Christ the Peacemaker

Savior of Zvenigorod by Andrei Rublev

This amazing early 15th century “Savior of Zvenigorod” is often described as Christ the Peacemaker, or the Seeing Christ, and has quite a history. Some say in an effort to save it from destruction, it was hidden under a barn floor near the Cathedral of the Assumption, used as a step, only to be discovered again in 1918. This could account for the damage we see today.

In the book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Praying with Icons, Henri Nouwen identifies many of the qualities that differentiate Rublev’s Christ from many other icons of the time, for example:

Rublev’s method of painting Christ:

  • Full hair
  • High forehead
  • Large, open eyes
  • Long nose
  • Small mouth/mustache
  • Round beard
  • Elongated face
  • heavy neck

Russian iconography descends from the Greek tradition. Rublev used color for spiritual qualities in the Greek/Russian tradition – Christ wears a red tunic covered with a blue mantle, because red represents divinity and blue represents humanity. This icon of Christ has a dimension of psychological depth that is very rare in medieval art. His eyes reflect uncommonly genuine humanity and unsearchable wisdom.

Henri Nouwen, in his meditation on the painting writes: “When I first saw the icon, I had the distinct sense that the face of Christ appears in the midst of great chaos. A sad but beautiful face looks at us through the ruins of the world. To me, this holy face expresses the depth of God’s immense compassion in the midst of our increasingly violent world. Through centuries of destruction and war, the face of the incarnate word has spoken of God’s mercy, reminded us of the image in which we were created, and called us to conversion. Indeed, it is the face of the Peacemaker.”

Here is how Rublev’s Zvenigorod Savior differs from traditional Byzantine iconography:

  • No severity
  • Humanized
  • Elegance in strength
  • Tenderness, yet firmness
  • Handsome
  • Face evokes love and not fear
  • Mysterious gaze directly into the viewer’s eyes
  • Omnipresence, loving care
  • Face to face experience with the viewer
  • Eyes that hold tears

Many find this icon embodies pure compassion. Compassion is a way of connecting with another by God’s love and grace. The word “compassion” is compounded from two words: “com” meaning “with” + “passion” which can mean to suffer. It is to suffer with someone else. Compassion means more than sympathy, empathy, or kindness; it is the grace to experience someone else’s struggles and pain.

The Savior of Zvenigorod is at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.