It is not difficult to tell what is happening; it is a stoning. But who is the victim? And what does the title inscription say? Well, both questions are answered when we read what is written:
Ὁ ΛΙΘΑCΜΟC ΤΟΥ ἉΓΙΟΥ HO LITHASMOS TOU HAGIOU ΠΡѠΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC CΤΕΦΑ- PROTOMARTUROS STΕPHA- ΝΟΥ NOU
It is an easy one.
You already know that Ὁ /HO is the masculine definite article — “the.”
And you know the word lithos from use in English words such as lithograph and lithosphere, both involving the word “stone.” So you can probably easily deduce that ΛΙΘΑCΜΟΣ/LITHASMOS means “stoning.” And you remember (I hope) that ΤΟΥ/TOU is the male form of “of/of the.”
That leaves us with ΠΡѠΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC /PROTOMARTYROS. Well, you know many English words beginning with proto-, like prototype and protoplasm. And if you know what those mean, you will know that proto– here means “first.” And it should be simple for you to guess that ΜΑΡΤΥΡΟC/MARTYROS means “martyr.”
So up to this point we have:
The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr …
All we need now is the last word in the inscription, which gives his name:
It is not hard to see that STEPHANOU is the “of” form of the Greek name Stephanos, and that the English equivalent is “Stephen.”
So the inscription is:
“The Stoning of the Holy First Martyr Stephen.” Or if you wish, you can use “Protomartyr” instead of “First Martyr.”
In the fresco, stephen anachronistically wears the colored band called an orarion, part of the costume of a protodeacon. It is customarily embroidered with these words:
Today’s icon offers a bit of a review. It is a common type — the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus — but its inscriptions offer the opportunity for practice, and perhaps a scrap or two of new information.
Let’s begin with the halo inscription. As you know, the Greek form of the halo inscription reads Ὁ ѠN — HO ON — meaning “The One Who Is” — a title of God found in Exodus 3:14. The letters are read top-left-right, as they usually also are in Bulgarian icons. Russian icons, however, commonly change the left letter from Ѡ to Slavic Ѿ — pronounced “ot” — which enables them to read the inscription left-top-right while giving it various fanciful interpretations. Some like the letters to represent the members of the Trinity, interpreting them as abbreviations for the Three-Hypostatic Godhood, represented in the letters as Ѿ (ot) for Ѿтеческий/Otecheskiy — “Of the Father’s”; О for Оум/Oum — “Mind”; and Н for Непостижимъ Сыин/Nepostizhim Suin — “Unfathomable Son.”
Still others read it as abbreviating От небес приидох — Они же Мя не познаша — На кресте распяша Ot nebes priidokh — Oni zhe mya ne poznasha — Na kreste raspyasha
“From heaven I came — They knew me not — On the cross I was crucified.”
You will of course recognize the common IC XC inscription above the halo as abbreviating Ἰησοῦς Χριστός/Iesous Khristos in Greek for “Jesus Christ,” and in Slavic as Iсус Христос/Isus Khristos in the earlier and Old Believer form, Iисус (Иисус) Христос/Iisus Khristos in the post-Nikon Russian State Church form that began to be used in Russia in the mid-1600s after the great schism.
Now let’s look at the main title inscription at the top:
It reads (missing or very small superscript letters are in brackets):
НЕРУКОТВОРЕННЫЙ ѠБРАЗ Г[ОСПО]ДА НАШЕГѠ IС[УС]А ХР[ИС]ТА NERUKOTVORENNUIY OBRAZ G[OSPO]DANASHE[GO] IS[US]AKHR[IS]TA
NOT-HAND-MADE IMAGE [of] LORD OF-US JESUS CHRIST
“THE ‘NOT MADE BY HANDS’ IMAGE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.”
There is an inscription in red near the base of the cloth which, though written very small here, is nonetheless a very common inscription on icons of this type:
It reads: С[ВЯ]ТЫЙ ОУБРУСЪ/SVYATUIY OUBRUS, meaning “HOLY CLOTH.”
Below that is a larger inscription in red, which, as we saw in a previous posting on this icon type, is much less common:
Some time ago there was a posting here on Greek abbreviations found on stone crosses, etc. Among them was this one:
ΘΕΟΥ ΘΕΑ ΘΕIΟΝ ΘΑΥΜΑ Theou Thea Theion Thauma “Vision of God — Divine Wonder”
The base inscription on this Russian icon of the “Not Made by Hands Image” is just the Church Slavic translation (BOZHIE VIDYENIE BOZHESTVENNOE CHUDO) of that Greek phrase, which we could also render as:
“The Vision of God — a Divine Miracle.”
Now we come to the last inscription at the base of the icon. It is sometimes, but not always, found with the “Bozhie Vidyenie ...” inscription just mentioned, likely because some painters used the same podlinnik tradition or models:
ХР[ИС]ТЕ Б[О]ЖЕ ИЖЕ НА ТЯ НАДЕЯИСЯ НЕ ОТЩЕТИТСЯ НИКОГДА ЖЕ KHRISTE BOZHE IZHE NA TYA NADYEYAISYA NE OTSHCHETITSYA NIKOGDA ZHE
It means loosely, “CHRIST GOD, WHO HOPES IN YOU WILL NEVER HAVE REGRET.”
Perhaps you have noticed that some icons of this type have the cloth alone, while others have it held by two angels. These are two different iconographic traditions. In this particular icon, though they are too small to see here, each angel has a title inscription. That at left identifies the angel as Архангел Михаил/Arkhangel Mikhail — “Archangel Michael; that at right identifies the angel as Архангел Гавриил/Arkhangel Gavriil — “Archangel Gabriel.”
Now I hope you remember that the saints in the outer border are generally not part of the icon type, but are chosen to be added by the person ordering the icon. Usually they are name saints for members of the family — and sometimes the Guardian Angel or or other saints favored for particular reasons are added. In this example they are all favored saints: They are Vlasiy and Flor (Blasius and Florus) at left, and Medost and Lavr (Modestus and Laurus) at right. Perhaps you recall that all of these saints have to do with the protection and health of livestock: Flor and Lavr for horses, and Vlasiy and Medost for cattle, oxen, and flocks.
So that’s it. Now you will be able to translate most inscriptions on other icons of this type. But be aware that there may be differences in the title inscriptions, as in the following example, a Nevyansk icon from the Urals region:
Let’s look more closely at the title inscription. It is a little longer than the first one because of the addition of three words:
НЕРУКОТВОРЕННЫЙ ѠБРАЗ Г[ОСПО]ДА БОГА I СПАСА НАШЕГО IСУСА ХРИСТА NERUKOTVORENNUIY OBRAZ GOSPODA BOGA I SPASA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
That BOGA I SPASA is the added words “God and Savior” in their grammatical “of” forms. So the whole inscription reads:
“‘NOT MADE BY HANDS’ IMAGE OF OUR LORD GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.”
This icon two follows the tradition of depicting two angels holding the cloth, but where the first example identified the angels by name as Archangels Michael and Gabriel, this icon identifies them only as АНГЕЛИ ГОСПОДНИ/ANGЕLI GOSPODNI — “Angels of the Lord.”
This second icon also follows the less common tradition that uses both the “Bozhie vidyenie …” and “Khriste Bozhe izhe na tya …” inscriptions on this type.
Now, to finish up for today, we need only take a look at the inscription at the base of the second icon example:
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.
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.
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.
The inscription identifies this Marian icon type as the
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
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
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;
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Then comes his “locator”:
“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:
That is followed by his “locator” title:
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:
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:
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:
After that comes his abbreviated “locator” title:
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:
Nikita died in 1108, and was reputed to be a “wonderworker.”
Now we come to the last figure:
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.
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.
…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.