You may recall my recent posting on the icon type “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” a mystic-didactic icon based on the biblical words in Mary called the “Magnificat” in the West, from the Latin version of that text.

You may also recall that in discussing that type, we looked at the whole Magnificat, which begins with these words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden….”

In Church Slavic that is (modern font):

Величит душа моя Господа и возрадовася дух мои о Бозе Спасе моем.
яко призре на смирение рабы своея…
Velichit dusha moya Gospoda i vozradovasya dukh moi o Boze Space moem.
Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya…

The words we want to emphasize today are Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya, which rather literally translated are “For he has looked upon the humility of his female-servant.”

Those words are the source for the title for the Marian icon type we will examine today.  It is commonly called Призри На Смирение — Prizri na Smirenie — “Look Upon the Humility.

In fact if we look at the title of this icon of that type, we find it is just the quote from the Magnificat:


The origin story of this Marian icon, which is regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy as one of the supposed “miracle-working” icons, states that it appeared at Stony Lake in the Pskov region, in the year 1420.

It can be recognized by the standing Christ Child (Christ Immanuel), with a globe symbolizing authority in one hand, the other touching Mary’s face or head.  Mary holds a scepter in her other hand.

In most versions of this Marian icon type, the Christ Child stands on the right of the icon, but as painters often got their pattern stencils reversed, in some icons (as in this one) he is found standing on the left.

The little female figure in the left-hand border is СВЯТАЯ ЦАРИЦА ЕЛЕНА — Svyataya Tsaritsa Elena — the “Holy Empress Elena/Helena.


Today’s posting is also the result of a reader question.

The inquirer came across a Marian icon showing Mary on a cloud, arms outstretched, above a field of grain.  The icon type that describes is a rather recent Russian type called Спорительница хлебов — Sporitel’nitsa Khlebov.  The first word means  a female who causes something to advance or thrive; the second part refers to bread and to grain crops.  So we can loosely translate it as “She Who Makes the Grain Thrive.”  The name is found variously in English as “She Who Ripens the Grain,” “Provider of Bread” “Provider of the Bread of Life,” “Multiplier of Bread,” and so on.  But the essence of the name indicates that Mary makes the grain thrive, which means people will have an abundant harvest and much bread.

As I mentioned, this is a rather recent icon type.  That, and the fact that it originated in the State Church, accounts for why examples of it are generally painted in the realistic manner, rather than in the stylization preferred by Old Believer iconographers.  The type, in origin, relates to the Starets (Elder) Amvrosiy (Ambrose), who lived at the famous Optina Monastery.  He always faithfully kept Marian festivals by praying before an icon of Mary in his cell.

In the year 1890, Abbess Ilariya (Hilaria) of the Volkhov Convent sent Starets Amvrosiy a newly-painted icon partly based on an “All Saints” icon in her convent, but with the addition of a field of ripe grain and sheaves below the image of Mary.  Amvrosiy gave the new type its “She Who Makes the Grain Thrive” title.  Due to Amvrosiy’s efforts, quite a number of copies of the icon were distributed among his admirers.  Amvrosiy spent his last days at a convent he had helped establish in Kaluga, where he died among the nuns.

According to tradition, the Sporitel’nitsa icon helped to end a drought and famine in the year 1892, so it became known as one of the many Russian supposed “wonderworking” icons.  Its very late date of “appearance” accounts for why it is generally found today mostly in printed reproductions (as in the example shown  above) rather than as old painted icons dating to the late 19th-early 20th century, such as this one:

This icon type always reminds me how little has changed in religion since ancient times.  Essentially the Sporitel’nitsa Khlebov shows Mary filling the role of a “Nature Goddess” who has power over the growth and harvest of grain, which was the role of the Goddess Demeter, also known as Ceres — the goddess of the harvest and of grain in the classical Greco-Roman world.


In an earlier posting, I talked about the very popular Marian icon type called in Church Slavic Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost, — the “Joy of All Who Suffer.”  You may also find it titled Всех скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost, which is the same name in Russian.  The Skorbyashchim/Skorbyashchikh part means both “those who are afflicted” and “those who sorrow,” which is why some translate the title as “Joy of/to Those Who Sorrow.”

Today we will look at an interesting and common subtype of that icon.  It is called Всех скорбящих Радость (с грошиками) — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost S Groshikami, meaning “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins.'”  The example below —  which appears to have been painted in oils — bears the title: ОБРАЗ СКОРБЯЩИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ OBRAZ SKORBYASHCHIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI “[THE] IMAGE OF [THE] ‘OF THE SUFFERING’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD” Looking at it, we can see why it is commonly called “With Coins”;  it has coins on its surface.  In most icons the coins are painted, but the maker of this example used real copper coins inserted into the panel:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a half-kopek coin from 1898: And here is another from 1909.   The С.П.Б. at the bottom indicates the coin is from the Saint Petersburg mint: Icons of this sub-type often have a brief inscription at the base stating the origin, as we see in the following example produced near the end of the Tsarist era — one of the new mass-produced, chromolithographed icons on tin, such as were offered by the firm of Jacquot and Bonacœur (in Russian Жако и Бонакер), which also produced other kinds of tin goods such as colorful boxes.  These “printed tin” icons competed with the business of icon painters and further contributed to their decline:

 The problem with these colorful old icons on metal is that when scratched or exposed to moisture, they tend to rust very easily, though they were quite attractive to the ordinary Russian buyer when new.

Here is its title inscription, in beautiful traditional lettering, but in Russian rather than Church Slavic:

vsekhsklithtitle And here is the “origin” inscription:

It says:

The true likeness of the wonderworking image of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Suffer”; it turned up after a thunderstorm that broke out the 23 of July in the year  1888 over the chapel located at St. Petersburg, in the area adjacent to the glass factory.

The traditional story relates that there were several icons in the chapel.  It was struck by lightning, and everything inside was charred, with the exception of one icon that was found where it had fallen face down on the floor.  When it was turned over, the dark surface of the image had become fresh and clear, and sticking to the surface were eleven coins from the poor box that had been shattered by the lightning strike. Now, given the religious mind of ordinary Russians at that time, this event that sounds rather ordinary to us today was seen then as remarkably miraculous.  Within a day of the event, crowds of pilgrims gathered at the chapel, and the fame of the image spread far and wide, drawing even greater masses of people.  And then followed the inevitable “miraculous” healings that are associated with such images in Eastern Orthodoxy.

As we have seen, this image is a variation on the popular “Joy of All Who Suffer” type, and it is said that the image that was eventually transformed by lightning into the “With Coins’ variant was originally found floating in the Neva River by a member of the Kurakin family; later a relative, a merchant named Matveev, donated the icon to the chapel in the village of Klochka, not far from the glassworks, by St. Petersburg. You probably noticed the two inscribed banners at Mary’s sides, which are common to this sub-type.  Loosely translated, they are:



These inscriptions illustrate what is happening in the icon:  at left an angel holds out clothing to the naked, and at right another angel stands behind the ill who have come to Mary for healing.

It is important to know the date of appearance of the so-called “wonderworking” Marian icons, because we know that an icon cannot be earlier than the time of its appearance.  So if you happen to be offered an icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins'” as an 18th-century icon, you will know that dating is impossible, given that the image did not exist prior to 1888.  The same rule of thumb applies to saints, whose icons are not likely to be found before the date of “glorification” (the Russian equivalent of canonization) of the saint depicted. The “With Coins” sub-type of the “Joy of All Who Suffer” is also often referred to as Всех скорбящих Радость близ Стеклянного завода — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost” Bliz Steklyannogo Zavoda —  “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘Near The Glass Factory.'”


I mentioned in an earlier posting (“Protection Images East and West”) that the earliest written prayer to Mary was found in Egypt — Rylands Papyrus #470. It is generally known by its first words in Latin translation, Sub Tuum Praesidium — “Under Your Protection.” Though it is fragmentary, the missing parts may be supplied to read:

Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν………..”Under your compassion
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε………………We flee for refuge, God-birther
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας……………………….Our petitions
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει…………….Do not disregard in affliction
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς….But rescue us from danger
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη………Only Pure, only Blessed.”

We can paraphrase it as:

We flee under your compassion for refuge, Birthgiver of God; do not despise our prayers when troubles surround us, but deliver us from danger, only pure one, only blessed one.

In this prayer, Mary is not approached as an intercessor or intermediary, but rather directly for her powers of deliverance.

I wrote in that earlier posting that It is not surprising we find this earliest-known prayer to Mary in Egypt. Egypt was the land of the goddess Isis — the mother of the god Horus, and one of her titles was Mut Netjer,” “Mother of [the] God,” which we may liken to Theotokos — “Birthgiver of God” in Greek.  The worship of Isis spread in the Roman Empire, with processions, temples, paintings, and images such as this one, from the 2nd century c.e.:

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

As I have said before, as Christianity spread in the Greco-Roman world (which included Egypt at that time) under Roman imperial patronage, the worship of the old gods was first discouraged, then persecuted; and as that happened, the places and functions of the old gods were gradually taken over by Christian saints, the most prominent of which was Mary, who took on the role of the new Mother Goddess.

While the veneration of Isis was fading in the Empire, the veneration of Mary was growing.  As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The use of Theotokos as a title of Mary was officially authorized at the Council of Ephesus in 431 c.e., after a controversy over whether Mary should be called “Birthgiver of Christ” or “Birthgiver of God.” The latter won out.

At the far southern edge of Egypt lay the Temple of Isis at Philae.  In spite of the 392 edict of Emperor Theodosius closing all temples in Egypt, the Isis temple and the other temples at Philae remained open until they were finally officially closed only in the reign of the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian, in 535 – 537 c.e.  That is considered the symbolic end of the old Egyptian religion.

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

But in life, such boundaries are rarely so distinct.

Images of Isis as Mother of Horus frequently depicted her nursing her divine child, as in this Egyptian example:

(Walters Art Museum)

(Walters Art Museum)

It is not a great step from that three-dimensional image to this wall painting of Mary nursing the child Jesus, found in the Coptic Monastery of Apa Jeremiah (Deir Apa Jeremiah) at Saqqara, Egypt, generally dated 6th – 7th century c.e.:

And from that, it is but another short step to icons of the type known in Greek as the Galaktotrouphousa and in Russia as Mlekopitatelnitsa.  Here is a Russian example.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The smaller images of St. Nicholas and John the Forerunner at lower left and right are not a part of the type.

Let’s look at the title inscription:


It reads:  МЛЕКОПИТА          ТЕЛНИЦА ПРе[святая] Б[огоро]д[и]ца

Joining the two sides, we get in transliteration:

As is typical in traditional Russian iconography, conscious effort is made to remove the image from reality.  That is why Mary’s breast is so oddly depicted and placed near her shoulder — an attempt to avoid any trace of sensuality:


The Russian Mlekopitatelnitsa type is said by tradition to be based on the Galaktotrophousa (“Milk-nursing”) icon once kept at the Monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, not far from Jerusalem. The hagiographic tradition relates that St. Sabbas, near death, said prophetically that the icon would be given into the hands of a relative of the Serbian Royal Family who would also bear the name “Sava.” (Sabbas).  St. Sabbas died in 532, during the reign of Justinian.  In the 13th century, the first Archbishop of Serbia, named Sava (Sabbas) (1174-1236), visited the monastery, and was given the icon (together, supposedly, with the “Three-handed” icon of Mary).  On his way back, the Archbishop came to Mount Athos, where he eventually had the Khilandar Monastery restored as a Serbian monastery, and gave to it the “Milk-nursing” icon from Palestine.


I have previously discussed icons based on the Akathist Hymn to Mary, and today’s example — the Ρόδον τό αμάραντον — Rodon to Amaranton or “Unfading Rose” is another of those, with symbols taken primarily from the related Canon of the Akathist by Joseph the Hymnographer.

When reading these lengthy and oft-repeated liturgical praises of Mary, one cannot help thinking that even a saint would become tired of being extolled over and over again in the same extravagant words. I doubt that genuine saints are interested in hearing themselves praised in any case, being by nature humble and beyond all that.

The “Unfading Rose” type varies in detail from example to example.  The basic image is much as found in the central panel of this Greek triptych:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

In this icon Mary holds a blooming rose stalk.  Her son Jesus stands upright on an altar table, a symbol taken from the Canon of the Akathist, as are the other excerpts given first in Greek, then in English in this posting:

χαίρε έμψυχε τράπεζα, άρτον ζωής χωρήσασα,
Hail, living Table that held the bread of life

Both are regally dressed and crowned, and the child Jesus holds the scepter and orb of a king.  At right is a vase of blooming flowers, a frequent element in the type.  The saint in the left panel is John the Forerunner (shown with wings) and at right the popular saint Kharalampios.  These two are of course not part of the central image type.

Examples of the “Unfading Rose” frequently show two angels (Michael and Gabriel by tradition) at upper left and right, and this line is generally used as the top inscription:

Ρόδον τό αμάραντον, χαίρε η μόνη βλαστήσασα, τό μήλον τό εύοσμον,
Hail, from whom alone sprouted the unfading rose, the sweet‑smelling apple

Here is an old example of a more elaborate version, in which Mary and the child Jesus are placed upon a huge blooming rose.  In some examples the stalk of the huge rose rises out of the body of the Old Testament figure Jesse,  relating to also to icons of the “Jesse Tree” type:


(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

Here Mary holds a rosebud in her right hand, and in her left hand, that grasps the child Jesus, she also holds an ear of grain, an element taken from this line:

Στάχυν η βλαστήσασα τόν θείον, ως χώρα ανήροτος σαφώς,
From you, like untilled land, grew the divine ear of grain

The “divine ear of grain” is Jesus.

In some examples the ear of grain is misinterpreted by painters as a feather.

Above Mary’s left shoulder (barely visible in this example) is a star, and it is balanced by the sun (with a face, as is common in icons) above the left shoulder of the child.  Some examples misinterpret these as sun and moon, but they are taken from this line:

Χαίρε άστρον άδυτον, εισάγον κόσμω, τόν μέγαν Ήλιον
Hail, unsetting star that brings into the world the great Sun

The “great Sun” is Jesus, called the “Sun of Righteousness.”

At left is the usual vase of blooming flowers, and at right a kind of incense vessel:

χαίρε σκεύος, μύρον τό ακένωτον, επί σέ κενωθέν εισδεξάμενον.
Hail, vessel, the inexhaustible Myrrh, emptied out upon you

This icon uses stamped and incised decoration to ornament the image — something we find also in Russian icons of the 19th century — seen in this closer look:


(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

(Courtesy of Michael Elias)

Here is another Greek triptych with the “Unfading Rose” as the central image:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikons: http://www.russianicons.net)

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikons: http://www.russianicons.net)

Let’s take a look at the side panels.  Here is that at left:

At the top are two bishop saints, as we know from their garments and the Gospels they hold.  The name inscription on the left fellow is not clear; we might guess that he is Spyridon.  That on the right is legible as Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΘΑΗΑΣΙΟΣ — HO HAGIOS ATHANASIOS — “THE HOLY ATHANASIOS”

Below him, the inscription and form clearly identify Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ — HO HAGIOS GEORGIOS — “THE HOLY GEORGIOS [George]”

On the right panel, we see two more bishop saints:


It is worth knowing that the “Unfading Rose” type, when adopted from Greek into pre-modern Russian iconography, is found under two titles.  The first is Неувядаемый Цвет — Neuvyadaemuiy Tsvet — the “Unfading Flower.”  In this form Mary often holds a richly-blooming stalk of flowers, or blooming flowered scepter.  The child Jesus sometimes stands beside her as in the Greek type, but in other examples he is held sitting on her left or right arm.

The second Russian variant is titled Благоуханный Цвет — Blagoukhannuiy Tsvet — the “Sweet-smelling Flower.”  In this variant Mary often holds a blooming stalk of flowers, but the child Jesus is generally seated on her arm rather than standing.  There is of course some confusion between these two titles and their depictions.  Even the old Greek title is sometimes used in translation in modern Russian iconography for close copies of the Greek type, as Неувядаемая Роза — Neuvyadaemaya Roza — the “Unfading Rose.”

In some examples of the Greek type one finds additional symbols from the Akathist or Canon of the Akathist, such as the ladder, the mountain, the staff, etc. etc.



This is the Marian icon known as the Arakiotissa.  It is a fresco painted in the 1100s  in the Church of the Panagia tou Arakos at Lagoudera, on the island of Cyprus.   Whenever you see that –issa ending on the title of a Marian icon, you know the title is Greek.

We need not deal with the long inscription at the lower sides of the image, but I do want to point out the first words at the upper left side that identify the image:

“The Arakiotissa.”

You can see that the  final -a is written much smaller and placed above the last C (“s”)  in the inscription:

The Arakiotissa is a “Passion” Marian icon, meaning that the image is associated with the suffering and death by crucifixion of Jesus.  We see that in the objects carried by the two angels, generally identified as Michael at left and Gabriel at right.

Here is Michael.  He bears the spear and sponge on a reed from the Crucifixion:

And here is Gabriel, who bears the cross of the Crucifixion:

In the Italo-Cretan period, when icon painters on the island of Crete provided images both for Eastern Orthodox and Italian Roman Catholic buyers, a related Marian “Passion” image became popular, still with the two angels, but with the figures of Mary and the child Jesus in different positions than in the Arakiotissa.  Here is an example of that type by the famous Cretan iconographer Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492):

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

Note that the angels are not depicted below their torsos, as though coming out of nowhere.

The identifying elements of this type are the two angels with the implements of the Passion, the child Jesus turning his head sharply over his left shoulder to look at the Archangel Gabriel, and the sandal that has come loose from his right foot and hangs slightly below it:

Many writers like to say that the sandal has become loose because of the child’s abrupt jerk of fear on seeing the cross, but it is likely just a pleasant painter’s conceit.

Some painters also included the crown of thorns with the cross.

One image of this type became famous in Rome after it was brought there at the end of the 1400s.  Tradition says it was taken from Crete by an Italian merchant who stole it on the island, but then gave it to the San Matteo church in Rome.  It became known as the “Madonna di San Matteo.”  It disappeared from view when the French invaded Rome in 1812, and was gone for over forty years, but then was found in an Augustinian oratory in the 1860s.  The rediscovered image  caught the attention of Pope Pius IX, who had known it in in San Matteo as a boy.  He accorded it great importance, which led to its eventually becoming a well-known Catholic printed paper reproduction found on the walls of many Catholic homes.  It was by then known as Nostra Signora del Perpetuo Soccorso in Italian, or in English “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”  It is more commonly known in the United States as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The image has undergone restoration twice, first in 1866 and again in 1940, which perhaps accounts for its rather bland present appearance.

In Greek Orthodoxy, the type is generally called either Παναγία του Πάθους — Panagia tou Pathous, meaning “All-Holy One of the Passion,” or Παναγία η Αμόλυντος — Panagia he Amolyntos — “All-Holy Pure One.”  Occasionally Greek icons are found showing Mary and Jesus in the usual positions, but without the angels and Passion implements.

It is not surprising that so popular an image also entered Russian Iconography.  There the Russian version of the type is called the Strastnaya, meaning the “Passion” Mother of God.  Its origin story relates that in the 17th century a women of the village of Palitsa named Ekaterina developed mental problems after her marriage.  She was in this condition for some seven years, and became suicidal.    She prayed to Mary, promising that if healed, she would enter a convent.  She was healed, but then forgot about her vow.

Her illness returned.  She took to her bed and again prayed to Mary.  The door opened, and in came Mary, dressed in a robe ornamented with golden crosses.  She asked Ekaterina why she had not fulfilled her vow, and told her to change her ways.  But again Ekaterina did not do as she was told.  Mary appeared to her two more times, and on the third appearance (that magic number found so often in such stories) Mary punished her by twisting her head and contorting her face and drooping her body  Then Mary told her to go to Nizhniy-Novgorod, to an icon painter named Grigory, who had painted an icon of Mary.  She was to tell Grigory of Mary’s appearances to her, and she was to provide seven silver coins to decorate the icon.  Ekaterina did all this and was healed, and Mary promised that others who venerated the image would also be healed.

Grigory’s icon is then said to have worked other miracles, and in 1641 Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich had it brought to Moscow.

By the 19th century, the Strastnaya type had become widespread in Russian iconography.  Though some Strastnaya examples include the detail of the loose sandal, more often the child Jesus is depicted without sandals, as in this image:

So the “Passion” type, by whatever name, is presently well-known in Both Eastern Orthodox iconography and in Roman Catholicism.


First, a little vocabulary.  The  Menaion , (ή Μηναίον) — from the Greek word for “month” — is a twelve-volume set of Eastern Orthodox liturgical books that includes lives of the saints for each month of the year. By extension, the term Menaia (plural form) is applied to calendar icons depicting the saints for each month.  These are traditionally found in sets of twelve separate icons.  We can just call them “Month” icons.  Such icons are rather common, though finding a complete set of them is not.

Even more uncommon is finding a “Year” icon — in Russian Mineya Godovaya (Минея годовая).  Such a “Year” icon contains hundreds of separate figures, and is thus likely the most detailed and complex icon type.

Here is a “Year” icon.  At the center is the” Resurrection” — the most important festival of the Eastern Orthodox year.  Surrounding it are twelve “month” segments, depicting the major saints and most important festivals for each of the twelve months.  We have seen the “Resurrection” before as the central image in icons of the major Church festivals.  And we have seen “month” icons, each depicting a separate month.  But here, not only are the twelve month icons all joined together on one image, but surrounding them in the outer border are the so-called “miracle-working” icons of Mary that are celebrated in each month of  the Church year.

These Marian icons, though not depicting absolutely every icon so venerated in Russian Orthodoxy, nonetheless represent the standard old list of “official” types.  On “Year” icons they are shown in simplified form, without the detail one often finds in individual Marian icons.  Even in this small photo, one can recognize the “Unburnt Thornbush” type as the eighth from the left in the top row, and beside it, easily identified by its red face, is the Ognevidnaya type — the “Fiery-faced” icon of Mary.

(Courtesy of the Icon Museum, Kampen:  ikonenmuseumkampen.nl

(Courtesy of the Icon Museum, Kampen: ikonenmuseumkampen.nl

It makes sense that “Year” icons, because of the amount of work necessary to paint them and their consequent rarity on today’s market, are generally quite expensive, and one is most likely to find them in museum collections, such as that of the Icon Museum at Kampen in the Netherlands, where this representative example is housed.