Friday, October 14, 2005

IC XC NIKA

In case you don’t know what that title means, IC XC are abbreviations (in both Greek and Slavonic) for the name Jesus Christ. NIKA is a Greek verb that means “conquers” (perhaps “is victorious” is better, though not as grammatically accurate).

Why am I giving you a lesson in Greek words and abbreviations? First of all, it will help you understand a few things you may see in the Eastern Christian tradition. On icons of Christ, you will always find somewhere the IC XC. If you look carefully when a Byzantine Catholic or Orthodox priest gives a blessing, you’ll see (if they’re doing it correctly) that they form the fingers of their right hand into the letters IC XC. So we always bless with the sign of the Cross and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The victory that we celebrate is that of Jesus Christ over the world, the flesh, and the devil, over sin and death. For Him to conquer evil was essential to his mission, so much so that St John could even say: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1John 3:8). But what Christ conquers is evil as such, and the evil spirits, not evil human beings, for whom there is still hope for repentance and salvation. For He came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

The Conqueror of evil comes to us as a Merciful Savior and the Lover of Mankind. That is because He conquers through the Cross. He allowed Himself to be apparently vanquished so that He could thereby vanquish evil. The devil thought that he was the conqueror when the Son of God died, but he received a sudden and rude shock when he discovered the truth. Our liturgical texts for Vespers on Holy Saturday evening personify death and the realm of death, and we sing: “Today hell groans and cries aloud: ‘It would have been better for me if I had not accepted Mary’s Son, for He has come to me and destroyed my power… I accepted a mortal man as one of the dead; yet I cannot keep Him prisoner, and with Him I shall lose those over whom I ruled… the Shepherd has been crucified and has gone in search of Adam, to raise him… death has no more strength.”

The mystery of Jesus Christ’s victory is that of his death and resurrection. The Church celebrates this mystery daily in the Holy Sacrifice, the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Take a guess, then, what is stamped into every prosphoron (loaf of altar bread) that is transformed into the slain and risen Body of Christ. You’re right: IC XC NIKA. As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are invited to share in his victory, we receive the victory itself into our bodies and souls, and we become victors, conquerors, insofar as we do the will of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Do you not believe that you too are a conqueror? St Paul takes us even further: “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

So, go ahead, put your own abbreviated name in there. I’ll start: AB JS NIKA. In Christ, and only in Him—far be it from me to think I can conquer anything on my own—I shall be victorious. And you shall, too, if you faithfully follow Him who came to destroy the works of the devil. “With God we shall do bravely, and He will trample down our foes… I am sure now that the Lord will give the victory…with the strength of his victorious right hand” (Psalms 59/60:14 and 19/20:7).