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:


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




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:


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 Προφήτης Δαβίδ
Ho Prophetes Dabid/O Prophetes 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.”



Today we will take a look at the the  “Ascension” type, called Voznesenie in Russia, and in Greek icons He Analepsis Η ΑΝΑΛΗΨΙΣ..
In the Bible, we find Ascension narratives only in the Gospel attributed to Luke and in the book of Acts.  Both are rather minimal.  There is also a very brief mention in the Gospel called “of Mark,” but it is not found in the earliest manuscripts, and is a later addition.

Here is a pleasant late Russian example of the Ascension type painted in the traditional manner:

(Courtesy of

The Church Slavic inscription reads ВОЗНЕСЕНИЕ ГОСОДНЕ — Voznesenie Gospodene — “Ascension of the Lord.”

At both sides are Twelve Apostles, identified by inscription as “Apostles of the Lord.”  And in the center, as is common in “Ascension” icons, stands Mary.

Above is Jesus, rising into heaven in a circle of light carried by two angels.  Note that Jesus sits on a rainbow.  That element (not mentioned in the Gospels) comes from two main sources, the first being the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, chapter 1:

26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.

28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

The second source is the book of Revelation, the “Apocalypse of John”:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

What we see in this icon, then, is not the usual Western European depiction of a standing Jesus slowly rising into the clouds, but rather a depiction of Jesus raised up to the heavenly throne on which he sits and is said to come in judgment.

Here is an earlier image of the Ascension found in the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, usually dated to the 6th century, though the book as a whole may be a composite volume of more than one date.  This depiction borrows elements from Ezekiel and from the Revelation:

In it, Jesus is not seated but standing, and there is no rainbow.  There are six “standard” angels (four above, two beside Mary).  Two hold the oval in which Jesus stands, two approach Jesus with wreaths of victory, and two look toward the apostles. But just below Jesus, we see a creature with four faces, wings filled with eyes, and wheels at both sides.  This too comes from Ezekiel 1 and from the Revelation 4.  The four heads, in Eastern Orthodox tradition, symbolize the four Evangelists Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.  The wheels, in Eastern Orthodox theology, are the rank of angel called “Thrones.”

If you look carefully to upper left and right of the image, you will see the moon and the sun depicted as living beings.  Here is the moon:

And here the sun:

If we look at the group of Apostles, we see there are twelve.  As the Gospels relate, at the time of the Ascension there were only eleven, Judas having betrayed Jesus and committed suicide.  But the Rabbula image and many later examples of the Ascension add Paul as a twelfth apostle in the type (the twelfth was actually Matthias, chosen after the ascension and not depicted in it).  Of course the presence of Paul is an anachronism, but Eastern Orthodoxy likes to see the Ascension icon as also an image of the Church, and so we see Mary at center (also considered an image of the Church on her own), as well as those apostles later considered the two chief apostolic founders of the Church, Peter and Paul.

Here is a much later Russian example that has neither rainbow nor the symbols of the Evangelists nor “Thrones” nor Paul.  It is influenced not only by Western and less anachronistic depictions of the Ascension, but also shows the increased realism favored by the State Church in later times”  Here the three chief figures at bottom are Mary, the Apostle Peter at left, and the Apostle John at right:

(Courtesy of

Here is another Russian example, this time again painted in the traditional “stylized” manner, with much attention given to the hill from which Jesus is rising:

(Courtesy of

The Ascension type is found not only as a separate icon, but also in icons showing the Resurrection and major Church festivals.

Now the interesting thing about Ascension icons is that they perpetuate right into modern times the ancient, pre-scientific notion of a universe that has humans living on a flat earth above which is a solid firmament, and above that firmament is not only a sea but also the throne of God.  “Heaven” in traditional Jewish and Christian belief was the sky, so of course when Jesus ascends, he ascends into the sky.  Now, however, thanks to science, we know that the firmament is not a solid dome, that there is no sea above it, and no throne room of God up there, where he sits like an ancient king.  Consequently, many modern Christians, in an attempt to adapt, have begun thinking of Heaven not as the sky, but as somehow in a separate dimension.  That view, however, is not in keeping with the Ascension icons nor with biblical accounts.  But early Christians, not knowing that the earth was round, and not knowing that the earth is only a tiny particle in an immense universe, thought that all Jesus had to do to reach Heaven was to go up.  Of course “up” would take one in multiple and different directions of space, depending on where and when on the globe one went up, as the earth revolves in its path around the sun.  And we know that one can go light years (the distance light travels in a year) in any direction and not find a physical Heaven as described in the Old and New Testaments.  All this provides major problems for today’s “literalist” Christians, which is why they tend not to think about the matter.


Today’s first example is not an icon.  It is an icon-influenced illustration of a Russian saint, done by the noted Russian illustrator and stage designer Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942).  If you know Russian fairy tales, you have likely seen the colorful Bilibin illustrations for them.  And who does not enjoy a good story about Baba Yaga the Witch?

I show you this illustration because it depicts a person often found in icons, and its inscription in Church Slavic is one you should be able to translate now without difficulty if you have read the little lessons in previous postings:

(Courtesy of

Let’s look at the inscription:

It is only slightly abbreviated:


Blagovernuiy means literally “good-believing,” but it is understood to mean a “true, Orthodox believer.”  It was a title formerly applied to members of the Russian Imperial Family.  Velikiy Knyaz is sometimes translated as “Great Prince,” sometimes as “Grand Duke.”

Bilibin has depicted him holding the “Vladimir” icon of Mary.  The story of the Vladimir image — in brief — is that it was brought from Constantinople to Kiev in 1131.  It was placed in a convent at Vyshgorod, today a suburb of Kiyev/Kiev.  Prince Andrey Bogoliubskiy invaded and plundered Kiev in 1155.  He took the icon from the convent, and was on his way back to Suzdal with it, so the story goes, when the horses stopped, and refused to go farther.   Supposedly Andrey prayed all night and Mary appeared to him, telling him to take her icon to Vladimir, and to build a church and convent on the site of his vision.  Then the horses were allowed to move again.

Andrey did have a church and convent built on the site, and called the place Bogoliubovo — meaning loosely “Loved by God” — and from that is derived his name, Bogoliubskiy.

There is something else to note in this Bilibin illustration — the white church in the background at left.  It depicts a real church.  In Russian it is called the  Церковь Покрова на Нерли — Tserkov Pokrova na Nerli — literally, the “Church of the Protection on the Nerl” (the Nerl is a river).   The Pokrov (which means literally “veil” and figuratively “protection”), you may recall, is an old icon type discussed in a previous posting.  In English that church is often referred to as the “Church of the Intercession,” which blurs its real meaning somewhat.  Why is it shown here with Andrey Bogoliubskiy?  Because he commissioned the building of the white stone church in the year 1165 — tradition says in memory of his dead son Izyaslav — and it is still there today.  Andrey Bogoliubskiy also introduced the Pokrov as a church festival in his region.

Following the precedent of Constantinople, Bogoliubskiy made Mary the protectress and patron of royal authority and the State (HIS authority and HIS State, of course).  In addition to the “Vladimir” image, Andrey is also associated with the Marian icon known as the Bogoliubskaya.  You will recall that according to the traditional story, when taking the “Vladimir” image back to Suzdal, the horses stopped, Andrey prayed at great length, and Mary appeared to him.  He is said to have had the first Bogoliubskaya image painted in commemoration of that.

The Bogoliubskaya image exists in several variants.  The basic type shows Mary standing full length with an open scroll in her hand, looking to the right of the image, where Christ is seen in the clouds above.  The text on Mary’s scroll varies from example to example.  Other examples show one or more figures kneeling before Mary at right.  Generally when it is only one figure, it is Andrey Bogoliubskiy.

The most interesting variant is that known as the Bogoliubskaya Moskovskaya — the “Moscow” Bogoliubskaya type.

Here is an example of that “Moscow” type, which, though painted in the manner of the late 17th century Armory School of Moscow, is nonetheless a recent icon:

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of

Icons of the “Moscow” Bogoliubskaya type are characterized by Mary standing at left with an opened scroll in her hand, and a group of bowing and kneeling figures at right, among them Moscow saints and other saints popular in that region.  They vary somewhat from example to example, but in general one often finds The Metropolitans of Moscow Pyotr, Alexiy, Iona and Filipp; the “Fools for Christ’s sake” Vasily/Basil, Maxim, and Alexiy, Man of God;  Venerable Paraskeva; Basil the Great; the Apostle Peter; the nun-martyr Evdokiya; the martyr Paraskeva, and Simeon the Kinsman of the Lord.




In an earlier posting, I talked about the very popular Marian icon type called in Church Slavic Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost, — the “Joy of All Who Suffer.”  You may also find it titled Всех скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost, which is the same name in Russian.  The Skorbyashchim/Skorbyashchikh part means both “those who are afflicted” and “those who sorrow,” which is why some translate the title as “Joy of/to Those Who Sorrow.”

Today we will look at an interesting and common subtype of that icon.  It is called Всех скорбящих Радость (с грошиками) — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost S Groshikami, meaning “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins.'”  The example below —  which appears to have been painted in oils — bears the title: ОБРАЗ СКОРБЯЩИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ OBRAZ SKORBYASHCHIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI “[THE] IMAGE OF [THE] ‘OF THE SUFFERING’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD” Looking at it, we can see why it is commonly called “With Coins”;  it has coins on its surface.  In most icons the coins are painted, but the maker of this example used real copper coins inserted into the panel:

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of

Here is a half-kopek coin from 1898: And here is another from 1909.   The С.П.Б. at the bottom indicates the coin is from the Saint Petersburg mint: Icons of this sub-type often have a brief inscription at the base stating the origin, as we see in the following example produced near the end of the Tsarist era — one of the new mass-produced, chromolithographed icons on tin, such as were offered by the firm of Jacquot and Bonacœur (in Russian Жако и Бонакер), which also produced other kinds of tin goods such as colorful boxes.  These “printed tin” icons competed with the business of icon painters and further contributed to their decline:

 The problem with these colorful old icons on metal is that when scratched or exposed to moisture, they tend to rust very easily, though they were quite attractive to the ordinary Russian buyer when new.

Here is its title inscription, in beautiful traditional lettering, but in Russian rather than Church Slavic:

vsekhsklithtitle And here is the “origin” inscription:

It says:

The true likeness of the wonderworking image of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Suffer”; it turned up after a thunderstorm that broke out the 23 of July in the year  1888 over the chapel located at St. Petersburg, in the area adjacent to the glass factory.

The traditional story relates that there were several icons in the chapel.  It was struck by lightning, and everything inside was charred, with the exception of one icon that was found where it had fallen face down on the floor.  When it was turned over, the dark surface of the image had become fresh and clear, and sticking to the surface were eleven coins from the poor box that had been shattered by the lightning strike. Now, given the religious mind of ordinary Russians at that time, this event that sounds rather ordinary to us today was seen then as remarkably miraculous.  Within a day of the event, crowds of pilgrims gathered at the chapel, and the fame of the image spread far and wide, drawing even greater masses of people.  And then followed the inevitable “miraculous” healings that are associated with such images in Eastern Orthodoxy.

As we have seen, this image is a variation on the popular “Joy of All Who Suffer” type, and it is said that the image that was eventually transformed by lightning into the “With Coins’ variant was originally found floating in the Neva River by a member of the Kurakin family; later a relative, a merchant named Matveev, donated the icon to the chapel in the village of Klochka, not far from the glassworks, by St. Petersburg. You probably noticed the two inscribed banners at Mary’s sides, which are common to this sub-type.  Loosely translated, they are:



These inscriptions illustrate what is happening in the icon:  at left an angel holds out clothing to the naked, and at right another angel stands behind the ill who have come to Mary for healing.

It is important to know the date of appearance of the so-called “wonderworking” Marian icons, because we know that an icon cannot be earlier than the time of its appearance.  So if you happen to be offered an icon of the “Joy of All Who Suffer ‘With Coins'” as an 18th-century icon, you will know that dating is impossible, given that the image did not exist prior to 1888.  The same rule of thumb applies to saints, whose icons are not likely to be found before the date of “glorification” (the Russian equivalent of canonization) of the saint depicted. The “With Coins” sub-type of the “Joy of All Who Suffer” is also often referred to as Всех скорбящих Радость близ Стеклянного завода — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost” Bliz Steklyannogo Zavoda —  “The Joy of All Who Suffer ‘Near The Glass Factory.'”


I mentioned in an earlier posting (“Protection Images East and West”) that the earliest written prayer to Mary was found in Egypt — Rylands Papyrus #470. It is generally known by its first words in Latin translation, Sub Tuum Praesidium — “Under Your Protection.” Though it is fragmentary, the missing parts may be supplied to read:

Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν………..”Under your compassion
καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε………………We flee for refuge, God-birther
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας……………………….Our petitions
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει…………….Do not disregard in affliction
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς….But rescue us from danger
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη………Only Pure, only Blessed.”

We can paraphrase it as:

We flee under your compassion for refuge, Birthgiver of God; do not despise our prayers when troubles surround us, but deliver us from danger, only pure one, only blessed one.

In this prayer, Mary is not approached as an intercessor or intermediary, but rather directly for her powers of deliverance.

I wrote in that earlier posting that It is not surprising we find this earliest-known prayer to Mary in Egypt. Egypt was the land of the goddess Isis — the mother of the god Horus, and one of her titles was Mut Netjer,” “Mother of [the] God,” which we may liken to Theotokos — “Birthgiver of God” in Greek.  The worship of Isis spread in the Roman Empire, with processions, temples, paintings, and images such as this one, from the 2nd century c.e.:

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

As I have said before, as Christianity spread in the Greco-Roman world (which included Egypt at that time) under Roman imperial patronage, the worship of the old gods was first discouraged, then persecuted; and as that happened, the places and functions of the old gods were gradually taken over by Christian saints, the most prominent of which was Mary, who took on the role of the new Mother Goddess.

While the veneration of Isis was fading in the Empire, the veneration of Mary was growing.  As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The use of Theotokos as a title of Mary was officially authorized at the Council of Ephesus in 431 c.e., after a controversy over whether Mary should be called “Birthgiver of Christ” or “Birthgiver of God.” The latter won out.

At the far southern edge of Egypt lay the Temple of Isis at Philae.  In spite of the 392 edict of Emperor Theodosius closing all temples in Egypt, the Isis temple and the other temples at Philae remained open until they were finally officially closed only in the reign of the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian, in 535 – 537 c.e.  That is considered the symbolic end of the old Egyptian religion.

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

Temple at Philae; mid 19th century

But in life, such boundaries are rarely so distinct.

Images of Isis as Mother of Horus frequently depicted her nursing her divine child, as in this Egyptian example:

(Walters Art Museum)

(Walters Art Museum)

It is not a great step from that three-dimensional image to this wall painting of Mary nursing the child Jesus, found in the Coptic Monastery of Apa Jeremiah (Deir Apa Jeremiah) at Saqqara, Egypt, generally dated 6th – 7th century c.e.:

And from that, it is but another short step to icons of the type known in Greek as the Galaktotrouphousa and in Russia as Mlekopitatelnitsa.  Here is a Russian example.

(Courtesy of

The smaller images of St. Nicholas and John the Forerunner at lower left and right are not a part of the type.

Let’s look at the title inscription:


It reads:  МЛЕКОПИТА          ТЕЛНИЦА ПРе[святая] Б[огоро]д[и]ца

Joining the two sides, we get in transliteration:

As is typical in traditional Russian iconography, conscious effort is made to remove the image from reality.  That is why Mary’s breast is so oddly depicted and placed near her shoulder — an attempt to avoid any trace of sensuality:


The Russian Mlekopitatelnitsa type is said by tradition to be based on the Galaktotrophousa (“Milk-nursing”) icon once kept at the Monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, not far from Jerusalem. The hagiographic tradition relates that St. Sabbas, near death, said prophetically that the icon would be given into the hands of a relative of the Serbian Royal Family who would also bear the name “Sava.” (Sabbas).  St. Sabbas died in 532, during the reign of Justinian.  In the 13th century, the first Archbishop of Serbia, named Sava (Sabbas) (1174-1236), visited the monastery, and was given the icon (together, supposedly, with the “Three-handed” icon of Mary).  On his way back, the Archbishop came to Mount Athos, where he eventually had the Khilandar Monastery restored as a Serbian monastery, and gave to it the “Milk-nursing” icon from Palestine.


Eastern Orthodoxy has been generally suspicious of statuary — of images in three dimensions.  Historically, statues are not entirely absent.  Even as early as the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, such three-dimensional images existed in Christianity.  But over time — and particularly after the Iconoclastic period — Eastern Orthodox art has tended to avoid the use of religious statuary.  But one does encounter icons in relief, carved into stone, cast into metal, impressed in clay or carved in wood.

That is why one sometimes finds wooden relief icons of one kind or another in Russian iconography, though they are in general more scarce than painted icons.

Wood carving has been a part of Russian folk art since pre-Christian times, and when one finds carved icons in the 18th and 19th centuries, they still have much the appearance of folk art objects, though they were used just as were painted icons.

Here is a carved wooden icon depicting the Crucifixion.  It is depicted as though in a church interior, which is why we see seven church domes above it:

(Courtesy of

We see the usual figures found in painted Crucifixion icons — Jesus in the center, his mother Mary and another Mary at left, and at right the disciple John and the Centurion Longinus (Login Sotnik).  Even the inscriptions are carved in wood, and considerable time must have been required for such detail.  When the carving was finished, the icon was painted in suitable colors and then varnished.  The surface has oxidized and aged over the years, which is why the surface now has a rather dark appearance:

Each figure has its title inscription, and above Jesus we see the usual inscription, written here as IНЦI, abbreviating “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  And at the sides of his head is the common IC XC, abbreviating “Jesus Christ.”

Most notable, however, is the very long carved text in the outer borders of the icon.  The novice student of Russian icons might at first despair of determining what it signifies, but one should always keep in mind that icon inscriptions tend to be very repetitive.  Also, certain texts tend to be associated with certain images.  Given that, can we possibly make any sense out of all those hundreds of letters carved without punctuation or even separation into individual words?

Fortunately, it is not as difficult as it looks.  In fact if you have read the earlier postings on this site, you will already have been given the key to translating it.

What does one do with such an unfamiliar inscription?  One first looks for the familiar, whether in words or phrases.  And if we go to the beginning of the text, which is at the upper left corner, we can begin to work with it.  In general the starting point in most icons for a sequence of images or a long text is at upper left:

That is a bit dark, so it would be helpful to brighten the image to add clarity, like this:

We can now see, looking carefully, that the inscription begins with these letters:


Where have we seen that before?  The most logical place to look is in materials dealing with Crucifixion images.  You may recall that some time ago I did a posting titled “The Instant Expert on Russian Crosses“:

In that article, I gave the standard inscriptions associated with the Crucifixion type.  And among them, you will find this:

Da Voskresenet’ Bog’ i Razuidyutsya Vrazi Ego, I da Byezhat’ Ot’ Litsa Ego Vsi Nenavidashchey ego…


 “Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomy Kresty — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”

Now one thing we will notice about the form of the text on this icon is that its wording in Church Slavic is a bit different than the standard Russian Orthodox version.  That is because this icon uses the old text, not the revised wording used by the State Church after the separation from the Old Believers.  That tells us this is an Old Believer icon, and indeed such carved relief icons tend to be found more commonly among Old Believers than in the State Church.

Here is the Old Believer text:

Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его, яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут, яко тает воск от лица огня,тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменающихся крестным знамением, и да возвеселимся рекуще: радуися, Кресте Господень, прогоняя бесы силою на Тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Исуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго, и поправшаго силу диаволю, и давшаго нам Крест Свой Честныи на прогнание всякаго супостата. О Пречестныи и Животворящии Кресте Господень, помогай ми, с Пресвятою Госпожею Богородицею и со всеми святыми небесными силами, всегда и ныне и присно и во веки веком, аминь.

And here is the text as found in State Church prayer books:

Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его. Яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут; яко тает воск от лица огня, тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменующихся крестным знамением, и в веселии глаголющих: радуйся, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень, прогоняяй бесы силою на тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Иисуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго и поправшаго силу диаволю, и даровавшаго нам тебе Крест Свой Честный на прогнание всякаго супостата. О, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень! Помогай ми со Святою Госпожею Девою Богородицею и со всеми святыми во веки. Аминь.

You can see that there are some differences, but not enough to prevent us from recognizing the text in both cases.  Do not be intimidated by this.  All it means for practical purposes is:

If the beginning words read:
Да воскреснет Бог, и разыдутся врази Его… then we know it is likely an Old Believer icon.  But if we see the text beginning like this:
Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его… then we know it is a State Church image.

Keep in mind that one need not be concerned about minor differences in spelling, but differences in wording help us to distinguish icons of the Old Believers from those of the State Church in Russia after the latter part of the 17th century.  One can even see slight differences between the form of the text used on the carved icon and that given above as the Old Believer form of the full prayer.  The reason is that the text on the icon more closely follows the spelling used in the Ostrog Bible (Острожская Библия ) — the first complete printed Church Slavic Bible in the corrected edition of 1581.



Here is a 19th-century Russian icon of a saint.  The long text written on the both sides is his hagiographic “life,” his “vita,” to use the Latin term:

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of

Who is he?  The title inscription at the top of the image tells us.  Let’s take a look at it.  Here is the left side:

(the small letters are those written above and in one case within the others).

Here is the continuation on the right side:


So the whole inscription — in abbreviated form — is:



Let’s provide the missing letters to see it in non-abbreviated form:

С[вя]ТЫИ С[вя]ЩЕн[но] М[у]Ч[е]н[ник] ЕВъСЕВIИ ЕПисКоПЪ САМОс[атский]

So it gives us the title in its usual spelling:

Святый Священномученик Евсевий, епископ Самосатский 

If you have been paying close attention to previous “lessons” here in reading Church Slavic, you should only have trouble with a couple of those words.  Don’t worry about the extra letter ъ in ЕВъСЕВIИ as written on the icon.  Such spelling variations are not uncommon.

СвятыйSvyatuiy means “Holy.”  It is the word used for a male saint.

СвященномученикSvyashchennomuchenik means “Priest-martyr,” or to use its partially Greek form, “Hieromartyr.”  You will recall that мученикmuchenik — by itself means “martyr” when used of a male.

Евсевий, — Evseviy — is the saint’s name.  It will look a bit strange until we recall that when Greek names are put into their Russian/Church Slavic forms, “eu” in Greek commonly becomes “ev” in Russian; and Greek “b” becomes “v” in Russian.  And the “-ios” ending common for many Greek names becomes the ending -ий — iy— in Russian/Church Slavic.  So keeping all that in mind (it is not as difficult as it sounds at first) — we can put the name back into its transliterated Greek form like this:

Евсевий — Evseviy = Eusebios 

And if we want to put it into its Latin form, we need only recall that the Greek name ending –ios becomes –ius in Latin.  And that gives us the usual form of this saint’s name as commonly found in English, because English often uses the Latin forms of Greek names that end in -ios.  In this case it is Eusebius.

So this is a saint named Eusebius.

The next part of the title tells us he is an

епископ — episkop.  That means “bishop.”

And the final word tells us what he was bishop of or where he was from:

СамосатскийSamosatskiy — means he was of Samosata.  Remember that the -skiy ending on a Church Slavic place name means “of” that place.  So now we have the full title and name of the saint:

Святый Священномученик Евсевий, Епископ Самосатский Svyatuiy Svyashchennomuchenik Evseviy, Episkop Samosatskiy.

And that means:

[The] Holy Priest-martyr Eusebius, Bishop [of] Samosata.

You may be asking yourself (if you are not forgetting the whole thing and turning off your computer by now) WHY this saint is dressed in the conventional garb of a Roman warrior if he was a bishop.  Because as you know, bishops are usually depicted wearing their ornate robes and an omophorion, the long stole around the neck that hangs down in front and is characteristic of bishops.  Could it be a painter’s mistake?

In this case it is not, and the reason why this bishop is dressed in Roman armor is found in the traditional story of his life.  I should remind you that these stories of saints’ lives are not history; they are pious legends that are sometimes a mixture of fiction and fact, and sometimes entirely fiction.

In any case, it is said that the bishop Eusebius took part in the First Ecumenical Council — the Council of Nicaea; and there he was a staunch defender of the so-called “Orthodox” position — that Jesus is God and equal to and of the same substance as God the Father.  He held this position against the Arians, who asserted that Jesus was not equal in status to the Father.  This council took place in 325 c.e., when Constantine was emperor.

For his opposition to the Arian position, it is said that Eusebius was removed from office and banished.  And the Emperor Constantius, who succeeded Constantine, ordered Eusebius to give up a decree authorizing the election of the non-Arian bishop Meletius as bishop of Antioch.  The Emperor threatened to have Eusebius’ right hand cut off if he did not hand it over.  The tradition says Eusebius refused, and stretched out both his hands to be cut, but the Emperor was impressed by his courage and did not carry out the threat.

When the Emperor Julian (361-363) became emperor (the Christians like to call him “the Apostate”), it is said that Christians were persecuted again, so Eusebius dressed himself in the garb of a Roman soldier as a disguise, and travelled through Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine, preaching the “Orthodox” non-Arian concept of God and creating non-Arian bishops and deacons among the Christians.

Julian was killed in battle, and was succeeded by Emperor Jovian (363-364).  Under this Emperor persecution of Christians came to an end, and the bishop Eusebius had protected — Meletius — at the urging of Eusebius, convened a council of 27 bishops at Antioch, where they confirmed the non-Arian “Orthodox” belief.

However, Jovian died, and Valentius (364-375) became Emperor, giving reign of the East to his co-emperor Valens (364-378).  Valens was an Arian.  You can see that there was an ongoing struggle back and forth in the Empire about whether it was to be Arian or “Orthodox.”  Under Valens the Arian approach was again favored, and Meletius was sent into exile to Armenia.  Eusebius, now Bishop of Samosata,  was ordered into banishment in Thrace.  He urged his tearful congregants, on leaving, to keep to the “Orthodox” belief.  The Arian Eunomios was made Bishop of Samosata in his place, but it is said the followers of Eusebius refused to accept his authority or attend his services.

Then the pendulum swung again.  The Emperor Gratian (375-383) came to power, and the Arian bishops were out and the “Orthodox” bishops were restored to their offices.  Eusebius returned to being Bishop of Samosata, and worked to put “Orthodox” clergy back into power in other regions.  In the year 388 he was in the Arian city of Dolikhina, where he intended to oust the Arian bishop and install an “Orthodox” bishop.  One Arian woman was having none of it.  She picked up a roof tile and hurled it at Eusebius’ head.  It was a mortal blow, and he died of it, after saying that the woman should not be punished.  He was buried in Samosata.

So that is the traditional story.  If nothing else, it emphasizes that Christian doctrine was often the result of much bickering, infighting, and political and power struggles, and the Roman Emperors were very important in this, supporting whichever side they happened to favor.  And eventually, as we know from history, the “Orthodox” position on the status of Jesus became the imperially-favored position, and holds its place in Eastern Orthodoxy to this day.

That story explains why Eusebius is wearing Roman armor instead of  a bishop’s robes.  But perhaps you noticed that in his hand, where a warrior saint would often hold a lance or a sword, Eusebius holds a book of the Gospels, to show that he is, like other bishops, a teacher of the Church.

One more small detail.  On the right side — at the very end of the long “life” story written on the icon — we see this in larger letters than the preceding text:

It reads (in modern font):


Pamyat‘ as used here means Memory/Commemoration;
Ego means “his/of him”;
Iiunya here means “June”;
KB is a number written in letters; K is 20 and B is 2, so together they form the number 22.
Evseviya means “of Evseviy/Eusebius.”

All together, it means “The Commemoration of Eusebius is on June 22nd,” and in fact that is his annual day of commemoration in the “Old Style” Church calendar.

Above the image of Eusebius, we see a typical image of Jesus blessing him from the clouds of Heaven (remember that in these times, Heaven was believed to be in the sky above the earth).  If you look at Jesus’ blessing hand, you will see that the fingers are held in the position favored by the Old Believers, who separated from the politically-supported “State” Church in the mid-1600s.  That tells us this icon was painted by someone in the tradition of the Old Believers.  That is not surprising, because by this late date, the State Church favored icons that were much more realistic and “Western European” in appearance than this example.