The icon of Christ Pantocrator, the all-powerful creator, is the most frequently written icon of the Eastern Church. The Icon of the Pantocrator from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai is one of the oldest surviving icons in existence and one of the few early icons to have survived the icon controversy of the 8th century in the Christian East. The power of Byzantium iconoclasm and the advance of imageless Islam did not reach as far as the Monastery of Saint Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.
The icon was painted in wax tempura (hot liquid wax used to bind the color pigments). 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 only stones or masonry can destroy the paint layer. Thus, old icon panels are often found undamaged among the ashes of burned churches.
Christ’s youthful, serene face here differs considerably from the older and rather severe image of the canonical Pantocrator type. The face is modeled with exceptional refinement in the application of fine white highlights and deep shadows.
The imposing figure of Christ is represented almost frontally, his right hand raised in blessing and his left holding a large, jeweled Gospel book. He wears a tunic and himation (cloak), both of the same deep purple, the folds defined not by highlights but by darker and lighter shades of purple. The gold cross-nimbus is decorated with a punched design along the edge. Of superb artistic quality, the nearly life-size figure fills the frame, and its placement so close to the front picture plane imbues the image with a startling immediacy. The rhythmic linear movement of hairline, brow line, and eyes rivet attention on the luminous tones of the face, with its large eyes staring benignly—but not directly—at the beholder.
Explaining the Icon
#1 The Halo
A halo is a sign of holiness and divinity. The letters on the halo, are a reference to the name of Jesus (“The One Who Is” and “I am here for you”).
#2 The Cross within the Halo
The cross in the nimbus reinforces the statement: God is with us, ready to support, both in time (cross = suffering) and eternity (circle = eternal life).
#3 The gold background:
In traditional icons, gold has the meaning of eternity, timelessness, perfection, and 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).
#4 The”blessing” hand of Jesus
This images depicts the traditional sermon gesture (Jesus’ biblical task) and a profession of faith. From the index finger on, the position of the fingers forms the Christogram (IC XC; the Chi – Greek X with crossed thumb and ring finger). This gesture was often interpreted as the blessing hand, the three fingers as a reference to the Trinity and the little finger representing the divine/human nature of Christ.
#5 The Face of Christ
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 and the image of the invisible God. Thus, an orthodox Christian venerates every religious image. Once blessed, an icon’s surface is never touched with human hands. 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. Because of this, iconoclasts have always scratched the eyes and face first or knocked the heads off statues – thus killing the image.
#6 Symbolism of colors
Jesus is the eternal God who became human in the middle of time (the divine color red is used on the inside on the body and earthly colors like blue/green/brown are used on the outside); this is reversed in the case of Mary. The mystery of the Incarnation is the incarnational message for our lives. The colors are made of earth and minerals, egg yolk binder: Symbols of creation, the paschal and the living.
#7 The Book
The jeweled Book of Gospels represents the true nature of Christ – the Word of God – who always was and who always will be. Christ is the author of Creation