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Pantakrator Mosaic, Leon V1, 10th century, Hagia Sophia


When I was a teen, my artistic mother created a mosaic on the powder room wall: three gracious sisters in Grecian robes scooping water from a rush-lined river. Mom sketched the outline, selected the ceramic tiles for colour, snipped them to fit, and grouted the pieces into the pleasing design that still decorates my childhood memory.

More recently I stood in awe beneath domes decorated with the glorious ancient mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a city once known as Byzantium spanning East and West on the shores of the Bosphorus Sea in Turkey. A church was first established there by Constantine in AD 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. The current Christian cathedral took its place two hundred years later, with the Ottoman Empire co-opting it in the fifteenth century. Today, secularized Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite damage by time, clime, and desecration, Sophia’s restored and redeemed mosaics are considered by art historians to be instrumental in the study of iconography.

The beauty of mosaic art lies in the grand sweep of the composition, not in the intricacy of its tiny tiles (or tesserae). Similarly, the beauty of humanity lies in the historical vista from Adam and Eve through every person onwards. Although each fragment, each story, has its irreplaceable function, I must admit that the tessera of me sometimes feels insignificant in the great montage of this earthly existence. Of course, focusing in on a detail of the overall pastiche (whether ceramic or flesh and blood) allows for close examination of an excerpt, but the main point is the interaction—the belonging—that makes up the whole.

Now, I was born—and thus belonged—to a nuclear family of five kids; we added our colour to the wider tableau of two dozen cousins clustering around the Christmas tree at Grandma’s house. I patched myself into a fellowship of urban schoolmates and a fabulous youth group. When I began sharing marital life with my cattle-rancher groom, I didn’t stop belonging to my birth family, my townie comrades, or the wider church, but I was adopted into a new community by in-laws who took me as their own and rural neighbours who inundated me with casseroles and community. Three more pieces were added to the mosaic with the birth and nurturing of children, and I was grouted into other scenes as well—writing groups, sewing circles, classrooms, and international friendships. The individual chips all fit together and contribute to the overarching artwork designed by God and built upon variegation.

It was into this mosaic of humanity that Jesus Christ—the Artist Himself—appeared from eternity to become one of us (according to Hebrews 2). He took on our nature—our clay. He assumed the characteristics that fit Him into the form and function of the world and its people, sharing in our experience, partaking in our sufferings. The Son called us to Himself as His siblings, children of God, and He made of believers a family belonging to one another. He said to our Father (v. 12):

“I will tell of Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.”

In this loving way, God saves us from the destruction of the Evil One—that iconoclast scheming to desecrate the image of Christ in us. Ultimately we belong not to the mosaic but to its praise-worthy Maker. One day before the end of time, each tessera of this life will be fully restored within the original pattern lovingly sketched out for the universe. Meanwhile, to maintain active fellowship with Brother Jesus, we must pay close attention to what we’ve heard in the Word lest we drift away from the Artist—that Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of our souls.


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