Sunday, April 19, 2009

(3) The Pantocrator

Being English, being in a truly sunny land like Greece, my spirit
became light, cheerful, easy going. What a difference locale can
make on a soul. As a tourist, I went island hopping to some of
Greece's magnificent islands--such as Crete and Patmos. In
Patmos we visited the monastery there, where the monks were
called to prayer by the gonging of a wooden bell. Patmos, too,
was full of little architectural wonders of churches. One could
even find Pantocrators in these small churches. The Lord of
the Universe was alive and well in Orthodox Christianity.

But if one wants to seek out the Pantocrator big-time, one must
visit the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Built by the Emperor Justinian,
the Hagia Sophia is stupendously an incredulous sight. It's dome,
I was told, was even bigger than the one at St. Peter's in Rome.
And it was far older.

I expected to see the Pantocrator atop the dome of the Hagia
Sophia, but it had been pasted over centures before when the
Muslim's took control of the Byzantium capitol of Constantinople
(which they later called Istanbul). But time sometimes mellows
religion--and today, though still a Muslim country, the Turks
now consider the Hagia Sophia a great museum that is open
to all.

Upon entering the Hagia Sophia one encounters the Arabic
embellishments on its walls. Still, somehow, there does remain
a Christian icon above the Emperor's entrance: the Pantocrator.
It has become my favorite icon, a gentle yet strong Christ in
Majesty, presented in blues and browns. I left Greece and
Turkey mesmerized by this beautiful Pantocrator.

Upon return to Oxford I decided that best I could I would remain
focused on the Pantocrator. I had to understand and think
through exactly what this iconic image meant to me.

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