FALLING IDOLS

I have discussed icons of the “Flight to Egypt” previously.   Today we will examine a variant of that type in this 14th century fresco from Vysokie Dechani in Serbia:

Perhaps you noticed all those little white guys falling from the tops of the walls.  They are explained by the origin of this variant.

The reason for their addition is that this type illustrates — as the Slavic inscription on it tells us by giving the first words — Ikos 6 from the Akathist hymn to Mary:

«Возсиявый во Египте просвещение истины, отгнал еси лжи тьму: идоли бо его, Спасе, не терпяще Твоея крепости, падоша»

“By shining in Egypt the light of truth, you did dispel the darkness of falsehood; for its idols fell, O Savior, unable to endure your strength.”

So this variant depicts the idols of Egypt — those little white fellows in the fresco — falling at the arrival of Jesus, which is a tale found in apocryphal writings narrating the childhood of Jesus.  And these tales ultimately may be traced back to a rather fanciful interpretation of Isaiah 19:1:

In the Septuagint version, it is:

Ορασις Αἰγύπτου. – Ιδού, Κύριος κάθηται ἐπὶ νεφέλης κούφης καὶ ἥξει εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ σεισθήσεται τὰ χειροποίητα Αἰγύπτου ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ….

“The vision of Egypt:  Behold the lord sits upon a swift cloud, and shall come to Egypt, and the handmade [idols] of Egypt shall be shaken before his face ….”

In the King James version it is:

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord [Yahweh] rides upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence….”

 

 

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AN APOCRYPHAL PRAYER

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.

 

 

 

THE VISION OF PAUL

Here is another 14th century fresco image from the Vysokie Dechani Monastery in Serbia:

If you are familiar with the Bible — which fewer and fewer people are these days — you may recognize the story depicted.  Here it consists of three scenes, and the central scene is the clue to identification.

Here is the scene at left:

The inscription at the top tells us what is happening.  It is a variant of Acts 9:1-2.  Here it is as found in the “Elizabeth” Bible:

Савл [Саул] же, еще дыхая прещением и убийством на ученики Господни, приступль ко архиерею, испроси от него послания в Дамаск к соборищем, яко да аще некия обрящет того пути сущыя, мужы же и жены, связаны приведет во Иерусалим.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

So we see this image depicts Saul — who was to become the Apostle Paul — during his period of persecuting Christians.  In the image, we see Paul at right, standing before the High Priest.

The central scene depicts the Vision of Paul — the appearance of Jesus to him on the road to Damascus.  The top inscription is a variant of Acts 9:3:

Внегда же ити, бысть ему приближитися к Дамаску, и внезапу облиста его свет от небесе:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light from heaven.

We see Paul falling to the ground, as Jesus (in the “Immanuel” form) appears to him in the sky.  According to the account in Acts 9:3-7:

3 ἐν δὲ τῷ πορεύεσθαι ἐγένετο αὐτὸν ἐγγίζειν τῇ Δαμασκῷ, ἐξαίφνης τε αὐτὸν περιήστραψεν ⸃ φῶς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ,
4 καὶ πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἤκουσεν φωνὴν λέγουσαν αὐτῷ Σαοὺλ Σαούλ, τί με διώκεις;
5 εἶπεν δέ · Τίς εἶ, κύριε; ὁ δέ · Ἐγώ εἰμι Ἰησοῦς ὃν σὺ διώκεις ·σκληρον σοι προς κεντρα λακτιζειν
τρεμων τε και θαμβων ειπεν κυριε τι με θελεις ποιησαι και ο κυριος προς αυτον ἀλλὰ ἀνάστηθι καὶ εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν πόλιν, καὶ λαληθήσεταί σοι ὅ τί ⸃ σε δεῖ ποιεῖν.
7 οἱ δὲ ἄνδρες οἱ συνοδεύοντες αὐτῷ εἱστήκεισαν ἐνεοί, ἀκούοντες μὲν τῆς φωνῆς μηδένα δὲ θεωροῦντες.

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven:
And falling to the earth, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord [gr. kyrie]?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for thee to kick against the goads’ [a goad is a sharp pole  used to control an animal through pain].
And he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.”

The portion underlined in Greek and in bold type in English is not found in early Greek manuscripts, and occurs only in one 14th century manuscript, though it appears in varied manner in some Latin manuscripts from the 5th -12th centuries.

The scene at right depicts Paul — blinded by the vision, being led into the city of Damascus.  He is acting on the words spoken by Jesus in his vision, as the inscription tells us — again, a variant of a segment of Acts 9:6:

И Господь рече к нему: востани и вниди во град….

“And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city….”

Greek icons of the incident on the road to Damascus generally bear a title such as: ΤΟ ὉΡΑΜΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΠΟCΤΟΛΟΥ ΠΑΒΛΟΥ
TO HORAMA TOU APOSTOLOU PAVLOU
“The Vision of the Apostle Paul”

In Slavic that is:
ВИДЕНИЕ АПОСТОЛА ПАВЛА
VIDENIE APOSTOLA PAVLA
“Vision of the Apostle Paul.”

Titles of this type vary, however,  so one may find instead something like “The Journey of Paul to Damascus.”

 

EMMAUS ICONOGRAPHY

Here is a 14th century fresco from the Grachanitsa Monastery in Serbia:

Though presented in a very formal manner, it depicts the New Testament tale found in Luke 24:13-35.  The story relates that on the same day the tomb of Jesus was found empty (“Resurrection Sunday), two disciples were on the way to the village of Emmaus.  Early Greek manuscripts of “Luke” vary in the distance given Emmaus from Jerusalem, with some saying 60 stadia  — the equivalent of nearly seven miles, while others give 160 stadia — a figure closer to 18 miles.

On the way, they met a person they did not recognize, who asked what the two were talking about.  They told him of Jesus, about the crucifixion, and that some women who had gone to his tomb had seen a vision of angels, who said Jesus was alive.

In the Gospel tale, only one of these disciples is identified by name — Kleopas/Cleopas.  There was much speculation about the identity of the other disciple, with some giving his name as Simeon, son of Kleopas, others suggesting it might have been Nathaniel or Nicodemus, or even perhaps it was a female — the wife of Kleopas.  But in Eastern Orthodox iconography, the other disciple is generally identified as Luke the Evangelist himself.    That is why in this detail, we see Kleopas at left, and the figure at right is shown with the characteristics traditionally given Luke in icons:

In the first image above, the person they meet on the road is Jesus in his customary form.

The central image of the same fresco shows the two disciples sitting at a table in Emmaus.  It depicts Jesus breaking the bread, which in the New Testament tale is the  moment when the two disciples suddenly recognize him.  Then he vanishes:

In another fresco however — this time from the Dechani Monastery in Serbia (also 14th century) — we find something different:

Here the central image — tucked between the seeing of the empty tomb by Peter and the supper at Emmaus — is of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  But in this version, the Jesus they meet is not shown in his conventional form.  Instead we see the image of Jesus called “In Another Form.”

We get a better look at that little-known manner of depicting Jesus in the “Supper at Emmaus” segment:

As you can see, this image does not look at all like the conventional depictions of Jesus.  The “Jesus in Another Form” iconographic type is discussed in this earlier posting:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/jesus-in-another-form/

The only other place in the New Testament where we find a tale of two disciples meeting a man on the road to Emmaus is in the “longer ending” added later to the Gospel called “of Mark” after verse 16:8, which is where the oldest manuscripts of Mark end with the story of  the frightened women running from the tomb.  That “longer ending” version of the story (Mark 16:12-13) says only:

After that he appeared in another form to two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.  And they went and told it to the rest; they did not believe them.”

Now interestingly, this brief account contradicts, in one particular, that in Luke:33-34.  As we see, in the “longer ending” Mark account, when the two “Emmaus” disciples return to the rest, they tell them of the meeting with Jesus. but “they did not believe them.”  The two were not believed by the “rest” in Jerusalem.

This is how it happens in Luke:

“And they [the Emmaus disciples] rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together and those that were with them saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon.'”

So in the Luke account the “rest” in Jerusalem do not doubt the story of the Emmaus disciples, but add their own confirmation by saying that Jesus is truly risen, and has appeared to Simon.

At far right in the Grachanitsa fresco at the beginning of this posting, we see the two Emmaus disciples telling their story to the “rest” in Jerusalem.

‘TAKE UP YOUR BED AND WALK,” VERSION TWO: TROUBLED WATERS

Yesterday we looked at an icon type in which Jesus heals a paralytic, then tells the man to take up his bed and walk.  Today we will look at another type in which that happens.  Here is an example, a 14th century ceiling fresco from Pech, Serbia:

The title inscription reads:

Х[РИСТО]С  ИСЦЕЛIИАЕТЬ РАСЛАБЛIЕННАГО
Khristos Istsyeliaet Raslabliennago
“Christ Heals the Paralytic.”

Here is the story as found in John 5: 1-15:

“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.   In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.]  And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he says to him, Will you be made whole?  The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steps down before me.

Jesus says to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk.  And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

The Jews therefore said to him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.   He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said to me, Take up your bed, and walk.

Then asked they him, What man is that which said to you, Take up your bed, and walk?  And he that was healed knew not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

Afterward Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you.

The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.”

For those of you who are interested in the manuscript history of the New Testament, the portion of the text I have put in brackets and bold type — the story of the angel troubling the waters — is missing from the earliest manuscripts.  The earliest Greek manuscript of John in which it appears is 6th century.  It is, however, included in an Old Latin 4th century version.

The tale of the angel stirring the waters of Bethesda is mentioned by Tertullian in chapter 5 of his 3rd century work On Baptism:

If it seems a novelty for an angel to be present in waters, an example of what was to come to pass has forerun. An angel, by his intervention, was wont to stir the pool at Bethsaida. They who were complaining of ill-health used to watch for him; for whoever had been the first to descend into them, after his washing, ceased to complain.

But in the same chapter, Tertullian also warns against evil spirits lurking in waters here and there:

“Are there not other cases too, in which, without any sacrament, unclean spirits brood on waters, in spurious imitation of that brooding of the Divine Spirit in the very beginning? Witness all shady founts, and all unfrequented brooks, and the ponds in the baths, and the conduits in private houses, or the cisterns and wells which are said to have the property of spiriting away, through the power, that is, of a hurtful spirit. Men whom waters have drowned or affected with madness or with fear, they call nymph-caught, or lymphatic, or hydro-phobic. Why have we adduced these instances? Lest any think it too hard for belief that a holy angel of God should grant his presence to waters, to temper them to man’s salvation; while the evil angel holds frequent profane commerce with the selfsame element to man’s ruin.”

The tale of the angel troubling the waters was also mentioned by Chrysostom and Ambrose in the 4th century.  The problem is that the various early manuscripts are rather garbled as to whether the incident is omitted entirely or given only in part.

But back to the iconography.  You will notice in the Pech fresco that the painter has carefully depicted the “five porches.” at the Pool of Bethesda, but has not shown the actual pool.  In some examples we see the pool, while in others we see water pouring into five separate small tanks, or even only one tank.  So there is considerable variation in how the image is presented, but the main elements are the figure of Jesus and the figure of healed man carrying his bed (some show him twice, first lying on his bed, then carrying it).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, the fourth Sunday after Easter is called the Неделя о расслабленном — Nedelya o rasslablennom (Greek Κυριακή τοῦ Παραλύτου) — Kyriake tou Paralytou), because on that day the liturgical reading is the story of the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.