September 11, 2015

Jesus Christ Pantocrator: All About the Icon


Since its inception, this blog has featured the Christ Pantocrator icon on its sidebar. Here is everything to know about this most beautiful and majestic depiction of our Lord and Savior.

The Origins of This Image:

The word Pantocrator is Greek, meaning "Ruler of All." The image expresses the central reality of the Christian faith; the Divine Majesty of the creator and ruler of all the world, made flesh and therefore visible to us in the person of Christ Jesus our redeemer. The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator was written in the sixth century and preserved in the remote monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai desert. The location enabled the image to survive the destruction of most icons during the iconoclastic era in Byzantine history. (726 to 815 AD)

On the inside of the central dome in Orthodox churches is frequently found an immense mosaic or painting of Christ Pantocrator. The Pantocrator image typically found in church domes is very stern and formidable, expressing in full the concept of "Ruler of All." Smaller, personal icons, while retaining the same majesty, more often represent a gentle and compassionate Lord.

Theology and Symbolism:

In this image of Christ Pantocrator, Jesus is presented in a half-length pose, looking directly at the viewer, with his left hand holding the Sacred Word and his right hand raised in blessing. He is dressed in the traditional garb of tunic and cloak. His cloak, called in Greek a "himation" is dark blue signifying the mystery of His divine life. His tunic is a bright crimson red to signify His human blood shed for us all. The garments of the Messiah in Isaiah 63:1-4 were red, as was the soldier’s cloak put on Jesus’ shoulders during his passion. (Matthew 27:28)

The Bible he holds in his left hand is (sometimes) open to display a passage from the Gospel. Various passages are used in Pantocrator icons as are various languages. The most common is Matthew 11:28, "Come to me all you that are weary..." Other verses used have been John 7:24, John 8:12, John 13:34, John 14:6, Matthew 11:27, and Matthew 25:34.

The arrangement of fingers on Jesus’ right hand raised in blessing is significant. Two different forms may be seen in iconography. These two forms date from a schism that split the Russian Orthodox Church in 1667. Patriarch Nikon instituted reforms that a group of people who came to be known as the Old Believers refused to accept. This icon displays the Old Believer form: Thumb, ring finger and little finger are bent together symbolizing the divine and human natures of Christ, while the forefinger and slightly bent middle finger are held upright. The second, or State Church form spells out Iesous Khristos, the Greek shortened form of Christ’s name, "IC XC." The index finger is straight, forming the "I," the middle and little fingers are curved into "C" shapes, and the thumb and ring finger cross slightly to form the "X."

Christ’s halo, the iconographic symbol for sanctity, is inscribed with a cross and the Greek letters omicron, omega, nu, spelling "HO ON." In English, this becomes "Who Am," the name used for God in Exodus 3:14. On the background is written "IC XC."

The face of Jesus follows ancient traditions. The eyes are large and open, looking directly into the soul of the viewer. The forehead, identified as the seat of wisdom, is high and convex. The nose is long and slender, contributing a look of nobility. The mouth is small and closed in the silence of contemplation. The hair is curled and flowing, recalling the endless flow of time. The neck and body are powerful reminders of His strength and majesty.

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