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:
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:
СТЫИ СЩЕн МУн ЕВъСЕ
(the small letters are those written above and in one case within the others).
Here is the continuation on the right side:
ВIИ ЕПсКоПЪ САМОс
So the whole inscription — in abbreviated form — is:
СТЫИ СЩЕн МУн ЕВъСЕВIИ ЕПсКоПЪ САМОс
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.
Святый — Svyatuiy means “Holy.” It is the word used for a male saint.
Священномученик — Svyashchennomuchenik means “Priest-martyr,” or to use its partially Greek form, “Hieromartyr.” You will recall that мученик — muchenik — 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:
Самосатский — Samosatskiy — 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):
ПАМЯАТЬ ЕГО ИЮНА КВ ЕВСЕВИ —
PAMYAT’ EGO IIUNYA KB EVSEVI
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.