In the previous posting we took a look at the apocryphal source of a scroll text of  the “Forefather” Melchizedek.  Here he is in a 14th century fresco from Grachanitsa, Serbia:

His name inscription reads:


The writer has used a phonetic spelling of Pravednuiyраведный), and has omitted one “e,” and has written the Д (d) above and smaller than the other letters.

Melchizedek looks much the same here as in most depictions, with his grey hair, long beard, a crown on his head and in his hands a tray with loaves of bread in it.  He is most frequently shown — as here — without a scroll, though occasionally he holds one, as we saw in the previous posting.

The bread is taken from Genesis 14:17, in which Melchizedek brings out to Abraham bread and wine before he blesses him.  In Eastern Orthodox doctrine, this is thought to be a prefiguration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which supposedly becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

There is a rather similar image from the same place and date of another Old Testament figure, Aaron.  He is titled here:

This is the Old Testament Aaron, brother of Moses, and first Levite priest.  In Numbers 17 it is said that a controversy over which tribe was to become priestly was settled when — unlike the rods of other tribes — that of Aaron miraculously sprouted overnight:

8 And it came to pass, that in the morning Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.

The obvious distinctions between the two fresco images above — aside from name titles of course — are that while Melchizedek holds a container with loaves of bread, Aaron holds a blossoming rod and a golden vessel in which a rolled scroll is seen.

All three, oddly enough, are Marian symbols found in the Akathist hymn, which says of Mary:

Rejoice, O mystical rod that blossomed — the flower that will never fade.

Rejoice, … golden jar containing the manna which sweetens the senses of the devout.

Rejoice, scroll on which, O pure one, the Word was inscribed by the Father’s finger.

If you look closely at the golden vessel Aaron carries, you will see the image of Mary on the side of it.

A comparison is often made in Eastern Orthodox theology between the priesthood of Aaron — as the first Levite priest — and that of Melchizedek — who was not a Levite.  The New Testament book of Hebrews declares Jesus to be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek — not of the temporal Levitical priesthood:

For he testifies, You are a priest forever after the order of Melkhisedek.  (Hebrews 7:17)

Now you can go to your friends and ask, “Do you know how to tell the difference between Melchizedek and Aaron?”  And they will look at you strangely and say, “Tell who from who?  What are you talking about?  Get a life!”



The Bible is full of paradoxes and discrepancies, which has contributed to the very large number of Christian denominations with their varying interpretations.  On one hand we find the words put into the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 26:32:

“Then Jesus said to him, Put up again your sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.”

And yet in he is recorded as saying in Matthew 10:34:

“Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

And in Luke 22:36, he even advises any of his disciples not having a sword to sell his garment and buy one:

“Then he said to them, But now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his bag: and he that has no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

In Ephesians 6:7 we find:

“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

And in Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Given these (and there are more) biblical connections between the sword and Jesus — who is also known as the “Word” — we find this unusual depiction — a 14th century fresco at the Vysoki Dechani Monastery in Kosovo, Serbia:
Let’s look at what can be read of the inscription from the photo:

After the faded first line, it appears to say:


“This Sword [is the] Cutter of Sins.”

It is difficult to discern just what was in the mind of the originator of this image, but given the volatile politics of the region, it would be easy for an ordinary person to get the impression that it justifies religious violence, which is a very dangerous possibility.

Even the image as a fresco was unusual, and it was not adopted as a standard icon type, so we do not find old painted icons of it.   Some contemporary painters, nonetheless, are making new icons of it — though they may add a different inscription, such as this one, which as we have seen, comes from Hebrews 4:12:

Живо бо слово Божие и действенно, и острейше паче всякаго меча обоюду остра, [и проходящее даже до разделения души же и духа, членов же и мозгов, и судително помышлением и мыслем сердечным.]

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, [piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” ]

Given the problematic ambiguity of representing Jesus with a sword, it seems odd that anyone would want to revive such an image.  There is, however, this recent and different Greek-inscribed example, also showing Jesus with a sword:

ὀ εκδικητηςa.jpg

It bears the title:

Iesous Khristos ho Ekdiketes

“Jesus Christ The Avenger.”

The text on the book he holds is from Isaiah 45:21-22:

… δίκαιος καὶ σωτὴρ οὐκ ἔστιν πάρεξ ἐμοῦ. 22 ἐπιστράφητε ἐπ᾿ ἐμὲ καὶ σωθήσεσθε, οἱ ἀπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῆς γῆς· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Θεός, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος.

“… a just one and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and you shall be saved, you from the end of the earth: I am God, and there is no other.”

Sadly, in the history of the “Abrahamic” belief systems, religion and violence are seldom far apart.


In an earlier posting (see we looked at icons of the “Middle” — the church commemoration that stands between Easter and Pentecost — and we saw that they are of two types.  One shows Jesus as a twelve year old boy, seated amid the learned men in the Jerusalem Temple — the event called in Western art “Jesus Among the Doctors,” recorded in Luke 2:41-49.

The other icon depicts a different incident — Jesus as an adult, preaching in the Temple, as described in John 7.

Here is a 14th century fresco from the Vysokie Dechani monastery in Serbia, showing the first type.  It is interesting not only because of its iconography, but also because of its unexpected inscription:

We might expect to find as its inscription a conventional title telling what is happening in a scene, as in this 16th century fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos:

The Greek title of the image reads:


Some Greek icons of the type are titled simply:


On the Dechani fresco, however, we find this inscription:

It is neither a scene description nor a conventional title, and though the image depicts a New Testament scene, it is not an excerpt from the New Testament.  Instead, it is a slight variation on Kontakion 8 from the Akathist to Mary:

Кондак 8
Странное рождество видевше, устранимся мира, ум на небеса преложше: сего бо ради высокий Бог на земли явися смиренный человек, хотяй привлещи к высоте Тому вопиющия: Аллилуиа.

Strannoe rozhdestvo videvshe, ustranimsya mira, um na nebesa prelozhshe: sego
bo radi vuiskiy Bog na zemli yavisya smirennuiy chelovek, Khotyay privleshchi k
vuisote Tomy vopiiushchiya: Alliluia

Kontakion 8
Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; for this sake the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him: Alleluia.”

Now as I mentioned, there is another Prepolovenie/”Middle”/Mesopentekoste/Mid-Pentecost icon type — Jesus teaching in the Temple as an adult.  Here is a 14th century variant example from Vysokie Dechani:

It has an interesting added detail.  Jesus holds a large pitcher of water as he stands among those in the Temple.  We find out why if we look at the inscription above his head:

Whoever thirsts, [let him] come to me and drink.

It is taken from John 7:37:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come to me, and drink.

The “feast” mentioned is the Jewish Festival of Booths — Sukkot — which takes place in the autumn.  The odd thing about the speech of Jesus in the Temple on that feast is that if one took him at his word, he was not supposed to be there at all.

Earlier, his brothers had told him in Galilee that he should go to Judea and demonstrate his works in public, meaning at the festival.

Jesus, however, replies (John 7:6-9):
“‘My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but it hates me, because I testify of it, that the works of it are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I will not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fully come.’  When he had said these words to them, he remained in Galilee.”

That is followed in John 7:10 by:
But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.

In other words, Jesus told a lie.  He said he was not going to the feast, but later he did go “as it were in secret.”

This text, of course, has bothered a lot of people over the centuries, who do not at all like the idea of Jesus having lied, and in fact it seems to have resulted in someone at some time correcting the problem.  We have early evidence of this.  In Papyrus 66, a manuscript dated variously from the 2nd to the 4th century, we find that change.  Instead of Jesus saying “I will not go up to this feast,” it instead changes the Greek word ουκ, meaning “not,” to οὔπω/oupo, which means “not yet,”  resulting in Jesus saying “I will not yet go up to this feast.” By doing so, Jesus no longer lies to his brothers; he just tells them that he will go up to the feast later, after they have gone.

It is a clever change, but it does not seem to be the original reading.  The point of the exchange appears to be that Jesus does not want his brothers to know he is going at all, because when he does go, it is “as it were in secret.”

In Greek it is the difference between:

ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not up to this feast”


ἐγὼ οὔπω ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego oupo anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not-yet up to this feast.”

It looks, in fact, as though the “not yet” was borrowed from the latter part of the whole sentence from which this excerpt is taken:

ὑμεῖς ἀνάβητε εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν· ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην, ὅτι ὁ ἐμὸς καιρὸς οὔπω πεπλήρωται
humeis anabete eis ten heorten. ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten, hoti ho emos kairos oupo peplerotai.
“You go up to this feast.  I go not up to this feast, for my time is not yet complete/fulfilled.”

So which was the original reading, “I go not” or “I go not yet”?  The manuscript evidence is divided, with some copies going with “not” and others with “not yet.”  Modern scholars tend to favor the former interpretation, which results in Jesus having told a lie, given that it not only better fits the sense of the text, but also because it is unlikely that an early editor would have changed “I am not yet going up to this feast” to the more embarrassing “Jesus lies” reading, “I am not going up to this feast.”  Conservatives of course prefer the option that saves Jesus from having lied.

It is interesting that the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry (c. 234-305), who opposed Christianity, knew the “I am not going up to this feast” reading, because as quoted by Jerome, he used it against the Christians of his time — another good reason for Christian editors to prefer the “not yet” reading when copying the text.




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:

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.


Here is a 16th century icon from the Khilandari Monastery on Athos that combines a biblical parable with its interpretation:

It is the tale of the Prodigal Son (Блудный сын/Bludnuiy suin), found in Luke 15.  You will find that text at the end of this posting.

Basically, it is the story of a young man who asks his father for his share of the family money, and then goes off to a distant place, where he wastes all the money in “riotous living.”  Now poor, he takes a job caring for swine.  Miserable, he decides to return to his father, admitting his mistake.  His father receives him joyously and celebrates his return with a feast.  This of course symbolizes the forgiveness by God of sinners who repent.

In the icon, we see the son at lower right, pondering his options among the swine:

At lower left we see him received back home by his father, shown here as Jesus.  And above them is shown the “ joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.”  The bizarre class of angels in the form of winged rings called “Thrones” is included, and just above them the cushion representing the heavenly throne.

The Khilandari Monastery on Athos was founded for Serbian monks, so it is not surprising to find that the inscription on this icon is in Slavic rather than Greek:

It is somewhat damaged, but nonetheless we can make out some of the letters.
IC XC ПРИЕМЛЕ И СПАСЕННА “Jesus Christ Receives and Saves…,”

So we may gloss it a bit and assume it means something like “Jesus Christ Receives and Saves the Prodigal Son,” which if not exact is nonetheless what the scene depicts.

There is a 14th century fresco in the Balkany Monastery in Serbia that is virtually identical in its elements, if less impressive visually:

It has a simple title inscription of two widely-spaced words at the top:

It reads:


It is referring to an annual commemoration in the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which the Russians call Неделя о блудном сыне — Nedelya o bludnom suine,  and the Greeks Ἡ κυριακὴ τοῦ ἀσώτου  — He Kyriake tou asotou (pronounced ee kiriaki too asotoo in modern Greek).  This Sunday of the Prodigal Son is one of several Sunday commemorations preceding Lent, each of which has its biblical source and icon.  These Sundays are:

5th before Lent:  The Sunday of Zacchaeus, represented by Jesus meeting Zacchaeus, who has climbed a sycamore tree, Luke 19).

4th before Lent:  The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, represented by the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18.9.

3rd before Lent:  The Sunday of the Prodigal Son, represented by the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15.

2nd before Lent:  The Sunday of the Last Judgment (“Meatfare Sunday”), represented by the Parable of the Last Judgment, Matthew 25.31–46.

1st before Lent:  Forgiveness Sunday (“Cheesefare Sunday”), represented by the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, Genesis 3.

So this symbolic icon in which Jesus represents the welcoming father of the biblical tale is the icon for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

There are, however, icons of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” that do not include Jesus, but merely show the conventional father of the biblical tale receiving the prodigal, often with the feast given on the son’s return shown in the background, as well as additional details from the story

Here is the biblical account from Luke 15:10-24:

Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.

And he said, A certain man had two sons:  And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me. And he divided to them his living.

And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.  And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.  And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

And he would gladly have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave to him.  And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son.   But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring here the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.