Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Looking Joyfully Into the Face of Christ the Just Judge

Today, as part of the series of art works related to Lenten meditation, I thought that we might consider our sins and the future judgment before the throne of God when Christ returns in His glory. This is an icon of Christ who will be our just judge on the last day, painted in egg tempera by yours truly, in a traditional iconographic style.

The Mandylion - now that I look at this is needs the name to be added in order to be worthy of veneration!
There is always an aspect of sternness in the face, to indicate that all our sins are seen by the judge. However, the intention here is not to scare us, but to emphasize how even given the seriousness of our sins, Christ is a just and merciful judge. It is intended to encourage repentance, and does so when viewed as part of the greater picture of sin and redemption. The moment we can acknowledge our sins and ask for mercy, we are forgiven, and through participation in the sacramental economy, we can be in union with Him, entering into the mystery of the Trinity, partaking of the divine nature. This is the route to joy and encouragement on the path to this end is the whole purpose of Lent and then Easter. 
At times when I am given to miserable scrupulosity and despair over my sins, and doubt the extent of God’s mercy, a reading (or even better a singing) of the joyous Psalm 135 (136) the ‘many mercies’ psalm, polyeleos in Greek, is helpful. 
It opens with the line, “Oh give thanks unto the Lord for he is gracious and his mercy endures for ever...”, after which, the refrain ‘his mercy endures forever’ is repeated after every line.
The image is one of a number on which the face of the Risen Christ is show as if imprinted on a cloth which he had used to wash and dry his face. This miraculous image became known as the Mandylion (which translates in Byzantine Greek as “small cloth” or “towel”). It is an Eastern variant of what in the West we call the Veronica, a name which is derived from the Latin “vera icon - true image”!

Both are examples of a category of sacred art called in Greek acheiropoieta - not made by human hands. One of the most famous examples in the Western canon, aside from the Veronica, is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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