Icon of Christ Pantocrator – An Ancient Image of Christ
Icon of Christ Pantocrator holds a central place in Christian iconography. The image of “All-Powerful” Christ is one of His earliest images in the Orthodox Church. The mild yet stern mosaic figure of the Savior often occupies the space in the central dome of the church or monastery. Christ appears with a gaze full of melancholy, symbolizing an almighty judge of the people, whose image dives deeply into the soul of a viewer.
Icon of Christ Pantocrator from the Monastery of St. Catherine
The oldest example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator, one of a few survived the iconoclastic period in the 8th century, is preserved in the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai. The icon was painted in wax tempera, a popular icon painting technique originating from Late Egypt, which impresses with its naturalistic manner and golden tones.
As in subsequent examples, Christ is shown half-length, fully frontal, holding a richly adorned book (supposedly the New Testament) in His left hand and making the gesture of blessing with His right hand. Dressed in a tunic and himation, with the luminous tones of His face and large eyes staring at the beholder, Christ is usually enclosed in mandorla or another geometric frame implying a limited spiritual depth. The head of Christ is surrounded by a halo. It is quite often when the name of Christ is written on each side of the halo, representing the letters IC XC, which stands for “Jesus Christ.” Golden tones of the background, being an essential part of traditional icons, reflect the meaning of Christ who came to our world from eternity and divinity.
The dual nature of Christ
The strict symmetry in the figure of Christ is carefully avoided. The face of the Savior is modeled with refinement in the application of white highlights and dark tones. The differentiation of large eyes and brows intensifies the peaceful and detached expression. Some scholars say that such an asymmetrical image symbolizes Christ’s dual nature. In the icon, His left side is much softer and lighter than the right, thus symbolizing His human nature. Christ’s right side of the face with the intense features, in its turn, is a symbol of His holiness.
The icon of Christ Pantocrator renders the meaning of the image of Christ as Heavenly Father, Judge, and Guide of humanity. It is no wonder that it can be found in literally any Orthodox church or monastery around the world.