“Christ is the icon of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15)
It is only fitting that the first icon explored here is of Jesus Christ – Who is Himself the image of the invisible God. Because God took on human flesh and became visible, we can depict Him; indeed, to portray Christ is to strongly affirm that God did really become a man, and that Jesus Christ is not mere allegory or myth.
The icon here is very typical of those found in Orthodox churches and homes, and is called Pantokrator (Gr: meaning “Almighty”). Jesus Christ “the Almighty” is a powerful title attesting to Jesus’ divinity and so it is unsurprising that Christ’s face is often found to be stern on such Icons.
Around Christ’s head is a halo, an almost universal symbol of holiness. But Christ’s halo is not the same as the halos shown around other saints, nor even in the angels of this icon. Inside of Christ’s halo is the Cross – the Cross of Salvation – although only three arms are visible: the three arms make up a Holy Trinity. Upon the three arms are the Greek letters ώ Ό Ν (omega, omicron, nu) which literally means “the being” or more precisely “He who is”. This is a reference to Christ’s divinity, as the Old Testament reveals “He who is” to be the name God revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14 – in the Septuagint text this is ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν: “I am He Who is”). The Revelation of St. John uses the phrase: “Who is (ὁ ὢν), Who was, and Who is coming” throughout to refer to Jesus Christ. These revelations of Jesus Christ’s nature and the Holy Trinity are preserved in Christ’s Halo.
About Christ’s Head are the letters “IC” and “XC”, a widely used four letter abbreviation of the Greek for Jesus (IHCOYC) Christ (XPICTOC).
Jesus is here shown wearing a red robe covered in a green cloak (or sometimes blue). The red symbolises divinity, whilst the green/blue symbolises humanity. Thus Jesus Christ is by nature divine, yet is fully clothed in humanity. The green cloak is distinct from the red, as Christ’s humanity and divinity are distinct and not “inter-mingled”. Yet the green cloak is also girded firmy around His waist, showing the Son of God to have taken on human nature forevermore; Christ’s humanity has not be casually cast off after 33 short years on earth.
To any Orthodox or Catholic Christian, Jesus’ right hand is unmistakably shown as being raised to give a blessing. The arrangement of the hand, repeated by clergy when blessing others, is also rich in meaning. The fingers spell out the four-letter Christogram “IC XC”, as it is by the name of Jesus that we are saved and receive blessings. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;” (Phil 2:10). Not only that, but the three fingers of Christ – as well as spelling out “I” and “X” – confess the Tri-unity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The touching finger and thumb of Jesus not only spell out “C”, but attest to the Incarnation: to the joining of divine and human natures found in the body of Jesus Christ.
Though not clear in this icon, the book held in Christ’s left hand is adorned with the cross, identifying it as the Gospels. In some icons, the book is shown open with words from the Gospels visible. In those instances, the icon may also be called “Christ the Teacher”, for obvious reasons.
Finally, on this icon but not on all, are shown two angels to the right and left of Christ. Angels are heralds of God, which is why they are shown holding scrolls of Scripture: the angel on the left representing the Old Testament Law, the angel on the right carrying a cross representing the New Testament.
And in the centre is Jesus Christ, the fulfilment and embodiment of both the Law and Grace. It is to Him that the angels look, and to Whom we look.