(After the prototype in Crete; 15th Century C.E.)
The “Pantokrator” and its companion piece, “The Hodegetria” were created as a pair of icons, or “diptych” as gifts to the Cathedral from the Trinity Iconography Institute, to commemorate Bishop Johncy Itty’s Consecration as Oregon’s Ninth Bishop, on September 20, 2003, and his Cathedral Enthronement on September 21 of that year.
THE ICON TELLS THE STORY
This icon may correctly be referred to by either of the two names in the title above. The term “Pantokrator” translates to “Ruler of All” or “All Powerful” or “Lord of Hosts” and is a common icon, found almost universally in Orthodox Churches. Often, the Pantokrator occupies the entire dome of a church over the altar. The Pantokrator is often shown full-length, but also, frequently, half-length.
THE ICON’S PROTOTYPE
The earliest prototype version of this Pantokrator icon is part of a “triptych” (a three-part icon, hinged together) that pre-dates the 15th Century, C.E. and originating in Palermo, Italy. In the mid-15th Century C.E. an unknown iconographer in Crete, using the Palermo version as his basis, created a similar prototype, the central part of which was selected as the subject for this icon. The 3-part prototype icon measured approximately 41cm. x 36cm. (16” high by 14” wide) while its central portion was some 28cm. x 18cm. (11” high by 7” wide.) This icon measures 36” high by 26.5” wide. Present locations of both prototype icons are unknown.
THE SYMBOLISM IN THE ICON
The icon shows Christ enthroned and vested in the Sacerdotal garb of an Orthodox Bishop. In some prototypes Christ is shown wearing the Byzantine “crown” or mitre, typical of an Orthodox Bishop or Patriarch. In this image, Christ does not wear crown or mitre. Orthodox Bishops traditionally wear all the vestments that a priest would wear, plus a seamless over-garment, or “saccos” representative of the garment worn by Christ. In this icon, the saccos is covered by small blue crosses. A Bishop also wears two “stoles”, the “epitrachelion” of a priest (in this icon it is red, under the saccos) and an “omorphion” – the stole of a Bishop – over the saccos. The white omorphion in this icon is also decorated with crosses, this time of gold.
Christ’s right hand (left to the viewer) protrudes from the saccos, showing one of the two liturgical cuffs worn by priests; His hand is held in the traditional “IC-XC” (the abbreviation of “Jesus Christ” in Greek) style blessing. Christ’s left hand holds the open Book of Gospels. It is traditional to select any quotation attributable to Christ, to be placed on the open Gospel’s page. Often, the donor, or whomever commissions an icon, will choose some appropriate quote. The symbols “Alpha” and “Omega”, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, were selected for this image because of the powerful statement that Christ made with respect to the significance and infinite scope of His Ministry “I am the Beginning and the End”.
Note that on each side of Christ’s head are parts of His abbreviated name. On the arms of the Cross in Christ’s nimbus (“halo”) are Greek characters, in abbreviation of His statement “I am who I am”. (Ex. 3:14). The throne, which is repeated in the “Virgin Hodegetria”, has finials on the ends of the back-rest; these finials are done in a blood red and gold, symbolizing the flames of martyrdom which many Bishops throughout history have had to endure. The throne rests on a pure lapis-lazuli floor; the gemstone was ground to a fine powder and mixed with a medium to create a paint. This gem-stone used in an icon always indicates Heaven; pure gold represents Heavenly light.
There are twelve gemstones mounted into the nimbus of Christ in this icon; they are those specified as required to be on the “Pectoral of Judgment” or “breastplate” of Aaron, the Hebrew’s first High Priest. (Ex.28: 15-21) The 12 pearls in the nimbus refer to the 12 gates of “New Jerusalem” that are said to be pearls. (Rev.21: 21) Pearls also symbolize wisdom and purity.
This symbolism of the twelve gemstones was chosen by the iconographers to create a direct link between Aaron, Judaism’s first High Priest – the first “Bishop” and Johncy Itty, Oregon’s newest Bishop. The twelve stones are “…carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, amethyst, jacinth, agate, crystal, beryl, lapis-lazuli, jasper”. (Torah/Tanakh.) Although there are some discrepancies in the names of the gemstones cited in various Christian translations of the Bible, there is a similar symbolic association of twelve gemstones in Rev. 21:10-21, where these same gems are listed as the foundation stones for the City of the “New Jerusalem”.
Besides the 12 gems specified as being on Aaron’s breastplate, there are 12 Princes of Israel, 12 Tribes of Israel (representing the whole of Israel) 12 sons of Jacob and 12 Chief Priests. There are 12 Gates of “New Jerusalem”, the 12 pearls that are those Gates and 12 foundation stones of “New Jerusalem” (the same gems as are on Aaron’s breastplate). There were, of course, also 12 Apostles.
In Hebrew tradition, the number 12 is representative of all that is perfection and totality. The number 12 appears with great frequency in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, including the squaring of 12 (144) in reference to the multitudes saved, in Revelation (Ch. 7). This squaring represents the quality of absolute totality.