(Prepare yourself; get cup of tea and a cookie or twenty, because this is mind-numbingly long)
In the liturgical calendar of Eastern Orthodoxy, there are five pre-Lent Sundays, followed by five Lent Sundays. There is an iconographic image associated with each.
The pre-Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography are;
FIFTH SUNDAY BEFORE: SUNDAY OF ZACCHAEUS:
Here is a 14th century Serbian Fresco showing Jesus and his disciples at left, and at right Zaccheus up a tree.
Here is the title inscription:
Х[РИСТО]С ПРИЗИВАЕТЬ ЗАКХЕИ ОТ СИКОМОРIЕ
KHRISTOS PRIZIVAET ZAKKHEI OT SIKOMORIE
“Christ calls Zacchaeus out of the Sycamore.”
I have transliterated the Church Slavic inscription using a modern Russian font, but note that the original uses the old symbol for ot (meaning “out of,” “from”), which looks like a Greek omega with a small T atop it — in other words, a combination of o and t:
And in the word Sikomorie/Sycamore, it uses that same “omega” symbol — minus the T — for the letter o.
The story of the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus — a staple of Sunday School classes for little children — is found in Luke 19:1-10:
1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at your house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
4TH SUNDAY BEFORE: SUNDAY OF THE PUBLICAN AND THE PHARISEE:
Here is another 14th century Serbian fresco, the image for this Sunday:
The title inscription, which is rather difficult to see in this illustration, reads:
ПРИТЧА О МИТАРИ И ФАРИСЕЙ
PRITCHA O MITARI I PHARISEI
“[The] Parable of [the] Publican and [the] Pharisee.”
If you are wondering what all those brackets are about, remember that Church Slavic — like Russian, has no definite or indefinite articles — no “the” or “a,” so we have to supply them for good English.
The short words above the two figures are just abbreviations of “Pharisee” (Фарисей; the central figure at left) and “Publican” (Митар; the central figure at right).
Note that the icon is really divided into two halves, and we see two images of the Publican and two of the Pharisee. At left the proud Pharisee is praying and thanking God that he is not like that miserable Publican, toward whom he gestures with his left hand. Below him is the Publican, shown humbly striking his breast with both fists.
In the right half of the icon we see the Publican, represented as the righteous one of the two by the halo that is now given him. Notice the ray of heavenly light extending to his head. Below him is the Pharisee, skulking out of the Temple with no halo — a sign of his divine rejection because of his pride.
In the upper portion of the image, we see the long reddish cloth hanging from building to building. This is the velum — the old standard symbol telling us the scene is taking place in an interior. At the center of the image is the temple altar, shown in the form of an Orthodox Church altar.
The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is found in Luke 18:10-14:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
Perhaps you noted the similarity between the prayer of the Publican and the “Jesus Prayer” repeated over and over in Russian Orthodoxy:
Господи Иисусе Христе, Сыне Божий, помилуй мя, грешного.
Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, Suine Bozhiy, pomiluy mya,greshnogo
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
THIRD SUNDAY BEFORE: SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON:
Ιcons of the Prodigal Son vary in their details and complexity. Here is a modern page showing one Greek example:
The incriptions above the two figures in the foreground are:
Left: ὁ άσωτος ὑιός — ho asotos huios — “the prodigal son”
In modern Greek, it is pronounced “o asotos eeos.”
Right: ὁ φιλόστοργος Πατήρ — ho philostorgos Pater — “the loving father”
At upper left the Prodigal Son is shown sitting depressed and hungry among the pigs, and at right we see him leaving the pigs and walking back to his home.
The rather lengthy and well-known story of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32. I won’t repeat it here.
Note the signature in the lower right corner of the image. It reads:
Χειρ φωτιου Κοντογλου
Κheir Photiou Kontoglou
“Hand [of] Photis Kontoglou”
If you are a long-time reader here (I keep saying that, don’t I!), you will not only be able to read that inscription on your own, but you will also recognize the name Photis Kontoglou (Φώτης Κόντογλου, 1895-1965). He is noted for his 20th-century revival and adaptation of earlier iconographic styles and the creation of a new “retro” movement in modern Greek icon painting, which had a wide influence.
2ND SUNDAY BEFORE: SUNDAY OF THE LAST JUDGMENT:
Another name for this day is “Meatfare Sunday,” because it is the last day on which believers can eat meat before Lent.
The icon for this Sunday is the Страшный суд — Strashnuiy Sud — “Terrible Judgment” as the Russians call it, representing the judging of all the living and dead at the second coming of Jesus. Here is a 15th century example from Novgorod:
Here is the link to my previous discussion of this icon type:
1ST SUNDAY BEFORE: CHEESEFARE SUNDAY/EXPULSION OF ADAM AND EVE FROM PARADISE:
The icon for this day (as you might have guessed from the heading) is the “Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise”/Изгнание Адама и Евы из Рая/Izgnanie Adama i Evui iz Raya. The tale is found in Genesis 3:22-24.
Here is a 17th century Russian example — a fresco from the portal of the Church of Nicholas Nadeina in Yaroslavl (in case you are wondering where the Nadeina comes from, it derives from the name of the wealthy merchant who paid for its construction — Епифаний Свешников/Epiphaniy Sveshnikov, who was nicknamed Надей/Nadey. The church was so called to distinguish it from other St. Nicholas Churches in that city.
It depicts Adam and Eve exiting through the gate of Paradise, and an angel making sure they leave and do not return. This image is often found in combination with other scenes relating to Adam and Eve.
The rather odd English name of this Sunday derives from the Church practice of making this the last day on which believers are allowed to eat dairy products such as cheese (as well as eggs) before the beginning of the Lenten fasting (they are already fasting from meat). The Russian name for this day is Масленичная неделя/Maslenichnaya Nedelya — “Butter Sunday,” and the week before Lent is celebrated as Мaсленица — Maslenitsa — from the Russian word for “butter” (масло/maslo). Maslenitsa is a very old Slavic celebration dating to pre-Christian times, when it was the festival welcoming the sun and the beginning of spring. The standard Russian food for Maslenitsa is блины/blinui/bliny — the little round thin pancakes made of flour, eggs, milk and butter or oil. Their round shape represented the sun.
Another popular Russian name for this Sunday is Прощёное Воскресенье — Proshchonoe Voskresen’e — “Forgiveness Sunday.”
The Greeks call Cheesefare Sunday Κυριακή Της Τυροφάγου — Kyriake Tes Tyrophagou — “Sunday of Cheese-eating.”
Now we move onto the The Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography. They are:
1ST SUNDAY: THE TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY:
This celebrates the triumph in the year 843 c.e. of those who favored the making and veneration of icons (the Iconophiles) over those who decried it as an unchristian survival of paganism (the Iconoclasts). The main figures in the icon are the byzantine Empress Theodora, shown crowned at left, with her son Michael III. In the center is the Hodegitria (“Way-shower”) icon. To its right stand the Patriarch of Constantinople, Methodios, and Bishop Theodoros.
2ND SUNDAY: ST. GREGORY PALAMAS:
As one might expect from the name, this Sunday commemorates Gregory Palamas (Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς/Gregorios Palamas, c. 1296 – 1359). Gregory was an Athonite monk and prominent defender of Hesychasm — the meditative practice in Eastern Orthodoxy — and its theology. He later became Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and was glorified as a saint in 1368. Here is a 15th century Greek icon of him:
The inscription is rather worn, but still legible. The top line is read from the left to right sides, and the remainder also from left to right. Here is the left side:
At the top is the partly-obliterated Ὁ Άγιος/Ho Hagios/”The Holy,” followed by a word divided into two parts — Αρχιεπί-σκοπος/Arkhiepiskopos/”Archbishop.”
And here is the right:
At top is the name Γρηγόριος/Gregorios/”Gregory,” followed by two divided words. The first is Θεσσαλονί-κης/Thessalonikes/”of-Thessaloniki, and the second is Ὁ Παλα-μάς/Ho Palamas/”the Palamas.”
If we put them together as they are meant to be read, we get:
Ὁ Άγιος Γρηγόριος Αρχιεπίσκοπος Θεσσαλονίκης Ὁ Παλαμάς
Ho Hagios Gregorios Arkhiepiskopos Thessalonikes Ho Palamas
“The Holy Gregory, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, (the) Palamas”
It may seem peculiar that there is a major Sunday commemoration just for Gregory; the thinking behind it is that the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy celebrates the victory of the Iconophiles over the Iconoclasts (considered “heretics” in Eastern Orthodoxy), and Gregory’s triumph over those opposing the practice of Hesychasm similarly was another victory of what came to be considered Orthodoxy over opposing doctrines.
3RD SUNDAY: THE VENERATION OF THE CROSS:
There are two icons generally associated with this day. The first is the same as that for the Major church feast called the “Elevation of the Cross.” Here is a 19th century Russian example:
The Inscription at the top reads:
ВОЗДВИЖЕНИЕ ЧЕСТНАГО КРЕСТА ГОСПОДНЯ
VOZDVIZHENIE CHESTNAGO KRESTA GOSPODNYA
“Elevation of the Honorable Cross of the Lord.”
The icon depicts the raising of the cross on which Jesus was crucified for the veneration of the people of Jerusalem. St. Helena — mother of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized and supported Christianity in the Roman Empire — according to legend discovered the cross of Jesus buried in Jerusalem in 326 c.e. In the icon Helena stands at left, and on the left side of the cross is Bishop Makariy/Makarios/Macarius of Jerusalem, and on the other side another bishop.
The second icon associated with the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross is the type generally called simply ПОКЛОНЕНИЕ КРЕСТА — POKLONENIE KRESTA — “Veneration of the Cross.” Here is a 12th century Russian example.
It depicts the empty cross ornamented with a wreath, standing on Golgotha with the skull of Adam visible within the hill. At left is the sun, and at right the moon. The Archangel Michael is at left, holding the spear of the crucifixion, and at right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding the sponge on a reed. In the sky above are six-winged cherubim at the sides, and at each side of the upper bar of the cross are seraphim bearing ripida — the ceremonial fans used in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.
The liturgical phrase associated with the Veneration of the Cross (and found on countless Crucifixion icons) is:
КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛОНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО И СВЯАТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ
KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO
I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM
“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”
4TH SUNDAY: JOHN OF THE LADDER:
This day commemorates the 6th-7th century monk and writer Ἰωάννης τῆς Κλίμακος/Ioannes tes Klimakos/John of the Ladder. The Russians call him Иоанн Лествичник/ Ioann Lestvichnik/John the Ladder-guy. He is discussed — along with the icon of the “Ladder of John Klimakos” — in this previous posting:
This commemoration celebrates the effort and virtue needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here is a 13th century icon of John Klimakos from the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai, where he was abbot:
The title inscription is easy; it reads:
Ὁ ἉγιοςἸωάννης ὁ τῆς Κλίμακος
Ho Hagios Ioannes ho tes Klimakos
“The Holy John the [one of the] Ladder”
5TH SUNDAY: MARY OF EGYPT:
Mary of Egypt is one of the most common figures in Russian icons. Traditionally, she was a desert ascetic living in the wilds in the region of the Jordan River. She and her iconography are discussed in this previous posting:
This commemoration calls to mind the importance of repentance (Mary was once a raging nymphomaniac).
Here is a Russian icon of her:
Here is the title inscription:
It reads simply:
С[ВЯ]ТАЯ П[РЕПОДОБНАЯ] МАРИЯ ЕГИП[ЕТСКАЯ]
SVYATAYA PREPODOBNAYA MARIYA EGIPETSKAYA
“Holy Venerable Mary of Egypt.”
If you managed to get through this posting, you are either a very serious student of icons, or you have nothing else at all to do. I hope it is the former, but I have my suspicions.