The icons bearing this title depict a miracle that happened, according to legend, in 1505 in the Transfiguration of Our Lord Monastery in the town of Varlamiev Khutyn. According to the Life of the Venerable Barlaam of Khutyn (1526), the sexton Tarasius, while praying in the Transfiguration Cathedral, saw the Veneraable Barlaam raise from the tomb and long pray in tears before the icons. The sexton Tarasius was ordered by St. Barlaam to climb to the top of the church three times. First time the sexton saw lake Ilmen hanging over Veliky Novgorod and ready to flood it. Second time he saw a host of angels shooting residents of Novgorod with burning arrows. Third time he saw a fiery cloud. Terrified, Tarasius told the Venerable Barlaam about what he had seen. The saint explained this vision as follows: “The Lord wanted to flood Novgorod with lake Ilmen for sins, lawlessness and lie of its citizens. But for the sake of prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos and prayers by all saints, the Lord took mercy of his people. He won’t flood the city but send plague instead as death for their sins, sparing only those who repented. Three years after the plague there will be a great fire in Veliky Novgorod since the Most Holy Theotokos with all saints beseeched Her Son and Our Lord Jesus Christ not to flood the city.”
The sexton Tarasius’ vision is based on real events that happened in Novgorod in the early 16th century – an epidemic of plague in 1506-1508 and the devastating fire of Novgorod in 1508.
Icons of The Vision of the Sexton Tarasius have one common composition, possibly deriving from one prototype – an icon dating to the first half of the 16th century from the Transfiguration Cathedral in the Khutyn Monastery. In the central part of the composition is lake Ilmen from which flows from right to left and from top downward the river Volkhov on the banks of which stands Veliky Novgorod. Above the city is a fiery cloud, with angels standing thereupon and shooting Novgorodians with burning arrows. On some icons, beside each person stands a guardian angel with a book reading the Lord’s will: “And if the man was listed in this book as alive… he was healed from the deadly disease immediately… If the angel saw the man in the Book of Fates as predetermined to death, he went away without sprinkling myrrh on him… in sadness.” To the left of Novgorod is the Khutyn Monastery. In the upper part of the icon is the Deesis in clouds with the Venerable Barlaam of Khutyn kneeling in prayer, flanked by angels; slightly below it are the groups of saints in prayer. An example of such composition is an icon of the second half of the 16th century from the Transfiguration of Our Lord Cathedral in the Khutynsky Monastery, now kept in the Novgorod Museum.
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
1. Секретарь Л.А., Шалина И.А. Варлаам Хутынский // Православная энциклопедия. Том VI. М., 2003. С. 635–640.
2. «Видения хутынского пономаря Тарасия». Текст по списку XVII в.: Древлехранилище Института русской литературы РАН, собр. Каликина, № 35 (лицевой сборник житий новгородских святых). Подготовка текста, перевод и комментарии Л.А. Дмитриева.
3. Полное собрание русских летописей. Т. IV. Новгородская Четвертая летопись. Ч. 1. Вып. 2. Л., 1925. С. 460–461.