This small cross has been made in accordance with Old Believer traditions. Due to its small size, it can be used as a baptismal cross for infants.
The framework of the cross is a simple four-point shape whose proportions are close to the Greek ones, with a slightly elongated vertical bar that ends in a fixed, rounded top hoop. It should be noted that most crosses worn by Old Believers are based on the four-pointed cross. Therefore, the reformers were unfair when they accused the Old Believers of disrespecting the four-pointed cross. Quite simply, being capable of symbolic thinking, they could distinguish between the eight-pointed cross as a specific representation of the Cross of Calvary, the Cross used to crucify Christ, which is to be worshiped, and the four-pointed cross, an ancient sacred symbol that has multiple meanings and is not always suitable for worship.
For instance, an equilateral four-pointed cross is, first and foremost, the symbol of a world that has been saved and transfigured by the Lord. In our case, it has a considerable volume, which gives the cross an additional third dimension and enhances its universal significance.
This is further reinforced by the praise to the Holy Cross inscribed on the lateral facet: крcтъ хранiтель всей вселеннэй, крcтъ красота церковнаz (“the cross is the guardian of the entire universe and the beauty of the church”). The central and main element of the frontal composition is the eight-pointed cross – an image of the Lord’s Precious and Life-Giving Cross, set on Mount Golgotha. Inside the mountain there is a skull that denotes the head of Adam, since legend claims that Adam’s remains had been buried in this exact location. In addition, a connection is made between Christ and Adam. The Fathers of the Church referred to Christ as the new Adam, Who redeemed the original sin and revealed to humankind the path to eternal life. On either side of the Calvary Cross one can see the Instruments of the Passion – the spear and the cane with a sponge at the tip. They are subject to adoration along with the Cross, and, as a consequence, the spear and the cane are invariably present on any wearable crosses used by Old Believers and form a single composition with the eight-pointed cross and Golgotha. A common opinion shared by Old Believers is that the image of the Savior cannot be portrayed on cross pendants, as the cross is meant for continuous wear and cannot be taken off under any circumstances, but some places we may visit are such that the presence of the Savior’s image there would be improper, obscene or even tantamount to sacrilege.
In the remaining free space one can see the traditional inscriptions that either have a doctrinal character or glorify the Lord. The top of the cross reads Цр7ь Сл7вы (“King of Glory”), an inscription that appeared on Byzantine crosses in the 12th century at the earliest as ΒΑΣΙΛΥΣ ΤΗΕ ΔΟΞΗΣ – an antonym to the ironic Pontius Pilate inscription that refers to the glorious Ascension of the Lord. The edges of the horizontal bar read I&С Х&С (“Jesus Christ”), which affirms that the Savior is, indeed, the Messiah, Whose coming was promised and foretold in the Old Testament. Inscribed along the horizontal bar is the word НИКА (“the victor”), a reminder of Christ’s victory over hell and death.
The inscription I&С Х&С НИКА (“Jesus Christ the victor”) first appeared on crosses that were made under the orders of Emperor Constantine immediately after Queen Helena discovered the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. At the bottom of the cross we have placed the abbreviation МЛРБ, or Место Лобно Рай Бысть (“the place of execution has become paradise”), the Russian version of the Greek inscription Т.К.П.Г. (Τόπος Κρανіου Παράδεіϭος Γέγονε), which means that the place of execution has become paradise and refers to redemption and the re-claiming of the lost paradise.
Let us focus separately on the meaning of the eight-armed cross, which generated so much controversy and debates in the Church after the reform, and which is not only a particularly revered by the Old Believers, but is, at present, a symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole.
The eight-pointed cross as the instrument of execution that was used to crucify the Savior can be found in ecclesiastical art from the 9th century onwards. By the 16th century, the image of the Calvary Cross in Russia had become predominantly eight-pointed. This graphic form, which had developed over the centuries, is the best spiritual reflection of the genuine Cross of the Lord – a symbol of the Savior’s Sacrifice and Victory. The eight-point shape, in turn, consists of three parts: the basic four-pointed cross and two additional horizontal bars at the top and bottom.
The four-pointed cross serves as a graphic duplicate for the figure of the crucified Savior, the One “Who created and maintains all things above and below, Who descended from up high and united the heavens with the earth, and then ascended from the earth into the heavens; He united all things within Himself and called upon every corner of the earth.”
The upper bar stands for the Pontius Pilates title, which is mentioned in all the four Gospels. But the actual inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”, which testifies to the Savior’s alleged guilt, was not used on crosses until the 16th century, as its false content and mocking nature were incompatible with the Adoration of the Cross. Instead, the true title, “Jesus Christ is the King of Glory” was used, or, in most cases, just an abbreviation of the Lord’s name I&С Х&С (“Jesus Christ”). After all, in the Roman tradition titles (Lat. titulus) were “plates that signified royal power and contained an image of the emperor or an inscription with his name”.
The Pontius Pilates inscription appeared on Russian crosses in the 17th century as the Slavic abbreviation I.Н.Ц.I. and is usually present only in conjunction with the figure of the crucified Christ. However, as such eight-pointed crosses without the Crucifixion do not display any inscriptions; instead, the latter are located close by.
Thus, the upper bar crowns the cross and denotes the true dignity of the Savior in keeping with the inscriptions found nearby.
The bottom bar stands for the foot of the cross. Despite the fact that the Gospel does not mention the foot and its existence has not been proven by any reliable archaeological evidence, it is mentioned by many Fathers of the Church and has been present on Russian and Byzantine crucifixes since ancient times.
Most researchers believe that the foot, according to the Byzantine ceremonial rules, denoted the greatness of the person being portrayed. Its presence converts the cross into a throne and positions Christ as a king, the King of Glory. Moreover, the Cross is perceived as an altar, for which a foot is an essential attribute. Thus, the foot of the cross shows that the crucified Christ is not merely the one being sacrificed; He is also the High Priest offering Himself as the sacrifice. These meanings of the foot are confirmed in many books of Scripture (Is. 60:13; Ps. 98:5; Ps. 131:7; Mat. 22:44; Jews 10:12-13). Given the exceptional significance of the foot, this term is frequently applied to the Cross itself, not just the lowermost part.
On ancient crosses, the foot had a three-dimensional cubic shape, was sometimes decorated with an ornament and was similar to the foot at the throne of the Almighty seen on icons. One must bear in mind that, at the time, the figure of the crucified Christ also had regal dignity. Over time, from the 9th century onwards, the three-dimensional foot in Byzantine and Russian art became a wide board. On Russian crosses made in the 16th-17th centuries this board eventually came to be depicted as slanted, with the right-hand end positioned somewhat higher than the left-hand one. The version of the foot grew to be loved by artists and became an established form in Russian icon painting, acquiring a new symbolic meaning as the “standard of righteousness”. The slanted or sloping foot reminds us of the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Christ, and represents the balance beam of the scales at the Last Judgment. One end is dragged down by the sins of the unrepentant thief, relegating him to hell, while the other is freed by the repentance of the wise thief and soars upward, lifting him up to Heaven, as promised by the Savior. Thus, this symbolically highlights the importance of repentance as the path to salvation.
Furthermore, the reminder about the crucified thieves recreates a complete picture of the Crucifixion with three crosses. This composition has an important symbolic significance, since it illustrates the regaining of the lost paradise with two trees in the middle. This is evidenced by the traditional inscription, МЛРБ, or Место Лобно Рай Бысть (“the place of execution has become paradise”). Here, the Cross of Christ is a symbol for the Tree of Life, while the crosses of the thieves represent the duality of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is possible that, in combining the symbolism of the trees in Eden, the eight-pointed cross with the oblique foot becomes the “Holy Tricomponent Tree” sung about in the canon to the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (song number 8).
The reverse side of the cross contains the prayer to the Precious and Life-Giving Cross in the pre-reform spelling: Да воскреснетъ бGъ, и6 разhдутсz врази2 є3гw2, и6 да бэжaтъ t лицA єгw2 ненави1дzщіи єгw: я4кw и6счезaетъ дhмъ, да. (“Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered; and let those who hate Him flee from His face. As smoke vanishes, let them vanish.”)
The three sides of our crosses are covered with hot enamel in different colors, which gives them a festive, joyous feel and introduces additional color symbolism.