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Christ Pantocrator

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Title: Christ Pantocrator  
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Subject: Mosaic, List of painted churches in Cyprus, Christ, Depiction of Jesus, LorschGospelsFolio72vChristInMajesty.jpg
Collection: Christian Terminology, Christology, Eastern Orthodox Icons, Iconography of Jesus
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Christ Pantocrator

Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from deesis mosaic) from Hagia Sophia

In Christian iconography, Christ Pantocrator refers to a specific names of God in Judaism.

When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek as the Septuagint, Pantokrator was used both for YHWH Sabaoth "Lord of Hosts" and for El Shaddai "God Almighty". In the New Testament, Pantokrator is used once by Paul (2 Cor 6:18). Aside from that one occurrence, John the Revelator is the only New Testament author to use the word Pantokrator. The author of the Book of Revelation uses the word nine times,[2] and while the references to God and Christ in Revelation are at times interchangeable, Pantokrator appears to be reserved for God alone.


  • Meaning 1
  • Later development 2
  • Iconography 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily
A view (directly overhead) of the Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City of Jerusalem.

The most common translation of Pantocrator is "Almighty" or "All-powerful". In this understanding, Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek words πᾶς, pas (GEN παντός pantos), i.e. "all"[3] and κράτος, kratos, i.e. "strength", "might", "power".[4] This is often understood in terms of potential power; i.e., ability to do anything, omnipotence.

Another, more literal translation is "Ruler of All" or, less literally, "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). This translation speaks more to God's actual power; i.e., God does everything (as opposed to God can do everything).

The Pantokrator, largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception is less common by that name in Western (Roman) Catholicism and largely unknown to most Protestants. In the West the equivalent image in art is known as Christ in Majesty, which developed a rather different iconography.

The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel (Saint Catherine's Monastery). The two different facial expressions on either side may emphasize Christ's two natures as fully God and fully human.[5][6]
Mirror composites of the two sides of the face.

Later development

Christ Pantocrator has come to suggest Christ as a mild but stern, all-powerful judge of humanity.

The icon of Christ Pantokrator is one of the most widely used religious images of Orthodox Christianity. Generally speaking, in Byzantine church art and architecture, an iconic mosaic or fresco of Christ Pantokrator occupies the space in the central dome of the church, in the half-dome of the apse or on the nave vault. Some scholars (Latourette 1975: 572) consider the Pantocrator a Christian adaptation of images of Zeus, such as the great statue of Zeus enthroned at Olympia. The development of the earliest stages of the icon from Roman Imperial imagery is easier to trace.[7]

The icon, traditionally half-length when in a semi-dome,[8] which became adopted for panel icons also, depicts Christ fully frontal with a somewhat melancholy and stern aspect, with the right hand raised in blessing or, in the early encaustic panel at Saint Catherine's Monastery, the conventional rhetorical gesture that represents teaching. The left hand holds a closed book with a richly decorated cover featuring the Cross, representing the Gospels. An icon where Christ has an open book is called "Christ the Teacher", a variant of the Pantocrator. Christ is bearded, his brown hair centrally parted, and his head is surrounded by a halo. The icon is usually shown against a gold background comparable to the gilded grounds of mosaic depictions of the Christian emperors.

In some variants, on each side of the halo are Greek letters: IC and XC. Christ's fingers are depicted in a pose that represents the letters IC, X and C, thereby making 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).

The typical Western Christ in Majesty is a full-length icon that in the early Middle Ages usually showed Christ in a mandorla or other geometric frame, surrounded by the Four Evangelists or their symbols.


The blessing with his right.

The oldest known surviving example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator was painted in encaustic on panel in the sixth or seventh century, and survived the period of destruction of images during the Iconoclastic disputes that twice racked the Eastern church, 726 to 787 and 814 to 842, by being preserved in the remote desert of the Sinai, in Saint Catherine's Monastery.[9] The gessoed panel, finely painted using a wax medium on a wooden panel, had been coarsely overpainted around the face and hands at some time around the thirteenth century. It was only when the overpainting was cleaned in 1962 that the ancient image was revealed to be a very high quality icon, probably produced in Constantinople.

See also


  1. ^ παντοκράτωρ. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. ^ Pantocrator appears in Revelation 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 16:14, 19:6, 19:15, and 21:22.
  3. ^ πᾶς. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  4. ^ κράτος. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  5. ^ God's human face: the Christ-icon by Christoph Schoenborn 1994 ISBN 0-89870-514-2 page 154
  6. ^ Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey 1986 ISBN 977-424-118-5 page 92
  7. ^ Eduard Syndicus; Early Christian Art; p. 96–99; Burns & Oates, London, 1962. Hall pp. 78–80; James Hall, A History of Ideas and Images in Italian Art, pp. 91–97, 1983, John Murray, London, ISBN 0-7195-3971-4
  8. ^ Otherwise the size of the figure would have to be greatly reduced to avoid the head appearing at the flattening top of the semi-dome.
  9. ^ Manolis Chatzidakis and Gerry Walters "An Encaustic Icon of Christ at Sinai" The Art Bulletin 49.3 (September 1967) pp. 197–208.


  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott, 1975. A History of Christianity, Volume 1, "Beginnings to 1500". Revised edition. (San Francisco: Harper Collins)
  • Christopher Schonborn, Lothar Kraugh (tr.) 1994. God's Human Face: The Christ Icon. Originally published as Icôn du Christ: Fondements théologiques élaborés entre le Ie et IIe Conciles de Nicée (Fribourg) 1976

Further reading

  • Chatzidakis, Manolis, (Gerry Walters, tr.) "An Encaustic Icon of Christ at Sinai" The Art Bulletin 49.3 (September 1967), pp. 197–208.

External links

  • Galavaris, George (Jan 1, 1981). The Icon in the Life of the Church, 11. Google Print. ISBN 90-04-06402-8 (accessed November 3, 2005). Also available in print from Brill Academic Publishers.
  • The Christ Pantocrator Icon at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai
  • The icon Christ Pantocrator at Chilandar Monastery on Holy Mount Athos
  • The Deesis Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia
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