GREEK CROSS ABBREVIATIONS

In traditional Russian and Greek Orthodox belief, the image of the cross is believed to be apotropaic.  If you have never seen that five-dollar word before, don’t worry.  You already know what it means if you have watched old vampire movies.  It means that it “turns away” and repels something — in this case, evil.  Traditionally, Greek monasteries liked to have a cross at the door to — in their belief — repel demons.

In a previous posting, I gave very detailed explanations of the usual inscriptions on Russian crosses.  Today I am going to inflict upon you explanations of  some common and less common Greek cross inscriptions and abbreviations.  These can be totally mystifying if you do not know the standard interpretations — and often equally mystifying in the differing interpretations given of the same abbreviation in various sources.  So this is your warning that this is likely to be — for most — quite a boring posting.

The most common are often found with ordinary Greek crosses and icons of the crucifixion.  The less common are usually found with such things as crosses carved in stone near old monasteries, as well as on the monastic habit called the Great Skhima.

First the common ones:

The inscription written above the head of Jesus:

ΙΝΒΙ
(Biblical form)
᾿Ιησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων.
Iesous ho Nazoraios ho Basileus ton Ioudaion
Jesus the Nazarene the King of-the Jews
(Later form)
Ιησούς Ναζωραίος Βασιλεύς [των] Ιουδαίων.
Iesous Nazoraios Basileus [ton] Ioudaion
“Jesus Nazarene King [of-the] Jews”

The next is extremely common, found on crosses and even on old Byzantine coins:

IC XC
NI KA

It abbreviates
ΙΗCΟΥS ΧΡΙCΤΟC ΝΙΚΑ (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά
Iesous Khristos Nika
“Jesus Christ Conquers.”

Often simply this form is found:
NIKA
Nika
“[He] Conquers.”

At the base of the cross:
ΤΚΠΓ
or
ΤΠ Κ ΠΓ
ΤΟΠΟΣ ΚΡΑΝΙΟΥ ΠΑΡΑΔΕΙΣΟΣ ΓΕΓΟΝΕΝ
Topos Kraniou Paradeisos Gegonen
“The Place of the Skull has become Paradise.”

ΥΘ
Υἱός Θεοῦ
Huios Theou
“Son of God”

On more elaborate versions, one may find the letters

Φ Χ Φ Π
ΦΩΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ ΦΑΙΝΕΤΑΙ ΠΑΣΙ[Ν]
Phos Khristou Phainetai Pasi[n]
or:
Φῶς Χριστοῦ φαίνει πᾶσιν
Phos Khristou phainei pasin

“The Light of Christ Shines [upon] All.”

Some give ΦΕΓΓΕΙ (phengei — also meaning “shines”)_ instead of phainetai. or phainei.

You may have seen my earlier posting on the occasional appearance of the Φ Χ Φ Π in icons of Nicholas of Myra, where the letters appear on his bishop’s stole (omophorion).

ΣΚ
ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ ΚΥΡΙΟΥ
Stauros Kyriou
“Cross of the Lord.”

Now we come to the less common abbreviations.  I should caution you that several of these have become somewhat confused in how they are understood, and the less common they are, the more the interpretations tend to vary.  Some barely make sense, which is an indication of how time has likely obscured the original meaning.

EEEE
There is variation in how this has been interpreted:

ΕΚ ΘΕΟΥ ΕΔΩΘΗ ΕΥΡΗΜΑ ΕΛΕΝΗ
Ek Theou Edothe Eurima Helene
“From God was given a Finding for Helena.”
This refers to the supposed discovery of the “True Cross” in Jerusalem by Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena.

Among other variant forms is:
Εὕρεμα ἐδώθη ἐκ Θεοῦ Ἑλένης
Eurema Edothe ek Theou Helenes
“Discovery (finding) given by God to Helena.”

And:

Ἑλένης εὕρημα Ἑβραίων ἔλεγχος
Helenes eurema Hebraion elengkos
“Helena’s discovery Hebrews reproof”
Meaning the finding of the cross was a refutation of the Jews.

It may also be found as simply
ΕΕ Ε
ΕΥΡΗΜΑ ΕΥΡΕ ΕΛΕΝΗ
Eurema Eure Helene
“A Finding (discovery) Found Helena,”
that is, “Helena made a discovery.”
or
ΕΥΡΕΘΗ ΕΥΡΗΜΑ ΕΛΕΝΗ ΕΝ ΓΟΛΓΟΘΑ,
Eurethi Eurema Helene En Golgotha
which adds the words “in Golgotha” —
“Found a Discovery Helena in Golgotha,” or in better English,”
“Helena made a discovery in Golgotha.”

Another interpretation is:
∈∈∈∈
Ελένης εύρημα εύρηκεν Εδέμ
Helenes eurema eureken Edem
“Helen’s Discovery Revealed Eden.”

And yet another:

Ἐλένη εὔρηκεν ἔρεισμα εὐσεβείας
Elene eureken ereisma eusebeisas
“Helen found the support of piety”

ΤΞΔΦΡ or ΤΤΞΔΦΡ

ΤΟΥΤΟ ΤΟ ΞΥΛΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΕΣ ΦΡΙΤΤΟΥΣΙΝ
“This Wood the Demons fear.”

ΤCΔΦ
Τύπον Σταυρού δαίμονες φρίττουσιν
“The Sign of the Cross Demons Fear”

Χ ΧΡ Χ ΧΡ

ΧΑΡΙΝ ΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΟΙΣ ΧΑΡΙΖΕΙ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ
Kharin Khristianois Kharizei Khristos
“Grace to Christians Bestows Christ.”
or
ΧΧ ΧΧ
ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΟΙΣ ΧΑΡΙΝ ΧΑΡΙΖΕΙ
Khristos Khristianois Kharin Kharizei
“Christ to Christians Grace Bestows”
or in this order:
Χριστός Χριστιανοίς Χαρίζει Χάριν
“Christ to Christians Bestows Grace”

ΘΘΘΘ
ΘΕΟΥ ΘΕΑ ΘΕIΟΝ ΘΑΥΜΑ
Theou Thea Theion Thauma
“Vision of God, Divine Wonder.”

ΡΡΔΡ
Ρητορικοτέρα ρημάτων δακρύων ροή.»)
“More eloquent than orators the flow of tears”
Also found in this order:
Ρητορικοτέρα ρητόρων δακρύων ροή

ΡΡΡΡ
ΡΥΣΤΗΣ ΡΥΣΕΙ ΡΥΣΤΟΥΣ ΡΥΕΙ
“The Deliverer Delivers Delivrance [to the] Ruined.”

Ξ CΤ
ΞΥΛΟΝ ΣΤΑΥΡΟΥ
Xylon Staurou
“Wood of the Cross.”

ξζ
Ξύλον Ζωής
Xylon Zoes
“Tree of Life.”

Cξζ∈
Σταυρού Ξύλω ζωήν εύρομεν
Staurou Xylo Zoen Euromen
Through the Cross’s Wood Life We-have-found.”
“We have found life through the wood of the cross.”

ξΓΘΗ
Ξύλου γεύσις θάνατον ηγαγεν
Xylou geusis Thanaton egagen
“The taste of the tree brought death”

ΣΟΠΤ
Σταυροῦ ὄπλον πολεμίους ταράττει
Staurou oplon polemious tarattei
“The cross repels the weapon of the adversary”.

ΣΒΤ
Σταυρὀς βασιλέων τρόπαιον
Stauros Bsileon tropaion
“The cross is the trophy of kings.”

ΣΑΗ
Σταυρὀς ἀγγέλων ἥδυσμα
Stauros angelon hedysma
“The cross is the fragrance of angels.”

Τ Τ Τ Ξ Λ Δ
Τούτο το Τίμιον Ξύλον λυτρώσεως δούλων
Touto to timion xylon lytroseos doulon
“This precious wood is the ransom of slaves.”

Χ Μ ΣΤ Τ
Χριστού Μεσσίου Μεγαλόδωρου Σταυρού Τόπος
Khristou Messiou Megalodorou Staurou Topos
“The Great Gift of Christ the Messiah — the Place of the Cross.”

Χ Τ Τ Κ
Χριστού Τάφος Τόπος Κρανίου
Khristou Taphos Topos Kraniou
“The Tomb of Christ — the Place of the Skull”

Finally, an inscription often found on modern Greek crosses is read from top to bottom as ΦωC /Phos, meaning “Light.”
And it is read from left to right as
ZωΗ / Zoe, meaning “Life.”

It is meant to signify that Jesus is both Light and Life.  A cross with this inscription is commonly called a Phos Zoe cross.