Today we will look briefly at a very uncommon icon type.  It is related to those icons we have seen in previous postings, representing the Guardian Angel and a person at death; but this particular type is based upon a collection of prayers:

(Russian State Museum)

As you can see, it consists of lots of little scenes, each with a bit of text beneath it.

The title inscription should tell us what this is all about:

It is a bit fuzzy, but we can nonetheless read it.  It says:

Изображение Канyна На Исход Души

Though the writer has spelled Kanona as Kanuna, we nonetheless know what he meant, so we can easily translate the title as:


So we know this icon represents a particular liturgical collection of funereal prayers relating to the departure of the soul from the body at death and its journey in the afterlife, as believed in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

This appears to be an Old Believer icon from the 19th century.  It is not a type you are likely to encounter, but if you do, you will be able to recognize it now.




In earlier postings we looked at icons of Holy Wisdom depicted as a red-faced angel sitting upon a throne often supported by seven pillars.  Today we will look at a 16th century Novgorod icon that again depicts Wisdom, but in a different manner.

Customarily, when looking at icons here, we look at the whole image first, then look more closely at various details.  Today, however, we shall begin with details, which will enable you to understand the icon as a whole when seeing it.

Here is the first detail:

We see a circle with a robed figure in the center, holding a chalice in hand.  Beside the head is a faint inscription reading:

Божия Сила Божия Премудрость
Bozhiya Sila Boshiya Premudrost’
“Power of God — Wisdom of God”

In the red surrounding circle are the winged wheels that are the class of angel called “Thrones” — commonly found in icons of the Trinity.  Also faintly visible in the red circle are representations of Seraphim and the symbols of the Four Evangelists — Man, Eagle, Lion, Ox:

In the darker, cloudy circle enclosing that, we see other angels, as well as a eucharistic container and an altar table.

Not only does the robed central figure have the “Thrones” underfoot — usually a sign of divinity — but also has an eight-pointed halo, another common sign of divinity,  a symbol of the days of Creation with the Eight Day — the Day of Eternity.  Below the seat on which Wisdom sits, we see seven slender supporting pillars.  That takes us back to the fundamental text on which Wisdom icons are based.  Proverbs 9:1:

Wisdom has builded her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars.

The illustration of the text continues:

“She hath killed her beasts…”

Those words are indicating by the two figures slaughtering two cattle beneath them.

She has mingled her wine; she has also furnished her table.

Here we see the wine and the table:

She has sent forth her maidens: she cries upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wants understanding, she says to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

So in the detail above, we see all the people coming to receive the wine of wisdom.  And “crying from the highest places of the city” is a crowned figure in the tower, holding a scroll:

He is King Solomon, the traditional author of the book of Proverbs.  He is considered a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy.  He holds a scroll that begins:

Premudrost’ sozda sebye kh[ra]m i outverdi…
“Wisdom built herself a temple and set up…”

So of course he is telling us  — as in Proverbs 9:1 — that Wisdom built herself a temple and set it up on seven pillars.

You may recall that older Orthodox translations say  — as here — khram/”temple,” which is also used in Slavic to mean “church.” Later translations use дом (dom), meaning “house.”

At right, above those coming for wine, we see a red circle of seraphim in which Mary is seated with Christ Immanuel, who is considered to be Wisdom:

Below her at right is a turbaned figure  — Kozma/Cosmas of Maium — holding a scroll that has a variant version of  an excerpt by him from the Canon of Holy Thursday:

Всепричинная подательница жизни безмерная мудрость Божия создала себе храм из чистой, не знавшей мужа Матери: ибо в храм телесный облекшийся славно прославился Христос Бог наш»

“The Cause of All, Giver of Life, the immeasurable Wisdom of God, created for himself a temple from the pure, husbandless Mother: for clothed in the temple of the body, gloriously has been glorified Christ our God.”

That illustrates Mary with Christ Immanuel above him — that the child Wisdom, through Mary, was clothed in the temple of a human body.

So that is the main part of the icon, which symbolizes not only the pre-existence but also the incarnation of Jesus as Holy Wisdom — and along with that it represents the Eucharistic sacrifice.

At the top of the icon, we see a seven-domed church:

The scenes beneath the smaller domes represent the Seven Ecumenical Councils, arranged chronologically from left to right:

At left is the Council of Nicaea in 325, which dealt with the Arian controversy and the nature of Jesus.  Beside it is the Council of Constantinople in 381:

Next come the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, and beside it the Council of Chalcedon in 451:

Following that are the Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553, under Emperor Justinian, and beside that the Sixth, the Council of Constantinople in 681.

Last — on the far right — is the Seventh Ecumenical Council under Empress Irene and her son Constantine, in 787.

At the very top of the icon are circles with angels bearing scrolls, but the inscriptions are too small to read in the photo. Often these are interpreted as the gifts of the Spirit.

That should go far in enabling you to understand the whole icon:



Here is a 14th century fresco from Vysokie Dechani, in Serbia:

The visible inscription says only МОЛЕНИЕ/MOLENIE — “Prayer.”  and below that we see the common title inscription identifying the woman as ΜΡ ΘΥ — Meter Theou — Greek for “Mother of God,” i.e. Mary.

So this fresco depicts “The Prayer of the Mother of God” — Mary praying — but what is the story behind it?

It comes from the legendary tale of her “Dormition” — which means “Falling Asleep” — that is, her death.  Earliest Christianity left no tradition about what became of Mary.  It was not until the 5th century that stories giving varying accounts of her death began to appear.

The tradition in iconography relates that one day Mary went to Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and prayed that her soul might be taken from her body so that she might see her son again.  The angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that her wish was to be granted:  she would die in three days.

So that is what we see in this fresco from Dechani — the “Prayer of the Mother of God on the Mount of Olives.”  This example does not show the angel (some do) — just a hand blessing from Heaven.

Now you may notice the stylized trees are all bent in Mary’s direction.  That is because tradition says that when Mary said her prayer on the Mount of Olives, the trees bowed to her in reverence (we also find the motif of “bowing trees” in icons of Irene Chrysovolantou).

It is not surprising that we seldom see this subject on its own.  Usually it is depicted as one of the scenes in detailed icons of the Dormition, such as this 17th century Russian example from Yaroslavl:

The image of the “Prayer of the Mother of God on the Mount of Olives” (Моление Богоматери на Елеонской горе/Molenie Bogomateri na Eleonskoy Gore) is the second scene from the left in the bottom row.  Though small in the photo, we can see that it nonetheless has the same basic elements as the Dechani fresco.





You may recall the words often used to frighten and discipline misbehaving school children — “It is going on your permanent record.”  Well, it was not only teachers who used this threat.  It has long been practiced in Eastern Orthodox iconography as well.

Today we will look at an icon type more often found in fresco than in painted panel form  Here is a rare example of the latter:

(Gian Pietro Serra Collection)

It obviously depicts two angels holding scrolls, but to find out who they are, we must read the title inscription at the top:



You may recall that some time ago we looked at frescos of the angel or angels painted at the entrance to Russian churches, who record the names of those entering the church:


Well, this icon is another and smaller version of that.  Though sometimes the standing angel at the left is called Michael (and he may also carry a sword), and the (usually seated) angel at the right Gabriel, in other examples they may be anonymous, as are the angels in this painted panel example.

In it, we see the recording angels that note down the names and disposition of those who enter and those who leave the church — whether they are present, and whether they enter in a reverent manner, and whether they leave earlier than appropriate.

As you see, each angel in the icon holds a scroll, but instead of simply listing names, the scrolls in this example bear pious inscriptions.

Here is the angel at left:

His scroll reads (I am putting it in the modern Russian font):

Радуйтеся и веселитеся, яко мзда ваша мн[ога на небесех].

Raduitesya i veselitesya, yako mzda vasha mn[oga na nebesekh].

It is the first words of Matthew 5:12:

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”

Here is the angel on the right:

He has a pen in hand, and he has written:

Радуйтеся, пра…

It is the beginning of Psalm 33:1 (Psalm 32:1 in Western numbering):

Радуйтеся, пра[веднии, о Господе: правым подобает похвала].
Raduitesya, pra[vednii, o Gospode: pravuim podobaet pokhvala].

“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.”

The motif of an angel with a scroll is called — sensibly enough — Ангел со свитком/Angel so svitkom — “The Angel with a Scroll.”

An icon from the Blagovyeshchenie (Annunciation) Monastery in Murom shows an “Angel with a Scroll,” and the  title inscription identifies it as the angel seen in the vision of “Holy Father Ammon,”  who saw “the Angel of the Lord Sitting and Writing Names of Those Entering the Church of God.”
(Murom History and Art Museum)

This relates to the old tale that the Egyptian monk-priest Ammon was given the ability to see spiritual things.  Once during the Eucharist, he saw an angel near the altar who was writing down the names of those present, and crossing out the names of the absent monks.

The scroll of the Murom angel reads:

“The Angel of the Lord Writes Down the Names of Those Entering the Church of the Lord ….”

Sometimes the inscription is a bit longer:

Ангел Господень написует имена входящыя в церковь Господню со страхом, и с верою.

“The Angel of the Lord writes down the names of those entering the Church of the Lord with Fear and with belief.”

As mentioned in my earlier posting, a single recording angel is sometimes simply known as the Ангел храма — Angel Khrama — “Angel of the Church.”  It is believed that this angel becomes the protector of a church when it is consecrated, and remains on duty there until the Second Coming — even, it is said, if the church is destroyed.  Such an angel may be depicted as standing or sitting, recording on his scroll the names of those entering the church, noting those absent or late or leaving early, so that he may give his report on them at the Last Judgment.

It is written in the Spiritual Meadow that Abba Leontios — the priest of the coenobitic Monastery of St. Theodosios — reported:

“Once on Sunday I came to church to celebrate the Holy Mysteries.   On entering the temple, I saw an angel standing at the right side of the throne [the altar]. Horrified, I retired to my cell. And there came a voice to me: ‘Since this throne was consecrated, I am commanded to be with it all the time.'”

Now obviously there is a relationship here to the standard image of the Guardian Angel in icons, who follows each person through life, recording his deeds.  Sometimes the iconography of the two becomes mixed, particularly when the angel writing on a scroll is simply called “The Angel with a Scroll.”


Here is yet another “icon in a tree” image.  If you look closely, however, you will see that there is also a large fish and a round loaf of bread in the tree:

It all relates to the story of another of the monastic founder monks of the “Northern Thebaid” — one of those who wandered off into the forested wilds of northern Russia.  This one is “Holy Venerable Martyr Adrian Poshekhonskiy, Wonderworker.”

Adrian was a monk at the Vologda-Korneliev Monastery.  He supposedly had a vision in which Mary appeared to him, telling him to go into the northern wilds and build a church there.  An alternate account says that while at that monastery, Adrian met a strange old starets (religious elder) named Bestuzh, who told Adrian his future was to build a church in a wild place, and also told Adrian he knew where that place was to be found.

With the permission of his abbot, Adrian set off into the forests with his fellow monk Leonid, and the strange starets travelled with them, guiding their way into the swampy, forested region.  when they arrived at their destination, the starets mysteriously vanished — and they determined from this that he must have been an angel sent to guide and protect them.

They had brought with them an icon of the Dormition (Uspenie) of the Mother of God, and this they hung in an oak tree.  Then they went off into the forest — some say to look for whatever mushrooms and berries they might find to eat.

While they were gone, some local fishermen from the village of Beloselsk came into the area, fishing on the Vetka River at the same place where the monks had hung the icon of Mary.  There they were able to catch two extraordinarily large pike (a kind of fish).  One of them found the icon — some say shining with a bright light —  and climbed up and attempted to take the icon from the tree, but a strong unseen force pushed him away.  Impressed by all this, the fishermen left offerings at the tree, in the form of fish and bread.  That accounts for the large fish we see lying across a branch of the tree in the icon, and it also accounts for the round loaf near it.

When Adrian and his companion returned, they were surprised to find the food left at the tree.

Feeling this was the spot for their church, the monks set to work.  Other people in the region came to them and helped, and eventually a church and monastery rose on the site.

There was trouble, however.  In the year 1550, robbers came from the village of Beloye to the monastery, thinking that there must be wealth inside.  They tried to get Adrian — now the abbot — to reveal the wealth, but when he told them there was only 40 Rubles for the construction work, they strangled him with a rope and killed other monks as well.

The story is that that the robbers carried away Adrian’s body.  Some say they just threw it aside in the forest, and that later a priest found it, buried it, and planted a rowan tree over the grave.  The killing of Adrian is why he has the title Prepodobnomuchenik — “Venerable Marytr,” that is, a monk-martyr.

As these tales go, however, that was not the end.  It is said that people in one of the local villages on the Ukra River began to notice something odd.  If they were ill and happened to eat the berries from a certain rowan tree (rowan trees, by the way, were often considered sacred in pre-Christian times), they would suddenly find themselves well again.  Of course word about this miraculous tree got out, and some priests finally came to investigate in the year 1625.  They dug under the rowan tree, and there, it is said, they found the incorrupt body of Adrian.  And of course the usual tales of miraculous healings associated with the remains of Adrian followed.

Though icons of Adrian have the same general form, depicting Adrian on one side and the tree with the the icon of the Dormition, fish, and loaf in it on the other, some examples — like the one above — also include the fishermen with their nets in the river, and one of them finding the icon.  Other examples show an additional monk or monks standing with Adrian  Some also show in the background the monastery he founded, as in this icon:

Here is a simpler version of the image, dated 1902 — one of those lithographs printed by the Fesenko firm in Odessa.  For more information on Fesenko, see this earlier posting:




Even before identifying who is depicted in this icon, we can nonetheless immediately tell certain things about it.

First, because of the arched border decorated with geometric designs, and incised and painted to imitate enamel, we know it dates in the period from the latter part of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Second, because it is painted in a semi- “realistic” manner, we can tell that it is a State Church icon and not an Old Believer icon.

Now as to who it depicts, well, there are lots of rather obscure female saints in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, and many of them are shown in just the same way, with the same kind of garments.  So her appearance does not tell us much.  And of course her features are entirely the product of the imagination, given that no one has the slightest idea what she really looked like.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The saint depicted is:


She is Galina of Corinth.

Given that there are no characteristics other than the generic in her iconography, the painter has given her same scroll text as held by the similar-appearing and more noted female saint Paraskeva Pyatnitsa — the so-called “Symbol of Faith” that begins:

“I believe in one God the Father Almighty… [etc. etc.]”

In icons of Paraskeva, however, it is more common for the unrolled scroll to extend upward from her hand, instead of downward.

There is not much to Galina’s hagiographic tale, given that she is included among a group said to have been martyred at Corinth in the 3rd century.

She was supposedly instructed in Christianity by the Elder (and later martyr) Kodrat (Quadratus).  It is said that in the persecution under Emperor Trajan Decius (249-251), a hegemon named Jason came to Corinth, where he imprisoned Kodrat and his disciples, one of whom was Galina (her name is given as Calla in one account).   It is said that she and the others were beheaded, and on the spot of their execution a clear spring of water burst forth out of the ground.

Well, that is one version.  Another says that she was martyred under Emperor Valerian (253-260).  In this account, instead of being beheaded, she and other women, along with the male martyr Leonidas, were thrown into the sea to drown.  However they did not sink, but instead walked on the waves, singing Christian hymns all the while.  So their persecutors caught up with them by boat, tied stones around their necks, and that way they were finally drowned and martyred.  Now as one can tell, her hagiography is not reliable as history.

There is another Saint Galina celebrated on a different day, but she is titled Pravednaya (“Righteous”) or sometimes Blazhennaya (“Blessed”) rather than Muchenitsa (“Martyress”).  By tradition she was the daughter of Emperor Severus, and was moved to become a Christian by exposure to the noted saint Kharlampiy/Haralambos of Magnesia.  She can generally easily be distinguished from Galina the Martyress because “Righteous”  Galina is commonly depicted wearing a crown.



It is not difficult to identify this icon, because we have seen another of the same type in an earlier posting:


So we know that this is essentially an icon of the patrons of horses, Flor and Lavr — in Latin form Florus and Laurus:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Eastern Orthodoxy continued the polytheism of the pre-Christian world in its veneration of saints, assigning them different roles, such as were held by the old gods, major and minor.  And we know that if one had a particular concern with the raising and well-being of horses, Flor and Lavr were the saints who had authority in that field.

Let’s take a look at the saints in the upper half of the icon:

We see at center “Holy Archangel Mikhail/Michael.”  He holds the “Image Not Made by Hands,” by Eastern Orthodox tradition the first icon of Christianity.

At far left is “Holy Flor/Florus, Martyr.”

And at far right is the fellow with whom he is usually shown, “Holy Lavr/Laurus, Martyr.”

Now let’s look at the fellow in bishop’s robes beside Lavr:


Now I hope you will recall that we have seen Vlasiy before, as a protector of herds and flocks:


So here he is, adding his “power” to this icon of the patrons of horses.

The fellow I really want to concentrate on today, however, is the last saint depicted, the one just to the left of Michael:

His title inscription is a bit worn, but we can nonetheless easily decipher it as SVYATUIY MEDOST P[ATRIARKH]/HOLY MEDOST/MODEST, PATRIARCH.  This Medost was Патриарх Иерусалимский/Patriarkh Ierusalimskiy — “Patriarch of Jerusalem.  So what is this 7th century Patriarch of Jerusalem doing in this icon of patrons of horses and herds and flocks?

It all goes back to stories from his legendary biography.

One tale relates that a farmer was on the road with his oxen when the devil attacked them, and they fell dead to the ground.  The farmer prayed for Modest, who came and raised them up again.  But as the farmer proceeded on his way, the devil attacked them once more, and again they fell to the ground.  Modest appeared again, raised them up, and this time he tied his belt to them, so that the devil could no longer trouble them.

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.”

He then instructed the woman to rise up, to cut pieces of iron from metal tools, and to take the pieces to the place called Lagina, where there was a church dedicated to the Arhistrategos Michael (the Archangel Michael as Heavenly Commander).  There lived a man named Evstafiy (Eustathios), who would make her a cross from them.  She was then to return to her  home and call seven presbyters, who were to perform religious services in her house, and with incense and candles they were to take the cross and pour oil over it,  and then the oil was to be sprinkled on the oxen, and they would be healed.  And of course as these old tales go, the oxen were made quite healthy again by the ritual.

That explains why Medost/Modest is in this icon.  His ability to cure oxen and livestock used in ploughing (and even other farm and domestic creatures) is added to that of the other two healers of horses and flocks, to cover even better the needs of an owner of livestock.

Now let’s look at another icon that has Medost/Modest as its main image:

The title inscription says: Svyatuiy Myedost, Patriarkh Ierusalimskiy.  We can see from the second letter in his name that the writer is pronouncing it with a  “ye” sound — so “Myedost.”

We also see a winged serpent by the water on the right side.  A demonic serpent is said to have killed animals in Jerusalem by poisoning the water with his venom.  Medost/Modest got rid of him.

There are various other animals in the icon, including a dog.  It is said that Modest once adjured the devil, who had appeared in the shape of a dog.

We can see from the saints included that this icon was oriented specifically toward those needing protection for herds, horses and other livestock in the days before one could just call a veterinarian.

There were all kinds of folk beliefs about the day of Modest’s commemoration, one of which was that women were not to play card games on it.  If they did, then when summer came, the chickens would peck holes in the cucumbers in the garden.