This may seem a bit trite to some viewers, but I’ve often wondered about the symbolism of the cross as displayed on Orthodox Churches. I could understand the double cross at the top, with the main cross arm on which Christ was crucified, and the smaller cross as the sign “King of the Jews”.
But I could never quite figure out the smaller piece at an angle further down, particularly the angle, and the way it was offset to the other cross pieces.
Well, yesterday during my lunch break, I was wandering through a large hardware store at Rocklea, within visible distance of a relatively rare Russian Orthodox Church, when who should I see but an Orthodox priest in the store, complete with flowing beard, black dress, and small icon of Christ on a chain around his neck. They’re a rare bird around here, believe me.
So I thought I’d ask him. To my surprise he wasn’t based at the church I could see from the front entrance, but in another suburb called Woolloongabba (home of the famous Gabba, for those very few of you who might be cricket fans).
Anyway he told me there was a dual symbolism. Firstly it represented the foot rest that was part of the cross when Christ was crucified. But as Christ died, tradition has it that one leg sagged further than the other, hence the slant.
The other symbol related to the two thieves who were crucified either side of Christ. One repented, crying out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”, and he went upwards to heaven. The other taunted Christ, saying “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”, and he went down to hell.
We’re all in the position of the two thieves. We’ll either be remembered by Christ in His Kingdom, or we’ll be lost. So the slope of the foot piece is a reminder to us that the cross stands at the verge of heaven and hell, up or down.
The readers may well have known what the symbolism meant, but I didn’t. Yesterday I just happened to cross paths with an Orthodox priest within cooee of a Russian Orthodox Church at lunch time, and so I found out.