TEST YOURSELF: A MULTIPLE ICON

Here is a little self-test:

If you have been a diligent student of the postings on this site, you should be able to identify everything in this multiple icon.  A multiple icon is an icon with several separate types placed together on a single panel.  This example has four main types, a smaller central type, and of course the saints used as border images.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

If you are not able to identify everything, here is a brief summary, beginning with the image at upper left:


The inscription reads
СВЯТЫЙ НИКОЛА ЧУДОТВОРЕЦ
SVYATUIY NIKOLA CHUDOTVORETS
“HOLY NICHOLAS [the] WONDERWORKER”

Aside from the inscription, one can tell from the facial characteristics (form, hair, beard), the costume, and from the accompanying figures of Jesus at left and Mary at right that this is an image representing St. Nikolai/Nikola/Nicholas of Myra.  You will recall that Jesus is giving Nicholas the book of the Gospels, and Mary is presenting him with his bishop’s stole (omofor/omophorion).  If you notice that Nicholas is not shown full-face, but rather as though turning from the left, you may remember that such a Nicholas — though often with a harsher expression than here — is called Nikola Otvratnuiy (Никола Отвратный) — “Nicholas the Turner” — and was thought to ward off evil.

Now you will have read in a previous posting that “Nicholas the Turner” is an icon type that appeared among the Old Believers in the 18th century, so that tells us something important about this icon too; and what it tells us is confirmed by the hand.  As you see, the fingers are held in the blessing position used by the Old Believers, and that confirms that this is an Old Believer icon.

Upper right:

Of course you know that the MP ΘY letters in two circles at the top abbreviate the Greek words Meter Theou — which are common on Russian icons of Mary.

From the title inscription, we can tell that this is identified as the
ЗНАМЕНИЕ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
ZNAMENIE PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
the “‘SIGN’ MOST-HOLY GOD-BIRTHGIVER”
or in normal English,
The “‘Sign’ Most Holy Mother of God.”

And of course that is Jesus in the circle on her breast.

You may recall that the “Sign” icon is one of the famous “palladium” icons, considered to be city protectors, and that its legendary history says it saved the citizens of the great trading city of Novgorod in the northwest of Russia from the invading Suzdalians.

Lower left:


The inscription identifies this Marian icon type as the

УМЯАГЧЕНИЕ ЗЛЫХ СЕРДЕЦ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
YMYAGCHENIE ZLUIKH SERDETS PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“SOFTENER [of] EVIL  HEARTS MOST-HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

It is sometimes also translated loosely as the “Melter of Hard Hearts.”  It is important to remember, however, that this type is not the only Marian icon type to be found under that title.

Next comes a New Testament Scene that is also an annual Eastern Orthodox Church commemoration:

If you are familiar with the New Testament, you can probably identify it without the inscription below.  Here is that inscription:

ОУСЕКНОВЕНИЕ ЧЕСТНЫЯ ГЛАВЫ СВЯАТАГО IОАННА ПРЕДТЕЧА
USEKNOVENIE CHESTNUIYA GLAVUI SVYATAGO IOANNA PREDTECHA
“CUTTING-OFF [of the] HONORABLE HEAD [of] HOLY JOHN [the] FORERUNNER.”

And that is what the scene depicts:  the execution of John the Forerunner (John the Baptist) and the presentation of his head to Salome.

Such an icon type was particularly important to Old Believers because it called to mind the terrible persecution they suffered under the State Orthodox Church.

In the center of the icon we find the image of — as the red title inscription tells us here — the
НЕРУКОТВОРЕННЫЙ ОБРАЗ ГОСПОДЕНЬ
NERUKOTVORENNUIY OBRAZ GOSPODEN’
“NOT-MADE-BY-HANDS IMAGE [of the] LORD”

It is the image traditionally considered the “first icon” in Eastern Orthodoxy, because the old legend that developed over time said that Jesus once pressed a wet towel to his face, and his image was miraculously imprinted on it.  It is the “Abgar” image sent by tradition from Jesus to King Abgar of Edessa.


You will notice the other inscriptions written on the cloth — first the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,” and below the face, this inscription:

СВЯТЫЙ ОУБРУСЪ
SVYATUIY UBRUS
“HOLY CLOTH”

So in Eastern Orthodoxy, the “Holy Cloth” is the cloth after Jesus supposedly transferred the image of his face to it.

Finally, there are four border saints in this icon:

First comes the
AНГЕЛЪ ХРАНИТЕЛ
ANGEL KHRANITEL
“ANGEL GUARDIAN”

In ordinary English, the “Guardian Angel.”  It is important to know that this is a generic figure who represents the Guardian Angel supposedly assigned to each person —  It is often found as a border image, but is also found as an icon type on its own.  He holds a sword in one hand and a cross in the other:


The others are:

2.  St. Alexandra;

Venerable Sergiy;

St. Feodora/Theodora;

Such border saints as these three are generally found in icons as the “angel” saints of the members of the family for whom the icon was painted — the saints after whom each person was named.

A purchaser — in this case an Old Believer — could choose the icon types to be represented on such a multiple icon, and of course could tell the painter the names of his family members to include in the border, represented there by their “name” saints.  And again, the “Guardian Angel” served as the generic figure representing each angel assigned individually to protect a family member.

Now you will find all this information — including a longer discussion of each main type shown — in the site archives.

 

EIGHT MEN AND AN ANGEL

Today we will look at a Russian icon of nine saints.  It offers a good opportunity for practicing the reading of title inscriptions in Church Slavic.  Inscriptions on old icons are often abbreviated, and also frequently damaged by time.  That means the student of icons should become familiar enough with titles and names to be able to fill in what may be missing in the inscription as written on an icon.  But again, this is not as difficult as it sounds at first, because names and titles are very repetitive.

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: Russianicons.net)

Fortunately, each saint in this icon still has most of his title inscription.  Those in the top row have titles written in the upper border, and those in the bottom row have them in the halo.

Let’s examine them one by one, beginning at top left:


First, we see that he is dressed in the skhima — the robe of a monastic.

His inscription begins with the three-letter abbreviation at the top:

д
П р

You should recognize the П р (Pr) as the beginning letters of Prepodobnuiy, the common title of a monastic, usually rendered in English as “Venerable,” though it really means “Most like” — most like Christ that is, or like Adam before the Fall.  The  д above the two letters is the “d” in Prepodobnuiy.

Next comes his actual name:

АНТОНIЙ
ANTONIY

And finally comes the “locator” part of his title that tells us which Antoniy he is — that is, the place with which he is associated.  The first letter is partly missing, but from the rest we can easily restore it:

СIЙСКIЙ
SIYSKIY

If we put it all together, we see that this monastic is Prepodobnuiy Antoniy Siyskiy — Venerable Antoniy Siyskiy, or if we want to anglicize it, Venerable Anthony of Siya.  Antoniy (1479–1556) founded the Antonievo-Siyskiy Monastery on the Siya River, in what is now Arkhangelsk province in northern Russia.  You may recognize the “Siyskiy” part from the title from the name of the well-known illustrated painters’ manual, the Siya Icon Painting Manual (Сийский иконописный подлинник/Siyskiy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik)

From this point on, I will just transliterate the I in Church Slavic by the И used for it in the modern Russian font.

To his right is a fellow dressed in the garments of a bishop:

His title begins:

Ст АрХИЕ

St ARKHIE

The first abbreviation is of course the very common Svyatuiy, meaning “Holy/Saint.”  Note that the Slavic t is written very small to the right of the C (S), and the partial crossbar of it curves back and above the C, to indicate abbreviation.

It does not take effort to read this line as Svyatuiy Arkhiepiskop — “Holy Archbishop.”

The second line gives us first his name:

САВА
SAVA

Then comes his “locator”:

СЕРБСКАГО
SERBSKAGO

“OF SERBIA.”  You will recall from previous postings that the -ago ending indicates the “of” form of a word, so that is why we translate this as “Of Serbia.”  Sava of Serbia, who died in 1236, was the first archbishop of the “independent” Serbian Orthodox Church.  Such an independent regional church is referred to by the adjective autocephalous, meaning literally, “self-headed,” — that is, under its own ecclesiastical authority.  For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was formerly under the authority of the “Patriarch of Russia and all Rus,” is now autocephalous — self-ruling and independent, under the title “The Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”

The next fellow is also dressed as a bishop:

We see that same Ct (St) abbreviation at the beginning, for Svyatuiy — “Holy.”  That is followed by ЕПИСКОПЪ/EPISKOP”,  meaning “Bishop.”  Just think of the English word “episcopal,” which comes from the same Greek root as this Slavic form.

Next comes his name:

СТЕФАН/STEFAN

That is followed by his “locator” title:

ПЕРМСКИЙ/PERMSKIY

The -skiy ending is another way of telling us that a person is from a certain place, and this fellow is from Perm, so he is Permskiy.

Assembling all the words, we get Svyatuiy Episkop Stefan Permskiy, “Holy Bishop Stefan/Stephen [of] Perm.”  Stefan of Perm (1340–1396) was the first bishop of Perm, near the Urals.

We can see that the fellow holding the scroll at far right is also dressed as a monastic:

And as we might expect, his title also begins with the letters Prd, which as you already know abbreviate Prepodobnuiy/”Venerable.”

Next comes his name:

МАКАРИЙ
MAKARIY

And at the end comes his “locator” title, partly obliterated by a scratch (this kind of thing is common in old icons) and abbreviated, but we can nonetheless read it as:

ЖЕЛТОВ[ОДСКИЙ]
ZHELTOVODSKIY

So this fellow is Venerable Makariy Zheltovodskiy, or anglicized, “Venerable Macarius of Yellow Waters” [Lake].  You may also sometimes find his title given in longer form as Преподобный Макарий Унженский Желтоводский Чудотворец/Venerable “Makariy Unzhenskiy [‘of Unzha’] Zheltovodskiy Wonderworker.”  He lived circa 1399-1444, and was the founder of monasteries on the Volga River.

Now we move to the first fellow at left in the bottom row.

The beginning of his inscription has been partly obliterated by time, but from what we have already seen, we can easily amend the first word to the Prd we already know, for Prepodobnuiy — “Venerable.”

Next comes his name, and though the beginning letters are damaged, we can easily emend it as:

ДИМИТРИЙ
DIMITRIY

After that comes his abbreviated “locator” title:

ПРИЛ[УЦСКИЙ]
PRILUTSKIY

So this fellow is Venerable Dimitriy Prilutskiy, or anglicized, Venerable Demetrius of Priluki.  He was a 14th century monastic founder in the Vologda area.

To the right of Dimitriy is this person:

His title is given as:

С[ВЯТЫЙ] ЕВФИМИЙ МИТРОПОЛИТ НОВОГОРО[ДСКИЙ]
SVYATUIY EVFIMIY MITROPOLIT NOVOGORODSKIY
“HOLY EVFIMIY/EUTHEMIUS METROPOLITAN OF NOVGOROD”

Evfimiy was a 15th century cleric noted for his reconstruction of many old churches.  He died in 1458.

The brackets indicate letters left out in the abbreviation or difficult to see because they are tiny superscripts.

Now we come to the angel.  He is easy to identify, even though some letters are gone from his title:

He is:

СВЯТЫЙ АГГЕЛЬ ХРАНИТЕЛЬ
SVYATUIY ANGEL KHRANITEL’
HOLY ANGEL GUARDIAN

In normal English, “The Holy Guardian Angel.”  Remember that the ГГ (“gg”) combination of letters in Slavic is read as “ng.”  He holds the cross and sword typical of the “Guardian Angel” type.

To his right we see this fellow:


His inscription is:

С[ВЯТЫЙ] НИКИТА ЕП[ИСКОП] НОВОГОРО[ДСКИЙ]
SVYATUIY NIKITA EPISKOP NOVOGORODSKIY
“HOLY NIKITA BISHOP OF NOVGOROD”

Nikita died in 1108, and was reputed to be a “wonderworker.”

Now we come to the last figure:

He is:

ПР[ЕПО]Д[ОБНЫЙ] САВА ВИШЕРСКАГО
PREPODOBNUIY SAVA VISHERSKAGO
“VENERABLE SAVA OF VISHERSK.”

From his inscription we can see how very important the “locator” portion of a title is in accurately identifying a saint, because as noted in this icon, there is more than one Sava — and in fact there are often multiple saints with the same name.  So we need the “locator” title to tell just which Sava this fellow is — and we see he is Sava of Vishersk, not Sava of Serbia or some other Sava (often anglicized as Sabbas).  Sava (generally spelled Савва/Savva) of Vishersk was the very ascetic founder of a monastery on the Vishera River.  He died in 1460.

Now you have had some helpful practice in reading and translating Church Slavic titles of saints in Russian icons.  If you have been reading here from the beginning, you should be able to translate the titles on a great many saints with ease.

USING VYAZ TO IDENTIFY A MONASTERY

Today we will look at an icon primarily for its Vyaz inscription.  Learning to read these “condensed” inscriptions is very important  — in fact essential — for serious students of icons, but it is not difficult.

We can see that this icon is a kind of schematic image (without natural perspective) of a group of buildings within a wall, and we can see a few monks and clerics standing within it:

The small inscriptions in red identify the various buildings, but we need not bother with those.  Our interest today is in the large title inscription at the top, which identifies the image.

Here it is, in two parts due to its length:

It reads:

ОБИТЕЛЬ  СВЯТЫЯ ЖИВОНАЧАЛНЫЯ ТРОИЦЫ…
OBITEL’  SVYATUIYA  ZHIVONACHALNUIYA  TROITSUI…

…ПРЕПОДОБНАГО ОЦА НАШЕГО ИГУМЕНА СЕРГИЯ РАДОНЕЖСКАГО
…PREPODOBNAGO OTSA NASHEGO IGUMENA SERGIYA RADONEZHSKAGO

Let’s look at it word by word:

OBITEL‘:  An obitel’ is a cloister — a monastery.  Notice that the third vertical on the omega-like O is shortened, so that the Б (b) can be fitted in above it and above the shortened first vertical in the letter И (i).

S[VYA]TUIYA:  “Of the Holy.”  Note the omitted letters in the abbreviation, shown in brackets in the transliteration.  Also note the form of the final “ya” sound, made by a letter combining I and A — represented by Я in the modern Russian font.

ZHIVONACHALNUIYA –  “Life-initiating,” commonly translated as “Lifegiving”; the “of” form is used here — without abbreviation

 

TR[OI]TSUI:  “TRINITY”; again in the “of” form.  The Т is placed above the Р (R), and the first vertical on the Ц (ts) is greatley shortened to fit close to the first two letters.

PR[E]P[O]D[O]BNAGO:  “Venerable” — the loose English translation of the word meaning “most like,” and used as the title for monks.  Note the strong abbreviation.  Note also the transformation of the second vertical in the letter П (p) curving it out to make the Р (r) — thus getting two letters out of one.  Note also how the Д (d) is written above the word — here in the “of” form.

OTSA:  “FATHER” — meaning here a spiritual father.  Here it begins with another omega-form O.  There is another joined letter, made by shortening the second vertical in the Ц (ts) to make it also the lower vertical in the final letter A.  In the “of” form.

NASHEGO:   “OF US” — rendered as “our” in English.  By now you should be accustomed to seeing verticals shortened to fit other letters in.  The first three letters – НАШ (nash) are a very good exmaple of that.

IGUMENA:  “HEGUMEN” — a clerical title used for the head of a monastery, like an abbot in Catholicism.  the second vertical on the beginning letter И (i) is drastically shortened to make room for the Г (g) above it.  Note the form of the third letter — the “ou/oo” sound — found as У in the modern Russian font.  In the “of” form.

SERGIYA:   “SERGIY/SERGEI — in the “of” form.

RAD[ONEZHSKAGO]:  “OF RADONEZH.”  It is very common for only the beginning letters of a “place” title to be used, with the rest omitted in the abbreviation.

So we see the inscription identifies this icon as:

ОБИТЕЛЬ  СВЯТЫЯ ЖИВОНАЧАЛНЫЯ ТРОИЦЫ ПРЕПОДОБНАГО ОЦА НАШЕГО ИГУМЕНА СЕРГИЯ РАДОНЕЖСКАГО
OBITEL’  SVYATUIYA  ZHIVONACHALNUIYA  TROITSUI PREPODOBNAGO OTSA NASHEGO IGUMENA SERGIYA RADONEZHSKAGO

“The Monastery of the Holy Life-giving Trinity of Our Venerable Father Hegumen Sergiy/Sergei of Radonezh.”

It is the most noted monastery in Russia — even today.  And now you also know why there is a little icon of the “Old Testament Trinity” separating the two parts of the inscription.

 

“OH, NO! NOT MORE GREEK!” OR “YAY! MORE GREEK!”

Depending on whether you want to learn to actually READ icons or not, you will either find this posting quite interesting or else unutterably boring.  In any case, here we go.

Today we will look at a Greek-inscribed image of  a rather generic-looking saint called in Greek Ὁ Άγιος Ιωαννίκιος ο Μέγας ὁ εν Ολύμπω/Ho Hagios Ioannikios ho Megas Ho en Olympo — “[The] Holy Ioannikios the Great, the-one in Olympus.”  You may also find him as Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ὁ Μεγάλος/Hosios Ioannikios ho MegalosHosios Ioannikios ho Megalos.  You will recall that Hosios is the Greek title for a male monk-saint — the equivalent of the Slavic Prepodobnuiy, which is customarily loosely rendered as “Venerable.”  And ho Megalos here has the same meaning as ho Megas — “the Great.”

In Russian iconography he is called Преподобный Иоанникий Великий/Prepodobnuiy Ioannikiy Velikiy, which means simply “Venerable Ioannikios the Great.”

It is not so much the saint that interests us today as reading his inscriptions, which are good practice.  Here is his image:

If you have been a faithful reader of this site (you all are, aren’t you?), then you will easily be able to translate the title inscription.  Here is what we see at top left:

Γ
ὉἉ

That is obviously a common abbreviation for ἉΓΙΟC/Ho Hagios, “The Holy.”

Below that we find:

ΙΩΑΝΝΙ
ΚΙΟς

ΙΟΑΝΝΙΚΙΟC/IOANNIKIOS, the saint’s name.  Notice that the second letter of the name is the old form of the letter Omega, but I have used the common modern form in representing it.

At right we see:
Ὁ ΜΕ
ΓΑC

— which you have probably already read as HO MEGAS and have translated as “The Great.”

Now we come to the interesting part — the scroll inscription.  As you already know, saints in icons speak through scrolls, just as cartoon characters speak through cartoon bubbles.  Here is the inscription:

It reads (with spaces added, ligatures separated,  and abbreviations completed in lighter type):

Ἡ ΕΛΠΙΣ ΜΟΥ Ὁ
ΘΕΟC ΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ
ΜΟΥ Ὁ ΧΡΙCΤΟC CΚΕ
ΠΗ ΜΟΥ ΤΟ
ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΤΟ ἉΓΙ
ΟΝ

From past reading here, you already should know several of the words — those I have put in bold type here:

HO ELPIS MOU HO
THEOS KATAPHYGE
MOU HO KHRISTOS SKE-
PE MOU TO
PNEUMA TO AGI-
ON

Here are those you don’t know, with their definitions:

ΕΛΠΙC/ELPIS/HOPE
ΚΑΤΑΦΥΓΗ/KATAPHYGE/REFUGE
CΚΕΠΗ/SKEPE/PROTECTION

We can read the whole inscription like this:

Ho Elpis mou ho Theos;
Kataphyge mou ho Khristos;
Skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion

Literally,

The Hope of-me the God;
Refuge of-me the Christ;
Protection of-me the Spirit the Holy

And in normal English — the way we would translate it — it means:

My Hope is God;
My Refuge is Christ;
My Protection the Holy Spirit.

This inscription — which is a common inscription on icons of Ioannikios — is a variation on what was said to be a frequent prayer of his:

Η ελπίς μου ὁ Πατήρ, καταφυγή μου οὙιός, σκέπη μου το Πνεύμα το Ἁγιον, Τριάς Ἁγία, δόξα σοι.

He elpis mou ho Pater, kataphyge mou o Huios, skepe mou to Pneuma to Hagion, Trias Hagia, doxa soi.

Literally:

The help of-me the Father, refuge of-me the Son, protection of-me the Spirit the Holy, Trinity Holy, glory to-you

In normal English,
“My help is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”

In Eastern Orthodoxy, it has become a Trinitarian prayer that is often inserted into longer prayers.

Let’s look now at a late printed icon of Ioannikios that is inscribed in both Greek and Church Slavic:

We see his title written beside his head, first in Greek, then in Church Slavic, both of which you should now be able to read.  But what about his scroll text?

As we shall see, it is nothing to worry about.  It reads (I am using a modern Russian font):

Упование мое
Отец, прибежи-
ще мое Сын,
покров мой Ду-
х Святый, Тро-
ице Святая
слава Тебе.

Upovanie moe Otets, pribyezhishche moe Suin, pokrov moy Dukh Svyatuiy, Troitse Svyataya, slava Tebye.

“My hope is the Father, my refuge the Son, my protection the Holy Spirit; Holy Trinity, glory to you.”

So it turns out to be precisely the same inscription — with a slight lengthening — that is common on Greek icons of Ioannikios — only here in Church Slavic.

If you can endure a bit more of this, we should probably take a look at another Greek inscription on a fresco of Ioannikios:

dd

You will easily recognize the triliteral abbreviation at left as Ho Hagios — “The Holy,” but it is the rest of the title inscription that concerns us here:

Though a bit worn, we can fill it in as reading:

ΙΩΑΝ[N]IΚΙΟ[C]
Ὁ ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟC

IOANNIKIOS HO THAUMATOURGOS
“IOANNIKIOS THE THAUMATURGE/WONDERWORKER

“Thaumaturge” is just the word borrowed into English from Greek, but in Greek it means simply “Wonderworker,” someone who works miracles.

So we see that there is another title for Ioannikios the Great:  “Ioannikios the Wonderworker.”

As for the hagiographic life of this Ioannikios, some say he was born in 754 or 755, others in 762 — in Bithynia, in Asia Minor.  As a boy, he tended his parents’ pigs, and was illiterate.  He joined the army, and is said to have been an Iconoclast (an opposer of the use of icons), but later in life converted to the opposite belief, becoming an Iconophile (an advocate of icons).  Troubled by the slaughter he saw in battle, he left the army and became a monk at the Antidion Monastery on Mount Olympus.

As a monk, he was said to have miraculous abilities, and could levitate and become invisible.  He predicted when a number of people would die.  He had power over wild animals, and could overcome snakes and dragons (the dragon part alone tells us that as with all Eastern Orthodox hagiography, we should maintain a healthy skepticism).

He is said to have died in 846 c.e.

COOKING WITH APPLES

You may remember the tale associated with the popular Greek female saint Irene Chrysovolantou — that the Apostle and Evangelist John sent her — via some sailors — three apples from Paradise.  You will find the story here:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/irene-and-her-apples/

This motif of the three apples from Paradise is also found in the hagiography of the saint depicted in this fresco from Meteora:

We can see enough of his title  inscription to translate it:

At the top is the usual Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC  — Ho Hagios abbreviation, meaning “[the] Saint.” Here it is represented by just the three letters O A Γ.

Then comes the name of the saint, written here as

ΕΥΦΡω
CΙΝΟς

When we join the parts, it forms Euphrosinos, but it is more commonly written as Ευφροσυνος  —  Euphrosynos.

Notice the ligature (“joining”) of the letters E and Υ (E and U in English) as:

If we look to the right of his head, we find his secondary title:

It reads

Ὁ ΜΑΓΗΡος — HO MAGIROS

The common spelling of this is Ὁ ΜΑΓΕΙΡΑC — HO MAGEIRAS, but as we know from past experience, Greek spelling on icon images often varies, though the pronunciation is usually much the same.

HO MAGIROS/MAGEIRAS — means “the cook,” so we have identified this saint as “Euphrosynos the Cook.”

The tale associated with him — his “hagiography” — relates that he worked as the cook in a kitchen in a monastery.  He took a lot of abuse from the other monks (as cooks often do from those they serve), but through it all he remained patient and humble, though the others did not think much of him.

Now as the tale goes, a priest in the monastery wanted to know what life was going to be like for the “righteous” in the next world.  He prayed fervently for God to show him.

One night the priest had a dream.  In it, he found himself in Paradise, and who should he see there but the abused cook from his own monastery kitchen!  He was quite amazed, and asked Euphrosynos how he managed to be there.  The cook replied that it was just through the goodness of God.

Surrounded by all the beauty of the Garden of Paradise, the priest asked the cook if he might have something from Paradise to take back with him.  The cook picked three juicy apples from a tree, wrapped them in a cloth, and gave them to the priest.

The priest woke suddenly when the semantron (that “gong” board used in old monasteries) was struck.  He found himself in his own room, still thinking of his strange dream.  But he smelled a wonderful fragrance, and found something wrapped in a cloth beside him.  When he opened the cloth, he found there the three apples the cook had given him in Paradise.

The priest hurried to the cook, and when he found him, he asked him where he had been the night before.  The cook replied simply that he had been where the priest had been.

The excited priest went off to tell the rest of the monks about what a holy person the cook they were always complaining about really was, but when the monks went to honor him, he was nowhere to be found, and they never saw him again.  All that was left were the three fragrant apples from Paradise.  Whoever ate them was healed of all physical problems.

Now if we look more closely at this story, we find it is severely lacking in details.  The story does not say when it happened, or precisely where.  Some say it happened in a monastery in Palestine, others say Alexandria in Egypt, and still others say it happened in a monastic community on Mount Athos in Greece.  It is just a kind of pleasant folk tale, the religious equivalent of a fairy tale (which many lives of saints actually are), and it served much the same purpose, both entertaining and teaching a lesson.

Now you know why icons of Euphrosynos picture him holding a branch with three apples on it.  And you also know why icons of Euphrosynos the Cook are commonly found in Greek monastery kitchens, and in many ordinary Greek restaurant and home kitchens as well.  Euphrosynos has become the patron saint of Greek cookery.

We have one more little detail to notice — the little cross with letters on the garment:

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that IC XC abbreviates Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ,” and the NK abbreviates the Greek word NIKA, meaning “He Conquers.”

 

SWALLOWED BY A SEA MONSTER: A JONAH INSCRIPTION

A reader asked about a Greek inscription.  It is on a 16th century fresco of the Old Testament Prophet Jonah from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted by the Cretan Tzortzis.  Somehow it feels very appropriate to talk about Jonah after an American presidential election that makes a great many of us feel as though we had been suddenly thrown into the sea and swallowed up by a monster.

Jonah, as almost everyone knows, is the fellow who was told by his god to go to the great city of Nineveh and prophesy there of the deity’s coming wrath.  Jonah did not like the job he was given, so he took a ship at Joppa, going away from Nineveh toward Tarshish.  While on this journey, a great storm arose.  The sailors cast lots (an old form of divination) to determine what had brought the storm upon them, and the result was that the lot fell on Jonah.  So to save themselves, the sailors tossed him into the stormy sea, where he was swallowed by what in Greek is called a κῆτος (ketos).  Ketos was a rather vague word that applied to any sea monster or huge fish.  Much later, people began to think of it as meaning a whale, which is why we usually speak of the tale of Jonah as “Jonah and the Whale.”   Spending three days and nights in the belly of the sea monster,  Jonah prayed to his god and repented for trying to run away.  The sea monster vomited him up, and he went to Ninevah to tell them their city would be overthrown because of its wickedness.

The image of Jonah being vomited up by the sea monster is one of the few later icon images that can be found also as a common motif in the pre-icon art of the early Christians, where it was apparently used as a symbol of salvation and resurrection.  It is found both in painted form (as in the catacombs) and in the round, as in this 3rd century example in marble:
ionasketos3rdc
Let’s take a look to see what can be made of the inscriptions on the fresco:
We see first that they are in Greek.  And there are two of them, one in the upper right-hand corner, which we may reasonably suspect is the “title” inscription for the image.  The other is on the scroll held by Jonah.  And we all know that in icons, scrolls are the “cartoon bubbles” through which persons speak to the viewer.
Let’s look first at the upper right inscription.  We see that as in most older Greek icon inscriptions, the words are not separated as they would be in modern writings.
ionasinscright

It is divided into three lines, which we can place together and transliterate:

ΗΕΕΚΤΟΥΚΥ  ΤΟΥCΑΝΑΔΟCΙC   ΤΟΥΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥΙωΝΑ
HEEKTOUKU TOUSANADOSIS     TOUPROPHETOUIONA
If you have been reading past postings here on reading Greek inscriptions, you should recognize the words Ἡ — He — the feminine form of “the.”  And you should recognize the word ΤΟΥ — tou — even though it is abbreviated, as “of the.”  And you might recognize the similarity of the letters ΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥ — prophetou — to our English word “prophet.”  Notice that it begins with the joined letters Π (p) and  Ρ (r).  So let’s go on to divide the inscription into its individual words:
ΗΕ ΕΚ ΤΟΥ ΚΥΤΟΥC ΑΝΑΔΟCΙC ΤΟΥ ΠΡΟΦΗΤΟΥ ΙωΝΑ
HE EK TOU KUTOUS ANADOSIS TOU PROPHETOU IONA

Literally translated, that is:

The (he) out (ek) of-the (tou) sea-monster (kutous=ketous) vomiting (anadosis) of-the (tou) prophet (prophetou) Jonah (Iona)

We can put it into normal English as:

“The Vomiting of the Prophet Jonah by the Sea Monster”

Or if we want to make it less blunt,

“The Sea Monster Expels the Prophet Jonah”
From previous  postings here, you should now be familiar with every ligature in this and the following scroll inscription:
  ionasinscleft_1

Transliterated, it is:

ΕΒΟΗCΑ ΕΝ ΘΛΙΨΕΙ ΜΟΥ ΠΡΟC Κ[ΥΡΙΟ]Ν ΤΟΝ Θ[ΕΟ]Ν ΜΟΥ Κ[ΑΙ] ΕΙCΗΚΟΥCΕ[Ν] ΜΟΥ
EBOESA EN THLIPSEI MOU PROS K[URIO]N TON TH[EO]N MOU K[AI] EISEKOUSE[N] MOU
There are some abbreviations, and I have supplied the missing letters in parentheses.

The inscription on the scroll is the words of Jonah as found in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, in Jonah 2:3:

Καὶ εἶπεν ᾿Εβόησα ἐν θλίψει μου πρὸς κύριον τὸν θεόν μου, καὶ εἰσήκουσέν μου· ἐκ κοιλίας ᾅδου κραυγῆς μου ἤκουσας φωνῆς μου.

Kai eipen Eboesa en thlipsei mou pros kurion ton theon mou, kai esiekousen mou
ek koilias hadou krauges mou ekousas phones mou.

And [he] said, I-cried in affliction of-me to [the] Lord the God of-me, and [he] hearkened [of] me; out of the belly of Hades cry of-me [he] heard voice of-me.

So we could translate the portion written on the scroll as:

I cried in my affliction to the Lord my God, and he hearkened to me.”

Now if we could only get out of the next four years as easily as Jonah got out of the sea monster in this old tale.

 

THE “TREE HOUSE” OF DAVID OF THESSALONIKI

Here is an icon pattern from the Russian Stroganov Podlinnik   Today’s focus is on the fellow in the tree, shown in this example from the month of June:

davidsolunskiy

The inscription above him — written in the handwriting style of the late 16th-early 17th century — reads:

ПР[Е]П[О]Д[O]БНАГО ОЦА НАШЕГО Д[А]В[И]ДА ИЖЕ В СЕЛУНИ СЕД РЯСА ВОХРА З БЕЛИЛОМ

PREPODOBNAGO OTSA NASHEGO DAVIDA IZHE V SELUNI
VENERABLE        FATHER   OUR        DAVID   who-is  In THESSALONIKI

RYASA VOKHRA Z BELILOM
HABIT  IN OCHRE WITH WHITE

ИЖЕ = IZHE is a Church Slavic word found often in the old painters’ manuals and in the calendar of saints.  It means approximately “which/who is,” “the one which is” or “the one who is.”  It often distinguishes saints by the place traditionally associated with them.  When used of saints in this manner,  it means loosely “the one in…”  In today’s case, this David, to distinguish him from others, is “the one in Thessaloniki.

So all together, it means:

Our Venerable Father David, the one in Thessaloniki;
Grey, habit in ochre with white.

The first part of the text identifies the saint:  David of Thessaloniki.   The second part tells how to paint him: Grey (hair and beard), and his monastic habit ochre with white.

Being of Thessaloniki, David is one of the many Greek saints celebrated in Russian Orthodoxy as well.  Here is a Greek icon of him:

davidthessaloniki

Being in red, the inscription above the saint is a bit difficult to make out, but it looks to be much the same as the usual inscription for him in Greek icons: O όσιος Δαβίδ ο εν Θεσσαλονίκη — in old pronunciation, Ho Hosios Dabid, ho en Thessaloniki, but in modern Greek, O Osios David o en Thessaloniki.  You will recall that Hosios/Osios is the title used for a monastic male saint in Greek.

The icon shows David sitting in his almond tree residence, and a non-saint kneeling at right.  We know he is not a saint because he has no halo.

At left is seated a crowned figure identified by another red inscription, partly abbreviated as:

Ο ΠΡΟΦ ΔΑΒΙΔ
Ο Προφήτης Δαβίδ
Ho Prophetes Dabid/O Prophetes David
THE PROPHET DAVID

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the King David of the Old Testament is commonly titled as “Prophet.”  In this Greek icon, King David holds a scroll reading:

δικαιος ως φοινιξ ανθησει ωσει κεδρος

That is an excerpt from Psalm 92:12 (91:13 Septuagint):
δίκαιος ὡς φοῖνιξ ἀνθήσει, ὡσεὶ ἡ κέδρος ἡ ἐν τῷ Λιβάνῳ πληθυνθήσεται.
The righteous shall flourish as a palm-tree: he shall be increased as the cedar in Lebanon.

Remember that in icons, people speak through their scrolls, like in cartoon bubbles.  So King David is saying that David of Thessaloniki is one of the righteous, and of course the mention of two kinds of trees relates to David of Thessaloniki living in a tree.

The figure shown in the clouds above is of course Jesus.

So much for the linguistic and symbolic aspect of these images.  But just who was David of Thessaloniki, and why did he live in a tree?

Well, you know from earlier postings about the odd kind of saint called a “stylite,” one who lives on a pillar.  The term for tree-dwelling saints is “dendrite.”  So David of Thessaloniki is a dendrite.

To make a long story short, David is said to have been an ascetic monk living roughly between 450-550 c.e.  He was thought to have come to Thessaloniki in Greece from Mesopotamia.  He entered the monastery of Saints Theodore and Merkourios.  While there, he somehow got it into his head that the thing to do was to make his dwelling up in the branches of the almond tree that grew beside the monastery church.  He thought that if he did that, he would somehow learn God’s will for him.  So he lived in the tree in the heat of summer and cold of winter for three years.  After that time, an angel appeared to him, saying that God had heard his prayers, but that it was time for David to climb down and live in a monastic cell like other monks.  Because of his eccentric asceticism, David gained a local reputation as a holy man and healer, and was visited by many people seeking his help.

For some reason, these stories tend to leave out details such as how the fellow living in the tree managed the sanitary necessities of being a human, but then such things are seldom mentioned in hagiography.

Greek icons of David of Thessaloniki often have him holding a scroll upon which is written:

Μοναχός εστιν αληθώς ο μηδέν έχων εν τω παρόντι βίω ει μη μόνον τον Χριστόν.

It means loosely:

“The true monk is one who in this life has nothing but Christ.”

Here is a 15th century Greek icon from the Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos,  with David of Thessaloniki in his tree at right and Simeon Stylites at left:

Here are the titles:

As you can see, their title inscriptions read Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC CΥΜΕΩΝ — HO HAGIOS SYMEON — “[the] HOLY SIMEON,” and Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΔΑΥΙΔ Ὁ ΕΝ ΘΕCCΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ  — HO HAGIOS DAUID HO EN THESSALONIKE — “[the] HOLY DAVID the-one IN THESSALONIKI/THESSALONICA.”

Here is a closer look at David in his tree: