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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Crux fidelis

We adore thee O Christ, and we bless thee,
because, by thy holy Cross, thou hast redeemed the world.

Please would somebody explain the symbolism of the Orthodox Cross? I have seen this a few times but have never known what the additional bars or letters are.

Many thanks.


Anonymous said...

Top Bar = INRI sign
Bottom Bar = Footrest

Michael said...

Thank you.

I suppose it's rather straightforward. :-)

I just expected there to be some more symbolism attached to these bars. I suppose it's my Western perpsective of everything having to have a meaning, to the point where we attach symbolism to things that are purely practical, usually after the fact.

What of the letters?

Aristibule said...

Sure, the overall cross is 'budding' like Aaron's staff. IOW, it is life springing forth from the cross. The IC XC is 'Jesus Christ'. The Inner cross is the cross with the 'titulus' as the top cross bar (that was the sign saying 'King of the Jews'), and the bottom bar is the footrest showing the two choices of the two thieves: one is that on the left of mocking and leads to hell, the other is that on the right of 'Remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom' and being received in Paradise.

Really, though, this isn't the 'Orthodox Cross' but a Russian cross. It is rare to see the cross with titulus and footrest in Byzantine Orthodoxy - it is pretty much a Slavic convention. The budded cross is Byzantine however.

Anonymous said...

Aristibule did such a fine job that there's little to be added except:

Sometimes, on the "titulus", you may see the letters (Greek) INBD instead of INRI. That stands for Jesus of Nazareth the King of Glory, transfiguring (in a sense) Pilate's jibe that Jesus the Nazarene was the "King of the Jews" (which was like saying He was King of the Nobodies, as far as Pilate was concerned--it really was a very cruel sign). Because of the cruelty of that sign, the Orthodox prefer to remind us, when we look at the Cross, that it led to Glory.

The trefoiled points of the budded cross symbolize the Three Persons in One God: the Holy Trinity.

Leetle M.
Many Orthodox Christians like this combination of the Russian 3-barred cross and the Byzantine budded cross, because it seems to us to depict an Orthodoxy that is transcending its "national boundaries", as Orthodoxy certainly must do if our witness to the world is to be a full one.

Aristibule said...

Looks rather like it is saying what the old Russian Tsar said: "My country is Russian, my faith is Greek" - being a Russian Cross in a Greek cross. I'm not sure if it is an issue of 'national boundaries' as there is no such thing as 'national churches'. The Russian Church includes hundreds of nationalities (Russians, Karelians, Ossetes, Ukrainians, Tatars, etc. - often with differing customs, and with the Cossacks, Assyrians, and Old Believers, differing rites up until this past century), as does any of the Regional Churches (which is what 'Greek', 'Russian', 'Romanian' is : not ethnic, linguistic, or nationalistic markers, but of region.) The confusion comes here in the West, where we have overlapping jurisdictions and infringement on the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of the West (separated though it may be). How some converts deal with this can be dangerous: trying to reinvent themselves as some sort of new ethnicity (or trying to demonize ethnicity in an attempt at a sort of pseudo-Ultramontane Centralist urge), or do the strange bit of trying to make a New Age mish-mash pick and choose out of various Eastern customs (Greek here, Russian there, a Serbian custom here).

Either way - there are hundreds of different types of Orthodox crosses. A variant of the budded cross is the Antiochian cross. The cross used by my present Diocese is called the 'Bishop's Cross' and is similar to an Armenian cross, but with a radius like a Celtic Cross, and a flowering plant as the base (it is on the cover of the Antiochian 'Liturgikon'). Historically, the 'Greek Cross' connected with Orthodoxy for most of history has been the equal armed cross. The Celtic Cross is just as Orthodox, as is the Latin cross, Coptic crosses, etc. AFAIK the only cross not used in general usage in Orthodoxy is the Papal cross: as it would only be used by the Patriarch of the West. I haven't seen an INBD cross yet either: might be a Russian custom? Usually in Greek we have INBI - same as INRI, in that Jesus, Nazarene, and Iudeorum (Jews) are all similar between Latin and Greek. 'King', however, is Rex in Latin, and Basileos in Greek - hence the 'R' in one version, and 'B' in the other. I'd be interested in a graphic with INBD though for my files.

Either way, the cross I prefer as an Orthodox Christian in the West is simply a Celtic or Canterbury cross (or an Irish crucifix).

Ian said...

Thank you all. I consider myself considerably more informed.

who has a simple Celtic cross on a chain around his neck.

Michael said...

As indeed do I. Thank you all.

Michael, (who wears no Cross of any description save for the one imparted at Baptism, mainly because I haven't got a clue which one I prefer).

Anonymous said...

I don't think I can find you a photo of an INBD cross, Aristibule, but I'll look--I've only seen one once, and it went away with the priest who owned it when he moved to another parish.

Thanks for your eloquent and very informative post! Obviously there's a lot I don't know about Orthodoxy, but with you around here, I'll learn more every day!

Thanks again, and Michael, if my posts seem not to match Aristibule's in all details, trust his, not mine! :)

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that the "D" in INBD is a Greek "Delta", so on the titulus it looks like a triangle. The other letters look like English letters. It stands for the word "Doxa".

Sorry for forgetting that!

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

Aristibule, I think the crucifix my pastor showed me must have been specially done for him--apparently the idea of putting "The King of Glory" on a crucifix is a Slavonic thing. Please look at

and click on the first cross you see, the Holy Resurrection cross--there, you will find a cross with "The King of Glory" written in Slavonic letters =above= the titulus!

Sorry for any confusion!

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

With a bit more hunting on that site, I found the "Christine Cross", a Byzantine one bearing quite a large inscription "Jesus Christ the King of Glory" in Greek letters. If the URL prints correctly, it's at

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

Now, if I spend a lot of money on a new cross for myself, you fellows are the ones I'll send the bill to! :)

(Just kidding)

Leetle M.

Aristibule said...

Ah, excellent. Thanks Leetle M. I've seen that they've widened their stock - the St. Cuthbert Cross looks especially nice (even if it costs a week's pay for someone like me.) The Canterbury Cross as well - and my old favourite, the Georgian 'Angel Cross' ( the original of which was broken almost ten years ago in the fighting there.) That St. Christine cross can be considered a 'Varangian artifact' - so I guess at least it is Scandinavian as well as Slavonic custom! (So, maybe it was a minority Greek custom that spread to the Rus in the century previous?)

I've really been looking for a Chi-Rho medallion that doesn't look modern. One of our earliest Christian finds in Britain is a Chi-Rho medallion from Shepton Mallet in Somerset (Shepton Mallet is one of those places that has had continuous Christian occupation since Roman times.) Besides crosses, small metal icons or symbols (like Chi-Rho, the seal IC-XC NI-KA from the "Lamb", etc.) are often worn as well.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they had Chi-Rho pendants, but they had a teardop dangle on them....

Glad you liked seeing all those crosses. Yes, the Canterbury and St. Cuthbert ones were really nice....although rather dear.

My godmother gave me a small "Odigitria" icon in the form of a medallion, but over the years it became very badly tarnished and no matter what, I can't clean it--it's not silver. I don't know what it's made of. If I were to try any harder to clean it, I would rub off the icon--it's only barely engraved. Deep sigh.

Leetle M.

Michael said...

Thanks for all the responses, and especially for the ideas of which Cross to buy. I have had this at the back of my mind and have rather enjoyed the exchange between Aristibule and Leelte M.


Thanks folks.

Mark said...

If it's any consolation, I don't wear any crosses, but when I began getting back in touch with my christian roots, I started wearing St George and the dragon again--the Sovereign my Mum gave me.