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An Explanation of the Russian Orthodox Three-bar Cross

Through the Cross came our Salvation. We are constantly reminded that Christ died for us, and that He rose from the dead. The Image of the crucified Lord reminds us of the former; the second Image of Christ on the towel, depicting the Lord alive, reminds us of the latter. This Image is called "Not made by hands". Worshipping the crucified Lord are two flying angels, with the inscription between them: "Angels of the Lord".

The top bar is the title-board which Pilate ordered to be hung in mockery over Christ’s head on the Cross. On this board was inscribed: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (abbreviated to the Greek initials ‘INBI’ or the Latin initials ‘INRI’ in the Western tradition). This is replaced with the Christian inscription: "King of Glory" – below the knees of the angels. On the title-board is inscribed the initials 'IC XC', being the first and last letters of Christ’s name in Greek. In addition, just above Christ's arms we see the inscription: ‘NIKA’, which in Greek means: "He conquers" or "He is victorious." Frequently, we see these last two inscriptions together: 'IC XC NIKA', meaning: "Jesus Christ is victorious" (over death and sin).

The middle bar is that on which the Lord's hands were nailed. On either top corner we see the depiction of the sun (left) and the moon (right), for "The sun hid its light, and the moon turned to blood." (Joel 2:31) The inscription: "Son of God" is placed on both sides of Christ's head, and below His arms we read the inscription: "We bow down before The Cross, O Master, and we worship Thy holy Resurrection". The halo of Christ is inscribed with three Greek letters meaning "The Being" or "He Who Is", to remind us that Christ is the same God Who identified Himself with those words to Moses in the Old Law.

Behind the body of Christ, on either side, are a lance (which pierced Him) and a sponge (which was soaked with gall and offered to Christ to drink) on a pole made of reed or cane. On the body of Christ is depicted blood and water flowing forth from His side.

The slanted bottom bar is the foot-rest. In prayers for the Ninth Hour, the Church likens the Cross to a type of balance of righteousness: "Between two thieves Thy Cross did prove to be a balance of righteousness: wherefore one of them was dragged down to Hades by the weight of his blasphemy (the balance points down), whereas the other was lightened of his transgressions unto the comprehension of theology (the balance points up). O Christ God, glory to Thee."

The city of Jerusalem is depicted in the background, for He was crucified outside the city walls. By the foot of the Cross are two Slavonic letters meaning 'Mount Golgotha'; this is the hill outside the city gates upon which Christ was crucified.

Below the feet of Christ are four Slavonic letters meaning: "The place of the skull became Paradise". Hidden in a cave under the earth is 'the skull of Adam'. We are thus reminded that Adam our forefather lost Paradise through the tree from which he wrongly partook; Christ is the new Adam, bringing us Salvation and Paradise through the tree of the Cross.

Note that the Savior does not wear a crown of thorns, and that His feet are nailed with two nails. This is the proper Orthodox tradition.


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