by Laurie Gudim
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. – John 5:24
In some of the old creation stories humanity is said to have migrated from one world, one realm of existence, to another, traveling through a cave set high in the mountains or through an opening in the sky itself. It is as though the Psyche needs a way to talk about a profound shift in consciousness, an evolution in which understanding changes so dramatically that it is as if we are living on a whole new plane.
Really hearing the word of Christ is like that; it results in a radical change of perspective. Our baptism is a symbol of this change, a sort of door into a new orientation. In the inner shift we make, we leave behind the natural outlook with which we were born, and we find instead that we are centered in Christ. A new mind is hatched and begins to operate within us.
I was baptized as an infant, so I never consciously chose that new, Christ-centered focus. Only a few months had passed since I had come into the world in the first place. Even at my confirmation I was still too young spiritually to understand the vows I was affirming. And yet the orientation signified by my baptism took hold of me even so. It has worked on me from the inside all my life.
Hearing the word of Jesus and believing means knowing that the incarnate God is central to our being. This is not an understanding we receive with our minds. It doesn’t matter so much whether we affirm that we believe the stories about Jesus.
Rather, the new orientation is perceived with our hearts. It has to do with coming into a different awareness of love and self-sacrifice, death and its lack of real power. It is a new way of discerning who we really are. It changes us entirely while at the same time leaving us completely ourselves.
Christ Pantocrator, the icon which appears at the apex of Orthodox churches, is a symbol for this new realization. Pantocrator means “all-powerful”, and is a word that in the Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, is used for God. Calling Jesus the Pantocrator represents a Renaissance in our awareness of what constitutes might. The completely vulnerable, the frail human who went to the cross and died there – this is what the Almighty looks like. Real power is sacrificial, a giving-over, a core-deep helplessness.
In fact, Christ Pantocrator is a mirror. Gazing up at this image we discover that which most deeply defines us. We were created in this image – this is who we really are. On his left hand the name for the Pantocrator is “Jesus.” On his right he is named “Christ.” So we, too, have a duel nature. As St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, and others have said, in Jesus God becomes human so that humans may become divine. And we do. We are.
The Christian journey of belief is all about following the path dictated by the heart that leads through death into being born again in Jesus-perspective. The waters of baptism signify this. The God-man who is Christ Pantocrator emanates it. This is our own personal creation story, our migration into a brand new world. That world is a place beyond death and judgment, a realm of eternal life.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Jesus Sinai Icon