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 www.Skete.com/. 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 (www.derekvreeland.com) 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 www.newadvent.org/fathers/130115.htm