14 December 2010

pectoral cross

Eastern Orthodox practice
Russian Orthodox Archimandrite Palladius, wearing gold pectoral cross with jewells (1888).
Russian Orthodox Palladius, wearing gold pectoral cross with jewels (1888).

In Eastern Orthodox practice, the pectoral cross is worn by all bishops but not necessarily by all priests. In the Greek tradition, the pectoral cross is only given to specific priests for faithful service; in the Russian tradition, the silver cross is worn by all priests. Whenever the cross is put on, the wearer first uses it to made the Sign of the Cross on himself and then kisses it and puts it on.

The priest's cross depicts the crucified Christ, whether in painted form as an icon, or in relief. However, the Orthodox crucifix differs from the Western type by the fact that the soma (body of Christ) is not in full three-dimensional form, but in no more than three-quarter relief. It also bears the inscription INBI (the titulus that Pontius Pilate placed above the head of Jesus at the crucifixion) and the letters IC XC NIKA around the four arms of the cross. Orthodox pectoral crosses are almost always on chains of either silver or gold, sometimes with intricately worked links. Priest's crosses will often have an icon of Christ "Made Without Has" at the top. This is the icon before which Orthodox Christians usually confess their sins. In Russian practice, the back of a priest's cross is usually inscribed with St. Paul's words to St. Timothy: "Be an example to the believers in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12).

Orthodox pectoral crosses are awarded in several degrees (particularly in the Russian tradition):

  • The Silver Cross is awarded to all priests by their bishop on the day of their ordination. This tradition began with the last Tsar, Nicholas II, who awarded a silver cross to every priest in the Russian Empire. Even after the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, the practice of awarding the Silver Cross to Russian priests at their ordination has continued to this day. This practice helps to distinguish priests from deacons or monks, all of whom wear the same type of riassa(cassock), and are otherwise indistinguishable when not vested. The Silver Cross is not enameled or decorated in any manner except for engraving or relief. Russian Orthodox priests do not wear the cross by right of their priesthood, but only by permission of their bishop. One way a bishop may punish one of his priests is to forbid him to wear the priest's cross.
  • The next-ranking award is the Gold Cross. This is a simple gold cross, similar to the Silver Cross, and similarly without enameling or other decoration. The Gold Cross is worn by archpriests, abbots and abbesses as a mark of their office, and may be awarded by the bishop to other priests, both married and monastic, for distinguished service to the church.
  • The highest pectoral cross, is With Decorations?that is, jeweled, and sometimes enameled?and normally has a depiction of an Eastern-style miter at the top. This type of pectoral is also referred to as a "Jeweled Cross". This type of cross is worn by bishops, archimandrites and protopresbyters as a sign of their office, and may be awarded to other priests as well. All bishops are entitled to wear the pectoral cross with decorations, although most simply wear a Panama when not vested for services.

When vesting before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the pectoral cross is presented to the bishop who will bless the pectoral, cross himself with it, kiss the cross and put it on. Meanwhile the Protodeacon, swinging the censer says the following prayer:

He who would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24, etc.); always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

A priest may be granted the right to wear a second pectoral cross.

A priest who has been given the pectoral cross will typically wear it at all times, whether vested or not.

In Russian practice, a nun who is not an abbess may also be granted the privilege of wearing a pectoral cross, as an honorary award (however, this award is not granted to monks who are not priests).

04 December 2010

St. Gregory of Nareg's Vision of the Cross

Only in Armenian: Roberta Ervine on Gregory of Nareg

By David Luhrssen

(Milwaukee, Wis.) The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity, but as Roberta Ervine pointed out in her talk at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church of Milwaukee, the word has a particular richness in Armenian. In her March 14, 2010, presentation, “Only in Armenian: St. Gregory of Nareg’s Vision of the Cross,” the Armenian studies professor at St. Nersess Seminary began by contrasting the often negative associations of the English word cross with the richer meanings of the Armenian khach and its synonyms. In English, cross is a torture device, a cross to bear, especially if one is at cross-purposes. In Armenian, the word takes on associations with living and positive things such as Khachen Genarar (Life giving Cross) Pergoutyan Khach (Saving Cross), with trees and with staffs to support our burden.

Ervine focused on the 11th century mystic whose prayers and poems offer a vivid spiritual vision. St. Gregory of Nareg was in ill health and had reason to be resentful over the poor treatment of his father, a bishop driven into exile. And yet, as Ervine stressed, Gregory was able to love a church that was sometimes led by hateful men.

In St. Gregory’s writings, the cross took on many positive connotations. He visualized it as a knife’s edge freeing us from the bonds of oppression. He noticed that the unique configuration of the Armenian cross radiated like the rays of the sun to light our consciousness. The cross represented sacrifice in the form taken by altars in Armenian churches, where a horizontal plane meets a vertical support. For St. Gregory the cross was also like a wine press, transmuting grapes under steady pressure into wine. The wild horses that roamed near his monastery on the shore of Lake Van reminded him that their wildness could be tamed by a bridal, much as the cross can train human nature if Christ holds the reins to guide us. The cross symbolizes the key to our inner nature and the kingdom of heaven.

Illustrating her talk with visuals of Armenian religious art, Ervine summarized St. Gregory of Nareg’s views by saying that the cross for him was not an instrument of death, holding the dead body of the Son of God, but the Tree of Life, and is often represented in Armenian iconography as a living thing bearing branches and grape vines. The writings of St. Gregory, she concluded, are an invitation to see the deeper meaning of the cross in our world.