Here is a Marian icon type that one might easily confuse with the Smolenskaya/Smolensk type.

(Courtesy of

Let’s look again at the “red” Smolenskaya icon in a previous posting:

(Courtesy of

If we compare the two, we see that the positions of Child and Mother are very much the same — except look at the difference in the position of the right hand of Mary:

In the first icon, it is thus:

And in the Smolenskaya, thus:

In the Smolenskaya type, the hand of Mary gestures toward the Christ Child, which is why it also falls into the category known as Hodegitria — meaning “Way-shower” in Greek.

In the first type however — called the Sedmiezerskaya or Sedmiezernaya — the hand is upright, and Mary does not gesture toward the Child.

Nonetheless, the type with Mary’s hand upright is often called the Одигитрия Смоленская Седмиезерная / Odigitriya Smolenskaya-Sedmiezernaya — the “Hodigitria Smolensk-Seven Lakes.”  So though it does not exactly fit the usual Smolenskaya form, it is generally so classified, confusing as it may be.

Its origin story relates that near the end of the 1500s, a fellow named Evfimiy was born to a poor family.   Being a pious individual, he went to live in a monastery.  When his parents died, he inherited an icon of the “Smolensk” type from them, which he took with him to the region of Kazan.  He eventually settled in a secluded place many miles from the city.  It was surrounded by seven lakes.  There he eventually founded a monastery.

Though some time later he went to live in the Metropolitan’s house in Kazan, he nonetheless continued to guide the monastic community he had begun, and he also decided to give up his inherited “Smolensk” icon to the Seven Lakes monastic community.  The wooden church at the monastic site was eventually replaced by a stone church, and the “Smolensk” icon was placed in it, on the left side of the “Tsar Doors” that led to the altar.

In June of 1654, there was a severe plague in Kazan, and people were dying.  It was decided to send the Seven Lakes — Sedmiezernaya — “Smolensk” icon to the city.  It is said that a nun had a vision in her sleep, in which a shining old man who looked like St. Nikolai/Nicholas appeared to her, telling her that the people of Kazan should fast for a week and repent, and that the Mother of God was coming to the city to save the people from the plague.  As is common in these tales, the nun did not do as she was told, so the old man appeared to her when she next slept, scolding her.  Finally, she went to the city officials and reported her vision.   According to tradition, all the citizens of the city went out, carrying their own “Kazan” icon, to formally meet and welcome the Sedmiezernaya icon some two miles from the city, where they fell to their knees and prayed for “her” help in ending the plague.

It is said the plague subsided when the icon was carried in procession around the city of Kazan.  The city eventually returned the icon to the Seven Lakes Monastery, but again in 1656 there was a plague in Kazan, so the icon was brought back to Kazan, and supposedly again the plague subsided.  After that, it became the custom to bring the icon from the Seven Lakes Monastery to the city of Kazan each year, when it would leave the monastery on June 25th and be brought into the city in a formal procession on June 26th.

Other tales of healing miracles were associated with the icon, which of course is numbered among the so-called “wonder-working” icons of Russian Orthodoxy.

It is not unusual to see some variation in the position of the fingers in the right hand of Mary in various examples of the Sedmiezernaya type.  Here is an icon bearing the Sedmiezernaya/Semiezerskaya title, but the hand has its fingers in the distinctly Old Believer sign of blessing:






We have seen in previous postings that it is not at all uncommon for Eastern Orthodoxy to have adopted iconography from Western European Roman Catholicism.  The average Orthodox person is usually quite unaware of these borrowings, and some of these icons also have reputations as “miraculous” images within E. Orthodoxy.

Today we will look at one such borrowing.  It is the rather detailed Marian icon type known as the Zvyesda Presvyetlaya (Звезда Пресветлая) — the “Star Most Bright.”

Now we have seen in previous postings how the details of icons are often “revised” over time to fit theological preconceptions.  That has happened also in the case of this icon.  Note that in the late 17th century example below (from the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Balakhna, Nizhniy Novgorod), Mary wears a white headcovering below her crown:

It is likely, however, that as in the Murom example below, from roughly the same period, the original form depicted Mary with long, loose hair below her crown, and no other headcovering.

Now we know already from previous postings why this change would have been made.  In traditional Eastern Orthodox thought, long hair was a sign of a “loose” woman.  So at some point, an icon painter decided to revise the type to fit this preconception.

What is considered to be the earliest Russian example of the “Most Bright Star” type was kept in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Murom, and dated to near the year 1700.  It bears an inscription on the banner below the image of Mary, reading:

Сии пречу[д]ныи образ звезда пресветлая прес[вя]тая влад[ычи]цы Б[огоро]д[и]цы н[е]б[е]снии ц[а]рицы

Siy prechudnuiy obraz Zvezda Presvetlaya Presvyataya Vladuichitsui Bogoroditsui Nebesniy Tsaritsui

This is the Most Miraculous Image of the ‘Star Most Bright’ Most Holy Mistress Mother of God, Empress of Heaven.

The words Nebesnuiy Tsaritsui would sound more familiar to Catholics if we put them in the western form — “Queen of Heaven.”

The title of the image comes actually from a book — a collection of  Roman Catholic stories of the “miracles” of Mary — titled simply Звезда Пресветлая/Zvyesda Presvyetlaya — “The Star Most Bright,” which began to appear in handwritten copies in Russia in the second half of the 1600s.

Now it is not difficult to determine that the “Star Most Bright” iconography must have been based ultimately on Roman Catholic icons of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” depicting Mary and the Christ Child surrounded by 15 scenes of contemplation for the Rosary   — the “Fifteen Mysteries”:

Благовещение / Annunciation

Встреча Марии и Елисаветы – Meeting [Visitation] of Mary and Elizabeth

Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ

Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple –the Presentation of Christ]

Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost [Christ among the Doctors]

Моление о чаше / The Prayer of the Cup [Jesus in Gethsemane]

Бичевание Христа / The Scourging of Christ [The Flagellation]

Коронование терновым венцом / Crowning with the Crown of Thorns

Несение креста / Bearing the Cross

Распятие / Crucifixion

Воскресение / Resurrection

Вознесение / Ascension [sometimes replaced by the Transfiguration of Jesus]

Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit [Pentecost]

Вознесение Богоматери / Ascension of the Mother of God [Assumption]

Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God


On the Balakhna example, however, we find 17 scenes:

Рождество Богоматери / Birth of the Mother of God

Благовещение у колодца / Annunciation at the Well

Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ

Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple]

Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost

Омовение ног / Washing of the Feet [of the Disciples]

Моление о чаше / Prayer of the Cup

Взятие под стражу Христа / The Arrest of Christ [ The Taking into Custody]

Распятие / Crucifixion

Положение во гроб / Placing in the Tomb

Восстание из гроба / The Rising from the Tomb

Явление Марии Магдалине / Appearance to Mary Magdalene

Сошествие во ад / Descent to Hades

Вознесение Христово / Ascension of Christ

Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit

Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God

Страшный Суд / Terrible Judgment

We find similar Western European Catholic examples in paintings of various periods, such as this one:

And this one:

Of course the old Russian version of the image has been “Orthodoxified” by removing or altering the rosary held by Mother and Child or both, and by replacing any attendant Catholic saints with Eastern Orthodox saints.

Those in the Murom example consist of the princes of Murom Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor at left, and at right Prince Pyotr, Princess Fevronia, and Righteous Iulianiya Lazarevskaya.

In the Balakhna example, we find instead these saints:  at left, Iakov (James), Brother of the Lord; Muchenik (Martyr) Kondrat (Codratus/Quadratus), and the Apostle Ioann Bogoslov (John the Theologian).  At right are the Apostle Simeon (Bishop of Jerusalem, sometimes also called a brother of Jesus), and Righteous Ioakhim (Joachim) and Anna (parents of Mary).

The Balakhna example has an inscription below Mary that is too small be legible in the photo.  It reads:

О Дево, Госпоже, Мати Господа моего, Творца всех, Ты – Корень девству и Неувядаемый цвет чистоты, Небесным чином радование и человеческому роду Благословенная Помощнице, Моли Сына Своего о спасении всех христиан

O Virgin, Lady, Mother of my Lord, Maker of All, you are the Root of Virginity and the Unfading Flower of Purity, the Joy of the Heavenly Choirs and the Blessed Helper of the Race of Man, Pray to your Son for the Salvation of all Christians.”



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.”