Fr. Hopko explained:
Now, one of the iconographic devices that very important to understand is a thing that is called a mandorla. Mandorla means an almond. And a mandorla is an iconographic device that is used in an icon when what is being depicted is not historically visible. So for example, in the icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, the dove is put into a mandorla. It’s put in this circular, almond-shaped depiction. Sometimes, it even looks like two squares superimposed on each other. That’s a mandorla.
Sometimes, the hand of God, let’s say over the Baptism of Jesus, is shown in a mandorla. In the icon of the Transfiguration, Jesus is in a mandorla with Moses and Elijah, because only Peter, James, and John saw them and only when they were in the ecstasy of the Spirit. A shepherd man hiding on Mount Tabor would not have seen Jesus transfigured, or would not have seen Moses and Elijah. Just like a person passing by the Jordan would not have seen any dove descending and remaining upon Jesus.
In the Ascension, Jesus is put in a mandorla, because nobody hanging around the Mount of Olives would have seen Jesus go up. Jesus’ Ascension where He’s taken and hidden in the cloud is a statement of faith. It’s something that the disciples may have seen in front of them, but it’s not something that was just seen by anybody hanging around.
Do you agree with this description of the meaning of the Mandorla?
If a nonChristian bystander were at Jesus's tomb, the apostles room in Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, or any other location where the apostles said that they saw and ate with Jesus, the bystander would not have objectively or "historically" have observed the post-resurrection meetings with Jesus's?
These meetings were not events in objective "history", but rather "appearances" to believers in their vision? What the women at the tomb experienced was what the Emmaus road travelers at the end of Luke's gospel told their acquaintaince (whom they later perceived to be secretly Jesus), ie the women saw a "vision of angels".
So whereas the disciples observed Jesus had entered the room and ate fish with them, the bystander would not see Jesus enter, see Him displace the room's airspace, or see the fish get eaten or moved from its plate?
And not only does the Mandorla show the post resurrection meetings to be appearances that are not objectively "historical", but the same kind of non-historicity applies to the miraculous events at Jesus's Baptism and Transfiguration?
Maybe I am misreading Fr. Hopko, or the Mandorla does not necessarily have all those implications? For example, Mark's gospel says that the crowd was amazed on seeing Jesus soon after he came down from the Transfiguration, which suggests to me that the bystanders could objectively observe the miraculous effects on Jesus.
Fr. Stephen Freeman writes the same kind of thing on the AFR blog about the Mandorla:
Revealed in the context of a mandorla is that which we know by the revelation of Scripture but which might not have been witnessed by the human eye – or – if witnessed – somehow transcended the normal bounds of vision.
The iconographic witness of the Church affirms this – placing the Ascension of Christ within a mandorla – recognizing that this will only be known and understood by the mystical knowledge of faith...
Very similar to this event is Christ’s Descent into Hades, the traditional icon of Christ’s Pascha. In this icon we see what is referenced in several places within the Scriptures and upheld in the Church’s dogma – that Christ descended into Hades and “trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.” But when we confess this cornerstone of our faith we are not reciting what is known by eyewitness account.
There is a form of Christian literalism which belongs to a secular culture. The world is rendered only in a secularized, objective manner. Nothing is ever set within a mandorla. There is no perception of the mystery which has come among us in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. In such a form of Christianity, faith is simply a description of what someone accepts as a set of “facts” in the same manner that we accept or reject what we read in a newspaper, etc. The facts are as static and empty as our perception. No change need happen in the witness of such facts. Either it happened and you saw it, or it did not happen.