Christ Pantocrator & Donkeys: A Journey in Santorini

The island of Santorini off the coast of mainland Greece is part of a large caldera--a large depression formed after the eruption of an ancient volcano.  

It's an eerie feeling when you realize this when you are on a ship docked smack dab in the middle of what used to be the top of a mountain. 

The villages of Santorini are located high above the natural harbor of the caldera and can only be reached by cable car, a donkey ride, or a hike up the same walkway used by the donkeys.  

The last option is not ideal.  

Neither is the second option if I'm being brutally honest.  The donkeys of Santorini have a particularly pungent odor, punctuated by the odor of the walkway, which also serves as the donkey's restroom.  

More on that later. 

One of the most striking features of the village of Fira is the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, located on one of the most picturesque streets on the island.  The Cathedral is filled with beautiful artwork and icons, a cacophony of color everywhere your eye falls. 

But the round, vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral is where not only your gaze will follow as you look around, but it contains the most important piece of art in the building--Christ Pantocrator. 

Christ Pantocrator, Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Fira, Santorini

The depiction of Christ Pantocrator on the ceiling of the Cathedral is not an unusual piece of art in the Orthodox tradition. The name Pantocrator means "All Mighty" or "All-Powerful," and it's drawn from Jesus' own words when he tells his disciples: 

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Another more literal translation of the word "Pantocrator" is one that I particularly like: "Sustainer of the World."  

The image of Jesus in most of the Pantocrator depictions places him on a throne, or "on high," and holding the Gospels while making a gesture with his right hand that signifies teaching or blessing. 

I found the artwork in the Cathedral inspiring, and I also noted that no matter where you walked in front of the altar, the eyes of Christ Pantocrator seemed to be following you.  

Much later, after enjoying a spectacular sunset with a nice cold beer in an outdoor cafe, I attempted to return to the cable car for my trip back to the harbor. But the line for the cable car was at least an hour and a half long. 

At that point, I decided (against my better judgment) to take the  690+ steps down to the harbor instead of waiting in a long line for the cable car.  If you recall, these steps are the ones trod by the donkeys of Santorini, which meant... well, you can imagine what it meant.  

Suffice it to say, the walk down was filled with several hundred twists and turns and no small amount of donkey feces and urine puddles to dodge.  What you couldn't dodge was the stench, which permeated the air, stung my nostrils, and almost made me delirious. 

I made it down, eventually, and was able to freshen myself up before dinner and also spray an inordinate amount of Versace cologne upon me to rid my nose of the remembered donkey stench. 

I've had some time to reflect on my journey that day.  It took me to the heights of faith with the eyes of the Christ Pantocrator following me to the lows of trudging along a soiled path in the dark.  

This is what life is like some days, isn't it?  

One moment, we are filled with the intense feeling that the love and grace of Christ is all around us, and we're watching a sunset explode with color and believing we are one with the Universe. 

And the next, we're trying to find our way around donkey poop on a dark descent into God-knows-where.  

But through it all, the eyes of Christ Pantocrator are upon us.  The One who assumed the task of creating, sustaining, and redeeming from before the beginning of time is covering us in grace in our highest of highs and lowest of lows. 

May this knowledge give you defiant hope amid your struggles in the dark.  May this truth bring you peace that passes understanding.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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