The Korean Christ

Artist: 
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

This image also available with a Korean Narrative.

Artist's Narrative:
Since the moment of Christ's resurrection, the Church has become Christ, as has every member of the Church. This is an ancient teaching, going back to the Greek Fathers. For the many centuries Christianity bore a European "face," the implications of this profound teaching sometimes lay dormant.

In the latter half of the 18th century, Christianity began to take root in Korea. Christian converts suffered terrible persecution from their government when Rome forbade them to practice what it called "ancestor worship." Other Koreans saw them as a threat to society, and many thousands died painful deaths.

This experience left a deep impression on what Korean Christians know of Jesus. Their Church is one born recently from the blood of martyrs. Their Christ is bound dramatically to the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection, and to the deaths of their ancestors.

In this icon, Christ stands naked, at the moment of his resurrection, revealing his wounds as "the Lamb of God," which is the meaning of the inscription at the bottom. His long hair tied with a white band show him as an unmarried man from 2000 years ago. On either side of his head are Korean characters for "Jesus" and "Christ."

Instead of the typical mandala of Greek and Russian icons, he is depicted in a luminous Taegeuk symbol. He does not sit on top of this important ancient Korean symbol, but emerges from it, for he is Taegeuk itself, the root of all things, the principle of harmony between Yin and Yang.

The Taegeuk symbol sits on a field of jade green, and three jade stones are embedded in Christ's halo. The jade suggests royalty, as red garments would in a Greek icon.

Until recent interest in the "historical Jesus," images of a truly Jewish Christ have been rare. There is something universal, even cosmic, about the way Christians--Christ's Body--have looked upon their Head. In traditional icons, he looks Greek, Russian, and even Ethiopian. He wears the clothing of a Greek philosopher. Today he also gazes at us with a Korean face, as Holy Wisdom, Divine Sophia, continues to draw all of creation back to God.


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