Today we will look at another cross, but not the usual kind. We can tell that right away by the presence of the winged angel on it. But why is the angel there, and who is he?
Metal icons often show wear from long use, and the fact that the owners liked to polish them with chalk did not help to preserve surface detail. That is why we often find fine details on metal icons worn smooth.
The kind of cross shown here had a string or cord through the upper part. So it is a breast or pectoral cross.
The image at the top is the “Not Made by Hands” type, depicting the face of Jesus on the cloth. But again, who is the angel?
In spite of wear, one can tell that he carries a long rod (мери́ло — merilo) in one hand, and a mirror (зерцало — zertsalo) in the other. One might, therefore, expect him to be an Archangel. But traditionally, this type of cast metal cross of an angel with the crossbar at his head is identified as the Ангел Великого Совета — Angel Velikogo Soveta — the “Angel of Great Counsel.”
We have already seen another “Angel of Great Counsel” type in icons of Jesus as the Blagoe Molchanie — the “Blessed Silence.” And this metal cross is another form of Jesus as the “Angel of Great Counsel.” Pectoral crosses of this type are often from the 18th century, though one may find them a little earlier and later as well.
First, this is a “Priestless” (Bezpopovtsy) Old Believer cross of the type called an “altar cross” (напрестольный крест — naprestol’nuiy krest). One can tell it is a “Priestless” cross by looking at the image at the very top. It is the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus on the cloth, the so-called “Abgar” image that resulted from the old story that Jesus once pressed a cloth to his face, which became miraculously imprinted on the cloth, and was thus the first Christian icon. If this had been a “Priested” (Popovtsy) Old Believer casting, it would instead have a top image of Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit as a dove; and it would also have the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).
Let’s take a closer look at the top of the cross:
We see the “Not Made by Hands” image, with the halo of Jesus having the HO ON inscription, meaning “He Who Is.” Just below it is a Church Slavic inscription identifying the image:
If we join the two lines as they should be, they read: Obraz Nerukotvorrenuiy, menaing “[the] IMAGE NOT-HAND-MADE,” or in more normal English, “The Image Not Made by Hands.”
Below that are two flying angels, bowing toward the crucified Jesus, their hands covered with cloths to show reverence. Their abbreviated inscription reads:
АГГЛИ Г[ОСПО]ДНИ ANGLI GOSPODNI (remember that a doubled Г Г is pronounced like English “ng”)
“Angels of the Lord”
And just below the two angels is the abbreviated inscription:
Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”
1 Corinthians 2:8 reads:
“Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.“
Now let’s look at the middle portion. At the top, we see the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,” Remember that while the Old Believers use the , Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]. and “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.
Below the IC XC are these words:
СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”
At left we see the sun, and beneath it is its name:
At right is the moon, with its name:
Below is a long inscription that runs all the way along the main crossbar. We will begin with the left side:
КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛАНАЕМСЯ ВЛАДИКО KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLANAEMSYA VLADIKO
Cross Of-You We-Bow-Before Master, or in better English,
“We bow before your cross, Master…” (Vladiko means “Ruler,” “Master.”)
It is often translated simply, “We honor/venerate your cross, Lord…”
And it finishes on the right side:
И СВЯАТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМЪ I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM”
…And your holy resurrection we-praise
“…And praise your holy resurrection.”
So all together, the inscription reads:
“We bow before your cross, Master, and Praise your holy resurrection.”
It is a common text, found in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom as well as in that of Basil, and repeated in the liturgy of the Third Week in Lent, etc.
In the lower portion of the upright beam, we see at left a spear, and at right a sponge on a reed. By the spear is the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.” And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod, with the sponge at its top.
In and near the lower crossbar, we see the walls and roofs of Jerusalem, and the letters НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”
At the base of the upright we see these letters:
МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ MESTO LOBNOE
РАЙ БЫСТЬ RAI BUIST’
[The] Place [of the] Skull Paradise Became
In normal English, “The Place of the Skull became Paradise.” “Lobnoe” is often more loosely translated as “Execution” or Judgment,” but Mesto Lobnoe refers to the place commonly called Calvary in English, from the Latin Calvariæ Locus, “Skull Place.”
That leads us to the final two inscriptions.
At the sides of the base of the cross are the letters
ГОРА ГОЛГОФА GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”
“Golgotha” ultimately derived from the Aramaic Gagultâ, meaning “skull.”
Remember that Church Slavic (like Russian) has no “th” sound, so it is replaced with the “f” sound.
Just below the base of the cross is an opening in which lies a skull. This follows the tradition that the Crucifixion happened at the center of the earth, and that was supposedly where the biblical first man, Adam, was buried. So the skull is that of Adam. And at the sides of the skull are the letters
abbreviating ГОЛОВА АДАМА GOLOVA ADAMA
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM
Some crosses (like this one) have a little plant at the base, a sprout of new life.
Now let’s look at the reverse inscription, which is the one most commonly found on these Old Believer brass crosses:
Though it has some variations in spelling (these are common), it is the standard text of the Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins, found also in the Prayer of the Praise of the Cross (Похвала кресту — Pokhvala krestu) — which is:
Крест хранитель всей вселенной; Krest khranitel’ vsey vselennoy
“The Cross is the protector of the whole universe,
the Cross is the beauty of the Church,
the Cross is the might of kings,
the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful,
the Cross is the glory of angels and scourge of demons” (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins — Festal Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
At the base of the inscription we see another eight-pointed cross (the Old Believers would not accept the Latin cross). Though again the spelling is off, it has the usual abbreviations:
Ц[А]РЬ СЛ[А]ВЫ TSAR SLAVUI
“KING OF GLORY.”
СЫНЪ БОЖIЙ SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”
IСУСЪ ХРИСТОС ISUS” KHRISTOS
We see the letters K and T for Kopie and Trost‘ (spear and reed/rod).
Note that they have reversed the positions of the letters in the М Л / Р Б abbreviation for Mesto Lobnoe Ray Buist, but the meaning is the same — “The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”
Finally there are the letters Г Г for Gora Golgofa, “Hill of Golgotha.”
I mentioned earlier that the example discussed in this posting is an “altar cross.” It is useful to know that cast metal Russian crosses are generally classified as follows:
1. The altar cross (Напрестольный Крест — Naprestol’nuiy Krest): it is placed on the altar beside the Gospel book. These are the large crosses one often sees.
2. The pectoral cross (Нагрудный Крест — Nagrudnuiy Krest, or Наперсный Крест, Napersnuiy Krest). These are the small to medium-sized crosses with a loop or hole at the top, so they may be worn on a cord or chain about the neck. They are worn both by the clergy (priests, monks) and by certain pious people.
3. The kiot or “ark” cross ( Киотный Крест — Kiotnuiy Krest): These are the crosses placed on the shelf in the “beautiful corner” of a room, along with the family icons. They are of medium size, and have no hole or loop at the top. They may also be taken on trips as a kind of temporary prayer focus. They include those crosses one sees with side panels showing Martha and Mary (“Mother of God”) on the left of the Crucifixion and the Apostle John and Centurion Longinos (Login) at the right. Kiot crosses are sometimes commonly known as “house crosses.”
4. The body cross (Тельный крест — Telnuiy Krest): These are the usually quite small crosses with a hole or loop at the top, worn around the neck on a cord or chain, and given to each person at baptism. So any Russian Orthodox person wore a body cross.
There is a standard iconography in Russian Crucifixion icons, and it is important for the student to understand it, because the Crucifixion is one of the most common types one will encounter.
The Crucifixion is often found both in painted icons on wooden panels and in brass castings such as the one depicted here — a “blessing” cross.
We will examine it from top to bottom:
At the very top is the image of Gospod’ Savaof — Lord Sabaoth — which is God the Father depicted as an old man with a white beard. Here he is shown raising his right hand in blessing. Immediately below Lord Sabaoth is the Dukh Svyatuiy — the Holy Spirit shown in the form of a dove. On the crosses of one sect of “priestless” Old Believers, the image of Lord Sabaoth is replaced by the Image “Not Made by Hands” — the Obraz Nerukotvornnuiy — the Image of Christ on a cloth, with the inscription Svyatuiy Ubrus‘ — “The Holy Cloth.”
On both sides of the Holy Spirit, but slightly lower, is an angel. They bear the inscription Angeli Gospodi — Angels of the Lord. Each has his hands covered with a cloth, a practice that shows reverence.
Then one often finds the inscription Tsar Slavui — “King of Glory” — referring to Christ.
On a sign at the center of the crossbeam just above Christ’s head, we see the superscription borrowed from the biblical account: I N TS I — which abbreviates the Church Slavic words for “Jesus (I) of Nazareth (N), King (TS) of the Jews (I) — Isus Nazoryanin’ Tsar Iudeiskiy.
Just below that, the halo of Christ has the standard three bars of the cross visible in it, with the inscription HO ON — “The One Who Is” — the equivalent of the King James Old Testament title of God, “I Am That I Am.”
Just above the crossbeam of the cross we usually see the stretched-out inscription IC SN’ B ZH I XC. The IC and XC are read first, followed by the rest. All together it reads Isous Khristos Suin Bozhiy — “Jesus Christ [the] Son of God.”
At the left end of the crossbeam is a round circle with a human face. This is the Sun (Solntse). It is commonly depicted as dark in color on painted icons. On the opposite end of the crossbeam is another circle with a face, colored red in painted icons. This is the Moon (Luna). On painted icons, one often finds the explanatory description of these two: “The Sun darkens, the Moon Becomes as Blood.” That is an apocalyptic image from the Bible, taken from Acts 2:20: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come” (King James version). The same image is found in the Apocalypse of John (Revelation 6:12): “And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” Both excerpts are inspired by the words of the Book of Joel in the Old Testament (Joel 2:31): “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”
Below the outstretched arms of Christ is another long inscription, taken from the Russian Orthodox liturgy: “We Honor Your Cross, Lord, and Praise Your Holy Resurrection (Krestou Tvoemu Poklonyaemsya Vladuiko i Svyatoe Voskresenie Tvoe Slavim). I have loosely translated ПОКЛОНЯЕМСЯ — “poklonyaemsya” here as “honor,” but it literally means “bow before.” In modern Cyrillic letters the inscription looks like this:
КРЕСТУ ТВОЕМУ ПОКЛОНЯЕМСЯ ВЛАДЫКО И СВЯТОЕ ВОСКРЕСЕНИЕ ТВОЕ СЛАВИМ
Next, we must notice that there are two long lines ascending, one on each side of the lower body of Christ. The one on the left has a point at its top. It is the spear with which the body of Christ was pierced. It is identified by the single letter K, for Kopie — “spear.” The other is a long reed bearing a sponge at its top. This is the sponge with which Christ was given vinegar to drink. It is identified by the single letter T for Trost’— “reed.”
Just above the slanted short beam to which Christ’s feet are nailed is the inscription NI KA. This forms the Greek word NIKA, meaning “He [Christ] Conquers.” Some Old Believers have their own interpretation, making the inscription Slavic rather than Greek: N I K A – Nas Iskupi Kroviu Adamova — “Save Us with the Blood of Adam.”
The slanted footbeam itself is notable because of the traditional folk interpretation that it slants up toward Christ’s right hand, indicating the ascent of believers to heaven, and it slants down from his left hand, indicating the descent of non-believers to Hell.
Just beyond both sides of the footbeam we usually see towers and other buildings, representing the walled city of Jerusalem. Sometimes, in place of or in addition to these, we see representations of Mary, mother of Jesus at the left, with her standard title MP ΘΥ (Meter Theou — “Mother of God” — a Greek title — and on the right Svyatuiy Apostol Ioann — “The Holy Apostle John.” In painted icons these two are generally shown full-figure, along with other saints such as Longinus (Svyatuiy Login) the Centurion, whose name comes from apocryphal works such as the Gospel of Nicodemus rather than from the Bible.
At the very base of the central crossbeam we find these letters:
They abbreviate the words Mesto Lobnoe Rai Buist, meaning “The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.” Some Old Believers give the letters R B a different interpretation: Rab Bozhiy — “Servant of God.”
Just under the base of the cross is a little opening in the ground containing a skull and bones (often a skull with two bones that form a sideways X). This skull is identified by the letters G A as Golova Adama — “The skull of Adam.” In icon tradition, Adam — the first-created man — was buried precisely on the site where the Crucifixion later took place. And when Christ was crucified there was an earthquake, and the ground opened just below the cross, revealing Adam’s skull.
The very last thing one needs to know about the standard inscriptions is that usually at the bottom of the cross one will also find the letters G G for Gora Golgofui — “The Hill of Golgotha” — identifying the place where Christ was crucified.
However, brass crosses such as the one in the photo often have an inscription on the reverse side, though some have only ornamentation. The most common inscription is part or all of the Exapostilarion of the Elevation of the Cross:
Krest’ Khranitel’ Vsei Vselennei — [The] Cross [is] Protector of All the World Krest’ Krasota Tserkovnaya — [The] Cross [is the] Beauty of the Church Krest’ Tsarem’ Derzhava — [The] Cross [is the] Might of Kings Krest’ Vyernuim’ Utyverzhdenie [The] Cross [is the] Comfort of the Believers
This has variations, one of which changes the last two lines to:
Some examples merely add those last to lines to what came before, like this (in Cyrillic letters):
КРЕСТЪ ХРАНИТЕЛЬ ВСЕЙ ВСЕЛЕННЕЙ
КРЕСТЪ КРАСОТА ЦЕРКОВНАЯ
КРЕСТЪ ЦАРЕМЪ ДЕРЖАВА
КРЕСТЪ ВЕРНЫМЪ УТВЕРЖДЕНIЕ
КРЕСТЪ АНГЕЛОМЪ СЛАВА
КРЕСТЪ БЕСОМЪ ЯЗВА
On the reverse of some crosses, there is sometimes a long additional inscription either following the Krest’ Khranitel’ Vsei Vselennei text, or else found on its own. It is an apocryphal speech of Jesus, in which he says essentially, “For your sake I suffered…” and goes on to detail how “for your sake” he did this and that to show the way to salvation, took on flesh, labored, was cursed and spat upon, crucified, placed in the tomb, descended to Hades, rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and finishes up with a caution about the place “prepared for the Devil and his angels.” This brief summary of the longer text, along with the text itself in Church Slavic, should enable you to recognize it. Look for the words Рече Господь — Reche Gospod’ — “The Lord said…” at the beginning, and for the repetition throughout it of the phrase Вас ради — Vas radi — “For your sake…” Here is the Slavic text:
Рече Господь Аз же терпя, ожидах покаяния вашего и обращения ко мне от зол ваших, зане прежде моего суда страшного многи показах вам пути ко спасению, и образ дах вам собою, милуя вас добре. Вас ради в плоть облекохся, и вас ради труждахся, вас ради алчен бых, желая вашего спасения, вас ради связан от беззаконных, бых, вас ради поруган бых, вас ради заплеван бых, вас ради заланиту ударен бых, вас ради на крест вознесен бых, вас ради гвоздия приях в руку и в ногу мою, вас ради тростию биен бых, вас ради оцта и желчи вкусих, и вас ради копием прободен бых вребра моя, вас ради смерть приях, вас ради во гроб положен бых, вас ради в ад снидох и изведох вы оттуду от тьмы на свет и паки воскресох, показуя вам воскресение от мертвых, и на небеса вознесохся, и вас ради послах Дух Святый в мир на апостолы моя, и послах я проповедати царствие мое, и дах Дух Святый в сердца ваша и поставих вам учители великие, и премудрые книжники, и нарекох вас сынове моя и братию, вы же не тако послушаете Мене, но сотвористе волю диаволю и ангел его, и ныне от идите от Мене, злии делатели неправды, в место, уготованное диаволу и ангелом его, не хощу же вас видети николиже.
While I am at it, I might as well throw in a couple of alternate inscriptions common on the backs of some large or small cast metal crosses:
Da Voskresenet’ Bog’ i Razuidyutsya Vrazi Ego, I da Byezhat’ Ot’ Litsa Ego Vsi Nenavidashchey ego…
ДА ВОСКРЕСЕНЕТЪ БОГЪ И РАЗЫДУТСЯ ВРАЗИ ЕГО И ДА БЕЖАТЪ ОТЪ ЛИЦА ЕГО ВСИ НЕНАВИДЯЩЕЙ ЕГО…
“Let God Arise, and Let his enemies be scattered. Let them also that hate him, flee before him.” On some crosses it continues: “As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The whole inscription comes from Psalm 67:1-2 in the Old Testament (68:1-2 in the King James Version). The beginning portion — with additions — is commonly referred to in Russian Orthodoxy as the Молитва Честному Кресту — Molitva Chestnomy Kresty — “The Prayer of the Honorable Cross.”
Such inscriptions added to the believer’s sense that the cross was a powerful “supernatural” talisman that could drive away evil — the same sense that we find in Western horror stories in which the cross wards off vampires.
An inscription sometimes found on small crosses is Спаси и сохрани — Spasi i Sokhrani – “Save and Protect.”
And finally — I promise this is the last inscription for this article — one often finds on the reverse of silver crosses worn by priests (in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century) these words from I Timothy 4:12: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (Obraz budi vyernuim’ slovom’, zhitiem’, liuboviu, vyeroiu, chistotoiu“). This was good advice, because at that time there was considerable controversy over misbehavior by Russian Orthodox priests, a good number of whom were given to extorting money from the poor for religious services and/or given to drunkenness. On such crosses, one also finds this abbreviation on the back:
That stands for Nikolai II — Tsar Nicholas II. With that is “Year 1896” (in Cyrillic letter-numbers), and “May, 14[th] day.” That is the date on which Tsar Nicholas II decreed that such a silver pectoral cross was to be given to all priests.
I suppose I should not finish without telling you that some cast brass crosses intended to be displayed in the homes of believers (also sometimes in churches) — and again particularly popular among the Old Believers — had additional scenes added to them. The number of such added scenes varies, and commonly those added are representations of major church festivals, etc. In the example shown below, these added scenes are, from top left:
1. The Entry into Jerusalem; 2. The Resurrection of Christ; 3. The Ascension of Christ; 4. The Presentation [of Christ] in the Temple; 5. The Old Testament Trinity. This example also shows, as the figures standing by the cross, not only Mary, Mother of Jesus and the Apostle John, but also Mary Magdalene (Svyataya Maria Magdalini) and the Centurion Longinus. (Svyatuiy Login). Some brass examples add several rods atop the image, with images of seraphim at the upper ends.
You will note that this particular example of a brass house cross has colored enamel added to the surface. This was a common practice, and having a bit of enamel fired onto the brass during its making added just a bit to the price, both for the original buyer and often for the purchaser (the collector) of such old items today. Brass crosses and other brass icons were commonly cast in sand molds.
Well, now you know far more about crucifixion icons than practically anyone would ever want to know. You are a sudden expert in the matter, knowing what millions do not know. But it probably won’t make you a dime. It is just knowledge for the sake of knowledge, something with which the more curious among us (such as myself, and you, reader, if you have managed to get this far) are afflicted.