THE TRINITY “FATHERHOOD” DEISIS

From past posting here, you are already familiar with the standard Deisis icon type depicting Jesus enthroned in the center, with Mary approaching him on the left and John the Forerunner on the right — showing the heavenly court.  And of course there is the variant in which Mary is robed like a Queen, commonly called Predsta Tsaritsa odesnuyu Tebe  — The “Queen Stands at your Right,” after Psalm 45:9 (44:10 in the Slavic Bible)  There is also the extended Deisis, which adds more saints to the basic form.  And you will perhaps recall  the “Savior with Bystanders” Deisis that is sometimes called “The Week,” (though it is not the usual type by that name).

There is also the “Trinity” Deisis.  In this variant, the central figure of Jesus is replaced by the “New Testament Trinity” image — Jesus seated at left, God the Father as an old man at right, and the Holy Spirit as a dove between them.

Here, however, is an example of a less common Trinity variant in which the “New Testament Trinity” is replaced by the  Otechestvo — the “Fatherhood” (or “Paternity”) image — showing God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) as an old man seated on a throne, with Christ Immanuel (Jesus in child or youth form) seated on his lap, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove before the Father’s chest.

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

 

God the Father holds the orb of authority, and has the eight-pointed slava (“glory”) as his halo, signifying the Eighth Day — the Day of Eternity.  We see Mary in royal robes at left, and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) also crowned, standing at right.  Beside Mary is the Archangel Michael, and the Archangel Gabriel stands by John.  The two little monks at the foot of the throne are commonly the founders of the Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea in northern Russia, Zosim (Zosima) at left, and Savvatiy (Sabbatius) at right.  You may recall that they are also the patrons of beekeeping.

Let’s take a look at the title inscription (slightly enhanced):

 

Words are abbreviated, but with missing letters added, it reads (in modern font):

ОБРАЗ ПРЕСВЯАТЫЯ ТРОИЦА ОЦА И СЫНА И СВЯТАГО ДУХА
OBRAZ PRESVYATUIYA TROITSA OTSA I SUINA I SVYATAGO DUKHA
“[The] Image of the Most Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

If you add this knowledge to what you have learned from previous “Deisis” postings on this site, you should now have a very good grasp of the basic type and its variations.

THE NOVGOROD “FATHERHOOD” ICON

If you have done any reading on the history of icons, you have probably come across this well-known 14th-century image of the Trinity, painted in the northern Russian city of Novgorod, once so famous as a wealthy trading center that it was called “Novgorod the Great.”

This icon type of God the Father seated on a throne, with Jesus as Immanuel (the youthful Christ) on his lap, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, is very common in Eastern Orthodoxy, and it is a “New Testament Trinity” type called Отечество — Otechestvo — meaning the “Fatherhood” or “Paternity.”

In addition to the basic elements of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this type shows two seraphim (a category of angel) beside the throne, and the winged circles supporting the Father’s footstool that are another bizarre kind of angel called “Thrones.”  At left, atop his pillar, is the Stylite (pillar-dweller) saint Daniel, and at right another Stylite (called a Stolpnik in Russian icons), Simeon.  At lower right is an apostle.

But what I want to focus on today is the inscription at the top of the icon:

As you already know, if you have been reading here long, in icon inscriptions we often find little variants in spelling.  This inscription is abbreviated, which as you also know is common in icon inscriptions.  You can tell that by the lines above the words.  Here is how it is written on the icon:

ОЦЬ        IСИНЪ

IС Т Ы    ДУХЪ

Don’t be confused by the writer’s using a form of Ц (ts) that looks more like the letter Ч (ch); it is Ц  that he intended.

Now we have to “un-abbreviate” the inscription, to write it in full:

ОТЕЦЬ I СЫИНЪ
I СВЯТЫЙ ДУХЪ

OTETS’ I SUIN”
I SVYATUIY DUKH”

OTETS means “Father”:
I (И) means “and”;
SUIN means “Son”;
And SVYATUIY DUKH means “Holy Spirit.”

So we can easily translate the inscription, keeping in mind that Church Slavic has no article “the,” as:

[The] FATHER AND [The] SON AND [The} HOLY SPIRIT

Or we could translate it quite literally as:

FATHER AND SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

It is not surprising to find God the Father (also called “Lord Sabaoth” in icons) frequently depicted as an old and bearded man.  People have always visualized their gods in human form.

In the Septuagint Greek Bible used by the early Christians (and by Greek Orthodoxy) we find these words in the Book of Genesis:

καὶ εἶπεν θεός ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν…
Kai eipen ho theos poiesomen anthropon kat’ eikona hemeteran kai kath’ homoiosin…

“And God said, let us make man after our image and after the likeness…”

So Adam was believed to be an eikona — an image — an icon — of God.  And so God was thought to have two arms, two legs, and in fact to be in the same form as a human.  And of course in the Middle East in biblical times, humans had kings ruling over them, and so God the Father was visualized as a king sitting on his throne in heaven, which in those days was simply the sky.

Of course later religious thinkers “spiritualized” this notion to mean that humans were somehow in the “spiritual” likeness of God, but that is not what the text originally meant.  It meant simply that humans were given the same form God had.  And notice that Genesis says “Let US make man in OUR image.”  This was later given a Trinitarian interpretation, but it is likely that originally it was simply a leftover of the days when the Hebrews believed that there was more than one divine being in the sky, just as in the Babylonian creation myth, humans were created by the gods.  In Chapter 5 of Septuagint Genesis, we read:

αὕτη βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν θεὸς τὸν Αδαμ κατ’ εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν
ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτοὺς καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτούς καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῶν Αδαμ ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς
ἔζησεν δὲ Αδαμ διακόσια καὶ τριάκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν κατὰ τὴν ἰδέαν αὐτοῦ καὶ κατὰ τὴν εἰκόνα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Σηθ

“This is the book of the generation/origin of men in the day when God made Adam, after the image (eikona) of God he made him.
Male and female he made them and blessed them, and called his name Adam the day he made him.
And Adam lived two hundred and thirty years, and begot according to his form and according to his image (eikona), and called his name Seth.”

So “man” was made in the form/image of God, and Seth was in the form/image of his father Adam.  It meant simply the physical appearance, the physical likeness.  So the “image” of God (Greek eikona, Hebrew tselem) meant simply that Adam was made to look like God, and Seth, Adam’s son, was born looking like Adam.  It is not talking about abstractions such as a “spiritual image” that later were introduced into the matter. It means simply that God looked like Adam (a head, two arms, two legs, etc.) and Adam looked like God, just as Seth looked like Adam.

People are always trying to “update” biblical stories to make them seem more compatible with what we learn of the world, but really the mental world of the Bible and of Christianity in the days before the advancement of science was quite primitive and folkloric.  Until fairly recent times Russian believers held the date of Creation to be only a few thousand years ago, and no doubt some still do.