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Strange and unusual Christian icons
Strange and unusual Christian icons

Orthodox Christians in Russia have revered and continue to do so many bizarre icons. Some of them were even banned by the Church for their frightening appearance.

Mother of God with three arms


The name speaks for itself: the Mother of God is depicted with three arms. According to legend, the story behind this image took place in the 8th century in Byzantium and is associated with an episode from the life of St. John of Damascus.

He lived in Syria, came from a noble Christian family and was a prominent official in the Caliphate. In those days, iconoclasm was just gaining momentum - a movement sanctioned by the authorities against the veneration of icons and the destruction of all other objects of worship.

As a zealous Christian, Damascene did not stand aside and sent a protest message to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III. It quickly spread throughout the empire, enraged the emperor, but he could do nothing with the Syrian citizen. So the plan was born to frame Damascene. A letter was written on his behalf, in which Damascene allegedly calls on the Byzantine ruler to attack Syria and rid it of the Caliphate.

The fake was handed over to the Caliph, and he ordered to cut off Damascus's hand. For edification, they put out a hand in the main square of the city. The slandered man prayed all night before the image of the Mother of God - and the severed hand miraculously grew back. Soon, according to believers, the first icon of the Mother of God appeared with a silver third hand attached to it. But over time, a tradition arose to simply paint it with paint.

The saint with the head of a dog


This icon depicting St. Christopher in the 18th century was officially banned by the order of the Holy Synod as "contrary to nature." In other words, the dog-headed saint looked too ugly. Icons with him, as a rule, were destroyed, but several copies have survived to this day. Old Believers, for example, still continue to venerate the depicted Christopher the Kinocephalus.

There are several versions why the martyr Christopher, who lived in the 3rd century, began to be depicted with the head of a dog. From the theory that he suffered from a rare type of genetic mutation, hypertrichosis, from which the human body is almost completely covered with thick hair, to the version that his nickname and fierce, bestial character were so interpreted.

There is even an idea that Christopher was from the tribe of "psoglavtsy" - dog-headed people, the description of which is often found since ancient times.

One way or another, after the ban of the Synod, Christopher began to be portrayed as all normal people.

The many-sided icon


The icons with the image of the three-faced Christ were even worse. The Roman Catholic Church condemned such images a century earlier than the Orthodox Church did. "Non-canonical and ugly" - announced the Synod in 1764, and banned the image. However, news did not travel quickly to remote corners of the country, and many-sided icons continued to appear in parishes.

One head, three faces, four eyes - this frightening image was just one of the visual representations of the doctrine of the Trinity (father, son and holy spirit). Traditionally, they were depicted as three identical figures with the face of Christ, but the idea was developed in this way. In some icons, the Trinity generally had one body, but three heads with the same faces.

Asleep with open eyes


Icon painting workshop in the village of Palekh / Lopatin Lev

For those who are unfamiliar with the canons of icon painting, the Savior of the Unsleeping Eye is a very unusual specimen. It depicts Christ as a young man who either props his face out of boredom, or is about to take a nap.

In fact, Jesus is already asleep in this image, but he sleeps with his eyes open, which is an allusion to the lion. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the lion sleeps in this way. The origins of the image are just a few lines in the Bible, where Jesus is called "a lion of the tribe of Judah" (that is, a brave man).In iconography, this image appeared in Byzantium, and then spread to Russia.

In the belly of a whale


This is a very rare icon depicting one of the Old Testament subjects. The Lord called the prophet Jonah and ordered him to go to the sinful city of Nineveh and preach the true faith there. However, Jonah did not want to do the will of God and decided to just … go on a long journey.

God's judgment came to Jonah in the form of a whale, which during a storm swallowed the prophet, and that three days and three nights prayed to God for forgiveness. Being in the belly of a whale. As a result, God forgave Jonah and he later converted many pagans to faith. And the icon depicts the moment of the release of the prophet.

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