- St. Nicholas in a kivot – Holy Spirit Ukrainian
Orthodox Church, Mazeppa, SK
An icon can be written for virtually any saint. Of course, it is impossible for any church to have an icon of every saint. This webpage discusses some of the more commonly found icons in Ukrainian churches but this list of popular icons is far from exhaustive.
St. Nicholas of Myra has long been a favourite saint for many in both the Eastern Church and the Western Church. While legends abound about St. Nicholas, there is little that is known for sure about him, other than that he is credited for his intercession in countless miracles and for this reason he is also called St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of numerous countries, provinces, cities, parishes, etc. He is also the patron saint of sailors, children, merchants, pawnbrokers, etc. Nicholas has been given particular veneration because of his shining example of good Christian virtue. The Orthodox Church views this saint as an exceptional a protector and intercessor and this is witnessed by the great multitude of miracles attributed to St. Nicholas both during and after his life.
During the fourth century, St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in Lycia, located in southwestern Asia Minor. He is said to have suffered greatly during the period of persecution under Emperors Diocletian and Maximinian. St. Nicholas is also said to have been present at the great ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 AD; however, some scholars dispute this. St. Nicholas died in about 330 in Myra. He is also sometimes called St. Nicholas of Bari because his relics were stolen from Myra and moved to the Church of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy. There are reports that pleasant scented myrrh issues from his bones. The myrrh is distributed to the faithful and people credit numerous miracles to this substance.
- St. Nicholas on a banner -
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church (OCA) near Endeavour, SK
St. George is the patron saint of several countries, provinces, and cities. He is popular in both Catholic and Orthodox churches and innumerable parishes name him as their patron. Given the extent of his veneration, it is odd that so little is known about St. George. The most reliable thing to be said about him is that he lived in the fourth century in the Middle East and he was likely a Greek soldier in the Roman army. He died a martyr somewhere in Palestine.
- The patron icon of St. George
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Flin Flon, MB
Ukrainians have venerated St. George for centuries and he was highly revered by the warrior Cossack culture. His feast day in May began the agricultural year in the old country, and the November feast day of the Kiev Church of St. George ended it. His emblem is a red cross on a white background. St. George usually wears a red cape in his icons, signifying his martyrdom, and his horse is white, signifying purity.
Detractors of St. George point to the fact that dragons never existed and, therefore, St. George must not have existed since he is frequently portrayed slaying a dragon. However, the dragon is more likely to have been meant as a sort of allegory of good conquering over evil. Satan is described as a dragon in the Book of Revelations and described as a serpent in Genisis.
- A dramatic rendering of St. George slaying the dragon -
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, Meleb, MB
Sts. Constantine and Helena
Sts. Constantine and Helena may be found together or separately in Eastern Right iconography. One can often recognize them from their royal style of the clothing and the placement of a large cross in the icon.
- The patron icon of Sts. Constantine and Helena
Ukrainian Catholic Church, south of Buchanan, SK
St. Helena was born in about 255 AD in Asia Minor. She gave birth to a son in 274 who eventually became Emperor Constantine the Great. Helena was a Christian and she had considerable influence over her son. Because of this Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians in 312 and he became a Christian himself. St. Helena used her position of influence to spread Christianity and people flocked to the Church. We remember St. Helena for her famous trip to the Holy Land where she found the Cross of Christ and many other important relics. She is also noted for founding a large number of churches and spending much money to relieve the poor.
Aside from feeing Christians from persecution, St. Constantine also ordered confiscated property to be given back to them. He gave the Church enormous financial support and was personally responsible for building many churches and monasteries throughout the Roman Empire. In response to the Arian heresy he called the First Ecumenical Council, which, in part, produced the Nicene Creed. The Church calls him “equal to the apostles” because of the significant role St. Constantine played in spreading Christianity.
Sts. Vlolodymyr and Olha
Sts. Vlolodymyr and Olha may be found together or separately in icons and they are greatly venerated by all the Eastern Slav peoples.
St. Olha was a Christian at a time when most people in Kievan Rus were pagans. She ruled Kievan Rus as regent until her son became of age. Chroniclers describe her as both beautiful and wise. Olha did not attempt to convert Kievan Rus to Christianity during her rule, realizing that such a move would be too politically risky for her. After her regency, Olha went to Constantinople where she received baptism by the Patriarch in approximately 957. She retired to Kiev as dowager Grand Princess and she is credited with founding many churches throughout the land.
- St. Olha from St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Arran, SK
Olha’s grandson, Volodymyr came to the throne of Kievan Rus in 980 after murdering his ruling brother to gain the throne. Chroniclers portray Volodymyr as a nasty sinner at that time. In approximately 988 he converted he converted to Christianity. By accepting baptism, Grand Prince Volodymyr could forge an alliance with the Byzantine Empire and that alliance was sealed by his marriage to the Emperor’s sister. This move brought his country into the family of European nations and Kievan Rus underwent considerable cultural growth.
- St. Volodymyr from Holy Transfiguration
Orthodox Church (OCA), Star-Edna, AB
Volodymyr was a staunch supporter of the Orthodox Church for the remainder of his life. He called for mass baptism of people in the rivers. He built a great many churches, imported as many clergy as possible, and opened the door to cultural influence from the Byzantines who operated institutions of learning and religion. St. Volodymyr must have been a good Christian role model to his son, Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, because Yaroslav took the advancement of culture, religion, and learning to even greater heights during his own reign.
St. John (Ivan) of Suchava
It is very appropriate that an icon of St. John of Suchava should be found in a Ukrainian Orthodox parish since he was the patron saint of Bukovyna. He also is the patron of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and several Orthodox parishes in Canada have him as their patron. He was a fifteenth century merchant; however St. John was also respected for his theological training and he participated in Church councils in an official lay capacity.
- St. John of Suchava from the former
Holy Trinity Bukowinian Orthodox Church, Ottawa, ON
At that time, the areas of Bukovyna, Bessarabia, and Moldavia were all under Ottoman rule. A rival businessman was envious of John’s success and misinformed the local authorities that John had publicly defamed the Prophet Muhammad. The Turks offered St. John freedom for rejecting Christ and converting to Islam. When John refused conversion, they tortured then beheaded him. Alexander the Good, Prince of Moldavia, brought St. John’s relics to Suchava and the faithful venerate them there to this day. St. John of Suchava’s icon is unlikely to be found in a Ukrainian Catholic Church.
St. Josaphat is a controversial subject for iconography but his presence in many Ukrainian Catholic parishes cannot be ignored. There are several Ukrainian Catholic parishes that name him as their patron saint and venerate him as a martyr. Indeed, he is considered the first martyr of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
An Orthodox church would never have an icon of this seventeenth century bishop. While Catholics venerate him as a saint, many Orthodox Ukrainians revile him as one who persecuted the Orthodox Church.
- The patron icon on the iconostas of
St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Edmonton, AB
All Saints and Gatherings of Saints
Icons are sometimes written to depict all saints in the company of heaven. Naturally, the iconographer could place a great many saints on an icon but it would be impossible to include them all. In any event, there are likely to be a great many saints in heaven that have never been officially recognised for glorification and are unknown to us. We recognise all saints on specific days of the Church calendar.
- The patron icon of All Saints
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Endeavour, SK
A gathering, assembly, or Synaxis (Slavonic: Собор, Sobor) is a general commemoration of several saints, such as Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles or the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers. All of the saints depicted will often have their own particular feast days, but they are all venerated together on their Synaxis and icons are frequently written to depict this.
Fathers of the Church
The Fathers of the Church are the early and most important theologians in the Church and they are usually those of the first five centuries of Christian history; although, many historians also include later theologians such as St. John of Damascus. The term is used of writers and teachers of the Church but does not include the actual authors of the New Testament, who are clearly in a class of their own.
- Sts. John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian -
St. Sophie Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor, Montréal, QC
Since Ukrainian churches are of the Eastern Rite, icons of Fathers of the Church are usually from the Eastern Church, such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, etc. However, there are many Western Rite saints from the Patristic Period that are venerated by Eastern Rite churches and occasionally their icons will also be found in a Ukrainian church.
- St. Augustine from St. John the Baptist
Ukrainian Catholic Church Arran, SK