Saturday, 19 November 2011
Christ in Majesty - A reflection for the Feast of Christ the King
The theme of Christ in Majesty is the most magnificent in all iconography. We could say that this is the essential icon. Now that Jesus has ascended and is no longer physically with us, this is the icon which strives most of all to honour and reveal to us what He is. Jesus is God made Man, a mystery beyond our comprehending. This is the mystery in which we live, through faith.
This icon is traditionally written large and prominently displayed. The throne of Jesus, diaphanous and transparent in the light of eternity, is held within a pattern of two geometric shapes of scarlet. First there is a great scarlet diamond, and then, behind it, a hanging oblong with four sharp points. These eight pointed edges represent eternity, because eight is considered the mystical number of fulfilment (God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, and on the eighth, all had been accomplished). Between the two areas of scarlet is an elongated oval of the deepest blue, the heavens. Within, swarm the Seraphim, the dark blue angels of wisdom, with their six wings and invisible bodies. Here amidst the white swirl of those glittering wings we can dimly distinguish angelic faces. Within the scarlet of the central diamond, we can see the wings of the angels of love, the Cherubim, and, third highest of the angelic hierarchy, the Thrones, wheel around the base of the throne on which Jesus sits. To complete the complexity of the symbolism, each corner of the scarlet rectangle at the rear contains an image of one of the ‘living creatures’ that Ezekiel saw in his Vision, and John the Evangelist saw in his Apocalypse. There are the symbols of the gospels: eagle (John), man (Matthew), ox (Luke), lion (Mark).
Angels and evangelists are only there in homage to Jesus, now ascended to His natural glory. His garments are bright with gold, yet what transfixes us is the beauty of His face - grave, thoughtful, tender. Different icons show different messages in the book that Jesus holds open. This one has a quotation from St John: "Judge not according to appearances, sons of man, but judge with right judgement". Judgement is one of the themes of Jesus’ teaching: it is a function reserved to the Father. We are told: "Judge not that you may not be judged".
We are asked to tread a delicate line, to see people as they are, and yet not to imagine that we can see into their hearts. The right judgement is the judgement of Jesus, and that will always be loving and true. In this icon, if one hand offers a gentle admonishment, the other offers an unambiguous blessing. However foolish the sons and daughters of men and women, we have "an advocate in the heavens". Christ in His majesty is majestic for our sakes, never for His own.
Picture: Christ in Majesty, 15th century icon. National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kiev.
Text: Chapter 25 Sister Wendy Contemplates the Iconic Jesus by Sister Wendy Beckett. © ST PAULS Publishing.
Posted by Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma