brass icons





Russian Icon

early 19th century

Pokrov Presvyatuiya Bogorditsui *

Egg tempera on silver ground on wood panel

1/4" x 14"



*The Pokrov Presvyatuiya Bogorditsui commemorates an event said to have happened in 910 A.D. The people of Constantinople were threatened by a Saracen invasion. They fled to the Church of the Viakhernae (Blachernae) and implored the aid of the Mother of God. The Holy Fool for Christ's Sake Andrew (Andrey) and his disciple Epiphanius (Epiphaniy) saw Mary appear in the air over the assembled people. She held a veil in her hands and spread it over the crowd as a sign of protection.

Mary stands on a cloud within the church, accompanied by saints such as John the Forerunner and the Apostles Peter Paul & John. At lower right Andrew points out the vision to Epiphanius. Below the Mother of God stands Romanos the Melodist, a famous hymnographer of the 6th century. He is included because his feast day is on Oct. 1, the same day the "Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God" is celebrated (October 14 New Style) - and also because he composed the most famous of all Orthodox hymns to Mary, the Akathistos (Russian Akafist), meaning "Not Seated" so called because it was sung while standing.

To the left of Romanos is Tarasios, Patriarch of Constaninople, and the Emporer Leo and Empress Zoe. In thecenteris Romano the Melodist. Once, around the year 518, while serving in the Church of the Panagia at Blachernae, during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, he was assigned to read the kathisma verses from the Psalter. He read so poorly that another reader had to take his place. Some of the lesser clergy ridiculed Romanus for this, and being humiliated he sat down in one of the choir stalls. Overcome by weariness and sorrow, he soon fell asleep. As he slept, the Theotokos (Mother of God) appeared to him with a scroll in her hand. She commanded him to eat the scroll, and as soon as he did so, he awoke. He immediately received a blessing from the Patriarch, mounted the ambo (pulpit), and chanted extemporaneously his famous Kontakion of the Nativity, "Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is above all being…." The emperor, the patriarch, the clergy, and the entire congregation were amazed at both the profound theology of the hymn and Romanos' clear, sonorous voice as he sang. According to tradition, this was the very first kontakion ever sung. The Greek word "kontakion" refers to the shaft on which a scroll is wound, hence the significance of the Theotokos' command for him to swallow a scroll, indicating that his compositions were by divine inspiration.

Upon learning of this wonderful vision the inspired troops of Constantinople threw themselves at the enemy and the Arabs retreated in sheer terror. The snow layer in Russian folklore is presented as the Veil (or "Pokrov" in Russian) of the Virgin Mary with which she covers the Russian Land, protecting it from severe frosts.