Cultural Heritage, Games

Icons – the Heritage of the Orthodox Slavs

Do you know that icons are one of the essential components of an Orthodox Church? They are also an integral part of the cultures and traditions of the Eastern and South-Eastern European nations. An icon is an image (usually painted) that is believed to be sacred, and which depicts saints and their lives. It is likely that the iconographic tradition developed from the earliest surviving Christian paintings in catacombs (underground networks of tombs). At the time these were painted, Christianity was not a religion recognised by the state, however, because the cemeteries were beyond the reach of state authority, the early Christians were able to decorate their tombs with murals featuring biblical symbols.

Icons were usually painted on specially prepared wooden boards and were completed with a special coating. This coating was a layer cast in silver or gold which covered the whole icon except the saint’s face. Since the different saints’ faces are often quite similar to each other, icons sometimes also included a written note of whom it depicted so that the figures and scenes were not confused. These inscriptions were generally written in the Cyrillic alphabet (the alphabet of the Eastern Slavs).


This is what the whole Cyrillic alphabet looks like. Under some of the letters, you can see their translation into Polish. Which Cyrillic letters are similar to the Polish ones? Do we read them in the same way? This is where we can see the main differences: often, the letters are read in an entirely different way. For example, the letter ‘P’ in the Cyrillic alphabet is read like the Polish ‘R’, and the Polish ‘P’ is represented by a completely different shape or character in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Using the Cyrillic alphabet, try to find the icon of Saint Mary Magdalene which can currently be found in the Orthodox Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. After you have identified the icon, go to the Orthodox Church and see what the original looks like.