The Pantocrator Illustrating the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ. The First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. codified the doctrine of the hypostatic union. This states that the humanity and divinity of Christ are made one and exist as one in the Logos, the Word made flesh. Or as is proclaimed in the Divine Praises, ‘Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man’. The oldest known extant icon of Christ the Pantocrator is to be found at St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. It was painted in wax encaustic on a wooden panel in the sixth or seventh century. St Catherine’s Monastery is very remote and located at what was the extreme edge of the Byzantium Empire, and so its artefacts survived the iconoclastic purges between 726 and 787 A.D. and again between 814 and 842 A.D. when most icons were destroyed. The essential central theme of the Pantocrator is Jesus’s dual nature of ‘true God and true Man’ described in the hypostatic union.
This is illustrated in the asymmetry of the Pantocrator face. His hair is parted on his right side and lies on his left shoulder. His beard is combed in the opposite way to his hair. His left eyebrow is raised a little. The left side of his moustache droops lower than the right side. These features may appear subtle, but if each half of Jesus’s face in the Pantocrator icon is viewed individually, the disparity between the two halves becomes clearly apparent.
The Pantocrator facial asymmetry is further emphasised by the direction of fixation of his eyes. He has a right hypertropia – the right eye is looking upwards whilst the left eye is directed towards the viewer. Two interpretations have been suggested for this misalignment of Jesus’s eyes, which would in fact give him vertical diplopia (double vision, with one image viewed above the other). First, this is another way of emphasising the hypostatic union. Second, the right eye gives the impression that Jesus is staring dispassionately The Hagia Sophia challenge to the Parish of Roath St Martin. Christ the Pantocrator of Roath, Christ the Pantocrator of Roath, Perhaps the famous Deësis mosaic of the Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia, which inspired the icon of offers a challenge to the Parish of St Martin’s. In 537 A.D. building of the church of Hagia Sophia (the Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God) in Constantinople was completed. This was then the largest and most beautiful church in all of Christendom. When its benefactor, the Emperor Justinian, saw it for the first time he boasted, ‘Oh Solomon, I have surpassed thee!’ because he thought he had built something grander and more spectacular than Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Sadly, despite being the grandest and most spectacular church in Christendom, Hagia Sophia is now not a church; it is a mosque. The Deësis mosaic no longer looks down on the Royal Doors of the iconostasis; it is now a slowly decaying wall decoration. The challenge to us at St Martin’s living and worshipping in this diverse, multicultural suburb of Cardiff is whether we will keep the Christian faith alive, or will it decline and fail? As we walk under the icon of going into church to worship God, and as we leave to live the Gospel in our daily encounters, let us be inspired by the Pantocrator and offer up the most powerful and mystical of all prayers, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ Figure 3 10 7 into the far distance, into infinity, whilst the left eye is fixating on the viewer. This could indicate Christ’s justice and mercy.
The left eye shows him to be the Judge who identifies our sins, but the other eye, gazing to infinity, represents his mercy in looking beyond the sins of those who repent. Other interesting anatomical attributes are the apparently large and misaligned ears and the small mouth. Together these features signify that Jesus hears everything but that he only utters words of holy wisdom. In his left hand Jesus holds the Book of Gospels. The hand appears distorted, this is because this is a two dimensional representation of a curved image that is often seen in the apse of an Orthodox church. As with the Deësis mosaic, the hypostatic union is represented by Jesus having asymmetric facial features. His hair is parted in two and falls on his left shoulder; the left side of his parting is golden, the right side is brown. His beard is swept to his left side. His ears are on different levels. Like the Pantocrator at St Catherine’s Monastery (right) and Deësis mosaic (left) the eyes of are pointing in different directions. His right eye is slightly elevated (right hypertropia) and his left eye has a divergent squint (left exotropia). Again this emphasizes Jesus exercising both mercy and justice. Finally, the name of this icon, proclaims that this mosaic is a fusion of the ancient traditions of iconography that are manifest within the Pantocrator archetype. Furthermore, by looking out high over the suburb of Roath it powerfully and unambiguously consecrates Roath to Christ. (text stmartininroath.com)
Iconographer – Liviu Dumitrescu
- Other iconographic representations can be made beside the ones presented on the website