17 June 2024

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
39, 17 June 2024

The icon of Christ Pantocrator to the right of the the Beautiful Gates in the new iconstasis in the Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity III, 16 June 2024). Today the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the lives and the witness of Samuel Barnett (1913) and Henrietta Barnett (1936), Social Reformers.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford, with the central doors open during the Divine Liturgy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Matthew 5: 38-42 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

The icon of Christ Pantocrator in the inconostasis in Stony Stratford … the opening words of the Gospel passage read ‘Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου … I am the light of the World …’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 2: Christ Pantocrator:

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

Other icons on this tier usually include depictions of the patron saint or feast day of the church, Saint John the Baptist, one or more of the Four Evangelists, and so on.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Beautiful Gates, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

In the icon of Christ Pantocrator, Christ’s right hand is held in blessing, his fingers in a shape that represents the letters IC, X and C, forming the Christogram ICXC (for ‘Jesus Christ’). The IC is composed of the Greek characters iota (Ι) and lunate sigma (C, instead of Σ, ς) – the first and last letters of Jesus in Greek (Ἰησοῦς); in XC the letters are chi (Χ) and again the lunate sigma – the first and last letters of Christ in Greek (Χριστός).

His left hand holds an open Gospel with the words: Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου· ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοὶ οὐ μὴ περιπατήσῃ [ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, ἀλλ' ἕξει τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς], ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me [will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’] (John 8: 12).

His head is surrounded by a halo, with the name of Christ written on each side of the halo as the initials IC and XC. Christ’s cruciform halo is inscribed with the letters Ο ΩΝ, ὁ ὤν (Ho On), ‘He Who Is’. These letters form the present participle, ὤν, of the Greek verb to be, with a masculine singular definite article, ὁ. A literal translation of Ὁ ὬΝ would be ‘the being one,,’ although ‘He who is’ is a better translation. These words are the answer Moses received on Mount Sinai when he asked for the name of him to whom he was speaking (Exodus 3: 14a; see John 8 :58).

In Hebrew, he who was speaking said Yahweh, which is also a present participle. Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible put Yahweh as Ὁ ὬΝ.

In traditional iconography, Christ Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) is a depiction of Christ as Pantocrator or ruler of all, often translated as ‘Almighty’ or ‘all-powerful’. The icon of Christ Pantokrator is one of the most common images of Orthodox Christianity. An iconic mosaic or fresco of Christ Pantokrator is usually seen in the space in the central dome of a church, in the half-dome of the apse, or on the nave vault.

In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, the title Pantokrator was used for both Lord of Hosts or Sabaoth (צבאות) and for El Shaddai, God Almighty. In the New Testament, Pantokrator is used once by Saint Paul (II Corinthians 6: 18) and nine times in the Book of Revelation (1: 8, 4: 8, 11: 17, 15: 3, 16: 7, 16: 14, 19: 6, 19: 15 and 21: 22).

The most common translation of Pantocrator is ‘Almighty’ or ‘All-powerful’. Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek words πᾶς, pas (παντός, pantos), or ‘all’, and κράτος (kratos), strength, might, or power – in other words, the ability to do anything, omnipotence. Christ Pantocrator also signifies Christ in his glory at his second coming, seated on his throne.

Another translation of Pantokrator is ‘Ruler of All’ or ‘Sustainer of the World’. In this understanding, Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek for ‘all’ and the verb meaning ‘to accomplish something’ or ‘to sustain something’ (κρατεῖν, kratein).

The oldest known icon of Christ Pantokrator is in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. It dates from the sixth or seventh century, and survived the period of destruction of icons during the iconoclastic disputes in 726-787 and 814-842. The two different facial expressions on either side of that icons may emphasise Christ’s two natures as fully God and fully human.

Christ Pantokrator is not so common a concept or image in Western theology, where the equivalent image in probably that of Christ in Majesty.

The icon of Christ Pantocrator in the porch of the church in Stony Stratford shows Christ holding the Gospel open at John 15: 17-18: Ταῦτα ἐντέλλομαι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους.Εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐμὲ πρῶτον ὑμῶν μεμίσηκεν (‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you’).

The three icons to the right on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict (from left) Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 17 June 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Windrush Day.’ This theme was introduced yesterday with reflections by the Right Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett, Bishop of Croydon.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (17 June 2024) invites us to pray:

O Lord, may we place belonging at the heart of our witnessing and worshipping – drawing all to the knowledge that we belong to Jesus and each other.

The icon of Christ Pantocrator in the porch of the church in Stony Stratford shows Christ holding the Gospel open at John 15: 17-18 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Additional Collect:

God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Ταῦτα ἐντέλλομαι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους.Εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐμὲ πρῶτον ὑμῶν μεμίσηκεν (‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you’ John 15: 17-18) … the verses on the icon of Christ Pantocrator in the church porch in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saturday’s introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The image of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the Four Evangelists on the ceiling in the Church of the Transfiguration in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)