On the Question of the Origin of the Slanted Crosswise Bar in Russian Crosses
First, clergy, whatever their
affiliations, should be addressed properly. They are not "guys." Nor
should religious or theological issues come under the category of
"scoops." The first term is best confined to Broadway plays and the
second to ice cream. We do not mean to deride you, but the trend towards
informality in this country, both in dress (many believers attend to their daily
chores in better clothing than they wear to Church) and manners, is appalling.
It is also a trend which is contrary to the "higher" life of sobriety
and dignity to which the Christian is called.
Second, your question is a very common
one, and misinformation about the origins of the three-barred Orthodox Cross
abounds even in scholarly studies. This Cross is not Russian in origin,
but comes from the Early Church. In its traditional form, it is a standard Cross
with a bar on top, representing the mocking title given to Christ at the
Crucifixion (which, in proper iconographic tradition, is replaced with the
words: "The King of Glory"), and a bottom bar, on which Christs
feet were affixed (twisted, according to oneand only onetradition, by
Christs suffering on the Cross, one side pointing up to Heaven and
representing the Good Thief on Christs right, the other pointing down to
Hades, representing the unrepentant thief at Christs left).
To dispel the notion that the
three-barred Cross in question was unknown in the Early Church, we picture,
above, the Cross of St. Constantine, a treasure of the Monastery of Vatopedi on
Mt. Athos, where it is found on the Holy Table of the monastery Katholikon.
According to tradition, Vatopedi was originally built by St. Constantine the
Great (334-337) and rebuilt by the Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395),
following its destruction by Julian the Apostate (361-363). This precious Cross,
said by many to be that of the monasterys original founder, is also at the
center of one of the better known miracles in the history of the community.
Wishing to save both the Cross of St. Constantine and a famous Icon of the
Mother of God (The Theotokos Vimatarissa or Ktitorissa) from Arab
invaders, during an attack on the monastery in the tenth century, a certain
Hierodeacon Sabbas, the Brotherhoods sacristan (Vimataris; hence, one
of the names given to the Icon in question), hid them in a well and placed a
lighted candle in front of them. Father Sabbas, however, was subsequently
captured and taken as a prisoner to Crete. Seventy years later, when he won his
freedom and returned to the monastery, the old monk informed the younger monks
of his actions and instructed them to open the well where he had hidden the Icon
and Cross. When they did this, they found standing upright, the candle which
Father Sabbas had placed before them still burning.
From Orthodox Tradition,
Vol. XIV, No. 4, pp. 25-26.