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What does the Orthodox cross mean?

The Orthodox cross is a very particular version of the Cross, rich in symbolic elements that make it simply one of a kind. Each line acquires a vital meaning, considered one of the most profound representations of Jesus on the Cross.

In this article, we want to take you to the discovery of the Orthodox Cross by exploring its lines little by little to understand its meaning. Are you curious to know more? Keep reading!

The history of the Orthodox Cross

The Orthodox cross is characterized by cross bars conveying a deep meaning to the faithful. The vertical line is crossed by three transversal bars, and each one allows the crucifixion of Jesus to be represented in a stylized way. The Orthodox Cross has a plaque in the top bar where we find the inscription “Jesus Christ King of the Jews” (INRI in Latin or INBI in Greek). Pilate requested this writing and ordered its posting to mock the Savior. The low bar in the Russian iconography is diagonal, while in the Greek one, it has the function of a footrest.

The slant of the lower bar has a symbolic meaning, as it represents Christ’s ascent into heaven and the concept that “The Cross is the Balance of Justice.” The reality is that the Orthodox Cross hides infinite symbols and signs in its particular form and the decorations with which it is embellished.

The first representations of the Orthodox Cross with the characteristic low diagonal bar were found in Jerusalem, Constantinople, and the Balkan region. But with the bar tilted in the other direction. This also allows us to understand a different meaning of the bar. Inclined upwards as if to represent the ascent through the Passion instead of the message of condemnation. In the first representations of the high bar, it is tough to find the inscription INRI, present instead in the crosses of Eastern Europe of the last centuries, instead replaced by the writing “The King of Glory.”

Representation of the Orthodox Cross

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Source: icon reader

The image of the crucified Lord

As in the Catholic cross, the image of Christ on the Cross reminds us reminds he died for us. And that he rose from the dead. In this representation, Jesus does not wear the crown of thorns, and his feet are nailed with two nails. Furthermore, behind the body of Christ is a spear to indicate the one that pierced his side and a sponge on a pole made of reed to remember the one that was soaked in vinegar. And gall and was offered to Christ to drink.

On the side of Jesus, the blood and water that come out of his side are depicted. Under his feet are four letters belonging to the Slavonic alphabet: “The place of the skull has become heaven.” We find the “skull of Adam” hidden in an underground cave. This symbol serves as a reminder that Adam, our forefather, could not enter heaven because of the tree from which he unjustly ate. Christ is the new Adam; he brings us salvation and paradise through the tree of the Cross. In the background is the city of Jerusalem, as he was crucified outside the city walls.

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The upper bar of the Orthodox Cross

Indeed, as anticipated, the upper bar is the point where the inscription that Pilate ordered to hang in mockery above the head of Christ on the Cross appears. Therefore, on this plaque was written: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Sometimes, this writing is replaced by a Christian inscription: “So, the King of Glory.” In the traditional image of the Orthodox Cross, this wording is placed under the knees of the angels.

Meaning of the central bar of the Cross

The central bar is the one in which Jesus’ hands were nailed. On the upper corners, we find depictions of the sun on the left and the moon on the right. It reminds us of the words of the prophet Joel: “The sun will turn into darkness, and the moon in blood.” (Gl 2:31)

The inscription: “The Son of God” is placed on either side of Christ’s head. Under his arms, on the other hand, we can read: “We prostrate ourselves before your Cross, O Sovereign, and we glorify your holy Resurrection.”

On the halo of Jesus, we find the Greek letters which mean “The Existent” or “He who is.” This serves as a reminder that Christ is the same God who identified with these exact words to Moses in the ancient law.

The lower diagonal bar

Continuing, we find the diagonal bar, the suppedaneum, a pedestal that gives support to the feet of Jesus. There are some conflicting views on this, and some believe that in the Cross, there was no support. Still, the Orthodox Cross represents a necessary element worthy of reverence. And is also lied to a prophetic allusion “We worship his footstool” (Psalm 98: 5).

The prayers of the Ninth Hour

In the prayers of the Ninth Hour, the church compares the Cross to a scale of justice. Above all, because of the diagonal bar: “Between the two thieves, your Cross was the scales of righteousness, for the one who was driven to hell by the weight of his blasphemy. But also by the other, who was relieved of the faults for his knowledge of theology. Christ God, glory to you. “

The Fathers of the Church tried to make tangible the idea of the unfaithful one. In this case, the unfaithful thief will have no place in heaven but will be destined for eternal life because of his blasphemy. And through the just judgment . of God, represented by the lower tip of the bar. On the other hand, the excellent thief will find a place in heaven. Because of his repentance and praise to God, they were symbolically represented by the upper tip).

As you will have understood, it is not only the structure of the Orthodox Cross. That has a profound meaning, and this symbolism is reinforced. Through the decorations, we can observe the different sections of the Cross.

Difference between the Catholic Cross and the Orthodox Cross

The differences that allow us to distinguish the two crosses concern, in particular, the decorations and the Crosses. Therefore, it is straightforward to find symbolic decorations that bring to mind specific passages that have characterized the history of the Christian religion. Indeed, the Catholic cross is characterized by the presence of Christ and a plaque with the inscription “INCI.”

Therefore, the structure is almost similar, except for the lower oblique bar. In the Orthodox, one holds an essential meaning, while in the Catholic one, it is not.

orthodox cross


The Orthodox cross is a symbol of the Christian religion that cannot be missing in the home of a faithful. You can find it in different materials, sizes, and types on Amazon. Visit Amazon dedicated to the Holy Cross page and choose the right one for you!