Christ Pantocrator

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Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from the deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul) Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia 2744 x 2900 pixels 3.1 MB.jpg
Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from the deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul)

In Christian iconography, Christ Pantocrator (Greek : Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) [1] is a specific depiction of Christ. Pantocrator or Pantokrator, usually translated as "Almighty" or "all-powerful", is derived from one of many names of God in Judaism.


The Pantokrator, largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception, is less common under 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. Christ Pantocrator has come to suggest Christ as a mild but stern, all-powerful judge of humanity.

When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek as the Septuagint, Pantokrator was used both for YHWH Sabaoth "Lord of Hosts" [2] and for El Shaddai "God Almighty". [3] In the New Testament, Pantokrator is used once by Paul (2 Cor 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 references to God the Father and God the Son in Revelation are at times interchangeable, Pantokrator appears to be reserved for the Father except, perhaps, in 1:8.


Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily Christ Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily.jpg
Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily

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 παντόςpantos), i.e. "all" [4] and κράτος, kratos, i.e. "strength", "might", "power". [5] 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, kratein). This translation speaks more to God's actual power; i.e., God does everything (as opposed to God can do everything).


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. Spas vsederzhitel sinay.jpg
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.
Mirror composites of the two sides of the face. Composite christ pantocrator.png
Mirror composites of the two sides of the face.

The icon of Christ Pantokrator is one of the most common religious images of Orthodox Christianity. Generally speaking, in Medieval eastern roman 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. [8]

The image of Christ Pantocrator was one of the first images of Christ developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the half-length image, Christ holds the New Testament in his left hand and makes the gesture of teaching or of blessing with his right. The typical Western Christ in Majesty is a full-length icon. In the early Middle Ages, it usually presented Christ in a mandorla or other geometric frame, surrounded by the Four Evangelists or their symbols.

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. It was preserved in Saint Catherine's Monastery, in the remote desert of the Sinai. [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. When the overpainting was cleaned in 1962, the ancient image was revealed to be a very high-quality icon, probably produced in Constantinople. [10]

The icon, traditionally half-length when in a semi-dome, [11] 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.

Often, the name of Christ is written on each side of the halo, as 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).

In many cases, Christ has a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο Ω Ν, i.e. ὁ ὤν "He Who Is".

See also

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  1. παντοκράτωρ . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 7:8 and Amos 3:13
  3. Job 5:17, 15:25 and 22:25
  4. πᾶς . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  5. κράτος . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  6. God's Human Face: The Christ-Icon by Christoph Schoenborn (1994) ISBN   0-89870-514-2 page 154
  7. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey (1986) ISBN   977-424-118-5 page 92
  8. 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
  9. Manolis Chatzidakis and Gerry Walters, "An Encaustic Icon of Christ at Sinai", The Art Bulletin49.3 (September 1967) pp. 197–208.
  10. Galey, John, Forsyth, George, and Weitzmann, Kurt, Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine, p. 92, Doubleday, New York, 1980, ISBN   0385171102
  11. 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.


  • 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