Our Lord & Holy Virgin Mary
Christ the Pantocrator (On the Bishop’s Throne)
This icon of Christ as Pantocrator, the Ruler of all, portrays Him in solemn glory. He is not pictured with a crown or scepter as other kings because His power is not of this world. He came to be with us and to show us His loving kindness.
His right hand is extended in blessing, while the left is supporting the Bible. His inner white robe (for purity) symbolizes His Divine nature while the red outer tunic (symbolizing blood) reveals His humanity.
On either side of the throne are the Coptic abbreviations for “Jesus Christ.” On the top of the icon is the Coptic word for “Our Savior.” His feet lie upon the cosmos, for everything in heaven and on earth is subject to His authority.
This icon is placed on the Bishop’s throne to signify by Whose authority the episcopacy is attained and as a reminder that our Lord Jesus Christ is the True Master and Teacher. Christ is the Bishop (“superintendent” or “overseer”) of our lives, so must the bishop be to the Church. Thus, Blessed Augustine, bishop of Hippo says: “Thus no man can be a good bishop if he loves his title and not his task” (The City of God).
St. Ignatius of Antioch says: “Surely, Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, for His part is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops, though appointed throughout the vast, wide earth, represent for their part the mind of Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians 3:2).
St. Cyprian of Carthage indicates: “Therefore, the duty of a bishop of the Lord is, not to deceive with false flatteries, but to provide the remedies needed for salvation” (On the Lapsed 14).
Christ Enthroned (On the Iconostasis)
The Lord Jesus, being both God and man, reestablished communication between Divinity and humanity. He makes us hear God’s voice for He is the Word of God made flesh.
One of the Fathers composed this hymn on behalf of the icon image of Christ, saying: “We venerate Thy sacred image, O Gracious Lord, asking the forgiveness of our sins, O Christ God. Wherefore, we thankfully cry to Thee: ‘Thou didst fill all things with joy, O Savior, when Thou didst come to save the world!’”
In this icon, Christ is seated on the Throne of His Glory. His right hand is raised in blessing, while the left is supporting the closed Gospel book (for God’s plan is for people to absorb and be nurtured by His love before entering into communion with Him through the open-book Bible). His inner white robe symbolize His Divine nature while the red outer tunic reveals His human nature that He assumed. On either side of the throne are the Coptic abbreviations for “Jesus Christ.” On the top of the icon is the Coptic word for “Our Savior.”
The icon of the Teacher (the Enthroned) is a variation of the Pantocrator. It is a representation of the Incarnate Son of God. His facial features are grave and solemn, full of love, care and concern. It invites us to look into the eyes of Divine Love.
This icon is placed on the right side of the Royal doors on the icon screen. It is Christ Himself Who leads us in worship of the Father and through Whom we enter the mystery of Divine Life.
Christ (The Teacher)
In the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of the Lord God Who will come with a strong hand and “will feed His flock like a Shepherd.” (Is. 40:11) Ezekiel adds: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out My sheep and I will rescue them.” (Ez. 34:12)
In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews offers a prayer which includes the fact that “our Lord Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep” which God rose up from the dead (Heb. 13:20; see also 1 Pet. 2:25).
At His proclamation of the coming of God’s Kingdom, Christ began to gather together a permanent group of followers and disciples who would become the bearers and witnesses of Himself and His teachings.
Christ gave His disciples the same authority by which He Himself had taught and worked miracles, so that they might also proclaim the presence of His Kingdom in the world. He not only instructed the disciples by His words and deeds but through their own experience.
The Sermon on the Mount builds a solid foundation for those who want to follow Christ. Our Lord concludes His sermon by exhorting His hearers to pay attention to the things He has said and to build their lives upon them. Without a foundation built upon the teachings of Christ, no disciple, then or now, can possibly withstand the temptations and difficulties that the world offers. Our Lord then closes by saying that those who receive His disciples and heed their words are actually receiving and hearing Him.
In this icon, Christ the Teacher is standing and holding the Gospel.
Icon of the Apocalypse (Revelation) (On the Apse)
This icon is an imagery to what is described in the Book of Revelations. Christ, Who is arrayed in Glory, is worshiped by the twenty-four presbyters, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads, carrying vials filled with incense which are the saint’s prayers.
The twenty-four presbyters are representatives of the 12 tribes of the Old Testament and the 12 Apostles of the New. The white garments are a symbol of purity and eternal feasting while the golden crowns are a sign of victory over demons. The scent of incense signify the fragrant sacrifice of the faithful which they offer by an undefiled life, as St. Paul the Apostle says: “We are…a sweet savor of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). The vials are thoughts from which come the fragrance of good deeds and pure prayers.
Surrounding Christ are seven angels representing the seven churches unto which St. John wrote his messages. Even though Rev. 2:1-22 described the conditions of the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century, at the same time it addresses the Christian Church as a whole.
St. Irenaeus understands the seven lamps, representing the seven spirits of God as either the seven archangels or the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The four living creatures that surround the throne are emblems of the four Evangelists. The multitude of their eyes indicates the Divine Omniscience. They are also symbolic of Christ’s economy: the lion as king, the calf as chief priest or sacrifice, the man as incarnate for our sake and the eagle as giver of the Spirit.
The Divine Majesty (On the Dome)
The icon of the Divine Majesty in the dome is the focal icon of the Church. In Christ, God comes to us and overshadows us with His abiding presence. He comes to us in Christ, Who is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This icon is related to that of the Ascension from which it was taken (Acts 1:11). This announces Christ’s abiding presence, the One Who was with us in the flesh and Who is to come again.
The octagonal star and mandorla surrounding Christ form an opening into the new reality of God’s Kingdom – the New Jerusalem. The light emanating from Christ’s mandorla is the ultimate visual symbol of the Glory of God, the sign of His presence and His “Second and Glorious Coming.” Whereby, “as lightening flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in this day” (Lk. 17:24).
Outside the mandorla, Christ is surrounded by Cherubim and Seraphim – representing the world of angels who worship the Incarnate God. In the four corners, the Evangelists with their symbols: an angel, a lion, a bull, and an eagle.
A Prayer: “O Gracious Master, infuse in our hearts the spotless light of Thy Divine Wisdom and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Thy Gospels. Instill in us also the fear of Thy blessed commandments, so that having curbed all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life both thinking and doing everything to please Thee.”
The Divine Majesty, Cherubim & Seraphim (On the Dome)
In the Creed, we say: “And He shall come again in Glory to judge the living and the dead.” The coming of the Lord at the end of the ages will be the Day of Judgement, foretold by the Old Testament as well as by Christ Himself.
At the last Judgement, each soul will receive from God the reward of his good or evil deeds. St. Ephraim the Syrian describes the scene thus: “The graves will open, and in the twinkling of an eye all of the tribes will be awakened and will look upon the holy greatness of the Bridegroom. Great multitudes of angels and archangels will rejoice with great joy; the righteous and all who had not accepted the seal of the ungodly serpant, will rejoice together with the Bridegroom in the external and heavenly mansions with all the saints unto the ages of ages.” St. Ephraim also explains that: “After each one has been tried before men, and all dominions and powers have been abolished and all God’s enemies have been placed under His feet; then at last, as the Lord said, ‘He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the wolves.’” (Apostasy and Antichrist)
In order to describe this icon, the words from St. Gregory of Nyssa, have been applied: “The vision of God in the present life will not precisely fulfill us, but it grows continually day after day, until it reaches its fullness in eternity.” For the more that man meditates on the vision of God, the more he sees Him as if for the first time. All new in his sight, so he feels more longing to fall down before Him, and gaze at Him. And thus he continues to no end.
The Holy Theotokos (On the Iconostasis)
The Holy Virgin Mary holds the highest place amongst the Saints in the Church since, through her, the Divine Plan was fulfilled. At the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, the Fathers reaffirmed her to be the Theotokos (God-bearer). One of the Church Fathers testified to her place in the Divine Economy of salvation through this hymn: “All creation rejoices in you, O full of grace: the assembly of angels and the human race. O Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise, glory of virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a Child, our God Who is before the ages! He made your body into a throne and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All creation rejoices in you! O full of grace, glory to you.”
The Old Testament foreshadows her prominence in the New Testament through the specific prophetic images. Among other symbols, she is symbolized as “the temple” for she is the dwelling-place of God and “the door” through which God entered our world. In keeping with these prophetic types, this icon is situated on the right side of the Enthroned Christ upon the icon screen, as the Psalmist indicates: “At Thy right hand stood the queen.” (Ps. 44:9)
According to the ecclesiastical tradtition, St. Luke the Evangelist was the first one to write an icon of the Virgin and Child. In this icon the Throne upon which she is enthroned is of royal blue cushion depicting her as the “Second Heaven” and upon her vesture are three stars symbolizing her perpetual virginity (before, during and after giving birth to Christ).
Christ is represented not as an Infant but One full of Wisdom despite His age. He blesses with His right hand and holds a scroll in His left, showing that He is the Teacher and the Only One Who is able to break the seals (Rev. 5:5).
The Holy Theotokos – The Ever-Virgin (15 B.C. — 50 A.D.)
She was born in Nazareth from Joachim and Anna. At the age of 3, she entered into the Temple. At 12 years of age, she was given to the care of Joseph by Divine providence. Archangel Gabriel announced to her the Incarnation of the Lord through her and she accepted.
She followed her Son and God throughout His earthly preaching, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. She was also present on the Day of Pentecost. She lived with the Apostle John after her Son’s death guiding and counseling the Apostles, being their mediatress before her Son. She reposed at the age of 60.
In her honor, one of the Church Fathers composed a hymn testifying to this: “It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim; without defilement you gave birth to God the Word; true Theotokos we magnify you.”
In this icon, the Virgin is on the right of Christ. She wears a red garment underneath her cloak signifying her royalty as the Psalm indicates: “..the glory of the daughter of the King is within…” (Ps. 44:13). Upon her vesture, she has three stars indicating her perpetual virginity, before during and after giving birth to Christ. Christ is presented as a miniature adult signifying His transcendence, while holding a scroll in His left hand because He is the Teacher and giving the blessing with His right hand. On either side of the icon are two angels, each carrying the instruments of Christ’s Passion that He would endure for the salvation of mankind.
The Holy Theotokos – The Icon of Perfection
The Holy Virgin, who is just a mortal human, is the perfect icon of the Invisible God. Thus, because Christ is her whole, she is considered the “Icon of Perfection.” Her human perfection was achieved through her Faith (because she believed, kept and accepted the Word of God) which was actualized and fulfilled in her life of prayer. Finally, she was a perfect disciple of Christ (for she bore her cross at the Crucifixion when her heart was pierced with a sword).
Therefore, she is not the great exception but a great example of human perfection. St. Ambrose of Milan wrote: “St. Mary’s life is a rule for all.” She became an icon of the renewed Church for she is the icon of Christ. She has set the pace for all to personally give their lives over fully to Christ.
The basis for such boundless magnification of the Mother of God is not merely for her service for the salvation of mankind nor because she became the Mother of God in the flesh but rather for her moral perfection and inner worthiness together with the highest degree of holiness attainable by mankind through the action of the Grace of God.
In her honor, one of the Church Fathers composed a hymn testifying to this: “Enthroned as Lord, your Son has placed you, O Virgin, at His right hand, for you are arrayed in the gold-embroidered raiment of the holy virtues; and He gives you the honor that is due unto you, O immaculate one.”
In this icon, the Virgin bonds with Christ, her Son that we also might bond with Him. She is wearing a red garment underneath her cloak signifying her royal status as the Psalmist testifies: “…the glory of the daughter of the King is within…” (Ps. 44:13).