Martyr Stephen the New of Mt Auxentios | Confessor of Icons

St Stephen (right) with another defender of the icons, St Theodore the Studite

St Stephen (right) with another defender of the icons, St Theodore the Studite

On Nov 28, the memory of the Holy Confessor and Martyr Stephen “the New” of Mount Auxentios. Born after numerous prayers for a child from his pious parents, John and Anna, St Stephen was born in Constantinople in 715 and dedicated to God from an early age. During the iconoclast controversy under Emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741), Stephen’s parents fled the heresy that had taken over Constantinople and settled in Bithniya, giving the youngster over to the care of the monks of Mount Auxentios (now Mt Kayışdağ).

Stephen soon became a model of obedience and was raised to the position of abbot. At the same time, the new Emperor Constantine V turned out to be a fiercer iconoclast than Leo and moreover hated monasticism due to the intransigence of the monks’ icon-veneration. In 754 he held a council that outlawed the veneration of icons. Due to Stephen’s defence of icon veneration, the emperor accused the abbot of having an affair with a nun named Anna and sent him into exile, despite the nun denying any wrong-doing to the point of dying under torture. In exile, the saint performed healing through the holy icons and so turned more people from iconoclasm.

The enraged emperor transferred the saint to the island of Pharos for trial. Before the judges, Stephen bravely and eloquently defended the veneration of icons. Holding a coin bearing the emperor’s face, he asked, “If any man trample upon the emperor’s image, is he liable to punishment?”. When the judges replied yes, the saint said that an even greater punishment awaited anyone who would dishonor the image of the King of Heaven and His Saints. With that, he spat on the coin, threw it to the ground, and began to trample it underfoot. Dragged from the court, he was imprisoned for a further 11 months. Later, after more deceit from the Emperor Constantine, St Stephen was dragged from his cell, beaten and stoned to death; thus Stephen is given the title “New”, after the similar fate of the first-martyr Stephen. The year was 767.

Lovers of the feasts, from the heart with hymns let us praise in faith
godlike Stephen the lover of the Trinity,
for he honored the fair icon of the Master and of His Mother.
Now let us rejoice together and cry out to him with love:
“Rejoice, ever glorious Father.”

(Kontakion of the feast)


Life of St Stephen the New (OCA website)

Life of St Theodore the Studite (celebrated Nov 11)



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Icon of Saint Nektarios in Rhodes bleeding from hands


Detail of bleeding hands on icon of St Nektarios, Rhodes


After yesterday’s post about St Phanourios of Rhodes, current news of a potentially wonder-working icon from the same Greek island. According to various sources, an icon of St Nektarios has been bleeding from the hands since December last year and, and is now starting to attract various pilgrims from around the Orthodox world.


Wonder-working icon of Rhodes

Saint Nektarios is a 20th century saint with an inspiring life-story that is known in detail, and numerous postmortem miracles attributed to him. Reposing in 1920, we have photographs of him and writings that reveal his “voice”, which all contribute to him being an incredibly popular and well-loved saint. Indeed, the Rhodes icon currently bleeding and exuding a myrrh-like fragrance (right) is based on a photograph of the Saint. Relics of impeccable provenance are readily available and kept in various churches in practically every country with a considerable Orthodox presence. Therefore it is no surprise that on the island of the “Holy Revealer” (i.e. St Phanourios), this icon of St Nektarios is garnering international attention.

Bleeding and weeping icons have been discussed here before. In this instance, the priest of the church, Fr Spyridon says: “Do not be afraid; it’s a good thing.” He also goes on to say: “There is no need to wait for something like this to obtain faith and do good deeds. Every day we have to offer ourselves, to be as God wants us to be, to not hate but to forgive.”


The story as originally reported in English

Article on Saint Nektarios: includes the photograph of St Nektarios upon which the icon is based.

More in depth life of the Saint: from an Orthodox perspective (his feast-day is November 9th)

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Saint Phanourios | The Saint Revealed by His Icon

Icon of Saint Phanourios in Rhodes

Icons have been often described as a method of teaching about theology, Christ’s life and His Saints to the illiterate. In centuries past – and it seems for most of human history – the majority of people could not read or write and so Christian churches were decorated with Biblical images and Saints for their edification. I was always a bit wary of this description of icons because, on top of most icons having written descriptions on them anyway, very few iconographic images can be read “cold”. A fairly deep knowledge of the Bible and the lives of the Saints is needed before icons can be easily identified as depicting such-and-such a story or showing a particular Saint. At best, they are a reminder of the person it depicts, but not really a teaching method. The Gospels and the lives of Saints were primarily learned by hearing them, usually in church.

The life of Saint Phanourios (or Fanourios; Gr. Φανουρίου) is different, however, because literally everything we know of him – his life, his martyrdom, even his name – was revealed by an icon discovered many centuries after he lived.

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When is an Icon not an Icon? | Russian Parsuna

Two iconographic portraits from the 15th and 16th centuries (Russia)

Two iconographic portraits from the 15th and 16th centuries (Russia)

Above are two Russian portraits painted on wooden panels, with the distinctive “recess” creating a raised border seen in many icons. One is painted in the 16th century and the other in the early 17th century. Both contain similar stylized depictions of the subjects features, hair and foreheads. Both have inscriptions along the top (although the painting on the left’s inscription is faded) in Cyrillic.

However, only one of these paintings is an Icon. The other was never even intended to be thought of or used as a Holy Icon.

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Nativity Greetings | News for 2017

Nativity Icon from Mount Athos

Nativity Icon from Mount Athos

Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all!
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave!
Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit:
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!

Christmas greetings to everyone reading. There has been little activity on this site for a while, but I fully intend to start writing again in the new year. God-willing, it will happen – and should include a “Synaxarion” of Iconographer Saints and a number of articles charting the history of Icons throughout the Church’s history.

In the meantime, may you all have a blessed Nativity feast and a peaceful New Year.


Posted in Icons of Christ, Icons of the Incarnation | 2 Comments

Lent 2016

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son."


Today, Feb 21st 2016, is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It is the first Sunday of the Lenten Triodion – a three week period that leads up to the beginning of Lent, and from Lent we reach the feast of feasts: Pascha.

There are links to articles about the icons of this period on the “Icons for Lent” page. I hope they can be of some use, and wish everyone a fruitful Lent!


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The Place of the Theotokos in Icons of the Resurrection

Icon showing the empty tomb and the angel appearing to the myrrh-bearing women. The Mother of God is on the far right.

Icon showing the empty tomb and the angel appearing to the myrrh-bearing women. The Mother of God is on the far left.

There are three general representations of the Resurrection in Orthodoxy: the Harrowing of Hades, Christ triumphantly rising from the tomb, and the angel appearing to the myrrh-bearing women beside the empty tomb (example at the top of this post). The first composition, which is technically an icon for Holy Saturday, would not contain the Mother of God as she was still alive when Christ descended into Hades, and the second composition is not particularly common in the Orthodox Church; it is in the third type of icon – of the myrrh-bearing women attending the empty tomb, where the Theotokos is present… though it is not always immediately obvious.

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