Pantokrator (Divine Ruler of All)
Submitted by Rita Noe
Having grown up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church, the word “icon” had never been in my vocabulary. I heard about such things as a rosary and crucifix from my Catholic cousins, but was taught that they were “graven images,” forbidden by God in the Old Testament.
It wasn’t until undergraduate and graduate school, while studying art history, that I heard the word icon, eikon in Greek, referring to visible images depicting heavenly beings.
Following the conversion of Constantine and the establishment of Constantinople as the chief center of Christianity, icons became common, more so in Eastern as opposed to Western Christianity. They were usually created as paintings on panels or as mosaics.
The use of icons in Eastern Orthodox churches passed through several stages of acceptance and rejection. Iconoclasmic episodes saw the destruction of thousands of icons made prior to c. 1000 A.D. Artistic style also followed the roller coaster of severity and emotion, elaboration and simplicity.
My education as an icon appreciator was heightened by a trip to Yugoslavia in 1984, where I visited many Orthodox churches, and an Oasis class held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Albuquerque in 2016. I even have an artist friend in Corrales who paints traditional icons.
When my United Church of Christ congregation voted to share space with St. Francis Episcopal Church last September, I was introduced to many examples of icons throughout the building. Our pastor has introduced several icons to us during February and March, including that of the Black Madonna.
Sometime between January and March, while searching for wood inspirations online, I discovered that a woodworking technique I had seen before has an “official” name—Intarsia. It’s an Italian word for inlaying different colors of wood, much like a mosaic made from clay tiles.
Pastor Jocelyn’s mention of icons caused me to look up my photos from Byzantine cathedrals. I found several of icons, and thought, “Icon, I CAN!”
It took 10 days to plan it out, painstakingly cut the wood pieces with a jeweler’s saw from 1/8” stock, round over all the edges, and fit the pieces as precisely as I could. I glued them onto a backing board made of ¼” Black Lignum, then framed it with ¼” Padauk. Coats of oil and wax finish it with a subtle glow.
The icon represents Jesus the Christ as “Divine Ruler of All,” denoted by the position of His right hand, and the Gospels in His left hand. The woods are Wenge (the starry celestial skies); Yellowheart for the golden halo and book; Canary wood for the hair and facial features; Ebony for the face, neck and hands; walnut for the outer robe; Padauk for the red undergarment. Maple forms the bottom ring and a sash across the shoulder.
It’s interesting to note the hairstyle. Very early Christian images of Jesus had short, frizzy hair. By the time of Constantine, the hairstyle had changed to a middle part with long, flowing curls. All Byzantine icons feature a stylization that became mandatory. I also find it curious that Jesus is holding the Gospels, which were not written until decades after His death. Bound in gold, no less. (Sorry, my occasional irreverence is kicking in.)
I showed the finished product to an atheist friend, and she asked if there is a market for pieces like this. I replied, “This is how I pray.” I commune with the Divine while working with wood. I marvel in the Creator’s beauty of colors and woodgrains. I feel as though I am touching God.
P.S. If the image offends anyone in any way, flip it over. There’s a wonderful mountain landscape on the back.
Pastor Jocelyn Emerson weaves together her training as a Light and Energy worker, Reiki master, spiritual director, and Pastor with her life experience as a mystic and contemplative to offer a space of trust, safety, and honesty to support you on your life's journey.