthodoxy.  The second originated as a copy on canvas of the first, and when looking at various examples of subsequently painted icons of the two , one cannot really tell the difference from appearance alone.

Here is the title inscription of the example above:

It reads:

“[The] Chernigov Most Holy Birth-giver of God.”

You will recall that the –iya ending of the first word is Church Slavic, but common practice is to use the Russian –aya ending for such titles in discussion and in writing, so we refer to this type as the Chernigovskaya — “Of Chernigov.”

Now when the icon has only the “Chernigov” title — like the one shown above — it generally represents examples painted after the original icon, which is more specifically known as the “Chernigov-Ilinskaya” (Chernigov-Elijah) type.   Examples representing the second icon — which was originally a copy of the first, but gained a reputation for miracle-working on its own — are technically known as the Черниговская Гефсиманская/Chernigovskaya-Gefsimanskaya (Chernigov-Gethsemane) — but confusingly, they may have only the same title as the first, so copies of these two related icons are constantly confused.

What that means is that unless a given icon of the Chernigov type is distinguished by the secondary title, one cannot tell from appearance alone whether one is looking at a rendering of the Chernigovskaya-Ilinskaya (Черниговская Ильинская), or of the Chernigov Gethsemane icon.  This example of the Chernigov-Ilinskaya is clearly identified as such by the title below:

Here is a closer view of the title inscription:

It reads:
Representation of the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God “Ilinskaya-Chernigovskaya, which is to be found in the Pecherskaya Church of the Holy Archistratigos Michael.

However a copy of the Chernigov-Gethsemane icon may only be identified as “Chernigov,” without the secondary title.  When one is uncertain, it is generally preferable to just go with the “Chernigov” title, and to assume it is based on the Chernigovskaya-Ilinskaya icon.

Here is the Chernigovskaya-Gefsimanskaya icon in the Gethsemane Skete:

Notice the obvious evidences of reworking, particularly visible in the title inscription:

And notice also the numerous votive rings, necklaces, etc. attached to the icon out of veneration and to show thanks for supposed answered prayers.

As for the origin stories of these two icons, the “Chernigovskaya-Ilinskaya” is said to have been painted by the monk Grigory Konstantinovich Dubenskiy in 1658. Five years later — in 1662 — word spread among the people that the icon was shedding tears.  No one was quite sure just what this supposed omen signified, though various interpretations were offered.  In any case, it made the icon famous.  This was followed by the usual addition of more “miracles” to its story, which is typical for icons classified as “wonderworking” in Russian Orthodoxy.  Some were even described in The Dew-wet Fleece (Руно орошенное/Runo oroshennoe), written by Dimitriy Rostovskiy.  The icon was kept at the Trinity-Il’insky Monastery near Chernigov, thus the secondary title.

The second “Chernigov” icon — the Chernigovskaya-Gefsimanskaya — was, as earlier mentioned, a copy of the first.  It was painted on canvas sometime around the middle of the 18th century.  It was eventually given to a girl named Alexandra Grigorieva Filippova, by a priest in Moscow named Ioann Alekseev, who had received it from a monk of the Trinity-Sergiyev Monastery. Alexandra, who kept it for many years, had the painting touched up — “renewed.”  In 1842 the icon was given to the Gethsemane Skete (thus its secondary title), and was kept in the Church of the Archistratigos Michael.  It’s first miracle of healing suppposedly happened on September 1, 1869, with the cure of a bedridden woman.


Here is a pleasant icon painted in St. Petersburg in the year 1883:

(Courtesy of

The icon is divided into three images.  The upper half shows scenes from the story of the Old Testament Prophet Elijah, who ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot, and who peasants used to believe caused thunder when he rolled across the sky.  Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) is at upper left:

At lower right is the  “Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Temple.”  Both this type and the Ilya/Elijah type above are discussed in previous postings, which you will find in the archives.

The segment I want to focus on today, however, is that at lower left, because it is a type not previously discussed here, though we have seen icons in a tree before.  Here it is:

It is the type usually called the “Appearance of the Iugskaya Most Holy Mother of God to Venerable Dorofei.”

You will recall that “appearance,” when used of icons, signifies the time when an icon supposedly first manifests itself as miracle-working.

According to its traditional origin story, in the year 1615 Mary appeared to the skhimamonk Dorofei of the Pskovo-Pecherskaya Monastery during a Swedish invasion.  She told him to take her icon out to the edge of Yaroslavl diocese, and to establish a monastery there.  The abbot/hegumen of the monastery did not want to permit the icon to be taken away, but he finally agreed after Mary appeared to him in a dream, telling him to let the monk and the icon go.

As the monk Dorofei got nearer to the place where he was told in his vision to take the icon, he paused to rest, and there he placed the icon of Mary in a tree.  When he had rested, he went to take the icon from the tree and continue onward, but the icon would not move.  He could not take it from the branches.

Now you will have heard this motif  — “the icon that decides where it wants to be” — before, in the origin stories of other icons  Remember that in these old tales, icons often behave as living creatures, with a will of their own.

Being familiar with this kind of thing, Dorofei recognized that the icon wanted to remain in that place, so he built himself a hut there, and the place became a shrine for the image.  Before long, villagers living nearby spread the news of the newcomer monk and his icon, and soon stories of miracles worked by the icon began to be told.  Those tales got so much notoriety that the local people donated funds for the building of a monastery there.  Though Dorofei died in 1622, the locals nonetheless took their stories of the miraculous icon to Patriarch Filaret, and he gave permission for a monastery dedicated to the Dormition of Mary to be built on the River Iug/Yug — and that is how the icon came to be called the Iugskaya/Yugskaya — “of Iug” — icon.  It is said that there was a plague in the region in 1654, but the people believed it was stopped by their prayers before the Iugskaya icon.

As you can see, this is a fairly typical example of the kind of tales that were woven about so-called “wonderworking” icons, but it should help you to distinguish this type from other images depicting an icon in a tree.


There never has been a clear dividing line separating Eastern Orthodox belief from folk superstition and charms.  The cross is considered (as in old vampire movies) to have apotropaic powers — that is, it is believed to ward off evil.  The same, as we have seen is also true of certain icons, among them the “Unburnt Thornbush,” which is said to protect houses from fire.

There is a seldom seen Marian icon type — though it has recently become more and more common through printed versions — called the “Impenetrable Door” Непроходимая дверь/Neprokhodimaya Dver’ or Непроходимая Врата/Neprokhodimaya Vrata — “Impenetrable/Impassable Gate.”

It is first found in Russian iconography in the 17th century, and is associated with the “Time of Troubles” (Смутное время/smutnoe vremya), a tumultuous period between the end of old Rurik Dynasty of Russian rulers and the rise of the new Romanov Dynasty.  It was a time of civil unrest, invasion, tsarist impostors, and a famine that killed about a third of the Russian people by starvation.

At that time of civil unrest, this icon was regarded as a protector of monasteries.  It is not difficult to see why that notion arose, given its “Impenetrable Door” title.  Later that concept became extended, with the icon being recommended for placement in buildings and houses to “seal the door” to ward off robbers, burglars, witches, demons, and various evils in general.  Those selling copies of this icon type recommend it to “seal” the doors of a home when one leaves, accompanied by the recitation of liturgical texts and prayers as a kind of magic spell to keep all unwanted intruders out (yes, charms and spells are still a folk practice in modern Russia).

The title, however, did not originally signify making a building or home impregnable.  If we look at the inscription on this icon — painted in Solvychegodsk — we see it is a variant of the bogorodichen (invocation to the Bogoroditsa/Mother of God), tone 2, for Monday evening:

Непроходимая врата, тайно запечатствованная, / Благословенная Богородице Дево, / приими моления наша / и принеси Твоему Сыну и Богу, / да спасет Тобою души наша.

Neprokhodimaya vrata, taino zapechatstvovannaya, Blagoslovennaya Borogoditse Devo, priimi moleniya nasha i prinesi Tvoemu Suinu i Bogu, da spaset Toboiu dushi nasha.

Impenetrable gate, mysteriously sealed Blessed Mother of God Virgin, receive our prayer, and bring it to your son and God, and through you our souls will be saved.”

Other liturgical excerpts (such as Ikos 6 of the Akathist to the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple) also refer to Mary as the impenetrable gate/door.  This notion derives from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, in an excerpt which Eastern Orthodox see as a prophecy and prefiguration of Mary — the virgin birth of Jesus:

Ezekiel 43:27 -44:4):

“THUS says the Lord: Upon the eighth day and so forward, the priests shall make your whole-burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, says the Lord. Then He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looks toward the east; and it was shut. And the Lord said to me: Son of man, this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, shall enter in by it, and it shall be shut. For this Prince shall sit on it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall come forth by the way of the same. And He brought me by the way of the north gate before the house, and I looked, and behold, the house of the Lord was full of glory.”

If we look at the icon, we see “Lord Sabaoth” (God the Father) in the clouds at the top.  Mary stands, arms outspread, before the entrance to a building.  The image of Jesus standing as Immanuel is on her breast.

(Russian Museum, St. Petersburg)

Below, saints of various kinds approach her in prayer, with the Prophet Ezekiel seen at right.  At the base is a cavern in the earth, opened to show the dead, who also ask for Mary’s intercession.  The inscription just above them is a variant of the last line of the bogorodichen quoted above — “And through you our souls will be saved.”


There is an interesting Russian Marian icon type that is generally named Силуамския/Siluamskiya — “Of Siluam” — in Church Slavic, and Siluamskaya in Russian.  The title may also be found as Siluanskaya (“of Siluan/Silouan”).

It is said to have originated in a celebration (The Feast to the All-Merciful Saviour and the Most Holy Mother of God) established by the Byzantine Emperor Manual I Komnenos in 1158, to celebrate his victory over the Saracens.  The celebration  was set on August 1st.  The same date was fixed in Russia to celebrate the victory of Andrey Bogoliubskiy over the Volga Tatars.  That is why in listings of Marian icons, the Siluam/Siluan type is found on August 1st (new style August 14th).

However, no one knows why the icon was called “of Siluan,” or “of Siluam,” nor is it known what became of it.  And in any case, the icon depicted in the standard old Russian book of Marian icons by Poselyanin — whether accurately or not — is a very different image than the icons commonly known under that name, in that the child Jesus holds an orb in his hand, which he does not in the better-known and more standard depictions of the type.

Now we can tell from this that there is confusion in the history of this icon, and we are likely dealing with quite different images that go under the same or similar names.  To get a better idea of the extent of this confusion, let’s look at the type that is now generally known as the Siluam icon of Mary:

We can see immediately that there are a couple of things to note in this image.  First and most obvious is the unusual head covering.  Second, and related to that, is Mary’s long and loose hair.

Now we know it is generally the custom in Eastern Orthodox iconography to depict Mary with her hair hidden by the maphorion that covers her head and shoulders.  And in instances when we have seen Mary with long hair, it has tended to be an indication that the image was borrowed from Western European or Roman Catholic religious art — though the result came to be adopted as an Eastern Orthodox icon.

That is the case also with the Siluam icon type.  Let’s look at another image of it:

The painter has added a smaller Marian image on the upper right of the panel, but our focus is on the main image.

Now it happens that the Siluam image as shown in the two icons above first appeared in Russia quite late — around 1710.  Interestingly enough, we can determine where it came from — and it was not from Greece or Russia.  It was from a Flemish engraver named Hieronymus/Jeroen Wierix ((1553–1619), of Antwerp.

You will recall that in the 1600s, Russian iconography began to be influenced by engravings brought from Western Europe, and that influence gradually appears in many icons.  Here is the first of two engravings by Wierix.  Notice how the icon above has kept the distinctive cut of the neckline:

The Latin inscription at the base reads, “You are all beautiful, my friend, come, you will be crowned”, followed by “You are all beautiful, my beloved”.

Here is the second, which omits the angels:

(Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam)

Here the Latin inscription reads, “Beautiful as the moon, pure as the sun, terrible as an army arrayed in battle.”  The inscriptions in both engravings use lines taken from the Song of Solomon.

Now obviously the Russian painters of the various icons based upon the Wierix engraving did not quite understand the head covering Mary wears in it.  The first icon on this page has it looking rather like a hat.  The second icon includes the little fold on the right side of the head covering, but omits the falling cloth at the left side — again making it look like a hat.

Neither icon shown above includes angels, but this 18th century example of the Siluam icon does have two angels, though used and positioned differently, carrying the cross, spear and sponge of the Passion:

(State Museum of the History of Religion)

The Russian painter and engraver Grigoriy Pavlovich Tepchegorskiy (Григорий Павлович Тепчегорский), who worked at the end of the 17-beginning of the 18th century, used the work of  Wierix when he compiled his cycle of engravings of icons of Mary in 1713-1714.

Finally, here is a colorful example of the Siluam type that evolves the head covering of Mary even farther from its origins in the Wierix engraving:

As I have said previously, there never was a “pure” Eastern Orthodox iconography free of outside influences.  The same can be said of Christianity in general.


Here is a 17th century Russian icon:

(Tretyakov Gallery)

Its gold inscription at the top is worn and faint, which often happens with gold inscriptions, because they are easily worn away over time.  Nonetheless this is a Sretenie (Сретение) icon, but not the icon type we usually find under that name.  We are already familiar with the word Sretenie — meaning “Meeting.”  We have seen it used to describe the many icons of the “Meeting” of the infant Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple by the aged Simeon and the Prophetess Anna.  That is its most common use in icons.

However the icon we are examining today is a different Sretenie — a different meeting.  This one is the “Meeting of the Vladimir Icon.”  The earliest-known existing examples of this type date to the 16th century.

The story associated with it is this:

In the year 1395, the Mongol invader Tamerlane (Timur) and his armies were approaching Moscow.  The people were terrified, certain that he intended to loot and pillage the city.  The Great Prince of Moscow at that time — Vasiliy I Dmitrievich — sent urgently to the city of Vladimir, asking that the supposedly miracle-working icon of the Vladimir Mother of God be brought to Moscow to protect the city.

Now you will remember that since Byzantine times — in a tradition going back even to the pre-Christian world — there were images believed to have the power to protect cities.  Such an image is called a palladium.  In Russian Orthodoxy, the Vladimir icon was such a palladium icon.

The stories relate that at the request of Vasiliy, the Vladimir palladium was sent on its way to Moscow.  It is said that it took ten days for the icon to make the journey, and along the road people fell to their knees, praying “Матерь Божия, спаси землю русскую” — Mater Bozhiya, spasi zemliu russkuiu — “Mother of God, save the Russian land.” When it reached Moscow, all the people of the city came out to greet it.

The legend says that at the time when the icon was met in Moscow, Tamerlane was asleep and dreaming in his tent.  He dreamed he saw a high mountain, and descending saints with golden wands.  In the air above it was a brilliantly-shining woman, surrounded by sword-bearing angels.  When he woke and consulted his advisors, they told him it was not wise to continue, because the woman was God’s Mother, intercessor for the Russians.

Tamerlane did turn his forces back, and Moscow was not invaded.  Historians say that Tamerlane had his own reasons for not going farther.  The people of Moscow, however, attributed his withdrawal to the icon, which only increased the esteem in which it was held.  A monastery called the Sretenskiy Monastery (after Sretenie) was eventually built on the site where the “meeting” of the Vladimir icon is said to have taken place.

Remember that in Russian tradition, icons of Mary were treated as though they were living persons.  So that is what we see in today’s icon — the formal meeting and greeting of the icon.  We see the Patriarch of Moscow Kiprian with his omophorion (bishop’s stole) and bishop’s crown standing to the right of the image, and beside him is Great Prince Vasiliy I Dmitrievich.

If we look more closely at the depiction of the Vladimir icon, we can see the ornamental cloth — the veil called a pelena (пелена) hanging below it.  In Greek it is called a podea (ποδέα).  This one is decorated with a “Golgotha Cross,” (Голгофский Крест/Golgofskiy Krest) which is one of the most common decorations used on such a cloth.  The Golgotha Cross — which is found on many Russian Orthodox religious objects — depicts the cross standing on a hill, with the spear and sponge on a reed at the sides, and the skull of Adam below.

Here is a typical Golgotha Cross:

You will find all the abbreviations explained in my earlier postings on Russian crosses, found in the site archive.

If we look at the “hills and palaces” — the stylized mountains and buildings in this icon, they exhibit well the typical style of painting used in 17th century Russian iconography:


The “Meeting of the Vladimir Icon” is celebrated annually in Russian Orthodoxy on August 26th.

Now interestingly, there is another but seldom-seen icon type relating to Tamerlane called the Eletskaya-Argamachenskaya (Елецкая Аргамаченская). When Tamerlane came into the region near Moscow, he took the city of Elets (pronounced Yelets), some 221 miles from Moscow.  You will recall the legend that Tamerlane had a dream of a shining woman and angels, and that prevented him from going to invade Moscow.  A similar tale — apparently just based on the first — developed to explain why Timur left Elets.

It is said that on August 26th, 1395, Timur was camped and sleeping on Argamach Mountain.  Mary appeared to him in a dream, in very much the same manner as that told about the supposed deliverance of Moscow from invasion.  This icon type was first painted in 1735.  Here is an example:

We see Mary appearing in the clouds, surrounded by an army of angels.  At lower right are the tents in the camp of Timur.

This icon type should not be confused with the more common Eletskaya type — the Eletskaya Chernigovskaya — that is said to have “appeared” in 1060.