ANIMALS IN ICONS — AN 18TH CENTURY DIFFERENCE OF OPINION

When we find saints in icons who are somewhat generic in appearance and not easily identifiable, the reason is often that they are the “name” saints of members of the family that ordered the icon. Those saints are frequently among the less known and less popular figures in the Russian Orthodox calendar.  Sometimes, however, there are generic-appearing saints who are on an icon not because they are “name” saints of members of the family, but because they are among the “special needs” saints — those saints who took the place of the old pre-Christian gods by specializing in certain services to Orthodox believers — for example, sending rain or dealing with a toothache.

Today’s icon features two of those generic-appearing but “special needs” saints.

(Courtesy of The Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton MA)

As painted here, the two could be twin brothers.  Not only are their faces, hair and beards remarkably similar, they are even dressed identically in the same garments of the same colors, and both hold identical Gospel books.

We can see from their garments — particularly the long stole called an omofor/omomphorion each wears about the neck, as well as from the book each has in hand, that they are bishops of some kind.  But what are two bishops doing at opposite sides of an icon with lots of animals and a well between them?

It is, of course, easy to identify the figure of Jesus in the clouds above — something that is a very common addition to icons of saints.  But let’s look more closely at the saints themselves to see if we can identify them.

Certainly we cannot do so by appearance alone in this case.  There are lots of bishops with long beards in Russian iconography.  That means we shall have to read the title inscriptions that identify each.

First, the fellow on the left:


His Church Slavic title reads:
СВЯТЫЙ ВЛАСИЙ ЕПИСКОПЪ СЕВАСТИЙский
SVYATUIY VLASIY EPISCOP SEVASTIYSKIY
“HOLY VLASIY BISHOP [of] SEBASTE”

Note how the writer ran out of space, so wrote the last part of the last word in smaller letters below the end of the first part.

Now the fellow on the right:

His title reads:

СВЯТЫЙ МЕДОСТЪ ПАТРИАРХЪ …
SVYATUIY MEDOST PATRIARKH …
“HOLY MEDOST PATRIARCH …

And then in small letters written below due to lack of space is the rest of his title:
иерусалимский
IERUSALIMSKIY
“…OF JERUSALEM.”

So all together, he is:

СВЯТЫЙ МЕДОСТЪ ПАТРИАРХЪ ИЕРУСАЛИМСКИЙ
SVYATUIY MEDOST PATRIARKH IERUSALIMSKIY
“HOLY MEDOST PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM.”

Now that we have identified both saints, let’s look at the scene between them:

Below some stylized hills among which are a few trees, we see a group of goats, and below them some cattle, and below them is a well.  But what are those two creatures below the well and beside the stream?

First, we see a horned serpent/dragon:

Notice that Vlasiy is stepping on the dragon’s tail.

Just to the right of the dragon is a dog, but we can tell from his fiery-looking tongue that he is not an ordinary dog:

What does all this mean?  Well, it goes back to traditions associated with each saint.

In the old Slavic world, Veles/Volos was the god of cattle.  Because the name was so similar to that of the old 4th century bishop of Sebaste Vlasiy/Blasios/Blaise — who was said to have been kind to animals — Vlasiy took over the duties of Veles/Volos as the people became Christianized.  So in Russia, Vlasiy became a saint one invoked for protection of livestock.

Have you recalled yet that we have seen these two saints before, in the discussion of a previous icon?

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/medost-of-jerusalem/

If so, you may recall the reason for the dragon and the dog.  Here it is again:

A demonic serpent is said to have killed animals in Jerusalem by poisoning the water with his venom. Medost/Modest got rid of him.  It is also said that Modest once adjured the devil, who had appeared in the shape of a dog.

You may also remember that Medost is associated with the healing of oxen:

It is said that a poor widowed woman was very distressed because her five pairs of oxen were seriously ill. Distraught, she prayed in tears to the “unmercenary” saints Comas And Damian to heal her oxen. However, Cosmas appeared to her in a dream telling her essentially that the healing of oxen was not in his job description:

“O woman, we are not empowered by God to give healing to cattle. This grace is given to Modest, the great hierarch of Jerusalem. He — if you approach him — will heal your oxen.”

Now not being able to find him directly, she began to pray earnestly to Medost/Modest. He then appeared to her in a dream, saying:

“O woman, why are you so weeping? I am Modest, whom you seek, and hearing your prayer I appeared to make healthy your oxen.”

Sometimes Vlasiy or Medost/Modest/Modestus appear alone in icons, sometimes — as here — together, and at other times they are combined with other saints associated with animals, such as Flor and Lavr the patrons of horses, or even with other saints such as Nikolai/Nicholas.

Now oddly enough, the “Holy Governing Synod” that in 1721 took over the duties previously held by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia prohibited the depiction of cattle and horses and other animals and such creatures in icons in 1722.  They held that because one prayed before icons,  such non-human creatures had no place in them.  But as we have seen, such declarations could be ignored.  They would not have made any difference to the painter of this icon in any case, and if we look again at the image of Modest, we can see why:

Look at the position of the fingers in his blessing hand.  They are in the form used by the Old Believers, who did not accept the declarations of the State Church in Russia, but kept up the old ways.  They often used the position of the fingers on the blessing hand in their icons to verify that their icons were of the “pure” Old Belief, and not icons of the State Church, which they believed had fallen into heresy.  If you remember that important point, you will be able to distinguish many Old Believer icons from those of State Church painters.

As I have said before, polytheism never really ended in old Russia.  The people just transferred the duties of the old gods to the Christian deity and the saints we find in icons.

 

 

UNFOLDING A “FLATIRON” ICON

In an earlier posting, I briefly mentioned the cast metal four-part folding icons commonly called “irons,” because their shape when closed is similar to that of an old metal flatiron — the kind one had to heat on a stove to use.  You will find that earlier posting here:
https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2017/11/06/cleansed-by-fire-cast-metal-icons/

Today we shall look a bit more closely at this very popular form of Old Believer metal icon, which may be found both with (as here) and without added colored enamel.

Here is an example:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

It includes icon types of major Church festivals, as well as the commemoration of four “wonderworking” icons of Mary.

If we look more closely, we can identify the scenes in each of the four panels:

The top image is the Crucifixion (Raspyatie), with a tiny image of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus just above the cross.

The upper left image is the Annunciation (Blagovyeshchenie) to Mary.
The upper right image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of Jesus.
The lower left image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of the Mother of God (Mary).
The lower right image is the Entry (Vvedenie) of the Mother of God into the Temple.

At top is the New Testament Trinity, with the inscription, “He Ascended into Heaven and Sits at the Right Hand of the Father.”

Left:  The Meeting (Sretenie) of Jesus in the Temple.
Right:  The Theophany (Bogoyavlenie), that is the Baptism of Jesus
Lower Left:  The Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of Jesus.
Lower Right:  The Entry (Vkhod) of Jesus into Jerusalem.


Top:  The Elevation (Vozdvizhenie) of the Cross.
Left:  The Descent (Sozhestvie) to Hades (Resurrection (Voskresenie) of Jesus).
Right:  The Ascension (Voznesenie) of Jesus.
Lower Left:  The Old Testament Trinity (Troitsa); in some examples this is replaced by the Descent (Sozhestvie) of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
Lower Right:  The Dormition (Uspenie) of Mary.

Top:  The Praise (Pokhvala) of the Mother of God.
Below that come four scenes of Poklonenie (Veneration) of Wonderworking icons of Mary:
Left:  The “Tikhvin” icon with saints Maksim and Vasiliy (Maxim and Basil) Fools for Christ’s Sake, etc.
Right:  The “Vladimir” icon with saints Aleksandr Svirskiy and Kirill Byelozerskiy, etc.
Lower left:  The “Smolensk” icon with saints Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy, etc.
Lower right:  The “Sign” icon with saints Antoniy Rimlyanin and Leontiy Rostovskiy, etc.

On the reverse side of such icons, one often finds a “Golgotha Cross,” which is discussed — as are the icons of major Church festivals and the individual Marian icons — in previous postings that may be found in the archives here through the “search” function on this site.

In Russian terminology, a “folding” icon — whether a diptych (two-panel), triptych (three-panel), quadriptych (four-panel) or simply several-panel (polyptych) form — is called a складень/skladen’.

 

WHEN PRESENTED WITH A CHALLENGE…

If you have been reading this site from the beginning — and learning from it — it is very likely that you are now your town or city’s expert on icons — and perhaps even the expert in a wider region.  You should be able to deal with the greater percentage of the icons you encounter — able to read the title inscriptions on saints and recognize a great many icon types — even many of those less common.

But what are you going to do if you encounter an icon like this carved wooden example?

Well, you may recall that the thing to do when you encounter an unfamiliar icon is not to worry, but rather to look carefully at it to see if there is anything you might recognize from what you have learned.

Applying that to this image, you will quickly find it is not as unfamiliar as it appears at first glance.  For example, you should already be able to identify this portion and its inscriptions from our previous discussion of cross descriptions:

The letters may look a bit odd because they are carved instead of written, and rather stylized, but nonetheless a little thought will enable you to recognize them, from top to bottom, as abbreviating:

ЦАРЬ СЛАВЫ
TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”

ΙC XC
ISUS KHRISTOS [Old Believer form]
“JESUS CHRIST”

What looks like KM is actually
КТ
K, for Kopie — “spear,” and T for T for Trost’— “reed.”  The former identifies the lance at left, and the latter the long reed at right, bearing a sponge at its top.  Note that in old icon inscriptions “T” often looks rather like an “M,” so that is a very helpful tip.

Then comes

СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ
SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”

After that we find:

НИКА
NIKA
“[He] Conquers.”

Then come the letters

МЛ  РБ

They abbreviate

МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ РАЙ БЫСТЬ
MESTO LOBNOE RAI BUIST’
“The Place of the Skull has become Paradise.”

And finally at the base, beside the skull, we find at left:
Г  А
ГОЛОВА АДАМА
GOLOVA ADAMA
“[The] SKULL [literally “head”] [of] ADAM”

And at right:
Г  Г
ГОРА ГОЛГОФА
GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”

So already — just from what you have learned in previous postings, you will have made great progress in interpreting this icon.

Now let’s turn our attention to the long carved inscription at the top:


If you look at it carefully, it will gradually seem familiar.  Do not be deceived by the beginning two letters at upper left:

Here is another helpful tip.  We already saw that in old inscriptions, T often looks like “M.”  Similarly, Д (D) often looks like “A.”  So do not mistake the first letter for an A — it is actually Д (D) — and the second letter is the “A.”  So together these two letters form the word ДA (Da)

Now you may recall that ДA is not just the Russian word for “Yes.”  In Church Slavic, it is used to introduce a “let” sentence, like “Let him be called John.”  And if you think a moment, you may recall that there is a “Da” inscription that is often found on metal crosses and on painted icons of crosses.  Here it is the Old Believer form:

Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его, яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут, яко тает воск от лица огня,тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменающихся крестным знамением, и да возвеселимся рекуще: радуися, Кресте Господень, прогоняя бесы силою на Тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Исуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго, и поправшаго силу диаволю, и давшаго нам Крест Свой Честныи на прогнание всякаго супостата. О Пречестныи и Животворящии Кресте Господень, помогай ми, с Пресвятою Госпожею Богородицею и со всеми святыми небесными силами, всегда и ныне и присно и во веки веком, аминь.

 “Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomu Krestu — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”

If we compare that with the carved text, we can see that aside from insignificant variations, it is precisely the same text.  So now we have translated that text on the icon as well.

Next come these abbreviations.


We can see they are:

КХВВ
ККЦ
КВУ (remember the o with a v atop it is “ou” the “oo” sound,  У in modern Russian.)
КЦД (Yes, the Д here looks like “A,” but remember the tip given above.)
КАС
КБЯ (The inscription uses the old Church Slavic form of Я, which looks like an “A” with a vertical line below the crossbar.)

Now what on earth can we make of that?  Well, it is not as difficult as it looks, because you should already be familiar with the words abbreviated here.  They are found on the back of a great many of those large, cast brass Russian crosses, though you have probably not seen them in this abbreviated form.

They are the standard text of the Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins, found also in the “Prayer of the Praise of the Cross” (Похвала кресту — Pokhvala krestu) — so the abbreviations and their meaning are:

КХВВ = Крест Хранитель Всей Вселенной
Krest khranitel’ vsey vselennoy
“The Cross is the protector of the whole universe”

ККЦ = Крест Красота Церковная
Krest krasota tserkovnaya
“The Cross is the beauty of the Church.”

КЦД  = Крест Царем Держава
Krest tsarem derzhava

“The Cross is the might of kings.”

КВУ = Крест Верным Утверждение
Krest vernuim utverzhdenie

“The Cross is the confirmation of the faithful.”

КАС = Крест Ангелом Слава
Krest angelom slava
“The Cross is the glory of angels.”

КБЯ =Крест Бесом Язва
Krest besom yazva

“The Cross is the scourge of demons.”

So we find that those abbreviations, which looked quite mystifying at first, were really something you already knew.

Now we come to the most difficult part — those rows of letters at the outer sides:

The dark ones at the top, which we will read from the left to right sides, are:
КТПВ   ИВТС

Twice we see (in the carved version) the letter T written somewhat like M, but remember the tip above — we know they are both T.  And here is the meaning:

КТПВ   ИВТС

КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛОНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО
И СВЯТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ

KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM

Meaning,

“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”

So even though the abbreviation omits the usual word svyatoe (“holy”), we can see this abbreviation is just the very common inscription usually found below the crossbeam in icons of the Crucifixion and on brass crosses  — again something you already know.

So we have passed that hurdle successfully.  Now comes the really cryptic part — the side inscriptions in red.  These will likely be new to you:

ББББ   ВВВВ
ВВВВ ДДДД
ДДДД НННН
ОООО КККК
ППППТ ППППЕ

“Cryptic” of course means “hidden” or “secret,” and these really are mysterious, because there are often several ways of interpreting them, some quite peculiar.  I suspect that even the believers who used these icons often did not know what they meant, and just regarded them as a kind of magic charm.  Nonetheless, we will do what we can, giving some of the most commonly-found interpretations:

ББББ
Бич Божий Бьёт Бесов
Bich Bozhiy b’yot Besov
“The scourge of God beats demons.”
Божия Благодать Биет Бесы
Bozhiya blagodat’ biet besui (from Maxim the Greek)
“God’s grace beats demons.”

ВВВВ
Всей Вселенной Возвещает Веру
Vsey vselennoy vozveschchaet veru
“The whole universe announces the Faith.”
Возвращение В рай Всем Верным
“The return to Paradise of all the faithful.” (from Maxim the Greek)
Возвращение Вечное Верным В рай
Vozvrashchenie vechnoe vernuim v rai
“The eternal return of the faithful to Paradise.”
Велие Веселие Верующим В тя
“The great joy of believers in you.”

ВВВВ
Всем Верным Возвращение В рай
Vsem vernuim vozvrashchenie v rai
“The return of all believers to Paradise.”

ДДДД
Древо Добро Досада Дьяволу
Drevo dobro dosada d’yavolu
“The Good Tree [i.e. the cross] is the sorrow of the Devil.”
древо добро диаволу досада
Drevo dobro diavolu dosada
“The good tree is the Devil’s sorrow.”

ДДДД
Древо Дарует Древнeе Достояние
Drevo daruet drevnee dostoyanie
“The tree [i.e. the cross] bestows the ancient inheritance.”

НННН
Нощь Неведения Не светла Неверным
Noshch’ nevedeniya ne svetla nevernuim
“The night of ignorance is not bright to unbelievers.”
Нощь Невидения Неверующих Низлагает
“The night of ignorance does not disprove unbelievers” [does not show them the error of their ways.”

ОООО
Обрете Обретен От Бога От Елены
Obrete obreten ot Boga ot Elenui
“A finding [i.e. discovery] found from God by Helen” [referring to her supposed discovery of the cross].
Обретены Обретатель Обретен От бога
Obretenui obretatel’ obreten ot Boga
“The finding [discovery] of the finder is a find from God.”
оружие одоления ограждает обручники
“The weapon of victory protects the betrothed.”
обретены обретатель, обретен царицею Еленою от Бога
Obretenui obretatel’ obreten tsariteiu Elenoiu ot Boga
“The find of the finder is the finding [discovery] of Empress Helen, from God.”

КККК
Крест Крепость Константина К вере
The cross is the bastion of Constantine for the faith.”
Крест Христов Крепость царем Крепкая К вере (Максим Грек)
“The cross of Christ is the bastion to the emperor strong in faith.” (Maxim the Greek)

ППППТ
Пою Почитаю Поклоняюся Подножию Твоему [Владыко… ]
Poiu pochitaiu poklonyaiusya podnozhiu tvoemu [Vladiko…]
“I sing honoring, bowing at your feet, [Master…]”

ППППЕ
Паки Подает По роду Поклоняющимся Ему.
Paki podaet po rodu poklonyaiushchimsya emy
“Still he offers to those bowing before him.”

Now as you might guess, given the variations — some quite odd — in interpretation of these last cryptograms, one cannot take their meaning in too limited or definite a fashion, because another “believer” may offer yet another and different interpretation familiar in his circle.  But at least these give an idea of some of the meanings that have been attached to these abbreviations.  As with similarly odd Greek abbreviations, it is likely that some of what we see has been corrupted over time or misunderstood.

This icon is a variant of the Голгофский крест/Golgofskiy krest/”Golgotha Cross,” and is usually referred to as the “Golgotha Cross in a Church,” or some slight variant of that.  It is called “in a Church” because as you see, the cross and its abbreviations are set within the design of a many-domed Russian church.

 

TWO TRICKY ICON TYPES

There are two icon types that appear visually similar but should not be confused, because they are really quite different in what they represent.

Here is the first, in a 17th century example from the Stroganov School, by Nikifor Istomin Savin.  It bears a title inscription reading:

Святы Ангел хранит спящего человека душу и тело
Svyatuiy Angel Gospoden Khranit Spyashchego Cheloveka Dushu i Telo

sleeprighteousinscrip

“The Holy Angel of the Lord Protects the Sleeping Man, Soul and Body.”

(State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg)

It depicts a generic righteous man asleep on his bed.  The Guardian Angel (at left), watches over him, with sword in one hand and cross in the other.  A demon, seeing this protector, flees away at right.  Above the sleeping man is an icon of the Deisis.

Here is another and later example of the same type, though the inscription is slightly different:

“The Holy Guardian Angel Protects the Sleeping Man.”:

It has additions — the image of the same man while awake, praying before the Deisis icon.  The Guardian Angel too is seen a second time (at far right), recording this good deed of the man on his scroll, along with all the rest of his actions.

Both versions are sometimes called simply “The Sleep of the Righteous.”

But be careful.  Here — as mentioned — is a visually similar type, but it is not at all the same in meaning as the two shown above, and should never be confused with them.  It is an Old Believer image of a type popular in the Guslitsa (Гуслица) region — a center of the Old Belief — in the 19th century.

It is easy to see why some misidentify this icon as the first type.  There is a man on a bed, an angel standing by him, and an icon on the wall behind them.  But this type is actually an icon of  Ioann Ogorodnik/Иоанн Огородник  — “John the Gardener.”

The tale comes from the Prolog, November 8th.  It is said that there was once a gardener named John, who was very concerned about the poor.  Consequently, he kept only a small part of his income, and gave the rest away in charity.  But after this had been going on for some time, John began to worry what would become of him when he got old, and if he were to become ill.  So instead of giving away a good part of his money to the poor, he instead began to collect the silver coins for himself, to use in age and illness.

Soon — just as he feared, it seemed — he was stricken with an ailment.  The flesh on his leg began to turn putrid and was covered with sores.  He went to many doctors, and spent a huge amount of money, but none could cure him.  Finally a doctor who was supposed to be the most skilled of all of them told him that there was nothing to be done but to cut the leg off.  John had to agree, and the doctor was to come the next day and perform the operation.

That night, John was in tears.  He prayed to Jesus:
Господи, помяни мои первые дела, когда я был щедр на милостыню, и исцели меня!»

“Lord, remember my first actions, when I was generous in charity, and heal me!

Hardly had he said this when an angel of God appeared before him, saying “Now, where is all the silver you had accumulated?”

John confessed he had sinned, and said that if the Lord would heal him, he would do so no more.

The angel then touched John’s leg (as shown in the icon above) and he was healed.

The next day when the doctor came to cut off the leg, he found John was not home.  He asked where John was, and the reply came that John had left early, to work in his garden.  The doctor set off for the garden, and when he arrived, there was John working away.  Seeing this, the doctor exclaimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.”

Here is a four-part icon with “The Suffering of John the Gardener” type at lower left:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The inscription at the base tells not only the title, but also what is happening, beginning with the angel asking John, “Now where is your silver?”

 

 

EASILY AMUSED

A reader asked me about this rather unusual image, which we might call the “Rejoicing Demons” type for convenience:

It is an Old Believer image, as we can tell from the kind of lestovka (prayer rope) the man depicted in the center is holding in his left hand.

The image has a rather extensive text in the outer border.

Some people mistakenly connect this type with the so-called “Hell Icons” that were rumored to have existed in old Russia — icons first painted with an image of a devil or devils, then painted over with a conventional religious image, to trick believers who would then unknowingly be sending their prayers before the icon to devils instead of to God.  This, however, is not at all a Hell Icon.  Instead it is simply a didactic icon intended to teach what was considered to be proper religious behavior.

In the image, we see a man beset by three demons.  One sits on his head, and holds a banner:

It reads:

ТУТЪ МОЯ РАДОСТЬ И ВЕСЕЛИЕ МОЕ
TUT MOYA RADOST I VESELIE MOE
“Here is my joy and my merriment.”

Obviously the demons are very happy — but about what?

Well, that is answered in the longer text in the outer border.  It is a teaching on how to correctly make the sign of the cross on one’s self in church.  And that, of course, is why this is a didactic icon.

The long border text is from the Church lectionary called the Prologue.  Here is what it says:

On the same day, the word of John Chrysostom. The month of April, 18th day:  On the Fear of God, and on How to Stand in the Church of God in Fear and Proper Order, and to Sign your Face with the Sign of the Cross:
Many ignorant people pretend to make the sign of the cross by waving their hands over their face.  They labor in vain, not correctly drawing the cross on their faces, so that their waving makes demons rejoice.  But if you make the sign of the cross properly, placing your hand on the forehead and on the stomach and right shoulder, and then on the left, the angels watch and rejoice to see the true cross represented on their visage.  And the Angel of the Lord also writes down when you enter into the Church of the Lord with fear and with belief.  If who enters the church stands with fear, and with tenderness makes obeisance to the image of God, that one receives forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God; but if without fear, that one will leave having committed a bigger sin.  So, when we come to church, let us stand with fear, awaiting great mercy from God both in this age and the future. To him be praise, now and forever and in the ages of ages.

At the base of the icon is another large text:

It reads:

“Maxim the Greek wrote thus:  If anyone frantically represents the sign of the cross, at that waving demons rejoice.”

There is also a very small inscription at the base, saying that “This picture was painted on an ancient icon.”

So, to sum up, this type is a teaching and cautionary image, showing a man in church who crosses himself carelessly by just making a hasty waving with his right hand instead of properly “drawing” a cross, and so the demons are all over him, really rejoicing about that.

Apparently demons are very easily amused.

“GREAT PATRIARCHAL CRUCIFIXION” ICONS

Today we will look briefly at another type of cast metal icon.  This type is distinguished from other similar icons of the crucifixion by its very large size, by the number of individual types joined to make it, as well as by the row of 19 to 21 cherubim extending along the very top.

When I say “other types joined to make it,” I mean literally that.  A Great Patriarchal Icon combines forms used to make other individual icons into one very large cast icon.  One can see in the casting where the individual forms were pieced together.

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

At center we can see the form for a standard “house cross” Crucifixion, with its side panels showing Mary and the “Mother of God” at left and the Apostle John and the Centurion Login (Longinus) at right.  Around it are placed the various types for the Major Church Festivals, as well as an icon of St. Nikolai/Nicholas, Marian images, and other saints and angels.

This type of easily-recognized, very large metal icon has a specific name.  It is called a Большое Патриаршее распятие — Bolshoe Patriarshee Raspyatie — a “Great Patriarchal Crucifixion.”  In English it is sometimes just referred to as a “Great Patriarchal Icon” or “Great Patriarchal Cross.”  But in the slang of the everyday Russian icon trade, it is often called a большая-лопата — bolshaya lopata or большая патриаршия лопата — bolshaya patriarshiya lopata — a “Great Shovel” or a “Great Patriarchal Shovel,” because of its shovel-like shape.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

These “Great Patriarchal Crucifixion” icons were, as one might suspect, the product of Old Believer workshops, and were produced largely in the Moscow area in the 18th and 19th centuries, but of course in fewer numbers than the more common and less expensive smaller Crucifixion metal icons.

THAT’S A RELIEF: CARVED WOOD ICONS IN RUSSIA

Eastern Orthodoxy has been generally suspicious of statuary — of images in three dimensions.  Historically, statues are not entirely absent.  Even as early as the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, such three-dimensional images existed in Christianity.  But over time — and particularly after the Iconoclastic period — Eastern Orthodox art has tended to avoid the use of religious statuary.  But one does encounter icons in relief, carved into stone, cast into metal, impressed in clay or carved in wood.

That is why one sometimes finds wooden relief icons of one kind or another in Russian iconography, though they are in general more scarce than painted icons.

Wood carving has been a part of Russian folk art since pre-Christian times, and when one finds carved icons in the 18th and 19th centuries, they still have much the appearance of folk art objects, though they were used just as were painted icons.

Here is a carved wooden icon depicting the Crucifixion.  It is depicted as though in a church interior, which is why we see seven church domes above it:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

We see the usual figures found in painted Crucifixion icons — Jesus in the center, his mother Mary and another Mary at left, and at right the disciple John and the Centurion Longinus (Login Sotnik).  Even the inscriptions are carved in wood, and considerable time must have been required for such detail.  When the carving was finished, the icon was painted in suitable colors and then varnished.  The surface has oxidized and aged over the years, which is why the surface now has a rather dark appearance:

Each figure has its title inscription, and above Jesus we see the usual inscription, written here as IНЦI, abbreviating “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  And at the sides of his head is the common IC XC, abbreviating “Jesus Christ.”

Most notable, however, is the very long carved text in the outer borders of the icon.  The novice student of Russian icons might at first despair of determining what it signifies, but one should always keep in mind that icon inscriptions tend to be very repetitive.  Also, certain texts tend to be associated with certain images.  Given that, can we possibly make any sense out of all those hundreds of letters carved without punctuation or even separation into individual words?

Fortunately, it is not as difficult as it looks.  In fact if you have read the earlier postings on this site, you will already have been given the key to translating it.

What does one do with such an unfamiliar inscription?  One first looks for the familiar, whether in words or phrases.  And if we go to the beginning of the text, which is at the upper left corner, we can begin to work with it.  In general the starting point in most icons for a sequence of images or a long text is at upper left:

That is a bit dark, so it would be helpful to brighten the image to add clarity, like this:

We can now see, looking carefully, that the inscription begins with these letters:

ДАВОСКРЕСНЕТЪБОГЪИРАЗЫ…

Where have we seen that before?  The most logical place to look is in materials dealing with Crucifixion images.  You may recall that some time ago I did a posting titled “The Instant Expert on Russian Crosses“:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/the-instant-expert-in-russian-crosses/

In that article, I gave the standard inscriptions associated with the Crucifixion type.  And among them, you will find this:

Da Voskresenet’ Bog’ i Razuidyutsya Vrazi Ego, I da Byezhat’ Ot’ Litsa Ego Vsi Nenavidashchey ego…

ДА ВОСКРЕСЕНЕТЪ БОГЪ И РАЗЫДУТСЯ ВРАЗИ ЕГО И ДА БЕЖАТЪ ОТЪ ЛИЦА ЕГО ВСИ НЕНАВИДЯЩЕЙ ЕГО…

 “Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomy Krestu — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”

Now one thing we will notice about the form of the text on this icon is that its wording in Church Slavic is a bit different than the standard Russian Orthodox version.  That is because this icon uses the old text, not the revised wording used by the State Church after the separation from the Old Believers.  That tells us this is an Old Believer icon, and indeed such carved relief icons tend to be found more commonly among Old Believers than in the State Church.

Here is the Old Believer text:

Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его, яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут, яко тает воск от лица огня,тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменающихся крестным знамением, и да возвеселимся рекуще: радуися, Кресте Господень, прогоняя бесы силою на Тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Исуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго, и поправшаго силу диаволю, и давшаго нам Крест Свой Честныи на прогнание всякаго супостата. О Пречестныи и Животворящии Кресте Господень, помогай ми, с Пресвятою Госпожею Богородицею и со всеми святыми небесными силами, всегда и ныне и присно и во веки веком, аминь.

And here is the text as found in State Church prayer books:

Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его. Яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут; яко тает воск от лица огня, тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменующихся крестным знамением, и в веселии глаголющих: радуйся, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень, прогоняяй бесы силою на тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Иисуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго и поправшаго силу диаволю, и даровавшаго нам тебе Крест Свой Честный на прогнание всякаго супостата. О, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень! Помогай ми со Святою Госпожею Девою Богородицею и со всеми святыми во веки. Аминь.

You can see that there are some differences, but not enough to prevent us from recognizing the text in both cases.  Do not be intimidated by this.  All it means for practical purposes is:

If the beginning words read:
Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его… then we know it is likely an Old Believer icon.  But if we see the text beginning like this:
Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его… then we know it is a State Church image.

Keep in mind that one need not be concerned about minor differences in spelling, but differences in wording help us to distinguish icons of the Old Believers from those of the State Church in Russia after the latter part of the 17th century.  One can even see slight differences between the form of the text used on the carved icon and that given above as the Old Believer form of the full prayer.  The reason is that the text on the icon more closely follows the spelling used in the Ostrog Bible (Острожская Библия ) — the first complete printed Church Slavic Bible in the corrected edition of 1581.