Jesus Christus Pantokrátor
Jesus Christ, Greek icon dating from the 15th century
Description of the icon
Jesus Christ Pantocrator, The Almighty: the prototype of all icons. Through the Incarnation, Christ himself is made word and image, the word of the ineffable mysteries and the image of the invisible God.
Just as the real presence of Christ in the word was emphasised by the Second Vatican Council, after the iconoclastic controversy in the 8th Century the same applied for the real presence in the image. Examples still with us today: The presence of the deceased in their obituary photograph, the first photograph of lovers together, personal keepsakes. The "inner images" that lead us to belief and experience.
Inner relationship to the Jesus Prayer! The icon consists of image and word (inscription). If the inscription or face can no longer be distinguished, the icon is removed and "buried" or burnt to produce the holy oils (Holy Week).
The Almighty also means the Most Gracious. God is omnipotent, he does not need not to defend his power and can therefore be merciful and gracious. Only lesser rulers and would-be rulers have to constantly draw attention to themselves. Sublime and eternal is the Lord - the folds of the robes show vitality, dynamism, action - as well as the temporality of the Incarnation.
Of all the book inscriptions on the icons (they could usually be chosen freely!), the following are particularly of note:
1. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden..." (on the majority of Russian icons, explained by the patient suffering of simple folk)..
2. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (on the majority of Greek icons, explained by their philosophical past)..
The gold background: Meaning eternity, timelessness, perfection, divinity. Christ comes to us from eternity and is essentially always and everywhere (which is why the backgrounds of classical icons never show a landscape but do show mountains, deserts or buildings). Icons influenced by the West only emerged around the period of Peter the Great (around 1700), but were vehemently rejected by orthodox believers (church schism)..
Three further observations:
- The inscription on the halo indicated quite clearly whether it was a Greek or Russian icon.
The Greeks wrote and still write the letters 'Ho Ôn' (read ho ohn = The One Who Is) from left to right, whereas the Russians wrote from top to bottom. The article 'O' is on the left side of the halo in Greek icons but at the top in the case of Russian ones.
- The circle of the halo goes beyond the square (emphasised by the Kovtscheg, through the deepening of the field - which is less common in the case of Greek icons): the square is the field of life, the circle is the symbol of eternity, of salvation, of mercy.
- The Greeks paint with thicker, more pasty colours (little water and egg emulsion) and thus use a vertical easel. The Russians paint plav or naliv, which means "swimming" with colours that are applied in a very liquid form. In the case of this icon, one can see clearly how the image has been brightened in three or four layers - the face, however, appears almost Russian because of this refinement.
The symbolism of the colours:
Jesus is of the eternal God and became man in the middle of time (the divine colour red is used on the inside on the body and earthly colours like blue/green/brown are used on the outside); this is reversed in the case of Mary.
The mystery of the Incarnation, the incarnational message for our lives. The colours are made of earth and minerals, egg yolk binder: Symbols of creation, the paschal and the living.
Both Jesus' declaration and profession. The three letters on the halo, O W H (Greek "Ho Ohn", The One Who Is). Reference to the name of Jesus (Jeshua), which contains two statements: Yhwh ("Je-" - "I am here for you") and "-shua" (supports, helps).
The cross in the nimbus reinforces the statement: God is with us, ready to support, both in time (cross; suffering, guilt) and eternity (circle, mid-point between the eyes in the "point of view").
Christ = Messiah, "anointed" (Greek chríëin, Hebrew maschàch) as king, priest, prophet. Anointed to serve as Redeemer and Saviour.
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Without eyes - unreadable?
For the Orthodox Christians, whoever or whatever is depicted in the icon is truely present. Through the Incarnation, Christ himself becomes word and image, the word of the ineffable mysteries and the image of the invisible God. Thus, an orthodox Christian venerates every religious image, even a fleeting newspaper image, and does not throw a broken cross in the bin, for example. We also feel this impact in a similar way: the presence of the deceased in their obituary photograph, the first photograph of lovers together, personal keepsakes.
The icon consists of image and word (inscription). If the inscription or face can no longer be distinguished, the icon is removed and "buried" or burnt to produce the holy oils (Holy Week). Because of this, iconoclasts (e.g. during the French Revolution) have always scratched the eyes and face first or knocked the heads from statues - thus killing the image.
The ancient icon of "Christ Pantocrator" of Sinai
Encaustic icon - Sinai 6th century
The Christ Pantocrator Icon at the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai is one of the few to have survived the icons controversy of the 8th century in the Christian East. The power of Byzantium and the advance of imageless Islam did not reach as far as the high-lying Monastery of St Catherine (Sinai peninsula).
The icon was painted one and a half millennia ago in wax tempura, i.e. hot liquid wax used to bind the colour pitments. This technique originating from late Egypt and withstood all external influences - if there is a fire, the icon panel is the last thing to burn, and the paint layer can only be destroyed by stones or masonry. Thus, old icon panels are indeed often found among the ashes.
What is most striking about the icon of Christ is the freshness of the colours and its naturalism e.g. in the depiction of the face. Otherwise, the stole, the Christogram hand position and the inscription in the nimbus are present and retained. Mighty is the book in his left hand - word and image! What an impression such pictures must have made on people who were not culturally spoilt, as well as on priests and monks!