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Martyrs and Monks Icons:
St. Barbara & St. Juliana
Martyrs and Brides of Christ
St. Barbara was raised a heathen by her father Dioscorus, who kept her shut away from the world so that she might not learn about the Christian religion. In spite of his precautions, she received secret instructions from a Christian priest and became a Christian.
Endowed with wisdom imparted to her from on high, she hastened to those who were constructing her father’s bath, and revealing to them the Mystery of the Trinity, she commanded that they fashion three windows in the bath.
When her father heard of this, he denounced her to the government authorities in his anger. After refusing to renounce her faith, she was beheaded by her own father, during the reign of Emperor Maximianus.
Beholding the strange and awesome suffering of St. Barbara, St. Juliana, a faithful by-stander, marveled greatly at how a young maiden could so valiantly endure such torments for Christ’s sake. And filled with tearful compunction, likewise confessed Christ and received martyrdom.
A hymn dedicated on their behalf says: “Meeting the glorious end of your martyrdom under the sword, O Barbara, and vouchsafed crowns of martyrdoms with Juliana, you heard the voice of God, which filled you with power.”
In the icon, both saints are depicted carrying a palm branch (symbol of their entry into Heavenly Jerusalem). An angel places a crown of martyrdom upon St. Barbara’s head. A peacock is also depicted symbolizing eternity since it sheds its feathers periodically.
St. Demiana & the Forty Virgins
Wise Abess & Great Martyr
She was born from Christian parents who was raised in Christian upbringing. She asked her father to build her a house where she and her friends could devote their lives to God, and he consented building a large palace for her. Her friends kept growing in number until they reached forty.
Emperor Diocletian enticed her father Marcos, who was a gorvernor in his province, to worship the idols in recompense of worldly possessions. At first, Marcos resisted, then he conceded and worshiped the Emperor’s idols. When his daughter heard of these news, she prayed in one accord with her friends for the conversion of her father.
She went to her father and admonished and reminded him of the Savior’s words: “Do not fear those who kill the body for the spirit they cannot touch, but fear he who could kill he spirit and the body in hell” (Mt. ) and “He who denies me before people, I will deny before My Father’s angels” (Mt.) After hearing these words, he repented and confessed to the Emperor and thus was martyred.
After learning that St. Demiana was the cause of her father’s conversion, the Emperor ordered her arrest along with her friends. After several useless attempts to avert her faith, he finally ordered her execution with the forty virgins. Thus, they all received the crown of martyrdom in one day.
“O divine Demiana, our righteous God-bearing Mother, you shone forth as a lamp bright with unquenchable virtues; and your light guided a multitude of wise virgins to the heavenly bridal chambers; together with them, pray that we all may be saved” (a hymn dedicated on her behalf).
“Shunning all earthly and corruptible pleasures, ye chose a life of great ascetical struggles, disdaining worldy beauty and all fleeting fame; wherefore, ye dwell joyously in the Kingdom of Heaven with the Martyr’s holy choirs and the ranks of ascetics. Hence we revere your memory and cry: ‘From every peril, O Demiana, deliver us” (a hymn dedicated on her behalf).
“O most fair Demina and the forty virgins, ye are mirrors glittering with spotless virginal brightness; and ye shine like unto lightning upon the whole Church with the splendor of your contest as valiant Martyrs; and ye drive away the darkness of pain and sickness as brilliant gems of Christ God” (a hymn dedicated on her behalf).
“In ascetic discipline, you were made fair as a virgin; then O famed Demiana, you shone forth as a martyr; with your lamp in hand, you ran to your Bridegroom, having watched throughout the night of martyric sufferings. And since you are crowned in glory, you intercede for them that praise you in faith” (a hymn dedicated on her behalf).
St. Demiana is the central figure of this icon surrounded on either side with her companions, the forty virgin martyrs. She is carrying a cross in her right hand signifying from whence her strength came and in her left a palm branch as a symbol of her entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. They all stand on grass (new life) amidst flowers of white and red (purity and martyr’s blood, respectively). Above St. Demiana’s head are two angels crowning her.
The Victorious & Great Martyr
He was born of a father from Cappadocia and a mother from Palestine. He was an officer in the Roman army who ws illustrious in battle and highly honored for his couage. When Emperor Diocletian demanded that all his soldiers make pagan sacrifice as proof of their loyalty, he presented himself before the Emperor Diocletian and denounced his idols.
When threats and promises could not move him from his steadfast confession, he was put through inhumane tortures which he endured with great bravery, overcoming them by his faith and love towards Christ.
By the wondrous signs that took place in his contest, he guided many to the knowledge of te Truth, including Alexandra, wife of Diocletian. He was finally beheaded at Nicomedia in Asia Minor.
“Let us praise with hymns our most fervent guide, guardian and protector, and quick helper of all in distress, the glory of the martyrs and caster dow of idols, and let us cry: ‘Rejoice, O Great Holy Martyr George’ “(a hymn dedicated on his behalf).
“Having been cultivated well by the Lord God, as the most honored cultivator of piiety, you have now gathered sheaves of virtues for yourself; for you sowed with tears, you reaped with rejoicing; with your blood you contested and you now have received Christ. And by your intercession, O St. George, you di grant all the forgiveness of transgressions” (a hymn dedicated on his behalf).
“Disdaining the army which was on the earth, O martyr, you desired the glory which is in the heavens, and you endured pangs and a violent death. Wherefore, we celebrate your most holy memory today, offering praise unto Christ, O all-blessed George” (a hymn dedicated on their behalf).
“As a Deliverer of captives and a Defender of the poor, a Healer of the Infirmed and a Champion of kins: Victorious Great Mertyr George, intercede with Christ our God, for our soul’s salvation” (a hymn dedicated on their behalf).
“You fought the good fight with faith, O Martyr of Christ, George; you exposed the perversion of the ersecutors and offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. Therefore, you also received a crown of victory and through your prayers, O Holy One, obtained the forgiveness of sins for all” (a hymn dedicated on their behalf).
Scripture often associates the devil with dangerous animals. In the same way, this icon depicts him as a young beardless man in combat with the Evil One, signified by the dragon. Victorious in his struggles, he thus defends and protects the Church of Christ signified by a royal maiden underneath a Church tower. His lance is surmounted by a cross to represent his sufferings and death as a martyr for Christ and his soldier cape is red to denote the blood of his martyrdom while an angel descends from heaven and places a crown of victory on his head.
St. John the Baptist
The Forerunner and Baptist
He was born to righteous Zachariah and Elizabeth, from whose barren womb, God made fertile in her old age, six months before Christ’s birth. He was a forerunner to our Lord both in His ministry on earth as well as into Hades. His name means “Yahweh is gracious!” He is revered as the father of ascetics and foremost of the witnesses to Christ, Who declared him to be the greatest born among women.
Filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, he lived an ascetic life in the desert and began to proclaim repentance for the coming of the Messiah on the shores of the Jordan River.
He was beheaded by Herod for condemning his immorality. Tradition has it that the mouth of his severed head opened once more to utter: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
One of the Fathers composed this hymn on his behalf: “…You are indeed more worthy of honor than the Prophets, for you were found worthy to baptize in the waters Him Whom you announced. Thereafter, you suffered for the truth, and rejoicing, announced the good news also to those in Hades that God had appeared as man, taking away the sins of the world and granting to all of us the abundance of mercy.”
In this icon, he is carrying his head bearing witness to the truth even after his death. He is clothed in a garment of camel’s hair tied to the waist by a leather belt (similar to the ones monks wear even today in his emulation). He is represented with two wings because he is the Messiah’s messenger (Malachi 3:1 & Mt. 11:10). In the background, he is baptizing Christ as well as being executed.
St. Mena (1)
The Martyr & Wonder-worker
He was born from righteous parents, who at first were not able to have children. His mother, Euphemia, prayed before the icon of the Virgin requesting a child. A voice came to her, saying: “Amen,” and thus she called her son, “Mena.”
At age 15, he served in the Roman army and was distinguished for his valor in war. He renounced his rank and withdrew to devote himself to ascetical struggles and prayer in the mountains for five years.
When persecution broke out against the Christians, he confessed his Christianity before Diocletian. As a result, he was inflicted with many torments and finally burned alive.
According to tradition, when they tried to move his relics back to his homeland, the camels upon which he was laid stopped at Mariout, where the saint desired to be buried.
At a later time, his remains were recovered and the miracles that were reported at his tomb soon made it a great center of devotion.
A hymn dedicated on his behalf says: “With great valor of soul, you strove in martyrdom, and having fought the good fight, O divine great martyr Mena, you received the gift of miracles from heaven, for God has shown you to the world as a worker of great signs, and He made you our protector and a swift help in afflictions and ever-vigilant defense from heaven.”
In the icon, he is dressed in an inner white tunic (for his purity) and a red outer robe (for his martyrdom). Also, the two camels who carried his body are on either side of him.
St. Mena (2)
The Martyr & Wonder-worker
At age 15, he served in the Roman army and was distinguished for his valor in war. He renounced his rank and withdrew to devote himself to ascetical struggles and prayer in the mountains for five years.
When persecution broke out against the Christians, he confessed his Christianity before Diocletian with many others, who belived because of him. As a result, he was inflicted with many torments and finally burned alive.
According to tradition, as they were translating his relics, the camels upon which he laid halted at Mariout (near Alexandria). Thus, it was realized the saint desired to be buried there.
At a later time, his remains were recovered and miracles were reported at his tomb that soon made it a great center of devotion. Today, his remains lie in an enclosed sarcopphagus at the Monastery of St. Mena at Maryout.
A hymn dedicated on his behalf says: “The Lord snatched you out of the temporal army, making you a fellow-heir of the eternal, O Mena, with them that suffered and die with you; and He grants you the crown incorruptible.”
In the icon, he is dressed in an inner white tunic (for his purity) and a red outer robe (for his martyrdom). His hands are in prayerful gesture. Also, the two camels who carried his body are on either side of him.
St. Rebecca & Her Five Children
Agathon, Peter, John, Ammon and Ammona
When Emperor Diocletian waged persecution against the Christians, St. Rebecca strengthened her children to withstand torture and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Her older son, Agathon stood before the governor rebuking him for abandoning the True Faith and worshiping idols instead. As a result, the governor ordered that he and his family be arrested and tortured.
Refusing the imperial edict to worship idols and deny Christ, they all cried in one voice: “We believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and God.”
St. Rebecca witnessed each of her children being tortured and killed, the youngest of which was slaughtered while on her knees; finally, she, was likewise beheaded.
Today their bodies lie in the Church dedicated to St. Rebecca and her children in Sonbat in Egypt.
A hymn on their behalf declares: “Thy martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our Immortal God. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.”
In this icon, St. Rebecca is depicted with her five children carrying palm branches as a sign of victory and their inheritance of Eternal Life.
The First Martyr and Deacon
He was a Jew who spoke Greek. His name means “crown.” According to Epiphanius, he was one of the seventy. Later, he was appointed one of the seven deacons chosen by the Apostles to supervise the administration of alms and help in the work of evangelism. The Book of Acts records the miracles performed by him after his ordination and of his outstanding preaching.
He ran into opposition from the Jewish religious leaders, who at first tried to defeat him in debate. When this proved impossible, they slanderously accused him of blasphemy and thereby he was brought before the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council).
At his trial, he preached a sermon that was filled with power and authority that was recorded in Acts 7:2-53. When he proclaimed his revelation of seeing the Son of Man seated upon the Throne of His Glory, they immediately dragged him out and stoned him to death.
One of the Fathers composed this hymn on his behalf: “You fought the good fight, O first martyr of Christ, and apostle. You exposed the perversion of the persecutors; for when you were killed by stones from the hands of wicked men, you received a crown from the Right Hand on High, and you cried out to God: ‘O Lord, do not charge this sin against them.’ ”
In this icon, he is vested in the deacon’s sticharion and carries a censor in his right hand. In the background, his accusers are stoning him while an angel place a crown over his head.
Three Holy Youth
In the Fiery Furnace
They were descendants from the royal tribe of Judah. While yet children, they were led away as captives into Babylon together with Daniel and other Jews by king Nebucchednezzar. The youths’ Hebrew names were changed from Ananias, Azarias and Misael to Shedrach, Misach and Abdenago, respectively. They did not defile themselves by eating the meat sprinkled with blood from the idolatrous sacrifice but ate lenten food.
They refused to offer adoration to the golden idol and were cast into the fiery furnace. By God’s ordinance, the fire did not consume their pure bodies; the Angel (the Son of God) preserved them unharmed. They formed an all-splendid divine choir, chanting in melodious harmony: “Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers.”
A hymn dedicated on their behalf, says: “A hand-wrought image, you did not worship, O thrice-blessed ones; but assured by the undepictable essence, ye were glorified in your ordeal by fire. Standing in the midst of the irresistible flame, you called upon God: ‘Speed Thou, O Compassionate One, and hasten since Thou art merciful, to come unto our aid; for Thou art able, if it be Thy will.’ ”
The holy children prefigured the Virgin’s incorrupt birthgiving, in that they came forth from the fiery furnace as from a cool mist; likewise, the fire of the Godhead consumed not the Virgin’s womb.
According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, Daniel and the three children lived to great old age in Babylon and were beheaded with the sword.
St. Anthony the Great
Founder of Monasticism
In 85 years of ascetic life, he went only twice to Alexandria: once to give encouragement to martyrs, seeking martyrdom himself, and the second time to refute the Arian heresy.
He founded his first monastery in Fayoum. At age 90, a vision was sent to him to seek out St. Paul the first hermit. He reposed at the age of 105 years on January 30th. In accordance to his wishes, he was buried secretly.
He once said: “I no longer fear God, but I love Him; for love casts out fear.” St. John Chrysostom once said: “Heaven with its stars are less in beauty than the Egyptian desert with its monks.”
In this icon, he is featured with a white beard not only indicating his elderly age but also signifying him to be a wise elder. He is vested in a leather girdle referring to his high monastic rank. He holds a scroll in his hand containing the words he heard in the Church that made him leave the world: “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have, give it to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven” (Mt. 19:21). His right hand is in the blessing gesture. In the lower corner, the vignette of St. Anthony visiting St. Paul with a raven descending with a full loaf of bread instead of the usual half loaf for St. Paul. Moreover, there are two lions represented near a gravesite that they dug to help St. Anthony bury St. Paul.
St. Anthony & St. Paul
Founders of Two Monastic Orders
After his parents’ repose, St. Anthony became a hermit in a desert near the Red Sea. In his entire monastic life, he only went only twice to Alexandria: once to give encouragement to martyrs, seeking martyrdom himself, and the second time to refute the Arian heresy. At age 90, a vision was sent to him to seek out St. Paul the first hermit.
After his parents’ demise, St. Paul had a dispute with his brother regarding their share in the inheritance and sought the courts in order to settle this matter. On his way to court, he saw a rich dead man being carried to his grave, taking no possessions with him. St. Paul took this as a lesson for himself; thus, he gave left his inheritance to his brother and fled to the desert – there living for 90 years not seeing anyone until St. Anthony’s visit. During their visit with each other, God appointed a raven with a whole loaf of bread rather than the usual half a loaf that St. Paul used to receive.
“Let us honor our sacred pair of enlighteners, who, by founding the monastic rites, have poured forth for us a well-spring of spiritual knowledge from which we draw abundantly even unto this day: We call you, blessed, O Anthony and Paul, ye that stand before the throne of the Most High and intercede fervently for our souls” (a hymn on their behalf).
This icon reflects the aforementioned visit. St. Paul is depicted wearing a cloak of palm leaves stiched together while St. Anthony, in a monk’s habit. In the background, there is a gravesite wherein St. Anthony laid St. Paul.
St. Macarius & Sts. Maximus and Dometius
St. Macarius, who was born in Egypt, became a disciple of St. Anthony the Great. In his early years, an evil woman falsely accused him of sinning with her, but through God’s providence the truth was revealed. He was ordained presbyter and then reposed at the age of 90. There are fifty homilies that are ascribed to him.
He was called the “young-elder” (despite his age) because of his great wisdom and austere manner of life. It was that he became as God upon earth, for even as God covers the sins of the whole world so did he cover the faults he saw as if he did not see them.
Among his spiritual counsels is the advice: “If you wish to be saved, be as one who is dead, who is not given over to anger when insulted, nor puffed up when praised.”
SS Maximus and Dometius were princes who desired to live the life of monasticism. They both came under the care and guidance of St. Macarius, who at first was reluctant to accept them because of their noble stature that accompanied a life of laxity. God revealed to St. Macarius the holiness of these two princes, for as they both prayed at night, he saw fire proceeding out of their mouths.
A hymn on their behalf says: “You contended according to the law of asceticism, as is meet, O fathers, and triumphed. Wherefore, the Only Benefactor has honored you with crowns of glory and granted you divine effulgence and blessed delights.”
In this icon, St. Macarius is seated as he teaches these two saints from the Bible.
The icon shows him carrying a scroll representing his preaching the Good News unto many nations.
The Beloved of Our Good Savior
When he turned 20, he went to the desert of Scete and became St. Pemwa’s disciple. After his death, St. Pishoy lived a solitary life until many people became his disciples and were under his guidance and care.
He was known for being particularly fond of the book of Jeremiah that he was called “Pishoy-Jeremy.” He was also endowed with the virtue of seeing Christ in visions on several occasions.
There is a story that relays his disciples’ desire to see Christ as well. At an appointed time when the Lord was to appear, his disciples rushed towards that location, by-passing an elderly man who asked assistance from each of them to be taken there as well. All had refused except for St. Pishoy who carried that Man, who by revelation, realized was the Lord Himself. Christ promised him that his body shall never see corruption because he carried Him – this is a true testimony until this day.
St. Pishoy was also known for his sincere hospitality towards strangers. The Lord wanting to reward him, visited him and allowed him to wash His feet.
In the icon, he is seated at the feet of Christ as he washes them. Above his head is a rope connected near his prayer corner, whereby he used to tie his hair at night to prevent himself from falling asleep in order to continue his vigil.
He was an only child, born in a city of Upper Egypt. As a young man, he departed to the desert of Scetis in order to become a monk. There, he met one of the elders, St. Agathon, who taught him the rules of monasticism.
He was appointed a priest at the Monastery of St. Macarius the great in Scetis. One day, an imperial envoy came to the desert carrying an unorthodox decree in order that it might be read in the assembly of the monks. Upon hearing the heresy, St. Samuel tore the decree and said, “Excommunicated be all those who believe other than what the Fathers have defended.”
This deed enraged the envoy and in turn, he plucked out one of his eyes. He is considered as a Confessor because he endured suffering for Christ but did not die as a result of it. Confessors in the Orthodox Church are ranked immediately after the martyrs in Its ecclesiastical order.
Moreover, he was banished from his monastery for upholding Orthodoxy, then later returned where he remained until his repose. It is said that one day, the Barbarians invaded his monastery and took him captive. They tied a maiden with him in order to ensnare him in the sin of fornication; however, the Lord delivered him.
In this icon, St. Samuel, the Confessor, is seen portrayed with one eye shut as a mark of his suffering for the sake of Christ and the Faith, and holding a Gospel in his hand.