August 17, 2010

Saint Alypius the Iconographer of the Kiev Near Caves

Saint Alypius the Iconographer of the Kiev Near Caves (Feast Day - August 17)

Saint Alypius, one of the first and finest of Russian iconographers, was a disciple of St Nikon (March 23), and from his youth he lived a life of asceticism at the Kiev Caves monastery. He studied the iconography of the Greek masters, and from the year 1083 beautified the Caves monastery church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.

If he learned that in some church the icons had become worn, he took them with him and restored them without charge. If people happened to pay him for his work, he set aside one third to purchase supplies for painting icons, one third as alms for the poor, and the remainder for his own needs.

St Alypius was never famous, and he painted icons only to serve God. He was ordained a hieromonk, and was known for working miracles even in his lifetime. St Alypius healed a Kievan man suffering from leprosy and decay of the body by anointing the wounds of the sick man with the paints he used for the painting of icons. Many of his icons were glorified by miracles, and sometimes angels helped him in the holy task of painting icons.

A certain man of Kiev who had built a church, once gave two monks of the Caves a commission to have icons painted for it. The monks concealed the money and said nothing to St Alypius about it. After waiting a long time for the work to be completed, the man went to the igumen to complain about St Alypius. Only then did they discover that he had not been told of the commission. When they brought the boards provided by the customer, it turned out that beautiful icons had already been painted on them.

When the church was consumed by fire, all of the icons remained unharmed. One of these icons (the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos), known as the Vladimir-Rostov Icon (August 15), was taken by Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh (1113-1125) to a church he had built at Rostov.

Another time, when St Alypius lay deathly ill, an angel painted an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos for him. On August 17 (around the year 1114), an angel came to receive the soul of St Alypius, and he was buried in the Near Caves. The first three fingers of St Alypius's right hand were positioned together, and the last two were bent to the palm. It seems that he died while signing himself with the Sign of the Cross.

One of the icons painted by St Alypius survives from the time of Sts Anthony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, and is now preserved in the State Tretyakov Gallery. This is the Sven Icon (May 3 and August 17).

A twentieth century icon in the church of the Pskov Caves Monastery of the Dormition depicts St Alypius holding a copy of the "Assuage My Sorrows" Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (January 25 and October 9).

The Sven Icon of the Mother of God

The Sven Caves Icon of the Mother of God was written by St. Alypius of the Caves. On the icon the Mother of God is depicted sitting upon a throne, with the Divine Infant on Her knees. St. Theodosius is on the right side of the throne, and St. Anthony of the Caves is on the left. Until 1288, the icon was in the Kiev Caves Monastery, where it was glorified by miracles. In 1288 it was transferred to the Briansk-Svensk Monastery, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.

At Briansk, Prince Roman of Chernigov became blind due to an unknown ailment. Hearing about the miracles worked by the icon written by St. Alypius, the prince sent a courier to the monastery requesting that the icon be sent to him. A priest journeyed with the icon along the River Desna. After the voyage, the boat landed on the right bank of the River Svena. After lodging for the night, they went to the boat to pray before the icon, but they did not find the icon where they had last left it. Looking around, they saw it on a hill on the opposite bank, resting in the branches of an oak tree. News of this reached Prince Roman, and he was led to the icon on foot.

The prince prayed fervently before the icon and vowed to build a monastery on that spot, donating all the land which could be seen from the hill. After praying, the prince regained his sight. First he saw the footpath, then nearby objects, and finally all the surroundings.

After making a shrine for the icon, the prince had a Molieben served, and laid the foundations for a wooden church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The tree on which the icon rested was cut down and used as wood for other icons.

The feast day of the Sven Icon of the Mother of God is also commemorated on August 17 (the day of the repose of St. Alypius the Iconographer). The August 17 celebration was established in the year 1815 in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the city of Briansk (around which the icon appeared in 1288) from invasion during the 1812 Napoleonic War.

The icon was glorified by healings of the blind and of the possessed, and has long been regarded as a protector from enemies.

St. Alypius and the Miracle of the Dormition Icon

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The Lord does not allow His faithful servants to be shamed. It often happened that the martyrs of Christ, ridiculed and mocked before the courts, unexpectedly performed a miracle, which instilled fear in the unbelievers. Either the idols fell or thunder destroyed the temples of the heathen or an unexpected downpour of rain extinguished the fire prepared for their burning or the torturers beat themselves with stones and rods and so forth. Thus, Antipater, the torturer of St. Myron (Aug. 17), during the suffering of this man of God suddenly went insane and killed himself.

St. Alypius, the icongrapher, was already at the end of his life when he received an order from a man to paint the icon of the Dormition of the Most-holy Theotokos. As the feast was approaching, this man came several times to see whether the icon was completed. But the icon was not even begun, not even on the eve of the Feast of the Dormition itself when the icon was supposed to have been placed in the church. When this man returned home completely saddened, at once there appeared a young man in Alypius' cell who immediately sat down and began to paint the icon. He worked very quickly and very expertly. When the icon was completed, it shone like the sun. Showing the icon to the astonished Alypius, the young man took the icon and brought it to the church for which it had been ordered. The next day, that man who had ordered the icon went to the church and, to his great surprise, saw the icon in its place. Then that man came to the monastery and, with the abbot, entered Alypius' cell. "How and who painted the icon of this man?" asked the abbot. The ailing Alypius replied: "An angel painted it, and he is now standing here to take me away." And with that, he gave up the spirit.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Thou didst portray the Saints' faces on panels of wood, O all-praised Alypius, as a skilled craftsman thou didst inscribe their good works on the tablets of thy heart. Like an icon adorned in a God-like manner thou wast gilded with the grace of holiness by Christ our God the Savior of our souls.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Divinely sealed, thou didst learn iconography from thy childhood, and take thy part in adorning the church of the Mother of God. Thou didst behold the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and receive power from God to paint wonderworking icons. Wherefore we venerate thee, blessed Alypius.