{Why I love the} Christ Pantocrator of Mt. Sinai Icon

I wanted to introduce the icon I chose for the bookmark I recently had designed for the Orthodox Book Club.

It is called Christ Pantocrator of Mt. Sinai and is the oldest surviving Pantocrator icon in existence.

It’s been one of my favorite icons of Christ since I began really trying to learn more about the Orthodox Church, fourteen years ago. I was instantly drawn to it, though I wasn’t sure why exactly.


One day, after I told my spiritual father about my fascination with it, he showed me something very interesting:

When you cover the right side of His face, the left side appears the way He will be seen by those condemned on Judgement Day.

When you cover the left side of His face,the right side appears the way He will be seen by those who will be found righteous on that day.

When my husband visited St. Katherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai, one of the monks there told him the same story.

We have this icon hanging in our bedroom and it’s the first thing I see when I awake in the morning. No matter how many times a day I pass by it, I shudder with fear and utter the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

15 thoughts on “{Why I love the} Christ Pantocrator of Mt. Sinai Icon

  1. "I shudder with fear…"every time? These are the kind of comments protestants like me don't understand from the Orthodox. Do we overemphasize God's love for us in the protestant church?..for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.(2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

  2. JH, no you certainly don't overemphasize the power of God's love. It is precisely that love which we hope will move the Lord to have mercy on us on that dread day of Judgment!Though, I cannot underestimate the fear I have when I think of my sins laid bare at the foot of His throne on that day either.I do shudder with fear, perhaps not every time I glance at it, but certainly every time I *see* it. I shudder every time I think, "What defense I can possibly give for the multitude of my sins?"God is a loving God. He is also a just Judge.We believe His death and resurrection opened Paradise to us sinners, not guaranteed it. Does that make sense? 🙂

  3. It makes sense if we are to live our lives in total ambiguity as to what happens to us on judgment day. I'm not convinced that's a necessity, however. There is much assurance and promise in the gospel.

  4. I remember years ago a certain sibling got all dressed up to go partying at a club. When this sibling came downstairs to leave he/she saw this icon and asked, "Why does He suddenly looked so angry?" All I remember is not being the least bit surprised that he/she saw that expression on Christ's face. Truly icons judge us, not we the icons.

  5. Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Ghost- and it is in Scripture. "And I saw another angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the eternal gospel, to preach unto them that sit upon the earth, and over every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people: [7] Saying with a loud voice: Fear the Lord, and give him honour, because the hour of his judgment is come; and adore ye him, that made heaven and earth, the sea, and the fountains of waters."~~~ Apocalypse (Revelations) 14:6.

  6. Being a protestant my entire life and recently converting to Orthodoxy, I can say that the Holiness of God is not emphasized enough in the protestant faith. Yes, God is a loving God, Yes the Word holds much assurance and promise of our salvation. However, if you think about it…as a child has fear of the consequences and judgement of his parents when he does something he knows is wrong. The fear of making his parent’s unhappy, the fear of being disrespectful, etc. So should we. Just because parents forgive us for our wrongs, doesn’t mean they don’t get angry or disappointed in us. As a parent myself, I can say there is nothing my children can do that will make me stop loving them or forgiving them. But that doesn’t mean they have no accountability or can live their life ignoring the rules, values and expectations set before them.

    We too should fear our Father, our Creator, our Master. Just because he loves us and forgives us, doesn’t mean we can just live our lives ignoring his direction, rules and values. The Bible is as specific as can be as to how we must live our lives and approach the Throne (i.e.: Kathy K’s post). I would never think of approaching a person in a position of authority, or the President, or King of a country without the due respect for their position. We are awestruck, fear looking bad in their eyes and honored to be in their presence for the most part aren’t we?

    Then I have to ask, why it is so hard to imagine honoring and respecting and fearing the King of Kings with everything we have and are. Just because He is a loving and forgiving God, it does not diminish His position, power and Glory.

    This is one of the many things that drew me to Orthodoxy. God is not treated or thought of as our “buddy”. Too often in Protestantism, what God can do for “us” is the focus. What about us giving Him the honor, glory and worship befitting the King of Kings. Truly worshiping Him with fear and love, with all your senses is the best gift we can have. In Orthodoxy, God is literally everywhere, He is your life now, not just when you die. The feeling is in-describable!

    1. This is very true. I’m often caught off guard when non-Orthodox friends discuss Christ so casually. He is our Father and friend, but He is also our Lord and God. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts!

  7. I happened by your blog today while searching for more on the wonderful icon. I’m protestant, but have great appreciation for the Orthodox faith.

    I think the real point of common ground can be our mutual love for our Savior. I would hope that my children do not obey me out of fear, but out of love. Certainly, when they are disobedient, my love for them forces me to discipline them. I should hope that this is a fearful thing for them! Yet, as their devoted father, I never discipline them out of “judgement”, for judgement is final and designed to separate us. Loving discipline is designed to chasten us back into communion with our heavenly father.

    To be sure, God judges all our sin. I believe that at the final judgement, all sin will be dealt with. For the believer, Christ is judged. For the lost, they bear their own judgement.

    The highest motive for obedience to God is communion with His son Jesus in love. Fear might be a crude start, but it is hardly Christian devotion. As Jesus said, “even the demons believe and fear”.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      I’m glad you stumbled across my blog! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      The point of this particular post was not about what the foundation of the Christian faith should be. Certainly, it is not fear! Quite the opposite, of course–love. However, I was not referring to temporary judgement but final judgement, which we should be fearful of and that judgment is final and possibly separating.

      I believe it is good to remind ourselves that Judgement Day will one day be upon us and that verdict will determine how and where we spend eternity. We should fear that verdict more than anything, and reality is that fear often dictates behavior. I agree that love should be the number one emotion directing our thoughts and actions, but our saints say it is good to remember hell, too. I think the majority of people assume they will be in Heaven and they give hell no thought, which is very dangerous because then people are behaving with no consequences in mind. Christ came to bridge Heaven and earth, to allow us to *earn* a place in His kingdom, He did not come and pass out tickets. In the Orthodox Church, there is no assurance of salvation. St. Paul himself said that every day he worked toward his salvation, with fear and trembling. There is a reason he chose the words fear and trembling and not love and joy.

      So, it isn’t about believing and fearing as the demons do, it is about fear of God leading to true love of Him. And through that love, attaining eternal salvation.

  8. This is also my very favorite icon. I grew up Protestant and have been a Unificationist for39 years. Many years ago I read The Way of a Pilgrim. It is still my favorite book on prayer. The Jesus prayer is my constant companion and has brought me so close to The Lord. I’m happy to discover your page. I was looking for a digital copy of this icon to Cary in my iPhone. Thank you!

  9. I grew up Protestant and believe that God loves us all whatever faith we may have. It is up to us to return that love by showing respect and love one another and by the way we live our faith. I love art and have always been interested in icons and their meanings, so thank you for this. Kind regards.

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