Christ in Glory

Trinity’s “Christ in Glory” icon  was commissioned specifically for the aumbrie in 1985,  by Canon Dr. John Strege (Trinity’s then-Director of Music) during the remodel of the Sanctuary, preparatory for installation of the Rosales organ. The image, framed by a wide red border, measures 10.5 inches wide and 23 inches high; it was written by the-then Sherry Bettendorf who, as Sherry Lynch, and until Spring 2012, was the resident Master Iconographer and Instructor at Trinity Iconography Institute.

THE ICON DEPICTS THE STORY

The door of the aumbrie situated in the Northern wall of the Sanctuary of Trinity Episcopal  Cathedral, is covered by a beautiful rendition of the ancient icon “Christ in Glory”.

This icon shows the central figure of a standing Christ, full-length and fully bearded, surrounded by four forms of nimbi, (singular, nimbus – a bright or luminous cloud enveloping or surrounding a deity; magnificent explosions, or “glories” of light). Christ holds a closed Book of the Gospels; His right hand is shown in blessing, with fingers in the form of the Greek characters “IC”  “XC” (iota, sigma and chi, sigma) that represent His abbreviated name; Christ’s hands and feet show the marks of Crucifixion.

Christ wears a dark red chiton, or tunic, over which is a rich blue omorphion, or cloak. The colors of Christ’s garments are intended to set off a visual vibration, or excitation, between the colors, adding to the feeling of extreme exaltation.  Apart from the main image of Christ, and taken from two other ancient icons, three six-winged seraphim are at His feet.

THE BIBLICAL STORY

The four Gospel writers of the Bible’s Christian Testament all refer to Christ, after His Resurrection, variously as “King of Kings“; ”King of Glory“; “All Powerful”; “All Ruler”; “Lord of Lords” and similar lofty, Imperial-style  titles.  Obviously, this was against the backdrop of the presence of the Holy Land’s rulers at the time, the Roman Emperors. The people to whom the Gospel writers addressed these comments would have known the symbolic nature of the titles accorded to Christ and would have been able to place them in correct context at that time. These same attributes of Christ are still widely used terms by 21st Century C.E. Christians of all denominations, as witnessed by many hymns, liturgical references and festal celebrations.

THE SYMBOLISM IN THE ICON

Christ is pictured full-length, standing on a platform, as the Supreme Being. This image is also often shown with Christ sitting on a throne.  As the Supreme Being, Christ is given the maximum number of symbols of Heavenly light, namely, four forms of nimbus. The greatest of these is the mandorla, a light blue, almond-shaped style, emanating from Christ’s whole-body; this nimbus-form is also called an aureole (the word “aureole” comes from the Latin meaning “golden” –  as in the light given by the sun.) The second is an inner mandorla, in a darker blue; the third is a rectangle of pure gold, placed behind the mandorlas and on which are four Greek characters, iota, sigma, chi, sigma, in abbreviation of “Iesus Christus”; (the letter ”I” in Greek substitutes for the English letter “J“). The fourth is the more familiar gold halo surrounding Christ’s head; a circle of light representing the disk of the sun itself. In popular usage, the terms “nimbus” and “halo” are often used interchangeably, though not strictly correctly so.

Note that in iconography, always and ONLY, the halo of Christ includes a cruciform shape in which are the three Greek characters omega, omicron, nu  (I AM, or more correctly translated, THE ONE WHO IS) in reference to God’s declaration of Himself -”I am who am”.   However, there is a single known instance in iconography where the cruciform shape in Christ’s halo is absent. In his famous icon of the Holy Trinity that dates from about 1411 C.E., (also called the “Troitsa” icon) St. Andrei Rublev, perhaps the most highly regarded Russian iconographer, purposely omitted the essential halo differentiation on the Personage of Christ, emphasizing that all Persons of the Trinity are equal – even to their nimbii.

Ever since the edicts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (held in Nicaea in 787 C.E.) that ended the 117 years of the Iconoclastic period, icons must always carry the names of the individual or event depicted in the icon. The names are usually written in Greek, Kyrillic, Church Slavonic or the vernacular of the person writing the icon and may be abbreviated, in which case a “squiggle“ is placed above the abbreviation to so indicate.

THE ICON PROTOTYPE

As iconographers, we must always refer to a prototype that has been approved by the Orthodox Church. The image of “Christ in Glory” – sometimes also referred to as “Christ in Majesty” (following an early development in Christian art of the ancient custom of depicting the Roman Emperor, usually seated, holding a scroll of The Law) is usually shown in the center of the grouping in the principal tier of an iconostasis (a wall of icons separating the Sanctuary from the Nave – symbolizing the separation between Heaven and Earth) in Orthodox churches.

The prototype for Trinity’s “Christ in Glory” is taken from the “Transfiguration of Christ” and “Dormition of the Theotokos” icons, both by Theophanes (Feofan) the Greek who  worked during the late 14th Century C.E. in Russia. This icon appeared in very early iconography, although the fact that Christ is shown fully bearded suggests that it first occurred somewhere after the 4th Century C.E. Prior to that date, Christ was usually shown as a beardless young man. Similar images of Christ in Glory may also be found in the “Deesis” (Deesis literally means “prayer”) groups on the iconostasis in Orthodox Cathedrals and Churches.  A Deesis Group is usually composed of Christ flanked on His right side by the Theotokos and on His left, by John the Baptist.

On the inside of the aumbrie door, effectively also the back of the icon, is painted the symbol of a communion wafer containing images of the four Greek characters, chi and rho, in a monogram of the first two initials of the name “Christus” and alpha and omega, being Christ’s own summation of His ministry.