There are a number of what we might call “calendar” icons in Russian iconography.  There are “Year” icons, and “Month” icons for each month of the year, showing the main saints and festivals and their days of commemoration.  There are also “Week” icons.   Here is an example of the latter:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

At first glance, it may appear to have nothing to do with the week; but that is because it represents the days of the week through standard iconographic types of church festivals.

There are also icons of the “Old Testament” days of Creation, ending with the seventh day on which God rests.  The type shown here may be considered the “New Testament” seven days.  Sometimes the two types are combined to make a more elaborate “Week” icon.

If you look carefully, you will see that the standard “Week” type contains seven separate images, one for each day of the week.  Six are at the top and upper sides, and the seventh takes up most of the lower half of the icon, as well as extending up between the lowest two of the upper “day” images.

Here is how they are arranged, with their corresponding days:

At top left is:
1. The Resurrection, representing Sunday.  Moving right, we come to
2.  The Assembly of the Archangels, representing Monday.  Then comes
3.  The Beheading of John the Forerunner, representing Tuesday. Then
4.  The Annunciation, representing Wednesday.  Moving down to the left side, we have
5.  The Washing of the Feet [of the disciples of Jesus], for Thursday, then opposite it is
6.  The Crucifixion, representing Friday.  Finally, the large lower image is
7.  All Saints, representing Saturday.

In the “All Saints” portion, we see Jesus seated on his throne at the top (in Deisis form), and below him is the altar “throne,” prepared for the end of time and beginning of eternity.

At left and right are groups of saints, each group categorized by the Church Slavic term ЛИКЪ — lik, which we can loosely translate as “choir.”

Here is the left side:

The inscriptions identify them from top to bottom as

1.  The Choir of Prophets

2.  The Choir of Princes

3.  The Choir of the Holy Fathers

Here is the right side:

The inscriptions identify them as:

The Choir of Venerable Martyrs (monastic martyrs)

The Choir of the Blessed (holy fools, etc.)

The Choir of the Apostles


To avoid confusion, you may also wish to know that there is another and quite different icon type sometimes popularly called a “Week” (Sedmitsa) icon.  It is the Deisis grouping   more properly classified in Russian as  “Спас с предстоящими” — Spas s predstoyashchimi, meaning roughly “The Savior with Bystanders,” the bystanders being the saints and angels grouped around the throne, rather than being in the strictly horizontal arrangement found in the Deisis of an iconostasis.  Here is an example of such an icon:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Figures commonly found in such a grouping (their number varies), in addition to Jesus, Mary, and John the Forerunner, may be the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the Apostles Peter and Paul, Nicholas of Myra, John Chrysostom, John the Theologian (the Evangelist), Sergiy of Radonezh,  and as in this icon, the kneeling figures of Zosima and Savvatiy Solovetskiy at the foot of the throne.


One often sees later icons of certain members of the Russian Orthodox State Church clergy, saints not accepted by the Old Believers.  Given that they are State Church icons, they tend to have a very strong western European influence, which means they are painted more realistically than the traditional stylization in iconography favored by the Old Believers.  One of the commonly-seen figures is Mitrofan (Mitrophan) of Voronezh (1623-1703).

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The very clear title inscription on this icon identifies him as:
S[vya]tuiy Mitrofan Voronezhskiy Chudotv[vorets]
“Holy Mitrofan, Wonder-worker of Voronezh”

He is called a “Wonder-worker” because it was said he could work miracles.

Voronezh is a city in southwestern Russia, and Mitrofan was made first bishop of that city.  Here is an 18th century view of it.  Note the abundance of churches:


There are cannons and stacks of cannonballs in the foreground, as well as a boat and another under construction.  This was the time of Peter the Great, who used Voronezh as a boat-building site for the fleet he used in the Russo-Turkish War in the campaign to capture the Turkish fortress of Azov.  Mitrofan was a strong supporter of Peter’s activities in that war.

Originally a married parish priest, Mitrofan became a monastic in 1663, after the death of his wife.  Three years later he was made head of a monastery, then in 1675 became an archimandrite.  In 1682 he was consecrated bishop of Voronezh.

Though Mitrofan was an avid supporter of the reforms and the military campaign of Peter the Great, he refused to visit the Tsar in his court, because he said there were “pagan idols” there — statues of classical deities.  It was only when Peter removed the statues that Mitrofan would come.  Not only an advisor of the Tsar, Mitrofan even contributed monetarily to the building of the Azov fleet.

At this point it is worth briefly mentioning the Azovskaya icon of Mary, even though it was created after the Russian victory on the Sea of Azov in a later campaign, the Austro-Russian–Turkish War (1735–39).  One can hardly find a more obvious symbol of how intimately connected Church and State had become in Russia:

Mary, with the child Jesus on her breast, stands before the Russian double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian State.  At left just above here is St. Peter, who calls to mind Peter the Great.  On the opposite side is the Evangelist John.  At her left and right stand the monks Antoniy and Feodosiy and Alipiy Pecherskiy as well as Moise (Moses) Ugrin, Prokhor, and Mark Pecherskiy.  At lower left, St. George slays a dragon, used here as a symbol of the defeat of the Ottoman Turks by Russia.    At the base is the Fortress of Azov.  It is the kind of icon favored by nationalists.

But back to Mitrofan.  Here is another icon of him:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Let’s take a quick look at the title inscription:

We see an abbreviated Svyatuiy for “Holy,” then Mitrofan is written in full (note the “t” above the “r”.  And it finishes with the abbreviated words Episko for Episkop, meaning “Bishop”  and Vorone for Voronezhskiy, meaning “of Voronezh.”  Remember that when you see the curved horizontal line above a word, it indicates an abbreviation.

Finally, let’s take a look at the text on the book he is holding:

It is a partial variant of one of Mitrofan’s best-known maxims:

Употреби труд, храни мерность — [богат будеши.] Воздержно пий, мало яждь — здрав [будеши. Твори благо, бегай злаго — спасен будеши].

“Do labour, keep a balance, and you will be rich. Drink temperately, eat little, and you will be healthy. Do good, shun evil, and you will be saved.



Here is a Marian icon, still with its discolored varnish:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

I hope you recognize it as the left panel from a three-panel Deisis set of icons.  As you will recall, the central icon in such a set is the image of the “Lord Almighty,” and the right panel is John the Forerunner, or John the Baptist as he is called in the West.

The image shows Mary approaching Jesus, acting as go-between in praying for the world (and in the mind of the believer, approaching Jesus with the prayers of the person praying before the icon).

We should take a look at her scroll in this type, because it has a common inscription that you should add to your repertoire of standard texts.  It reads (put into modern Cyrillic):

Владыко Многомилостиве, Господи Иисусе Христе, Сыне и Боже Мой,
Vladuiko Mnogomilostive, Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, Suine I Bozhe Moi,
“Master -most-gracious, Lord Jesus Christ,  Son  and God of-me,
приклони ко Мне ухо Твое, ибо аз молю за мир.
prikloni ko Mne ykho Tvoe, ibo az moliu za mir.
bend to me  ear of-you, for I  pray for [the] world.

In normal English,
“Master most gracious, Lord Jesus Christ, My Son and my God, incline your ear to me, for I pray for the world.”

You can see that several words are abbreviated in the icon text, as is common. This “left panel” type of Mary is of course just a smaller form of her image in the more detailed Desis icon found in a church iconostasis (the big icon screen separating congregation from altar in Russian Orthodox Churches).  But this type is also very closely related to the image of Mary in the type known as the Bogoliubskaya: There are several Bogoliubskaya variants, depending on figures added to the right of Mary.  In the example shown here, there are several saints associated with Moscow, such as the four Metropolitans of Moscow Petr (Peter), Alexiy, Iona (Jonah), and Filipp (Philip) as well as the Holy Fool Alexiy, Man of God.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Added at the top are the two popular saints and patrons of horses, Flor and Lavr (Florus and Laurus)  The “Moscow” saints give this Bogoliubskaya variant the secondary name “Moskovskaya” — “Of Moscow.”  So this is the “Moscow” variant of the Bogoliubskaya type.  But look at Mary’s scroll.  It begins exactly the same as the Marian “left panel” icon, only in this example it is shortened for reasons of space, and every word except mnogolostivе  is abbreviated:

Владыко Многомилостивый, Господи Иисусе Христ[е]…
“Master most-gracious, Lord Jesus Christ….

If we look at the right panel from this Deisis set, we find it is the standard type of John the Forerunner:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

John is holding a scroll with one of the two most common texts used not only in this right-panel type but also in icons of John in general.  It is:

Покáйтеся, при­­бли́жибося цáр­ст­вiе небéсное…
Pokaitesya, priblizhibosya tsarstvie nebesnoe
Repent, has-drawn-near [the] kingdom [of] heaven

In normal English,

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.”

The other common text for John is “I saw and witnessed concerning him, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

As you see, John is pointing at the child Jesus lying in the liturgical vessel, representing the “Lamb” — the piece of bread considered to be the “body of Christ” in the Eastern Orthodox Eucharist.

Finally, let’s take a look at the central Deisis panel, which is the “Lord Almighty,” Jesus seen as ruler in the heavenly court:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Now we might expect the text on his book to be the most common “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28):

Прiиди́те ко мнѣ́ вси́ труждáющiися и обременéн­нiи, и áзъ упокóю вы́
Priidite ko mnye vsi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az’ upokoiu vui

Obviously, however, this example does not have that most frequent text.  It cannot be, because the text on this icon is prefaced with the words

Речé  Госпóдь сво­и́мъ ученикóмъ …
Reche Gospod’ svoim” ychenikom” …
Spoke [the] Lord [to] of-him disciples…
“The Lord said to his disciples…”

And then it quotes the text of  Matthew 11:27:

Вся́ мнѣ́ преданá сýть Отцéмъ мо­и́мъ: и никтóж[е знáетъ Сы́на, тóкмо Отéцъ]….
Vsya mnye predana sut’ Otsem” moim” : i niktozh [e znaet” Suina, tokmo Otets”…]
All [to] me handed-over is [by] Father of-me: and no one [ knows the Son but the Father…] “All things have been committed to me by my Father: and no one [knows the Son except the Father…]

So this particular icon of the “Lord Almighty” uses the verse just preceding the most common text used on the Russian type.

As an added note, a reader asked me why Russian icons, as in this example, put a little T above the letter that in a Greek icon would be the standard letter omega (ω) in the customary Ho On (ὁ ὢν = “The One Who Is”) inscription on “Jesus” icons.

The Russians have come up with all sorts of fanciful explanations for this, saying the three letters abbreviate this or that Church Slavic phrase.  Some priests even tell children that the T is the “cross atop the crown of Christ” — the omega roughly forming the “crown.”  But the real answer is apparently that a few centuries ago, Russian iconographers did not commonly understand Greek, so when they saw the accented omega in ὢν on a correctly inscribed icon, they just replaced it (apparently beginning in the early 1400s) with the Slavic letter that had a little T mark above it, which happens to be the abbreviation for the word ot (“from”) in Church Slavic:


And the miswriting was perpetuated in countless copies.  From the ordinary Russian point of view, if that was the way it was passed down, that was the way it should be.  A fundamentalist Protestant likes to respond to religious questions with “It’s in the Bible.”  A traditional Russian Orthodox believer would respond, “That’s the way our fathers handed it down to us.”

You might not yet have noticed another little difference between the inscriptions on the Greek Pantokrator halo and the Russian Gospod’ Vsederzhitel (“Lord Almighty”) halo.  While the three letters in the three bars of the cross are read from left to top to right in Greek icons, in Russian icons they are generally moved so that the O is at the top, the OT is at left, and the N is at right.

Now you have an easy, rule-of-thumb way of distinguishing Russian icons of Jesus from Greek.  But of course the text in the open book is another obvious tip-off.


Today we will look at an early 13th century icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai:


Our concern will be with the text in the open Gospels:

pantosinaiinsc1It is (you probably recognize it) the most common Greek text for icons of the Pantokrator — that is, of Jesus shown as “The Almighty.”

At the beginning is a Greek cross.  And it is followed by the unseparated words


Of course whenever you see that “I am” beginning on a Pantokrator Gospel inscription, you know it is most likely to be the most frequently-used text for Greek Pantokrator icons.  Here it is in upper and lower case:

Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου· ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοὶ οὐ μὴ περιπατήσῃ ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, ἀλλ’ ἕξει τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς

Ego eimi to phos tou kosmou ho akolouthon emoi ou me peripatese en te skotia, all[a] hexei to phos tes zoes

” I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Let’s take a look at the second line:

It reads:  ΤΟ ΦѠC ΤΟΥ ΚΟC[-ΜΟΥ]
TO PHOS TOU KOS[-MOU] (the –MOU) is in the next line):
“The Light of the World.”

Look at the ligature in the word TO (neuter form of “the”):  it puts the “T” atop the “O.”  And look also at the ligature following PHOS:  It is the word TOU, meaning “of the,” but it combines three letters:  T, O, and U, all joined from top to bottom to form the word pronounced as “too.”

We can see the variations used in writing by looking at the second use of TO PHOS in the inscription:


The T is placed on top of the O to form the definite article TO (“the), and the Φ is placed atop the ω, followed to the right by C to form the word PHOS — “light.”

Let’s look at one more ligature, used twice on the right side of the page:


It joins T and H, forming the word TH (τη) —TE — pronounced “tay” in ancient Greek, “tee” in modern Greek.  By itself, it is the dative form of “the,” as in EΝ ΤΗ ΣΚΟΤΙΑ  — En te skotia — “in the darkness,” as in “shall not walk in [the] darkness.”

So you see, it takes only a little bit of study to read a great many inscriptions on Pantokrator icons, even one over seven centuries old, because they are so repetitive.

The Russians, however, use a different favorite inscription:

Прiиди́те ко мнѣ́ вси́ труждáющiися и обременéн­нiи, и áзъ упокóю вы́:

“Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  And of course they use other texts as well, but that one is the most popular.






The Old Testament Book of Daniel is the source of several icons.  It is an historical fiction (though presented as history) set in Babylon in the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c.e).  It was actually written, scholars have determined, in the 2nd century c.e.  It is partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic.  The version used in Eastern Orthodoxy is longer than that of the Protestant Bible, including additions written in Greek:  The Prayer of Azariah, Susannah, and Bel and the Dragon.

The Prayer of Azariah segment is inserted between Chapter 3:23 and 3:24 of Daniel.  It includes the “Song of the Three Holy Youths,” which is used as part of an Eastern Orthodox canon sung during Matins, etc. The Susannah segment forms Chapter 13 of Daniel in Eastern Orthodox bibles.  It is widely known in Western art for the erotic scene of Susannah watched by the voyeuristic Elders while bathing.  Bel and the Dragon forms Chapter 14 of Daniel in Eastern Orthodox Bibles (and yes, it really does feature a dragon).

Significantly Daniel, being a very late composition, is the only Old Testament book to give angels names, as do the so-called Apocrypha and the New Testament.  It is in Daniel that we are first introduced to the angels Michael and Gabriel, very common figures in icons.

Briefly, the Book of Daniel relates the tale of an aristocratic Jewish young man taken captive during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem.  Brought to the city of Babylon, he is made an official in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  He becomes well-known in the court because of his ability to interpret dreams, which he does both for Nebuchadnezzar and his successor Cyrus, King of Persia.

Through the wiles of his enemies, Daniel is thrown by the King into a den of lions, but because of his righteousness and faithfulness to the Jewish God, he survives.   Daniel has divine and heavily symbolic visions of “future” events, and so he becomes noted as a prophet.  In Russian iconography, Daniel is found in the Prophets’ Tier of the iconostasis in Russian Orthodox Churches.

The Book of Daniel also contains the well-known story of the Three Youths, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jewish captives who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar because they would not worship his image.

Let’s begin by looking at a very early “pre-icon” period image from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, circa 300 c.e.:

It represents the “Three Youths,” or as they are better known in the West, the “Three Hebrew Children” in the fiery furnace.  In early Christian art it seems to have been used as a symbol of deliverance from death, as were catacomb images of Daniel in the lions’ den.  Not all early Christian images from the “symbolic” period survived in later icon art, and those that did are depicted somewhat differently.

Here is a Russian icon of the Three Youths:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The inscription on it reads:

“[The] Three Youths in [the] Furnace”

Nebuchadnezzar is seated on his throne at right, and behind him is the image the Three Youths refused to worship.  They stand unharmed in the fiery furnace, protected by an angel who is generally seen, in Eastern Orthodoxy, as Jesus.  In some examples the halo of the angel has the three bars of the cross commonly found in the halo of Jesus.

In Greek iconography, the type is called Οι Άγιοι Τρεις Παίδες εν τη Καμίνω — Hoi Hagioi Treis Paides en te Kamino — “The Holy Three Boys in the Furnace.”  And neither the Russians nor the Greeks use the Hebrew forms of their names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; instead, they are in Greek Ανανιας, Αζαριας, and Μισαηλ — Ananias, Azarias, and Misael.

Of course both Russian and Greek iconography includes the very old scene of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  Here is a very “Westernized” Greek icon of the type, showing popular taste in icons in the 19th and early 20th century, far from the older “byzantine” manner:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The inscription on it reads:  Ο ΠΡΟΦΗΤΗΣ ΔΑΝΙΗΛ — HO PROPHETES DANIEL — “The Prophet Daniel.”  And the lions are rather charming.

There is also a very seldom-seen variant of the “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” type.  It too is called Пророк Даниил во рву львином — Prorok Daniil vo rvu l’vionom — “The Prophet Daniel in the Den of Lions,” but it includes, as you can see, an unusual added element:

(Source: коллекция русских икон арт-галереи Дежа Вю)

коллекция русских икон арт-галереи Дежа Вю)

This 17th-century icon is from the side door of an iconostasis in a church on the Volga.  Its imagery is taken from one of the texts added to the Book of Daniel, in this case the Chapter 14 segment, which Roman Catholics call “Bel and the Dragon”:

33 Now there was in Jewry a prophet, called Habbakuk, who had made pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, for to bring it to the reapers. 34 But the angel of the Lord said to Habbakuk, Go, carry the dinner that you have into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions’ den.

35 And Habbakuk said, Lord, I never saw Babylon; nor do I know where the den is. 36 Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown, and carried him by the hair of his head, and through the vehemency of his spirit set him in Babylon above the den. 37 And Habbakuk cried, saying, O Daniel, Daniel, take the dinner which God has sent you.

38 And Daniel said, You have remembered me, O God: nor have you forsaken those who seek you and love you. 39 So Daniel arose, and ate: and the angel of the Lord set Habbakuk in his own place again immediately.

So that is what we see in this variant:  Habbakuk, with his container of pottage, carried into Babylon by an angel, to give the food to Daniel.  And Daniel in the den, with the submissive lions at his feet,  is looking up at Habbakuk.  At the very top, in heaven, is an image of Jesus in his youthful form, called Christ “Immanuel.”

This does not quite complete the number of types related to Daniel, but it is enough for now.  So I will finish today with this very pleasant Russian image of Daniel (at right) painted in the more traditional manner, as he would be seen in the Prophets’ Tier of an iconostasis. The image at left is the Prophet Ezekiel:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)



Here is an image of one of the most traditionally popular saints in Russia — Paraskeva:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Her title is Svyataya Paraskeva Pyatnitsa.  You already know (if you have been reading this site) that Svyataya is the feminine form of the word “Holy.”  Paraskeva is the slavicized Greek Name Παρασκευή — pronounced Paraskevi in modern Greek. In Greece she is also known less formally as  Paraskevoula, which accounts for those Greek ladies called Voula.  In Greek, her name means “Friday.”  When she was adopted by Russia, people did not know what it meant, so the secondary Russian name Pyatnitsa was added.  Pyatnitsa also means “Friday.”  So, odd as it seems, this is  Paraskeva Pyatnitsa  — Saint Friday-Friday.  On Russian icons her name is sometimes written as Paraskoviya, as in this example.

It is traditional for her scroll to show the beginning words of the “Symbol of Faith” — the Nicene Creed:

Верую во единого Бога, Отца Вседержителя, Творца неба и земли…
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…

At first glance, there seems no reason why Paraskeva should have been so popular.  Her name in Greek — Paraskevi — while it refers to Friday, is derived from the verb παρασκευάζω meaning “to get ready, to prepare.”  It is used for the “Day of Preparation” in the New Testament — of preparation for the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday.  So that is why it means also “Friday.”  And significantly, according to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified on Friday.  It is said that Paraskeva was given this name because she was born on a Friday, near Rome, in the 2nd century c.e.

This repetitious connection with Friday is the key to her popularity.

In early pre-Christian Russian lands, Friday was apparently a day sacred to the Slavic goddess  Makosh (Макошь), just as our Friday was originally named in honor of the Nordic Goddess Freya.  Makosh had authority over things important to women — marriage, childbirth, and particularly female occupations such as spinning and weaving.  October 28th was considered the birthday of Paraskeva, and on that day, by folk tradition, women were not to spin or weave or wash linen or children, or go into water; otherwise they would be severely punished by the saint.

Now this connection of both Makosh and her double Paraskeva with the spinning of thread and its weaving is very significant.  The goddess  Makosh is said to have also had power over destiny, which associates her — through spinning — with the Greek Fates (Moirai) and the Scandinavian Norns, who spun and cut the threads of human life and fate.  So that is why anything involving the making and weaving of thread is so important to Paraskeva.  She was very powerful, and in fact an aspect of the ancient Mother Goddess under a Christian name, which is why Paraskeva, in popular Russian thought and folk belief, tended to blend into Mary, mother of Jesus, who was also a Mother Goddess figure in practice (though of course that would not be stated in official Church theology).

In keeping with this connection with human fate and time, Paraskeva is associated with twelve significant Fridays of the calendar year — the Twelve Paraskevas — days on which fasting is said to bring remarkable benefits to those honoring her.  The list of Fridays is found in a document popular among the peasantry, and said to have been written by Pope Clement.  It is called:

Поучение, иже во святых отца нашего Климента, папы Рымскаго о дванадесятницах — “The teaching which is according to our father Clement, Pope of Rome, about the Twelve Days,”

So fasting on all these special Fridays would supposedly protect the believer from, among other things, sudden death, execution, poverty, evil spirits, drowning, lightning and hail, from famine, and ultimately it was believed to ensure the salvation of the believer, stating that those who fast on the Friday before Epiphany would have their names written in the “Book of Life.”  The peasants considered it wise not to discuss this document and its promises with the official clergy, who might be displeased by peasants having such an alternate route to Heaven.

It is not surprising that Paraskeva was also associated with the fertility of the fields and their watering by rain.  In fact she is reminiscent of the germanic Earth Goddess Perchta, also known as Frau Holle, and in English as “Mother Hulda.”  And like this goddess, she was not only associated with springs and water (in some places coins were cast into springs as offerings to her), but she also had a negative aspect.

The germanic goddess Perchta, at her special time of year, would come into homes to make sure the women had been diligent in spinning.   We have seen that Paraskeva also had this association with spinning.  And again like Perchta, Paraskeva had two aspects — that of a beautiful and radiant young woman, but also that of an ugly old hag clothed in rags and dirt.  And just as Perchta punished those who had not been dutiful in spinning, Paraskeva,  as ragged old hag,  would punish those who did not refrain from spinning on a day when it was prohibited.  Among her worst punishments were diseases of the eyes and fingers, both of which severely affected one’s ability to spin and weave.  And do not forget that in the old days, thread had to be spun by hand, and cloth had to be made by hand.  For a peasant woman to lose this ability was disastrous.



In a previous posting I mentioned the семейная икона (semeinaya icona). In Russian, семейство (semeistvo) means “family”; so a семейная / semeinaya icon is a “family icon.” A family icon depicts the saints for whom the members of a family are named. When one comes across an icon with a gathering of saints that seem to have been put together for no obvious reason, it is most likely to be a “family” icon. Such an icon often includes the generic image of the “Guardian Angel,” but not always.  Here is an example:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It depicts the martyr Khrisanf (Chrysanthos), Thomas Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Evfimiy (Euthemios), Patriarch Sofroniy (Sophronios) of Jerusalem, and the Martyr Daria, with Jesus blessing from the clouds above.

Remember to distinguish the “family” icon, from the патрональная икона — patronal’naya ikona — meaning the “patronal” icon. A “patronal” icon traditionally depicts a saint for whom an individual is named in baptism, his or her “patron saint” as we would say in the West.  It is sometimes called an именная икона — immenaya ikona — a “name” icon, or a тезоименная икона — a “name-sake” icon.  In modern Russian Orthodoxy an icon depicting a single saint may not always be one’s “name day” (also called “angel day) saint, but also possibly one chosen by an individual as a special protector. Here is an example of a patronal icon depicting the Martyr Sophia:


A tradition  in the making of icons for Russian royalty in the 17th and 18th centuries was the painting of a patronal icon for a newborn child on a wooden panel cut to the length of the child, and painted with the child’s name saint.  Such an icon is called a мерная икона — mernaya ikona “measure” icon.  In modern Russia the practice has been revived for icons ordered by ordinary people.