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JESUS CHRIST IN ANCIENT ORTHODOXY

Christ the Pantokrator

The icon teaches us that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh (St. John 1:14).

The icon in which Jesus Christ is depicted as the Divine Son who, having taken our human nature, has restored our humanity to its Divine Image and likeness, and has taken that humanity to the very throne of God. In the Orthodox Church it is usually found in the Dome (or the highest point in the Church building), on the Ikonostas to the right of the Holy Doors (as you face the Ikonostas), on the DŽisis tier, and for the veneration of the faithful. The ikon may be shown full length, or half length. It is called "Pantokrator" because He is the ruler of all from the Greek pantokratoros meaning 'all powerful'. This type of icon includes ikons of Christ the Teacher, and Christ the King of Glory who will judge the world. At SS Peter & Paul Church are the King of Glory (on the Ikonostas and in the central Dome),and the Teacher (for veneration).

The icons of the Pantocrator reveal our Lord in every aspect of His humanity and divinity. They express the compassion and tenderness of the Savour who is accessible to the prayers of man, as well as the Righteous Judge who will judge the world and the peoples with His truth.

In creating icons, it was important for religious painters to depict the scenes in an abstracted form, which was to remind the religious believer of the original person or event that happened in sacred history. Icons are to be doors through which the believer communes with spiritual realities. If the images were too realistic, there was the temptation that the viewer will see only naturalistic depiction on the boards and won't think of the heavenly reality that the image was supposed to evoke in the believer. The icon doesn't re-incarnate Christ; rather, it points to His Incarnation.

Christian Icons

Iconography began on the day our Lord Jesus Christ pressed a cloth to His face and imprinted His divine-human image thereon. Luke the Evangelist painted the image of the Mother of God. An artist, he painted not only the first icons of the Mother of God, but also those of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

Icons are precisely the union between painting and those symbols and works of art which replaced icons during the time of persecution. The icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted.

An icon is an image which leads us to a Holy, God-pleasing person, or raises us up to Heaven, or evokes a feeling of repentance, of compunction, of prayer, a feeling that one must bow down before this image. The value of an icon lies in the fact that, when we approach it, we want to pray before it with reverence. If the image elicits this feeling, it is an icon.

In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man. This is precisely the manner in which the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are portrayed. Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints.

************************** By Saint John of San Francisco, appeared in Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1980), p. 42-45

Icons in early Christianity

Iconography gained importance in the Christianity because of the belief in incarnation of the Divine in visible material form. Eusebius of Caesarea, a bishop and early church historian, reports one popular story of the first Christian icon. In this story, Abgarus of Edessa sent a letter to Jesus at Jerusalem, asking Jesus to come and heal him of his sickness. As the legend developed after Eusebius, Jesus took a linen cloth and pressed it against his own face, leaving the imprint of his face on the cloth, and sent that to the king. This cloth reportedly remained in Edessa until the 10th century, when it was taken to Constantinople. In 1204 it was lost when Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders. This is one version of the first icon. In Latin this image was referred to as the Vera Icona or "True Icon".

Pantokrator comes from the Greek language. It means the "All Mighty" or "All Ruler" and is a synonym for an icon image of Jesus Christ. In this iconographic image, Jesus is displayed with a beard, his right hand raised for blessing and the left hand holding the gospel. An image of the Pantokrator is usually found in the center dome of a Byzantine church.

Icons of Christ permit us to see the Invisible God made Visible. Christ carries the cross, the symbol of His victory. He is surrounded by a ring of Divine light, forever defeating the darkness of death. As in all icons of Jesus, His halo, bears a cross and the Greek letters; "I am Who I Am", the name used for God in Exodus 3:14 These Icons help recall Christ's death and resurrection, the great Paschal mystery commemorated at Easter. His cloak 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 face of Jesus follows ancient traditions. The eyes are large and open, looking directly into the viewer's soul. 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. The halo has always been used in icons as the symbol for sanctity.

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