There is a little-known icon type called the Неугасимая Свеча  — Neugasimaya Svecha — the “Inextinguishable Candle” icon of Mary.  Here is an example:

It is a rather late icon type, which is why examples are generally painted in a “westernized” manner.

The story associated with this type relates that a fellow who was abbot of the Alekseevskiy Monastery in Uglich from 1864-1872 had a vision of Mary, in which she appeared to him with a candle in her right hand and an abbot’s staff in her left.  An icon was painted of Mary as seen in his vision.

The traditional tale of the icon continues in the year 1894, when an ill merchant in St. Petersburg had a dream in which Mary appeared to him and told him to go to a certain place and pray in front of a specific icon there and he would be healed.  Now as we have seen, that is a rather common motif in these origin stories of supposed “wonderworking” Marian icons.  We can call it in its basic form the “it came to me in a dream” motif.

In this case the place to which he was told to go was the Alekseevskiy Monastery in the city of Uglich.  It turned out that when the fellow talked to the abbot there about his dream, the icon he described was the same one painted after the vision of the earlier abbot Evangel.  It was then being kept in the monastery pantry.  According to the story, the man prayed before the icon and was healed (we would not be discussing it if that usual part of such tales were absent).  On June 23 the icon was moved to the monastery’s Uspenskiy (“Dormition”) Church.  The merchant also honored the icon by presenting it with a gilt silver riza (icon cover).

The title of this icon type is taken from Ikos II of the Akathist to the Dormition of Mary:

Радуйся, свеще неугасимая огня невещественнаго …”
Raduisya, sveschche neugasimaya ognya neveshchestvennago
Rejoice, Inextinguishable Candle of immaterial fire …”

The relation of the icon to the city of Uglich accounts for its alternate title — Вратарница Угличская — Vratarnitsa Uglichskaya — the “Uglich Gate-keeper” icon.  Under this title, it should not be confused with the Iverskaya/Iveron icon of Mary, which is also sometimes titled Vratarnitsa/Gatekeeper after its Greek title, the Portaitissa (Πορταΐτισσα).

The distinguishing features of the  “Inextinguishable Candle”/”Uglich Gate-keeper” icon, as we have seen, are that Mary, dressed as a nun, holds a lit candle in her right hand, and an abbot’s staff — usually along with prayer beads — in her left.

Now oddly enough, this “Inextinguishable Candle” icon of Mary is sometimes confused with a somewhat similar-appearing icon of Mary as Ἡγουμένη του Ἁγίου Όρους/Hegoumene tou Hagiou Orous — “Hegumena/Abbess of the Holy Mountain,” the Holy Mountain being Mount Athos in Greece. There is a group of varying icons of this latter type depicting Mary as the Abbess of the kleros of Mount Athos.  A kleros is, in this case, an assigned portion of land.  According to tradition, the portion of land of Mount Athos belongs to Mary.

Now one would think that an icon showing Mary as Abbess of Athos would be a simple matter, but even the simplest matters are often the subject of doctrinal bickering among Eastern Orthodox factions.  That is why some newer icons of this type are changed to depict Mary in her usual garments rather than in the clerical mandyas shown in the above icon, and with her right hand raised to the side, palm outward, instead of the right hand blessing with fingers in the IC XC sign seen above.

The little ship at lower right relates to the legend that in New Testament times, Mary came to Mount Athos in a boat with St. John the Evangelist.




In a previous posting, I discussed how to distinguish icons of Mary that depict several swords at her breast, and mentioned one single-sword type.

Today we will look at another Mary-sword icon, but again this time with only one sword.

The icon is called the Vasilkovskaya (Васильковская).  Here is an example in the manner characteristic of the late 19th-early 20th century:

Let’s look at the title inscription at the base:


Note that in English we have to reverse the last two words, which literally are Bozhiy Materi — “God-of Mother.”

Now as we know, most of these Marian icons have origin stories.  Here is that of the Vasilkovskaya:

In the 15th century, there was a town called Vasilkovo (Васильково/Wasilków) a few miles from what is now Bialystok in northeastern Poland.  At that time, a blind fellow named Vasily was wandering abandoned through the thick forests of the vicinity, hungry and worn out.  He fell to the ground and went to sleep on a hill high above a river, and as he slept, he dreamed.

In his dream, Mary came to him and told him to brush aside the leaves on the ground, dig into the sand, and there he would find water that would heal him if he washed his eyes with it.

He did as he was told, found the hidden water, washed his eyes with it, and according to the legend, his sight was restored (compare this with the Catholic tale of Bernadette and Lourdes).  As his sight came back, he saw before him an icon of Mary as he had seen her in his dream vision.  It was on canvas rather than wood.

Vasiliy dug out a well there and put a protective shelter over it, and in it he placed the newly-appeared icon of Mary.

The story continues by relating that in the early 18th century, a different Vasiliy (possibly Vasily Samotyją Lenczewskim) — who was involved with a paper factory — had lost his sight, but was told in a dream that he would be healed by praying before the icon at the spring.  He followed the instructions of his dream vision, and he too was supposedly healed.  He built a wooden chapel over the site in 1719.  The place was called  Svyataya Voda (Святая вода) — “Holy  Water.”  In 1864 the wooden church was replaced with a stone church.  The icon was venerated both by Uniates and by Russian Orthodox.

Now it is rather obvious that this icon is akin to the many Mater Dolorosa (“Sorrowful Mother”) images popular in the Catholic West.  Variants of the image depicting Mary with a single sword in her breast appear under various titles, including Симеоново проречение — Simeonovo Prorechenie — the “Prediction/Prophecy of Simeon” and И Тебе Самой душу пройдет оружие — I tebe Samoy dushu proidet oruzhie — ” A sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”  These titles, as we have seen in an earlier posting, may also be found on icons of Mary with multiple swords.

There is also a more complex icon type featuring Mary with a single sword, standing by the crucifixion of Jesus (who may or may not be on the cross), and accompanied by the various symbols of the Passion.  This type is generally given the title Плач при Кресте — Plach pri Kreste — “Weeping at the Cross.”  It too obviously derives from the “Prophecy of Simeon” in Luke 2:35.

Be aware, however, that similar icons may be found minus the sword, as in this example, titled simply Плачь Пресвятыя Богородицы — Plach Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “[The] Weeping of the Most Holy Mother of God.”

For the sake of completeness, I should add that there is a little-known icon type called the Strastnaya Lipetskaya (Страстная Липецкая), which depicts Mary much as she is shown in the “Weeping at the Cross” type — often also with the instruments of the Passion.  But in this case the distinguishing features of the type are first, that the single sword is on the cross to the right of and behind Mary, rather than shown against her breast; and second, she holds a white cloth in her left hand.

Tradition relates that the “Lipetsk-Passion” icon was kept in the Nativity of Christ Cathedral in the city of Lipetsk, in what was then Tambov Province.  In 1831 the icon is said to have broken a plague of cholera that had spread in the region.


In previous articles we have encountered many icon inscriptions in Church Slavic and many inscriptions in Greek, so those readers here who are serious students of iconography will have gained the ability to transliterate and translate quite a number of common inscriptions.   And as you have likely found,  just having the ability to read the title inscriptions on icons is a major advantage.

But what is one to do with an icon that has an inscription like the one below?

It is written on the reverse of an icon.  At first glance at the lettering, it may appear to be in Church Slavic — but on closer inspection it is obviously like no Church Slavic we have seen so far.  And what is that strange initial letter at top left, which appears again as the eighth letter from the right in the third line?

The answer is that this unusual (for us, up to this point) inscription is not Church Slavic, not Russian, and certainly not Greek.  It is your introduction to a form of Cyrillic lettering used in old style Romanian inscriptions that may sometimes be encountered on icons.

Yes, the language used here is Romanian, but not written in the Roman letters used for that language today.  You may recall that Romanian used the Cyrillic alphabet before it was replaced by a variant of Roman letters in the 1860s.  That does not mean, however, that everyone immediately made the change, and the old Cyrillic system took a while to fade out, though it was mostly gone by the end of the first quarter of the 20th century.

So,  let’s jump right into the subject by saying that the alphabet used in the above inscription is Cyrillic lettering modified to fit the peculiarities of the Romanian language, which is a blending of a Romance, Latin-origin language with Slavic elements.  If you encounter Romanian icons, a little knowledge of the subject can be very helpful.

Some of the letters in the Romanian inscription are already familiar to you from what you have learned of the Church Slavic alphabet — but some are also either different, or used to indicate different sounds than in Church Slavic.

I find that an easy way to learn a new alphabet is not to memorize a table of letters on a page but rather to learn the letters as they are actually used in words, and that is what we shall do here.

Let’s look at the first line followed with a transliteration into modern Romanian and a literal translation:

Închipuirea făcătoarei de minuni Icoane …
Image-of     worker of miracles      icon …

We can see that the first letter is the Romanian Î, which is pronounced like “u” in French une (“one”) or like ü in German über (“over”).  The third letter к is the equivalent of modern Romanian ch — pronounced like “c” in cap.  The last letter of the first word — which is found in Church Slavic as the sound “ye” — has a different sound here — ea — pronounced “ya.” The second letter in the second word — ъ — also has a different value here than in Church Slavic.  Here it represents the Romanian ă, which is pronounced like “uh.”

a Preasfintei Stăpânei noastre de Du-
of [the] Most-holy Lady of-us  of Du

The first letter is Romanian a — as in English “father.”  In the third word, the fifth letter is Romanian â, pronounced just the same as Romanian î — like French u as in une (“one”).  For this sound, î is commonly written at the beginning of a word, and â within a word.

Now notice that the last word has only its first two letters on this line — Du — but the rest of the word is found at the beginning of line three:

The word is Dumnezeu — “God.”  So if we add that to line three, it reads:

Dumnezeu Născatoarei aflătoare în Sfanta …
God (of) Birthgiver found in Holy …

Dumnezeu is an interesting word.  We find as a Latin equivalent the common words  Domine Deus — “Lord God” — but there is speculation that the Romanian form may predate the arrival of Christianity.  Perhaps you noticed the similarity of the -zeu ending to the name of the Greek god Zeus.

Lavrea a Neamtului din Mold-[ova] Valachia
Lavra of Neamts       in   Moldavia-Wallachia.

A Lavra, you may recall, is a monastery.  Moldavia and Wallachia are two very old Romanian principalities that were united in 1859 and more formally in 1862.

So here is the whole inscription again, followed by a transcription in modern Romanian letters and translation into normal English:

Închipuirea făcătoarei de minuni Icoane
a Preasfintei Stăpânei noastre de Du-
mnezeu Născatoarei aflătoare în Sfanta
Lavrea a Neamtului din Mold-[ova] Valachia.

Image of the wonder-working icon
of our most holy Lady the Mother of G-
od found in the holy
Lavra of Neamts in Moldavia-Wallachia.

So we now know from the Romanian inscription on the reverse of the panel what the icon represents.  So let’s look at the painted surface:

(Courtesy of

It is a Hodigitria icon in form — somewhat “westernized” — and with two added angels.  And we know from the inscription that it is the “Neamts” (Neamț) icon type.  The original is regarded as a “wonderworking” image in Romanian Orthodoxy, and it is considered the oldest documented icon in Romania.

Here is what the original Romanian “Neamts” icon looks like under its 1853 silver metal covering:

The traditional history of the icon relates that in 1401 it was given by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos to the Moldavian Voievod Alexander I “The Good” (Alexandru cel Bun).

The story relates that there was an ancient icon of this type in Lydda (now Lod, in Israel), supposedly dating to the year 35 c.e. (which of course is a pious fiction).  The future Byzantine Patriarch Germanos had a copy made of that icon in 665 c.e., which he took with him to Constantinople on becoming Patriarch.  There it was given to the Heleopatra Monastery.

The icon was said to have been hidden in 714 c.e. during the Iconoclastic period under Emperor Leo the Armenian, then in 716 was sent by Patriarch Germanos to Pope Gregory III in Rome, where it supposedly was kept in St. Peter’s Basilica for 106 years.  Pope Sergius II is said to have returned the icon to Constantinople after the end of the victory of the Iconophiles over the Iconoclasts.  The icon was returned to the Heleopatra Monastery, where tradition relates it remained for the next 555 years.

In 1401 it was sent as a gift to Alexander the Good, Voievod of Moldavia (part of what was to become the future Romania).  It was first kept in the Church of Sfântul Gheorghe/St. George in Suceava for 14 years, and then was taken to its namesake residence — the Neamts Monastery, where it is still to be found today.

Now given the legend of its origin, why would it be connected with a supposedly early icon from Lydda?  The answer lies in the Neamts Monastery icon of Mary having another painting on its reverse side (unlike most later copies).  Here is that image:

It depicts St. George, who according to one tradition was martyred in Lydda.  Thus we have the “Neamts” Lydda Hodigitria icon of Mary that is so prominent today in Romanian Orthodoxy.

One final detail.  When we looked at the Romanian inscription on the reverse side of the later rendering of the “Neamts” type, we saw only the upper part of it.  Here is the whole thing:

Now as you can see, only the upper four-line inscription is in Cyrillic Romanian.  The lower three lines — which say the same thing as the upper inscription — are written in Church Slavic.  So this icon has a bilingual inscription.  There is a very similar icon — also with a bilingual inscription on the reverse — found in a museum in the Vitebsk Region, Polotsk, Belarus.  Here is a link to that image:



Vilna — present day Vilnius — is the largest city in Lithuania and its capitol.  The icons discussed today all have Виленская —Vilenskaya — “of Vilna” — in their titles, so we know they were once associated with Vilna.

First we will consider the type known as  the Vilenskaya-Odigitriya.  As we can tell from the second part of that title, this is one of the class of Marian icons known as “Way-Shower” images, meaning that Mary holds the child Jesus on one arm, while gesturing toward him with her other hand, as though indicating “the Way.”  Odigitriya is just a Russianization of the Greek Hodigitria, and the Russian translation is Путеводительница — Putevoditel’nitsa. 

Here is a version of the Vilenskaya-Odigitriya:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

It has a very elaborate silver riza (icon cover) with colorful floral  cloisonné ornamentation in the halos, very typical of better-quality work during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II.  The robes are done in intricate silver filigree.

If we look at various examples of the “Vilenskaya Odigitriya” type, we will notice that some painters depict the legs of the child Jesus side by side, so that the feet hang down with the same orientation.  In other examples, however, such as this one, the right leg extends under the left, so that the sole of the right foot is toward the viewer.  Such variations in Marian icon types are not uncommon.

The “Vilenskaya-Odigitria” is another of those icons attributed (incorrectly) by legend to St. Luke.  Its origin story says that it was first sent from Jerusalem to Constantinople.  Next it traveled from Constantinople to the rulers of the region known as Galicia and “Red Russia” (Red Ruthenia), which was in what today is southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.  When the princedom of Galicia fell, the icon came into the possession of the Prince of Moscow.

A different story says the icon was brought to Moscow by the Byzantine Princess Sophia Palaiologina, upon her marriage to Grand Duke Ivan III.

In 1495 the Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan III, gave it as blessing to his daughter Elena on her marriage to the Lithuanian Prince Alexander.  The icon was taken to Vilna, thus its title.  So that is the first Vilna icon type.

The second Vilna type is the full-length, standing “Vilenskaya.”  Little is known about it other than it is said to have appeared in the year 1341, and was kept in a monastery on the outskirts of Vilna. Obviously the example shown here is centuries later:

As we see, it is one of the “Apocalyptic Woman” types, showing Mary standing on the crescent moon (some examples merely show her on clouds).  The type is rather variable.  Mary may gesture toward the child on her left arm;  she may also hold a scepter in her right hand, which in other examples may be held out to the side.  Sometimes she is already crowned (as here), while in others, two angels place a crown upon her head.  Icons of this type are commonly quite Westernized in appearance.

The third Vilna type — and likely the most common — is the Vilenskaya-Ostrobramskaya.  Here is an illustration:

 Its origin story — later shown to be unreliable — relates that this icon was brought from Cherson (Korsun) in the Crimea by Algirdas Gediminas (1345-1377) for his wife, who in turn gave it to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilna.  Actually the image dates to the mid-17th century, and modern scholarship suggests it may have been ultimately modeled on a painting by the Dutch artist Marten de Vos, who in turn based his work on a late 16th century engraving by the Flemish-born French artist Thomas de Leu.

The icon was placed in a chapel above the Eastern Gates (called in Polish Ostra Brama — “The Gate of Dawn”) in Vilna, thus the Russian title of the icon — Ostrobramskaya.  It was commemorated annually on April 14th, the day also of the Lithuanian Martyrs.

Here is a photo of the actually mid-17th century Ostrobramskaya in its present-day Roman Catholic chapel.  It is an icon venerated by Russian Orthodox, Polish Catholics, and by Uniates who follow the Eastern rite but are under papal authority.

Below is a late Russian example of the Ostrobramskaya covered in a cloth riza, surrounded with ornamental cut metal foil work, and placed in a shaped wooden kiot.

(Courtesy of





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.