Icon of Christ the Pantocrator
The image of Christ the Pantocrator was one of the first images of Christ developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Orthodox Church. The word Pantocrator is of Greek origin meaning "ruler of all". The icon portrays Christ as the Righteous Judge and the Lover of Mankind, both at the same time. The Gospel is the book by which we are judged, and the blessing proclaims God's loving kindness toward us, showing us that he is giving us his forgiveness.
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 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. Christ has a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο Ω Ν, i.e. ὁ ὢν "He Who Is".
The oldest known Pantocrator icon was written in the sixth century. It was preserved in the Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai desert. This remote location enabled the image to survive the iconoclastic era in Byzantine history (726-815) when most icons were destroyed.
This Prophet, whose name means "loving embrace," is eighth in order of the minor Prophets. His homeland and tribe are not recorded in the Divine Scriptures; according to some, he was of the tribe of Symeon. He prophesied in the years of Joachim, who is also called Jechonias, before the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish People, which took place 599 years before Christ. When Nabuchodonosor came to take the Israelites captive, Habakkuk fled to Ostrakine, and after Jerusalem was destroyed and the Chaldeans departed, Habakkuk returned and cultivated his field. Once he made some pottage and was about to take it to the reapers in the field. An Angel of theLord appeared to him, and carried him with the pottage to Babylon to feed Daniel in the lions' den, then brought him back to Judea (Bel and the Dragon, 33-39): His book of prophecy is divided into three chapters; the third chapter is also used as the Fourth Ode of the Psalter. His holy relics were found in Palestine during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great, through a revelation to Zebennus, Bishop of Eleutheropolis (Sozomen, Eccl. Hist., Book VII, 29).
Prophet Elijah (Elias)
The Prophet Elijah (Greek: Elias), lived in the ninth century BC, and is remembered for his many miracles, including raising the Shunamite woman’s son from the dead and the parting of the waters with his cloak. His prophecies found in Malachi speak of the coming of the Messiah. Elijah was taken bodily into heaven in a “fiery chariot” and appeared with Moses at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.
Solomon succeeded his father David as king of Israel in 970 BC, built and adorned the first temple in Jerusalem and wrote the poetic books of Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Wisdom.
Daniel, the fourth Major Prophet, was taken captive to Babylon, where he served in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar in the late sixth century BC. He and his companions remained true to the God of Israel, showing great courage in the lions’ den and in the fiery furnace. The fourth man in the fire was Christ. Daniel also had visions of heaven and the end times and made prophetic statements about the Ever-Virgin Mary.
The Prophet Jonah, who lived 800 years before Christ, wrote about the universality of God’s mercy, which he personally experienced during his ordeal with the great fish, which was a prophesy of the Resurrection. The Book of Jonah is read in its entirety on Holy Saturday.
Joel called the people of God to turn their sorrow into penitence in the mid-seventh century BC. He prophesied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Christ’s Resurrection.
The Prophet Nahum had Elkesaeus (Elkosh) as his homeland, and was from the tribe of Symeon; he is seventh in order among the twelve Minor Prophets He prophesied during the time of Hezekias, after the destruction of Samaria (721 years before Christ), but before the ten tribes were taken into captivity; he prophesied against Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. His name means "comforter." His book of prophecy is divided into three chapters.
One of the four Major Prophets, Jeremiah called the people to repentance from their worship of Baal and foretold the captivity of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which resulted in his imprisonment. The Prophet Jeremiah foretold the sacrificial death of Christ and the resulting new covenant between God and the Christians.
The Prophet Moses-whose name means "one who draws forth," or "is drawn from," that is, from the water-was the pinnacle of the lovers of wisdom, the supremely wise lawgiver, the most ancient historian of all. He was of the tribe of Levi, the son of Amram and Jochabed (Num. 26:59). He was born in Egypt in the seventeenth century before Christ. While yet a babe of three months, he was placed in a basket made of papyrus and covered with pitch, and cast into the streams of the Nile for fear of Pharaoh's decree to the mid-wives of the Hebrews, that all the male children of the Hebrews be put to death. He was taken up from the river by Pharaoh's daughter, became her adopted son, and was reared and dwelt in the King's palace for forty years. Afterward, when he was some sixty years old, he fled to Madian, where, on Mount Horeb, he saw the vision of the burning bush. Thus he was ordained by God to lead Israel and bring it out of the land of Egypt. He led Israel through the Red Sea as it were dry land and governed the people for forty years. He wrought many signs and wonders, and wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, which are called the Pentateuch. When he reached the land of Moab, he ascended Mount Nabau, on the peak called Phasga, and there, by divine command, he reposed in the sixteenth century before Christ, having lived for some 120 years. The first two Odes of the Old Testament, "Let us sing to the Lord" and "Attend, O heaven, and I will speak," were written by him. Of these hymns, the first was chanted by the shore of the Red Sea as soon as the Israelites had crossed it; the second, in the land of Moab, a few days before his repose. The Holy High Priest Aaron was the elder brother of the Holy Prophet Moses. He was appointed by God to serve as the spokesman of Moses before the people, and also before Pharaoh, in Egypt. Afterwards, in the wilderness, he was called to the ministry of the high priesthood, as narrated in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in the Old Testament. The name Aaron means "enlightened."
Prophet and High Priest Aaron
Aaron was the brother of Moses. While God assigned the task of Israelite leadership directly to Moses, Aaron became an important leader in his own right. At his first encounter with God, Moses expressed concern that he was not well-spoken enough to gain the peoples’ trust and asked that God send someone better-suited. God reminded him that his brother Aaron was a Levite, from a priestly line, and was used to a position of authority and pastorship. God instructed Moses that Aaron would speak to the people in his place (Ex. 4:10-16). Aaron also frequently stood by Moses in the period before the Israelites left Egypt, and through him many miracles were accomplished that made their exodus possible. Throughout the journey of the Israelites and God’s guidance of them, Aaron continued as “spokesman to the people.” Gradually the people established lasting places and forms of worship, and Aaron’s role became that of a rabbi or priest. In this way Aaron is also a precursor to the leaders of the Church. Aaron is recognizable a by his vestments, which resemble an Orthodox priest’s vestments. Aaron’s red mitre (hat) shows that he is a high priest. He carries his miracle-working staff and a vessel that represents the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. This vessel holds the holy manna, the food God provided in the desert. The vessel points to Mary as the holder of the true Manna from heaven—Christ—who we receive as divine food at the Eucharist.
The Book of the Prophet Zachariah contains inspired details about the coming of the Messiah (Zach 6:12); about the last days of the Savior’s earthly life, about the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem on a young donkey (Zach 9:9); about the betrayal of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver and the purchase of the potter’s field with them (Zach 11:12-13); about the piercing of the Savior’s side (Zach 12:10); about the scattering of the apostles from the Garden of Gethsemane (Zach 13:7); about the eclipse of the sun at the time of the Crucifixion (Zach 14:6-7).
The Holy Prophet Malachi lived 400 years before the Birth of Christ, at the time of the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, therefore the holy Fathers call him “the seal of the prophets.” Manifesting himself an image of spiritual goodness and piety, he astounded the nation and was called Malachi, i.e., an angel. His prophetic book is included in the Canon of the Old Testament. In it he upbraids the Jews, foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ and His Forerunner, and also the Last Judgment (Mal 3:1-5; 4:1-6).
The Prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ. The prophet foretold the birth of the Messiah from a Virgin, and with particular clarity he described the Suffering of the Messiah for the sins of the world. He foresaw His Resurrection and the universal spreading of His Church. By his clear foretelling of Christ the Savior, the Prophet Isaiah deserves to be called an Old Testament Evangelist. To him belong the words, “He beareth our sins and is smitten for us.... He was wounded for our sins and tortured for our transgressions. The chastisement of our world was upon Him, and by His wounds we were healed....” (Is 53:4-5. Vide Isaiah: 7:14, 11:1, 9:6, 53:4, 60:13, etc.). Isaiah worked miracles during his lifetime and died a martyr’s death.
The Holy Prophet Ezekiel lived in the sixth century before the birth of Christ. When he was thirty years old, he had a vision of the future of the Hebrew nation and of all mankind. The prophet beheld a shining cloud, with fire flashing continually, and in the midst of the fire, gleaming bronze. He also saw four living creatures in the shape of men, but with four faces (Ez. 1:6). Each had the face of a man in front, the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle at the back (Ez. 1:10). There was a wheel on the earth beside each creature, and the rim of each wheel was full of eyes. Over the heads of the creatures there seemed to be a firmament, shining like crystal. Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, like glittering sapphire in appearance. Above this throne was the likeness of a human form, and around Him was a rainbow (Ez. 1:4-28). According to the explanation of the Fathers of the Church, the human likeness upon the sapphire throne prefigures the Incarnation of the Son of God from the Most Holy Virgin Mary, who is the living Throne of God. The four creatures are symbols of the four Evangelists: a man (St Matthew), a lion (St Mark), an ox (St Luke), and an eagle (St John); the wheel with the many eyes is meant to suggest the sharing of light with all the nations of the earth. During this vision the holy prophet fell down upon the ground out of fear, but the voice of God commanded him to get up. He was told that the Lord was sending him to preach to the nation of Israel. This was the begining of Ezekiel’s prophetic service.
The Prophet Ezekiel announces to the people of Israel, held captive in Baylon, the tribulations it would face for not remaining faithful to God. The prophet also proclaimed a better time for his fellow-countrymen, and he predicted their return from Babylon, and the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple. There are two significant elements in the vision of the prophet: the vision of the temple of the Lord, full of glory (Ez. 44:1-10); and the bones in the valley, to which the Spirit of God gave new life (Ez. 37:1-14). The vision of the temple was a mysterious prefiguring of the race of man freed from the working of the Enemy and the building up of the Church of Christ through the redemptive act of the Son of God, incarnate of the Most Holy Theotokos. Ezekiel’s description of the shut gate of the sanctuary, through which the Lord God would enter (Ez. 44: 2), is a prophecy of the Virgin giving birth to Christ, yet remaining a virgin. The vision of the dry bones prefigured the universal resurrection of the dead, and the new eternal life bestowed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The holy Prophet Ezekiel received from the Lord the gift of wonderworking. He, like the Prophet Moses, divided the waters of the river Chebar, and the Hebrews crossed to the opposite shore, escaping the pursuing Chaldeans. During a time of famine the prophet asked God for an increase of food for the hungry. Ezekiel was condemned to execution because he denounced a certain Hebrew prince for idolatry. Bound to wild horses, he was torn to pieces. Pious Hebrews gathered up the torn body of the prophet and buried it upon Maur Field, in the tomb of Sim and Arthaxad, forefathers of Abraham, not far from Baghdad. The prophecy of Ezekiel is found in the book named for him, and is included in the Old Testament.
Prophet Elisseus (Elisha)
The Prophet Elisseus, the son of Saphat, was from the town of Abel-me-oul and had been a husbandman. In the year 908 B.C., at God's command, the Prophet Elias anointed him to be Prophet in his stead. This happened while Elisseus was plowing his land, having twelve oxen under yoke. Straightway, Elisseus slew the oxen and cooked them, using the wooden plough and the other instruments of husbandry as firewood; then he gave the oxen as food to the people. Bidding farewell to his parents, he followed Elias and served him until the latter was taken up as it were into Heaven (see July 20). When Elisseus received his teacher's mantle and the grace of his prophetic spirit twofold, he demonstrated whose disciple he was through the miracles he wrought and through all that is related of him in the Fourth Book of Kings. He departed full of days and was buried in Samaria, about the year 839 B.C. But even after his death God glorified him; for after the passage of a year, when some Israelites were carrying a dead man for burial and suddenly saw a band of Moabites, they cast the dead man on the grave of the Prophet. No sooner had the dead man touched the Prophet's bones, than he came to life and stood on his feet (IV Kings 13:20-21). Mentioning this, Jesus the Son of Sirach says, "He did wonders in his life, and at his death his works were marvelous" (Ecclus. 48:14). It is because of such marvels that the faithful have reverence for the relics of the Saints (see also Jan. 16). His name means "God is savior."
All images © Mark Fiorenzo Photography.