Christ Enthroned: An Icon of Mercy 


On the eve of the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, we read several Old Testament passages including this from the Holy Prophet Isaiah: 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3) 


Isaiah is granted a vision of the Lord enthroned and highly exalted.  Orthodox scholar Fr John McGuckin comments on the icon of Christ Enthroned: 

“Christ enthroned in judgment frequently has an aspect of sublime peace and mercifulness. The Gospel book is held open on his left knee (the side of the reprobate) while his right knee, the side of the elect, is traditionally the place the believer comes to venerate the icon, kissing the knee of Christ in obeisance. As the believer approaches the icon, like the soul anticipating its final judgment, it realizes its failure to observe the gospel charter of its judgment, but at that same moment is able to read the text of the Gospel as it lies open on the knee of Christ. Here in all its mystery is the supreme text of the Last Judgment of the soul: a text which the church has carefully selected to represent its insight into the apocalyptic judgment. And what is the normal text we find here? He’s not something from the book of Revelation but from the Lord’s discourses in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give rest to your souls’ (Matt 11:28). 


What an extraordinary theological genius is represented here iconically! The severity of the throne of judgment and the hieratic posture of Christ, are all tempered by the right hand held in blessing and this profoundly comforting text laid open to the worshipper. The ultimate theology is that the Judgment’s quintessential awesome character is most profoundly known in the mystery of God’s compassion. The mercy of God is itself awesome. Experiencing this abyss of mercy sears the soul – so it is for the living person who studies the living Gospel of Christ, and so, the church teaches in its iconography, will it be for the dead in their judgment. The mercy of God will sear and wound, but also purify, the selfish hearts of creatures. Eschatology is thus the hope of our healing, and our reconciliation into communion.   (WITNESSING THE KINGDOM, p 130) 


And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:4-7)


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