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.


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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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Lent 2015

The Publican and the Pharisee, Kosovo, 14th Century.

The Publican and the Pharisee, Kosovo, 14th Century.

February 1 marks the beginning of the Lenten Triodion (the period of preparation before Easter) with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This is a reminder for any readers that there is a page on the Icons for Lent on this site, and a reminder for me that I really should update the blog this Lent with some appropriate posts for Holy Week!

A joyous fast to everyone!

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The Saint who always carried an icon of the Saviour

Anton of Martqopi, the Stylite

Anton of Martqopi, the Stylite

January 19th celebrates the memory of a Georgian saint: Venerable Anton of Martqopi, the Stylite. He is one of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers who settled in Georgia during the 6th century to preach the Gospel and are credited with establishing monasticism in Georgia. St Anton was known for always carrying with him an icon of the Saviour “not made by hands”, and it is notable that the monks who came to Georgia to evangelize would use icons for this purpose. Indeed, the original “not-made-by-hands” icon was instrumental in bringing about the conversion of Edessa.

A pagan nobleman who encountered the saint holding the icon and surrounded by deer (closeness to wild animals being a feature of many ascetic saints) was driven by fear to have the icon removed from Anton by chopping off his hands. This was miraculously prevented and this event helped in convincing many of the truth of Christianity.

After establishing monasteries, St Anton spent the last years of his life in seclusion, retreating into the wilderness and living atop a pillar (from where he gets his title of Stylite), although he could not prevent many people coming to him with petitions and seeking advice. After his repose, St Anton was buried in the monastery he founded – still holding onto the icon of his Saviour.

A brief life of St Anton the Stylite.

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