Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” Mat. 18:12-13
“Jesus speaks a parable, in which He sets forth the Father as seeking the salvation of humans, and saying, “What think you, If a man have a hundred sheep.” This refers to the Creator Himself; for a hundred is a perfect number, and He had a hundred sheep when He created the substance of Angels and men. But by the one sheep is to be understood one man, and under this one man is comprehended the whole human race. He that seeks man is Christ, and the ninety and nine are the host of the heavenly glory which He left. The Evangelist says they were left ‘on the mountains,’ to signify that the sheep, which were not lost, abode on high. He placed the sheep upon his shoulder, for taking human nature upon him he bore our sins. But having found the sheep, he returns home; for our shepherd, having restored humanity, returns to his heavenly kingdom.” Saint Gregory
I made an altarpiece for the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Charlestown, New Hampshire. It was made in close collaboration with the community there, incorporating their suggestions and ideas and wants for an icon to be above the altar of their church. I had in mind the early Christian interpretation of Christ’s parable, in which the one lost sheep is human nature itself, and the shepherd is the eternal divine Logos. The ninety-nine which the shepherd leaves are the Holy Angels.
The painting is shaped like a door or gateway to the sheepfold. The path descends by way of humility to the church. Through the church one continues across the river, and, through Christ, up the mountain. At the top of the mountain are the Archangels Michael, Rafael and Gabriel, standing for the whole hierarchy of Angels.
The image is divided into a lower earthly and an upper heavenly sections. Christ stands as the upright axis, the Tree of Life, connecting heaven and earth, spirit and matter, Angels and humans.
The community also wanted their church, and the nearby mountain and Connecticut river, to be included in the icon as part of the transfigured heavenly landscape.