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Cross: what Christian crucifixes symbolize
Cross: what Christian crucifixes symbolize

A huge number of crosses existed and still exist in the world: the ancient Egyptian Ankh, Celtic cross, solar, Latin, Orthodox, Byzantine, Armenian ("blooming"), St. Andrew's and other crosses - these are all geometric symbols used in different eras to express different meanings. Most of the crosses are somehow connected with Christianity.

In the Christian tradition, the veneration of the cross originates from the tradition of the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. Execution by crucifixion existed even before Christ - this is how robbers were usually crucified - but in Christianity the cross acquires the meaning not only of an instrument of execution, but of the salvation of Christians through the death of Jesus.

Varieties of Christian crosses

In the early Christian eastern church, about 16 types of crosses were widespread. Each of the crosses is venerated by the church, and, as the priests say, a cross of any shape is holy as the tree on which Jesus was crucified.


The most common types of crosses:

  • Six-pointed orthodox cross
  • Eight-pointed orthodox
  • Four-pointed Latin (or Catholic)

What is the difference between these crosses?

Six-pointed cross

This is a cross with one horizontal crossbar and an inclined lower one.

Six-pointed Russian cross

This form of the cross exists in Orthodoxy along with the eight-pointed, being, in fact, its simplified form. The bottom bar of the six-pointed cross symbolizes the footrest, a detail that actually took place.

The cross on which Christ was crucified was four-pointed. Another crossbar in the legs was attached to the cross before the cross was placed in an upright position, after the crucifixion, when the place on the cross where the crucified's feet were located became apparent.

The slope of the lower bar has the symbolic meaning of "the measure of righteousness." The higher part of the crossbar is located on the right side. On the right hand of Christ, according to legend, the repentant and therefore justified robber was crucified. On the left side, where the crossbar is facing down, a robber was crucified, who blasphemed Jesus even more aggravated his situation. In a broad sense, this crossbar is interpreted as a symbol of the state of mind of a person.

Eight-pointed cross

The eight-pointed cross is a more complete form of the Orthodox cross.

Eight-pointed orthodox cross

The upper crossbar, which distinguishes the cross from the six-pointed one, symbolizes a tablet with an inscription (title), which was nailed to the cross also after the crucifixion, by order of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea. Partly in mockery, partly to indicate the "guilt" of the crucified, the tablet in three languages ​​read: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (I.N.TS.I.).

Thus, the meaning of the six-pointed and eight-pointed crosses are the same, but the eight-pointed cross is more saturated with symbolic content.

Eight-pointed cross-Calvary

The most complete type of Orthodox cross is the Golgotha ​​cross. This symbol contains many details that reflect the meaning of the Orthodox faith.

Eight-pointed cross Calvary

The eight-pointed cross stands on a symbolic image of Mount Golgotha, on which, as it is written in the Gospel, Christ was crucified. To the left and to the right of the mountain, place the letter signatures of G.G. (Mount Golgotha) and M.L. R.B. (Place Skull Crucified Being, or, according to another version, Place Skull Paradise Being - according to legend, at the place of Christ's execution there was once Paradise and the forefather of mankind, Adam, was buried here).

A skull and bones are depicted under the mountain - this is a symbolic image of the remains of Adam. Christ “washed” his bones with his blood, delivering mankind from original sin.The bones are arranged in the order in which the hands are folded during communion or burial, and the letters G.A., located near the skull, denote the words Head of Adam.

To the left and to the right of the cross are depicted the instruments of Christ's execution: on the left is a spear, on the right is a sponge with the corresponding letter signatures (K. and G.). According to the Gospel, the soldier raised a sponge on a cane soaked in vinegar to the lips of Christ, and another soldier pierced his ribs with a spear.

A circle is usually located behind the cross - this is the crown of thorns of Christ.

On the sides of the cross-Golgotha, the inscriptions are inscribed: Is. Xc. (short for Jesus Christ), King of Glory, and Ni Ka (meaning Victorious).

As you can see, the Golgotha ​​cross is the most complete form of the Orthodox Christian cross in terms of its symbolic content.

Four-pointed cross

The four-pointed cross is one of the most ancient variants of Christian symbolism. The cross of the Armenian Church, in which Christianity for the first time in the world was recognized as the state religion at the beginning of the 4th century AD, was and remains four-pointed.

In addition, crosses not only on ancient but also on the most famous Orthodox cathedrals have a four-pointed shape. For example, at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, the Transfiguration Cathedral in Pereslavl, the Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg.

You can also find crosses with a crescent. The crescent moon on the cross, according to various versions, symbolizes the anchor (the Church, as a place of salvation), the Eucharistic Chalice, the cradle of Christ or the baptismal font.

Classic four-pointed cross

However, if in Orthodox churches the four-pointed form of the cross is not often found, then in the Catholic Church only one version of the cross is used - the four-pointed, otherwise called the Latin cross.

Latin four-pointed cross

The difference between Orthodox and Catholic crucifixion

In addition to the difference in the shape of the cross of Eastern and Western Christians, there are also differences in the crucifixion itself. Knowing the important distinguishing features of Orthodox and Catholic crucifixes, one can easily determine to which direction of Christianity this symbol belongs.

Differences between Orthodox and Catholic crucifixes:

  • The number of nails visually distinguishable in the crucifix
  • The position of the body of Christ
What are the Similarities and Differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Cross

If in the Orthodox tradition four nails are depicted on the crucifix - for each hand and foot separately, then in the Catholic tradition Christ's legs are crossed and nailed with one nail, respectively, there are three nails on the crucifix.

Orthodoxy explains the presence of four nails by the fact that the cross brought by Queen Helena from Jerusalem to Constantinople, on which Christ was crucified, had traces of four nails.

Catholics substantiate their version of the three nails by the fact that the Vatican contains all the nails of the cross on which Christ was crucified, and there are only three of them. In addition, the image on the Turin shroud is imprinted in such a way that the legs of the crucified are crossed, therefore it can be assumed that Christ's feet were nailed down with one nail.

The position of the body of Christ on an Orthodox crucifixion is a little unnatural, the body of Jesus does not hang on his hands, as it should have been according to physical laws. On the Orthodox crucifixion, the hands of Christ extend out to the sides along the cross, as if invoking “all the ends of the earth” (Is. 45; 22). The crucifixion does not attempt to reflect pain, it is more symbolic. Orthodoxy explains such features of the crucifixion by the fact that the cross is, first of all, an instrument of victory over death. Crucifixion in Orthodoxy is a symbol of the victory of life over death, and, paradoxically, almost an object of joy, because it contains the idea of ​​the Resurrection.

On the Catholic crucifixion, the position of the body is as close as possible to the physiological one: the body sags in the arms under its own weight. Catholic crucifixion is more realistic: bleeding is often depicted, stigmata from nails, spears.

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