The word Menaion (Gr: Μηναίον; Slavonic: Минея) comes from the Greek word meaning “of the month”. It is used to describe a way of grouping together liturgical texts, prayers and stories based on the order of Saints’ days and other feast days in the Church calendar.
A Menaion Icon is similar in that it is a pictorial grouping together of Saints and feasts, usually in rows, according to their order in the Church calendar. Menaion icons started to appear in Byzantium around the time of emperor Basil II (963-1025).
The December Menaion Icon
The icon above is from Russia and dates to the 16th century. It shows in four rows the Saints and Feasts associated with the month of December. The Saints and Feasts shown are by no means comprehensive, but are chosen according to their importance to the parish who owned the icon; because of this different Menaion Icons will not be identical in their list of Saints.
The top left corner marks the beginning of December with the Prophets Nahum (Dec 1) and Habbakuk (Dec 2). The two figures embracing on the top row are Ss Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary, Mother of God; this represents the Conception of the Theotokos (Dec 9), which can also be seen on icons of the Mother of God’s Nativity. At the right of the top row is St Daniel Stylites, the pillar-dweller of Constantinople (Dec 11).
Other notable feasts include the Three Holy Youths, shown together in the furnace on the second row; the Prophet Daniel stands next to them (all celebrated Dec 17).
On the third row, St. Peter, Metropolitan of All Russia, and patron Saint of Moscow, is shown being buried (Dec 20 commemorates his repose).
In the bottom-left of the icon is the Feast of Christ’s Nativity, Christmas (Dec 25 – obviously), with the Synaxis of the Theotokos (Dec 26) next to it. Next to that is the first-martyr St Stephen (Dec 27). Towards the end of the fourth row can be seen the 14,000 Infants, or Holy Innocents, slain by Herod at Bethlehem (Dec 29 – as described in Matt 2:13-23) . The final saint depicted on the fourth row is most probably St. Melania the Younger, nun of Rome (Dec 31).
The icon would originally have had inscriptions for all the Saints and Feasts, so no guessing is required, but in older icons like this one the inscriptions have faded with time. Looking at an Orthodox calendar (see link below) along with an icon such as this, and remembering that the Saints are grouped in date order, helps to identify who is who.