28 January 2008

The Origins of Khachkar: First crosses and cross compositions.

The Origins of Khachkar

First crosses and cross compositions.


In early Christian art, the origins of the depiction of the cross is thought
to be the vision of Constantine the Great, which provided the basis for
making official the monogrammatic cross (chi-ro), and following it, the
equal-winged or, so-called Greek cross. The decorated and tree of life
philosophy and iconography of a cross is connected with Constantine the
Great's mother Helena, who found the wood of the cross, from which
originates the proportionately stringed (with longer lower wing) or Latin

The oldest documented crosses in Christian Armenia were the monogrammatic
crosses. These are crosses encircled in a wreath, surrounded by doves that
represented the souls of the believers, and situated in a garden-paradise
environment. But in early medieval Armenian art, encircled crosses with
radial enlarged wings are more characteristic. These became widespread both
as a type of free-standing cross-bearing stele, and as an architectural
detail on different sacred structures. Starting already from the earliest
examples, the solar-illuminated design was paralleled with an essentially
vegetative one, which became one of the bases for the further development
and eventual emergence of the cross composition.

The cross with pulled proportions (the two elements of the cross - the
horizontal and vertical pillars, do not intersect in the middle, but rather
the horizontal element transects the vertical element at a point above the
center), which spread a bit later than the equal-winged cross (beginning
from the mid-fifth century) had better prospects of development in Armenia.
These crosses were depicted on hills, on stairs, placed on a ball, decorated
with palmettes and lilies. The wings and the crossing of the cross were
accented with jewels or buttons.

The interpretation of these details allows us to come to the conclusion that
the cross with pulled proportions incorporated both the victorious and
savior philosophy, and was presented in the center of the universe as a tree
of life on the paradise mountain, referencing the crucifixion and showing
the future.
Many examples of standing cross-bearing steles from the 4th - 7th century
have survived to the present. These steles can be divided into 6 groups:
- Stele with carvings;
- Memorial columns;
- Memorial structures;
- Free-standing crosses;
- Stone crosses erected on altars;
- Crosses on a pole.

Steles, as a rule, were concluding with a stone cross with three-dimensional
or free wings, attached on pilasters, or on special cross-holders that were
positioned on pilasters. Sometimes their bases, columns or pilasters bear
cross carvings or more sophisticated cross compositions. The
three-dimensional cross, due to a prolonged lower vertical wing, has a more
extensive look, which aimed to present the Exalted cross of Golgotha. The
composition of the free crosses included the palmette ornament, which
started from the bottom of the cross and continued until the tips of the
horizontal wings, with round holes or buttons on the wings and a pair of
buttons on the ends of the wings.

The holes or buttons originated from jewelry, where the small holes were
intended to bear precious stones or to place holy relics under a glass, and
the buttons were made from precious stones. The three-dimensional crosses
that originate from northern Armenia are decorated with delicate carvings of
Christ and saints, lily flowers, grain-like ornaments and rosette bouquets.

The crosses on the pole can be divided into two types: movable and
immovable. In the first case they have a large base, short stick, sometimes
even a pilaster under the cross, and in some cases the cross-bearing circle
is based on two sticks. Probably precisely such crosses on a pole were
considered to be the crosses that were erected by Gregory the Illuminator
and King Trdat. A large part of these crosses was made from wood, and some
examples or some of their parts from iron.

Together with three-dimensional crosses, the cross compositions carved on
church structures, steles and memorials, were widespread. These compositions
provide an opportunity to restore the process of philosophical and
iconographical popularization of the cross in Armenia. Early Christian
propaganda in Armenia placed great importance as much in the oral and
written word, as in the image. The latter, in the first place, was intended
to target uneducated peasants and aimed to play the same role for them as
the book played for educated people. Another goal of the compositions was
the presentation of God's history and order through different carving
themes, images and symbols. But obvious issues were emerging with the
presentation of the basic idea of Christianity - Christ's salvational
crucifixion. It was difficult to present to the new believer a crucified but
still powerful god. To popularize the idea of salvation through crucifixion,
the Armenian Church chose to emphasize not the image (Christ) but the sign
(cross). Despite on this the sign alone could not tell much about the idea.
Detailed analysis shows that to make the prospect of salvational crucifixion
understandable, Armenian priests used allegories which were familiar to
agricultural societies: just as the grape becomes an "immortal" liquid after
squeezing, Christ poured his blood on the cross for the sins of the
humanity; just as the birds and animals enjoy themselves in the vineyards,
the true believers will enjoy heaven that will come as a result of the
crucifixion of Christ. Or, Christ's dogma itself is like a vineyard, and
Christ is like a grape, and with learning that dogma opens the road to
heaven. Thus, early cross compositions took on garden-grape iconography: the
cross is pictured as a new tree of life, which either grows in a vineyard,
or gives beginning to the vine, or bears Christ, his teaching and the vine
symbolizing the followers. This heaven-garden-grape understanding of the
cross became the basis of the khachkar composition.

The ideology and iconography of the cross in early Christian Armenia.

The Origins of Khachkar

The ideology and iconography of the cross in early Christian Armenia.


To understand the origins of the composition of the khachkar it is necessary to pay special attention to ideological-religious and cultural processes that were taking place in the 4th-7th centuries in Armenia. As a result of these processes, together with a number of complexes of national identity like Armenian alphabet, book, etc., the principles of the organization of sacred space, the national worship of the cross, and the iconography were shaped. The development of these complexes and the specific historic-cultural environment led to the emergence of khachkars. According to the evidence presented in the “History” by Agatangeghos, which is a presentation of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia in the beginning of the 4th century, in process of spreading of Christianity an important role had played the temple and an open-air stele. The Vision of Grigor the Enlightener, which is a part of mentioned “History”, states, that the first cross-bearing steles and temple appeared in the center of the capital of Armenia as a result of a miracle. If the temple was the symbol of the surrounding holy territory, to a certain extent it was in opposition to secular, non-holy territory. Thus the cross-bearing stele aimed to give holiness to the open air, to secular territory, easing the conflict between the holy and non-holy, and eventually between the believer and the non-believer. It was thought in medieval Armenia that the Armenian letters were depicted to Mesrop Mashtots (father of the Armenian alphabet) by a miracle. Thus, the stele, the temple, and the letters, were given to Armenians through a miracle and represent the three main, equal directions and means in the process of spreading and strengthening of the new belief. The first stele in the vision of Grigor the Enlightener comes as a result of the victory over pagan forces, the remaining three as the result of the martyring of the virgins. Hence, in this vision, which has a keynote nature for Armenian Christianity and the Armenian church, demonstrates the victorious (first stele) and savior (the steles of the virgins) symbolization of the cross, which fully corresponds to the symbolism of the cross created in the 4th century.

There are no details on the form or appearance of the cross in early Armenian written sources. Its form and general appearance and its symbolic meaning, are issues, which can be addressed by a comparative analysis of the general symbolism of the cross in the first centuries of Christianity, by a restoration of the graphics and corresponding materials. In the New Testament we see the first attempts to interpret the crucifixion as salvation and victory, which constitutes the general wisdom of Christology. But these are indefinite references, which do not rule out the clear practice of the holy cross and do not describe its outer appearance. In the antique world the death penalty through crucifixion was considered to be the most humiliating form of capital punishment. This perception of the cross as a tool for a shameful death was shared by the early Christians as well, and it took some time for this to be overcome. We should consider as accepted the opinion that until Constantine The Great the cross had been considered a tool for murder and disrespect, and was used rarely as a symbol of Christianity and as complementary for the other symbols. It is characteristic that in 4th-5th centuries, among the most important instructions by the first creators of the cross philosophy was that there was no need anymore to be ashamed of accepting and worshiping the cross. Due to wide-ranging preaching, the cross quickly was transformed into an exclusive sign of Christian identity, by which started, proceeded and finished every thought, ritual and beginning. In the popularization of cross worship and the emergence of the khachkar, an important role was also played by the particular kind of cross worshiping of the Armenian Church. Another basis for the emergence of the khachkar and for the development of popular reverence toward it was the worshiping of a free standing outdoor rock, a mountain and eventually simply a stone.

26 January 2008

Nasrani Cross

Nasrani Cross

The symbol of the Nasranis is the Syrian Cross, also called the Nasrani Menorah or St Thomas Cross or Mar Thoma sleeba in Malayalam. It is based on the Jewish menorah, the ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of a branched candle stand for seven candlesticks. (Exodus 25). In the Nasrani Menorah the six branches, (three on either side of the cross) represents God as the burning bush, while the central branch holds the cross, the dove at the tip of the cross represents the Holy Spirit. (Exodus 25:31). In Jewish tradition the central branch is the main branch, from which the other branches or other six candles are lit. Netzer is the Hebrew word for "branch" and is the root word of Nazareth and Nazarene. (Isaiah 11:1). The menorah (Hebrew: מנורה), is a seven branched candelabrum to be lit by olive oil in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Fracas over the origin of the `Marthoma Cross' or `Manichaen Cross'

Friday, April 24, 1998  ~ Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

Row over `Mar Thoma Cross' may take unholy turn

Bonnie James  
KOCHI, April 23: The fracas over the origin of the `Marthoma Cross' or `Manichaen Cross,' as it is termed by the respective factions in the Syro-Malabar Church, threatens to turn ugly. It is the decision of the Nazrani Catholica Paithruka Samrakshana Samithi to consign to flames the Manichaen symbol and the new parish council rules on May 7 that lends a strong emotional touch to the issue. The consequences of the samithi's move are unpredictable. The name `Marthoma' comes from St Thomas who propagated Christianity in India while the latter term is derived from Mani, who lived in Persia in the third century and founded the Manichaen sect, a mixture of Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Incidentally, a pastoral letter of Changanassery Archbishop Joseph Powathil, the bete noire of the samithi, with an exhaustive explanation on the need to respect the `Cross' had imparted a new twist to the dispute.

According to him, the Holy Cross was a revered object in the Church from ancient times. While refuting theallegation that the Cross opposes the Crucifix, he made clear his stand for the installation of the former in the altar instead of the latter. ``The devotion to the Crucifix was propagated here only after the 16th century by missionaries. Although it is not necessary to stop venerating the Crucifix, it is clear that it cannot express the mystery of Christ fully. The cross, the symbol of resurrection, is the apt object to be installed in the altar,'' the Archbishop who wears the same cross as his pectoral cross maintained.

In this context, it has to be recalled that move to install the disputed cross in the churches of the Archdiocese of Changanassery has been creating tension.

Terming Mani as an `absurd prophet,' Archbishop Powathil contested the view that the `Marthoma Cross' was Manichaen. After the letter, which also `warned' against `those conducting misinformation campaigns,' was read on March 29 in the churches of the Archdiocese, there was a flurry of activity in the rival camp. The All IndiaCatholic Association unit, Changanassery, challenged the Archbishop to prove that the cross in question was `brought' by St Thomas himself. ``Has this cross been approved by the Synod ?'' and ``If so, then why it is not being installed in the altar of churches in all dioceses?'' were among the other questions. In the opinion of Fr C J Varkey, director, Charismatic Retreat Centre, Kulathuvayal, the `Manichaen Cross,' is not to be exhibited at all in churches and altars. ``This was brought to Kerala by Mani himself. Abandoned during sixth century it surfaced as `Marthoma Cross.'

There is no dearth for varied arguments and counter arguments on the issue. But one thing is certain. As Thrissur Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy said before a Synodal session, it is the duty of the Synod to remove the doubts in the minds of the faithful. Till then, the situation in the Church would continue to be volatile.


25 January 2008

The Most Beautiful Cross in the World - The Lalibela Ethiopian Cross

The Most Beautiful Cross in the World - The Lalibela Ethiopian Cross

Professor Tecola W. Hagos
Washington DC
July, 2002

There is no other cross in the world that even remotely shares any design commonality with the Lalibela Ethiopian Cross. This Cross is unique in its highly sophisticated design and how ingeniously the greatest Biblical story is incorporated within its matrix. The first time I saw the Lalibela Cross was when I was a high school student some forty years ago--in another life. Since then until very recently, I thought of the Lalibela Cross as very mysterious and puzzling. Thus, over the years I tried to learn more about this great Cross. At times, I even wondered how it could even be considered a cross.

There are two basic designs of crosses: the Latin Cross and the Greek Cross. Every cross in the world is built around these two underlying designs. I checked thousands of variations, some improvised and others strictly traditional designs of crosses, in books, catalogs, and recently through the Internet. From thousands of cross designs that I checked there is not a single design that could even remotely compare with the originality and beauty of the Ethiopian Lalibela Cross. Thus, I think the Lalibela Cross is a third group that stands for its unique matrix as a third basic design next to the Latin and Greek, all on its own.

Few religious artifacts, as tangible corporeal symbols of Faith, are as venerated, adored, loved, and “worshiped” as the Cross in Ethiopia. Not only the Christian Faithful adorn themselves with a small cross about their person (usually worn on a string or chain around their necks), but also often times non-Christian females wear the Cross as part of their jewelry, at least those young girls I saw in my part of Ethiopia (Dessie, Wollo). Of course, since the cross has a very close design resemblance to the “Anuak,” the symbol of life from ancient Pharonic civilization, the attraction of the cross for Ethiopians maybe explained as a deep primordial recognition of an ancient symbol through communal subconsciousness.

In this one design the Christian dogma and history of the Church is encapsulated in an exquisitely balanced expressive design. The Cross is based on two elongated circles intertwined with each other, where one simply continues or merges into the other, symbolizing the temporal and the eternal, or Heaven and Earth, or the Spiritual and the Physical aspects of Creation. The Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is represented by the three crosses on the vertical axis. The thirteen triangles with small circles on top of each arranged around the crown of the upper oval/circle represent Christ and his Twelve Disciples. And the three pairs of wings on the opposite sides of the lower oval/circle balance the crowning upper design of the Christ with his Disciples. The effect is stunning, that of flawless beauty that transcends time and space.

The simplification of the human body into geometric design of a triangle and a circle is a perfect choice, for the artist could have chosen any number of simplifications. The choice of a triangle with a little circle on top seems to suggest a sitting figure. Thus the over all design not only fully represents the Christ and his Disciples but also suggests a particular historical time in the life of the Christian Church that of the Last Supper--the last communion of man and God.

The wings play a more abstract role suggesting spirituality as opposed to representation of a particular concept of God as the Holy Spirit. This is quite obvious in later developments where the artist seems preoccupied in purely creative search in perfecting this unique design of the Lalibela Cross more than any form of narration. For example, in both Processional and Priest Crosses we see the six side wings simply being integrated in the matrix of the Cross with decoration as a primary motif. This is a significant departure from the spiritual to the aesthetic. In fact, such distinction may even be too shallow to describe the process of metamorphosis underway in the minds of the Ethiopian artists who created such wonderful masterpieces.

The Christ is represented by a triangle that is superimposed on the first cross on top of the oval dome. And the Twelve Disciples are arranged six on each side of the Christ. The genius of the Ethiopian artist is to be seen also in the subtle suggestion one feels from the arrangement of the Christ and the Twelve Disciples, the presence of the “crown of thorns” that the Christ was forced to wear on his way to Golgotha. This Cross is truly a testament of love and faith. The overall effect is of indescribable harmony and beauty.

Within this new or original matrix of the Lalibela Cross you can see variations that are more impressionistic in execution than symbolic representational. For example, the Christ and the Disciples are transformed into a rhythmic vein. Some people might dismiss this further abstraction a result of sloppy craftsmanship, but I believe that it is an aesthetic development of much higher magnitude of abstraction of the basic representational work into an impressionistic and further on as pure design. Whether one looks at these features of the cross as purely decorative the fact remains that the creativity, originality, sense of balance and harmony of the Lalibela Cross is awe inspiring. When it comes to the adulation of the cross, the Ethiopian artist or artists who designed such masterpieces have no equals anywhere in the Christian World.

All great works of art suspend time for there is nothing outside of such works that could be added to enhance or embellish because such masterpieces are self defining and self contained, and we are totally immersed with such works. In their great beauty, they contain all of human experience of the Universe. These artifacts become the center that pulls our human experience and the mystery of existence together; in a way, through art we are forced into becoming one with the Universe.

One may generalize that the genius of the Ethiopian artists who created the Lalibela Cross is not limited to their great structural abstraction, but also extends to their absolute control of the religious symbolism integrated in the cross from overwhelming the over all design. There is absolute balance between each part of the Lalibela Cross. In fact, the Cross seems to be contained by far more profound and subtle narrative just touching the subconscious represented in the general matrix of the artifact. However, one should not forget the fact that the Lalibela Cross is an item of devotion, thus essentially utilitarian. Is that not what religion is supposed to be? A kind of guide to achieve eternal communion with the Creator of the Universe?

I searched far and wide for years going through books and catalogues checking (comparing) thousands of all kinds of Cross designs, but could not find anything that is as sophisticated and as complete, as unique and as beautiful as the Lalibela Cross. It is now clear to me why scholars wrote about the Lalibela Cross scantly and cryptically. They were all as puzzled and as stunned as I once was, that is what I would like to believe had happened.

Some Scholars were quite dismissive in their evaluation of the artistic achievement of those Ethiopian masters. Even Richard Pankhrust, one of Ethiopia’s most distinguished historian, does not seem to pay much needed attention to those great Ethiopian artists who created the Lalibela Cross. Pankhurst wrote, “the basic design of the processional cross, irrespective of the material out of which it was fashioned, was that of an often highly elaborate, and Ethiopianized, Greek or Latin cross…. Though all crosses were of course cruciform in conception, many processional crosses gave the appearance of other forms. Some were thus almost entirely round, and others diamond-shaped. Others again, particularly characteristic of the Lalibela period, were enclosed in an elongated pear-shaped frame, almost like a highly decorated leaf.” Richard Pankhurst, “Ethiopian Crosses, and Their History: Processional, Hand and Neck Crosses,” Addis Tribune, 1997. http://archives.geez.org

In my quest for connection to my nation’s awesome history, I asked few Ethiopians for their ideas of the Lalibela Cross, and their response is very interesting. Almost everyone said that the Lalibela Cross is the most beautiful cross of all of Ethiopian crosses. However, very few were able to tell me what form of symbolism or message was incorporated in the design of the Lalibela Cross. Some did not even know the designation of the cross as the “Lalibela Cross.” That fact did not bother me at all, for by not knowing such narrative, they seem to have experienced the beauty of the cross transcending history and our pedantic categorization of a great masterpiece on its own. In fact, I am more envious of such direct emotional experience of spirituality than the rigor and certainty born out of searching for an illusive truth.

Professor Tecola W. Hagos
Washington DC
July, 2002

24 January 2008

Art That Heals: The Rampart of the Cross

Art That Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia
Two images, both very rich in the Ethiopian context, come together
to define the status of the cross: first, the cross is the "seal" of Christ
(and the Trinity) and therefore has always existed and always will; second,
its wood having been sanctified by Christ's blood, it is a sacrificial being
endowed with an infinite power of sanctification. This sacrificial status
gives its eternity a triumphal quality. Medium of Christ's rebirth, it tends
to act as His worldly double, still more than any place with which he is
associated. In Ethiopia, as opposed to Western Christian churches, the cross
is far more an image of triumph than one of death. And the Church, in
signing every baptized person with the cross, makes them share in God's
victory over death and over Satan.

Each church has one or several large processional crosses, which are used
during sacramental activities, services, and processions. Westerners who
have stayed in Ethiopia know the procession of the Epiphany: moving toward
the brook where the ceremony will take place, the deacons walk first,
wearing ceremonial clothes, crowned, and holding a cross; they are followed
by priests wearing on their heads an altar tablet wrapped in cloth. No less
celebrated is the procession around the bonfire on the feast of the finding
of the True Cross. In the past, processions used to take place on Saturdays
and Sundays, according to the testimony of the chaplain Alvarez, who was
part of the first Portuguese diplomatic expedition to Ethiopia, in the early
sixteenth century.

Processional Cross

21. Processional cross. The cross is honored by its placement under atriumphal arch, following the antique fashion, and thus suggesting aprototype of great age. Cross, twelfth to thirteenth century, 34.92 x 15.87cm. Collection: The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, 54.2889

Cross with rounded extremities
22. Processional cross. The doubling of the lateral ends of this cross's arms is a development seen in a type of cross from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, characterized by rounded extremities. Cross, thirteenth to fourteenth century (?), bronze, 33 x 17 cm. Collection:
Richard J. Faletti Family, Clarendon

Four-lobed processional cross
26. Four-lobed processional cross, particularly finely executed. Serpents appear on the edges. Like all bronze crosses, this one was made by the lost-wax process. Cross, fifteenth century, bronze, 26.03 x 15.87 cm. Collection: The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, 54.2894

Interlacing processional cross
http://www.uihealthcare.com/depts/medmuseum/galleryexhibits/artthatheals/images/24interlacing.gif 27. The interlacing of this processional cross, in beaten and cut brass, reveals a Muslim influence. On the front, according to the inscriptions, "Mary" and her child between "Michael" and "Gabriel"; on the back, the "Ancient of Days" between "Peter" and "Paul." Cross, early sixteenth
century, brass, 28 x 21.5 cm. Private collection. Photo courtesy of Guy Vivien

Benediction cross
http://www.uihealthcare.com/depts/medmuseum/galleryexhibits/artthatheals/images/25benediction.gif 28. Benediction cross with engraved motifs: above, the Trinity, with, at their feet, a dignitary armed with a curved sword, and accompanied by a soldier at either side; at the right, Mary and her child; at the left, Saint George, and below, a holy hermit and a soldier. Carving wood does not demand the sophisticated technique of working in bronze, and is practiced by monks, whose talents can be inventive, if sometimes crude. Cross, seventeenth century (?), wood, 57 x 30 cm. Collection: Robert and Nancy Nooter. Photo courtesy of Jerry L. Thompson

Text courtesy of Mercier, Jacques. Art That Heals: the Image as Medicine in Ethiopia. New York: Prestel Books and The Museum For African Art, 1997.

16 January 2008

The Sacred Central Point of This World

The Cross

The world of Christian symbols is a hierarchy of signs that have their origin in divine forms of which they are images, according to St. John of Damascus [Three Apologies Against the Iconoclasts]. The sacred central point of this world is the sign of the Holy Cross, symbol of the New Testament, symbol of victory over death, and the intersection of the heavenly and the earthly. As St. John Damascene further states: As the four ends of the Cross are held together and united by its center, so are the height and the depths, the length and the breadth, that is, all creation visible and invisible, held together by the power of God. This is affirmed by St. John Chrysostom, who pointed out that the Cross is the joining of the heavenly and the earthly and the defeat of Hell. [Works, Vol. II, Bk. 1, St. Petersburg, 1905, p.953].

The whole purpose of a man's life is knowledge of the Cross, that, at the end of his road, he might say: I have been crucified with Christ:, it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me (Gal. 2:20). In order to become a temple, a repository of the Spirit of God, the soul should follow the Lord step by step along the way of the Cross until, at last, all that remains for it is to be lifted up on the Cross in spirit, after which follows spiritual resurrection in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did not the Lord Himself tell us, that he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38)?

The Holy Apostles, having heard the Savior speak of His own crucifixion and death on the Cross, and knowing the words of Old Testament Scripture that had been fulfilled, were wont to say: What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled (Acts 3:18). And the early Fathers, faithful to the Apostolic Tradition, explained that, as the forces of death had entered into man with the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, even so would eternal life enter into the world with the tree of life which, on earth, has been transformed into the Cross of Christ.

This Tree of Life, united in the Cross of Golgotha, was seen in the Old Testament as the brass serpent which Moses made on the tree in obedience to God's command, by which those who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, upon looking at this brass serpent would remain alive. This was referred to by the Lord, Who said: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Now everyone who looks to the Cross with faith receives salvation and protection; and as pointed out in the words of the Savior earlier, it is bound up with the idea of bearing a Cross (Matt. 10:38). The only way to union with Christ is union through an imitation of His death; to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ is to be baptized into His death. Thus all the preaching of the Apostles is of Christ crucified: We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24). This teaching of the Apostles led to the transformation of mankind into the Body of Christ.

The Holy Apostles created the Church, the destiny of which was to suffer crucifixion together with Christ and, like Him, to be buried and to rise again from the dead. This process, then, is the Church's meaning and justification, summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul: For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him (Rom. 6:5-8).

The earliest forms of the Cross in Christian art took the form of the depiction of the Cross as a monogram of the name of Jesus Christ. One of the earliest pictorial form of the Cross, for example, was the Greek letter X (dating from the 2nd Century), which later became known as the Cross of St. Andrew. Later this X was bisected vertically by the Greek letter I, forming, in Greek, the name Jesus Christ. By the middle of the 3rd Century, the meaning of this Cross as a monogram gave way to the idea of a six-pointed Cross symbolizing the original image of the universe, for its six points represented the six days of the creation of the world.

The actual instrument of execution used in the Roman Empire, however, normally consisted of a three-pointed cross made of two planks knocked together in the shape of the Greek letter T. According to Tertullian (2nd Century), both the Greek letter T and the Latin T were images of the Cross of Christ. According to Church Tradition, St. Anthony the Great (f 356) wore the T-Cross on his clothing and St. Zeno, Bishop of Verona, had a T-shaped Cross erected on the dome of a basilica built by him in 362 A.D. Thus, with a greater desire of Christians to imitate the actual Cross of Christ, the T-Cross became prevalent.

By the 5th Century, however, the four-pointed Cross became more popular under two forms: the so-called Greek Cross (+) and the Latin Cross (t). In the Greek the cross-piece is of equal length to the upright, in the Latin the upright is of greater length. The tradition that the Cross of Golgotha had four points was upheld by St. Irenaeus of Lyons and by St. Augustine; but the Church did admit a variety of forms of the Cross. As St. Theodore of Studium says, a cross of any shape is a true cross!

By the 6th Century, Christian art had arrived at the direct representation of the crucifixion; but even then, almost three hundred years after the Emperor Constantine had abolished execution by crucifixion, for many the direct representation of the crucified Christ remained a stumbling block. Only gradually was the symbolic representation of Christ on the Cross replaced by the depiction of the actual crucifix (i.e., the crucified Christ), which in the East, culminated in the eight-pointed Cross most common in the Russian Orthodox Church. The first written mention of the veneration of the crucifix only occurs at the end of the 7th Century.

According to St. John of Damascus: By the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ death was overcome, original sin was absolved, hell deprived of its prey, resurrection given and the strength to despise the present and even death itself, and the way was prepared to the blessedness that had been in the beginning, the gates of Paradise opened, our nature took up its seat upon the right hand of God and we became the children and heirs of God. All this was done by the Cross. The instrument of shameful execution was transformed into the gateway of Paradise and it became the sacred task of Christian art to express all of this. For this reason the use of gold and precious stones was connected with the desire to represent the Cross as the radiant beginning of a world transformed, as the tree of immortality, as the torch of the knowledge of God.

To the Inner Liturgical Tradition of the Church belongs the teaching of the liturgical use of the Cross and the significance of the Sign of the Cross. According to the Blessed Augustine: Unless the Sign of the Cross is made on the foreheads of the faithful, as on the water itself wherewith they are regenerated, or on the oil with which they are anointed with chrism, or on the sacrifice with which they are nourished, none of these things is duly performed [From A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. London, 1972, pp. 185-186]. By the Sign of the Cross the gates are opened through which the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured forth upon the faithful, transfiguring the earthly and the heavenly in their souls, laying low sin, conquering death and breaking down the barrier, invisible to the sensual eye, that separates us from the knowledge of God.

In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the Priest receives the power to celebrate the Sacraments from the moment of the laying-on of hands when the Bishop, making the Sign of the Cross over him three times, calls upon the Holy Trinity to send down the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit upon him. A newly-erected church building is transformed into a temple of the Lord only after the Altar and walls have been signed with the Cross in Holy Oil.

At the Divine Liturgy, the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with the Holy Lamb, and this is one of the most mysterious moments of the Eucharist. The first Sign of the Cross at the elevation of the whole Lamb sanctifies the air. The second Sign of the Cross, made as the four parts of the Lamb are arranged upon the paten, sanctifies the ground. The third Sign of the Cross, as the particles are placed in the chalice, sanctifies the four corners of the world. After this, the warmth (warm water) is added to the chalice, poured in the Sign of the Cross. The communicants approach the chalice with crossed arms. Thus, without the Cross, there is no sacrament, no life and no salvation. It is for this reason that we sing the triumphant hymn of the Holy Cross: Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection, we glorify!

Excerpt taken from "These Truths We Hold - The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings". Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459. http://www.stots.edu/article.php?id=52