January 29, 2018

“Well Written”: Icon of the Week, Vol. 1 | Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe Enthroned

God, the author of creation, uses physical realities to make present spiritual realities beyond us. In a similar way, iconography, pictures of Divine Persons and saints, are signs, images, or likenesses that embody and make present that which they portray. St. Athanasius of Alexandria championed the practice of writing, displaying and venerating icons by the faithful. He wrote:

"We, the faithful, do not worship the icons as gods. By no means as the pagans, rather we are simply expressing our relation to, and the feeling of our love toward, the person whose image is depicted in the icon. Hence, frequently when the image has faded, we burn it in fire, then as plain wood, that which previously was an icon. Just as Jacob, when dying, bowed in worship over the head of the staff of Joseph [cf. Heb. 11:21] not honoring the staff, but him to whom it belonged, in the same manner the faithful, for no other reason, venerate [kiss] the icons, just as we often kiss our children, so that we may plainly express the affection [we feel] in our soul." [39th Question to Antiochos, PG 94.1365.]

The arrangement of fingers on Christ’s 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 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 to make an "X."

The Bible in his left hand is opened to the Gospel of John chapter 8:12, "Jesus spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" Christ's declaration that he is, "The Light of the World" is evocative of other passages in Sacred Scripture (see John 1:4–5, 9; John 12:46; Exodus 13:22; Isaiah 42:6; and Zechariah 14:8) which explicitly denote a quality, example or instance of God's generosity, goodness, holiness and divinity. Lastly, Our Lord sits upon a throne signifying his divine Kingship and solemn role as Creator and ultimate Judge of the universe.

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