Christ Pantocrator (Christ, Ruler of All)

20 Apr

I just ordered this icon…Christ Pantocrator (pronounced pan-toe-crah-tor).

I could have said, “I just ordered this picture or print.” But I said “icon” because that is what it is. The Eastern Orthodox tradition has used icons in their worship for years. The use of icons was one of the reasons for the Eastern Orthodox split from the Western Church (the Roman Catholic Church) in the 11th century.

My guess is that most protestants take offence, or at least have no interest in icons, because it seems too close to idol worship. For me, I have always thought that Christian art has a power to communicate what words alone cannot. Paintings in the Roman Catacombs show Christians praying with hands lifted up in a cruciform position. What a powerful image! Icons–and Eastern or Byzantine icons in particular–are making a comeback in the Church through the influence of postmodern/emerging styles of worship that want to reach back into the historical church and dust off some ancient practices that have long been forgotten.

Dusting off is exactly what happened with this icon…Christ Pantocrator.

It hangs in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Egypt. It was first believed to have been painted in the 12th century until some modern scholars discovered that it had been touched up in the middle ages. After it was cleaned of its top coat, they discovered that the icon is as old as the 6th century. This fact makes St. Catherine’s Christ Pantocrator, the oldest remaining icon in the Church.

“Pantocrator” comes from two Greek words, panto meaning “all” and kratos meaning “strength” or “power.” It is roughly translated “all powerful,” “all mighty,” or “Ruler of all.”

I ordered my copy of the icon from The following is what they say about the artistry of the icon:

Christ is traditionally shown with a short beard and long dark hair parted in the middle, holding a jewel-studded Book of the Gospels in His left arm and blessing us with His right hand. Three fingers touch representing His Divinity, and two fingers are up to symbolize that He is fully God and fully Man, the forefinger bent for His Incarnation.

The Saviour has a serious and intent look, like the King of All looking upon His people. His face is not symmetrical but has a look of dignity and calmness on one side and a different look of arching of the eyebrows causing enlivenment on the other. These dissimilar but complimentary impressions strike a harmony between the Divine and Human Natures of Christ.

I first used this icon on my homepage ( before using this current blog template. I have always had some kind of attraction to the icon. It doesn’t seem forign to me, even though it was painted 1500 years ago. There is something familar about it. Something comforting. Something significant. Something worshipful. Knowing the history and the meaning of the artistry, I appreciate it all the more and look forward to hanging it in my office where it can “preach” to me about the person of Christ.

Since I am in a historical and reflective mood, let me end this post with a prayer from Augustine. This prayer comes from the end of On the Trinity, Book 15, Chapter 28. In the prayer, Augustine reveals that the passion of his heart is to seek the face of God:

…so far as I have been able, so far as You have made me to be able, I have sought You, and have desired to see with my understanding what I believed; and I have argued and labored much.

O Lord my God, my one hope, listen to me, for I fear that through weariness I may be unwilling to seek You, but my desire is “that I may always ardently seek Your face.” Do give me strength to seek, you who have made me find You, and has given me the hope of finding You more and more.

Augustine, On the Trinity, 15:28:1
Adapted from


Posted by on April 20, 2007 in Ministry, Theology


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4 responses to “Christ Pantocrator (Christ, Ruler of All)

  1. Rodney A. Bradford

    April 20, 2007 at 8:30 pm


    Thoughtful and provoking words on the icon. However, how do we make biblical sense of the use of icons in worship, as we see happening among our emergent brothers and sisters? I’m not going to kid you. I agree with the assertion that Christain art can be beneficial but I am quite unsure of its value within the worship context. (Perhaps I am just too Baptist!)

    Grace to you my brother,

  2. derek vreeland

    April 20, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Biblically we are called to preach the gospel, but we are not told how to preach the gospel. How do we proclaim the message of Christ to people?

    The reformation tradition (of which we are both a part) is built upon sola scriptura–scripture alone–and I agree! Unfortuantely, our reformation forefathers passed on the elevation of reason and a distain for art as a part of their message “sola scriptura.” What we have received is a tradition that says, “Scripture alone…as long as it is transmitted by reason alone.”

    Art has the ability to communicate truth that is both rational and emotive. Paul Tillich has good stuff to say about that in Theology of Culture. I cannot say that I have truely dialoged with emergent/emerging Christians on this issue, but I have used icons and Christian art in worship services and I think it has been beneficial.

    I have displayed icons and paintings of Jesus on the cross on the “big screen” while we have received communion. I found it helpful in causing people to reflect on the cross and what Jesus has done.

    We do not use icons on a regular basis, but I certainly see the value in it.

    Maybe I am becoming to ecumenical!


  3. Rodney A. Bradford

    April 22, 2007 at 9:01 am


    I would love to see you share some further thoughts on two things you allude to in your comment…

    preach–what is it?

    the gospel–what is it?

    I suppose that I to do agree that we come from the strong reformed tradition of scripture alone. I do know of missionary friends that have used “picture” bibles in foreign lands where there is no written language or translation of the Bible. However, it seems to me that pictures (and icons) need words to help frame what it is we want the listener (and see-er) to understand.

    I certainly know that words are open to interpretation. Yet pictures are open to a “thousand” more. The truth of what is needed to be communicated can be lost because the observer of the picture does not know the artist’s original intent. That, in my estimation, is the key to us truly understanding.

    Thanks for making us think.


  4. derek vreeland

    April 23, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    I agree that pictures need words to frame the context. No doubt about that. Pictures alone will never do, but I want to avoid the modernist bias that says that art is uncessary. I want to welcome the artist back into the church.

    I had a funny thought… You know most SBC churches have at least one icon. It is the sissy-looking picture of the anglo-Jesus with flowing hair and bright blue eyes! You know the one I am talking about! 🙂

    By “preach,” I mean proclaim, hearld, make known. St. Francis who-wasn’t-a-sissy said that we ought to preach the gospel at all times and use words as necessary. Granted words are necessary. We cannot effectively preach without words. I just want to suppliment words with art….particularly in proclaiming the world to a post-Christian, dare I say — postmodern, culture.

    By “gospel,” I mean that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he rose on the third day. Implicit in that definition is clearly communicating who Christ is. Not the Mormon Christ…not the JW Christ…not the Isa of Islam or the Jesus of Southpark, but the true historical Jesus of Nazereth the God man. The icon comes in handy here, because the fingers on Christ’s right hand are PROCLAIMING something about him. It is in the description of the icon from

    Good disscussion!

    Rock on.



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