THE THEOLOGY OF THE ICON OF THE CRUCIFIXION

THE “ECCE HOMO” (BEHOLD THE MAN) ICON

“And he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which

is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others . . .”

Jesus is crucified on a hill above a dark cave. The situating of the cross above a dark

grotto stands for Christ’s victory over the darkness of sin, death and Hell. The grotto

beneath the cross is the one conspicuously dark place in the icon. The blackness

symbolizes death, the abyss, but it also strikes a note of optimism in that death is the

foretoken of resurrection and eternal life.

In stark contrast to the blackness of the grotto is the whiteness of the skull and

bones. These represent the skull and bones of Adam, the father of the human race,

the first man and the first sinner. We see in our icon the blood of Christ dripping

over the white skull. Thus, the sin of the first man—and, through him, of us all—is

washed away by the blood of Christ. The white skull and bones, a theological motif

representing original sin, appears in almost every known icon of the Crucifixion.

Despite the icon’s austerity of subject and line, I would class it as an optimistic icon,

for it represents the rebirth of humanity, that is, of us all. By his blood Christ erased

the stain of original sin. By descending into Hell, the realm of death, he rose

triumphantly to life, forcing us to probe more deeply into the mystery of his Passion.

As we can see, our icon also bears inscriptions. Beside the head of Jesus are the

letters “IC XC”, indicating that he is Jesus the Christ.

On the extremities of the cross’s transverse arm, on a field of red, appear the gold

letters “OΩN”, which stand for “The One Who Is”.

The summit of the cross bears the royal and divine inscription of the Crucifixion

icon, “INRI”: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”).

When we gaze upon this icon, our lips murmur the words: “We glory in your

cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection”.

The cross is not the sad end of Christ’s mission. The Icon of the Crucifixion is a

window of hope and joy. This love of God for us human beings, which surpasses

understanding, inclines us to gaze, to be silent, and to wonder. The mystery touches

us all, allowing us to partake in the misterium of the Lord’s Passion, through which

we, by way of Jesus, encounter our Father in Heaven.

Paraphrasing the words of Saint Ursula Ledochowska, we can say that:

“THE ICON OF CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION IS A BRIDGE LINKING TIME TO ETERNITY,

EARTH TO HEAVEN, AND MAN TO GOD”.

Janusz Charczuk, Iconographer Toronto, May 15, 2017.