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Upon the plank fence in my back yard, a solitary cardinal alighted, the morning sun brilliancing its redness. Motionless, it peered in my direction as if wanting to communicate. Breathing slowed—I waited, steeped within stillness. Such authority the cardinal manifested, such power it exuded. I was in the presence of what I knew not. 

Then it was gone. I had been visited and knew it in the marrow of my bones. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

Immediately, the Eastern Orthodox icon of Christ Pantocrator, the All Powerful, came to mind, often depicted wearing a red tunic; His eyes often outlined in black. In his left hand, the jeweled book of the gospels; his right, raised in teaching or blessing.

This image, rendered in mosaics or frescoes or board paintings, still adorns domes, apses, and walls of ancient Eastern Orthodox churches; it afforded critical protection to worshipers huddled below in the naves, imploring deliverance from wars and pestilence and so much more—Such was the demonstrable power this icon exerted upon their imaginations.  

So has the cardinal/Christ Pantocrator something to tell us, today, given our diseased planet? I think so. Seems to me it’s about reopening the gospels, embracing its disciplines, and undergoing conversion of heart: essential for developing fresh authority to reanimate our social institutions and thrive. Such, alone, has power over the allure of darkness in any of its manifestations. 

So simple, it sounds, that many turn away—precisely the response Jesus experienced in first-century Palestine. But fortunately for us, a remnant did not. There are still some of them among us. Such have been my teachers…



A solitary cardinal alighted on the plank fence in my back yard, then zoomed down upon the winter-ravaged grass; its redness quickened my heart, plunged me into stillness. I continued watching. Like a wise professor attired in scarlet robes, it discerned the next step and took it boldly. Then it was gone. I had been visited and I knew it. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

The cardinal’s fiery presence recalled images of Christ Pantocrator (the Lawgiver), rendered in mosaics or frescoes, which still adorn domes and apses of medieval Eastern Orthodox churches. The dark outlines of Christ’s iconic eyes, his red tunic, his left hand holding the jeweled book of the New Testament, his right hand raised in blessing—Such was the demonstrable power that had inflamed the imaginations of worshipers, huddled below in the nave, whispering their prayers. Such moments sustained their lives of hardship until the next Mass.

Such still has the holding power to thwart evil, with its allure of dark power. Willingness to follow its sway freshens us with loving care and protection.


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