Lent 2019


Detail from Christ the Bridegroom icon.

The Icons of Lent page has been updated with this year’s dates. Hopefully the articles within will provide useful. May our Lent be fruitful and productive, ending in the glorious celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

“The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near;

Yet thou dost not care or make ready.

The time grows short, rise up: the Judge is at the door.

The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower.”

– From the Penitential Canon of St Andrew



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Lent 2018

St Ephraim in prayer

Pascha is early this year and so Lent is rapidly approaching; this Sunday, the 28th of January, marks the Sunday of the Publican of the Pharisee which is just two weeks before the beginning of the Great Fast.

As I have done in previous years, the Icons of Lent page has been updated with this year’s dates. Hopefully the articles within will provide useful. May our Lent be fruitful and productive, ending in the glorious celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant me not a spirit of sloth, despondency and lust for power;
But rather grant me a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.
O Lord and God: grant me to see my own faults
And not to condemn my brother
For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages,

– Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian


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All Creation Rejoices | The Icon of the Hymn

All Creation Rejoices. Icon of Dionysius, 15th or 16th Century

Many icons are inspired directly by the hymns of the Church and are indeed simply a visual representation of the words. One such icon is that of the Mother of God, “All Creation rejoices in thee…”

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Icons of the Bosom of Abraham

modern icon of bosom abraham

Detail from modern Romanian icon of the Bosom of Abraham by Elena Murariu.

The Sundays before the Nativity feast (Christmas) are dedicated to the Holy Forefathers and Ancestors of Jesus Christ. Among all the Old Testament Saints commemorated on these days, Abraham is perhaps the supreme example, being the common patriarch of Judaism (as the founding father of the Covenant  between man and God) and Christianity (being seen as the prototype of all believers). This patriarchal image of Abraham has influenced his representation in iconography, and has resulted in many images – in the east and west – of “the Bosom (or Embrace) of Abraham“.

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Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Icon at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

A famous variation of the Synaxis of the Mother of God is found in an icon at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The image is usually cropped to show the mouth of the cave and the holy family inside, and is widely shared at this time of year. The full image shows that the rest of the icon depicts the Nativity hymn “What shall we offer Thee…” as in Synaxis icons. Interestingly, here “the wilderness” is shown as a female ascetic, similar in appearance to Mary of Egypt.


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The Synaxis of the Mother of God

The day after every major feast in the Orthodox Church is usually dedicated to a saint who played a major “supporting role” in the events celebrated. So, the 7th of January – the day after we celebrate the baptism of Christ – is dedicated to St John the Baptizer of Christ; the day after the Annunciation is dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel; after Pentecost we celebrate the “day of the Holy Spirit”. And so, on the 26th of December we celebrate the Synaxis (Meeting) of the Mother of God.

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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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