This small cross comes in a simple four-point shape with rectangular beams, with proportions close to the Greek ones. Such crosses were widespread in Russia in the 14th – 16th centuries, especially in the land of Tver. The theme of St. Nicetas, where the saint is depicted as he strikes down the demon that had come to tempt him in prison with his fetters, is also typical for Tver during that period. Interestingly, this theme has always occupied a principal location on the cross: at the bottom, under the Crucifix, in the center on the reverse, or, sometimes, even on the front between the figures of the saints standing in prayer, as a replacement for the Crucifixion.
The explanation for this special localization of the Great Martyr Nicetas on the cross lies in the saint’s name (Nicetas or Nikita means “the victor”) and the nature of his feat, which was equated to the victory of Christianity over the power of the devil. Furthermore, the Great Martyr St. Nicetas is commemorated on 15 (28) September, while the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross falls on 14 (27) September, so that the two celebrations practically coincide. Due to the inscription І&С Х&С НИКА, translated as “Jesus Christ, may you overcome” or “Jesus Christ, may the victory be Yours”, the Lord’s Cross itself was once referred to by Emperor Heraclius as the “Anikit”, which means “invincible”, “one over which no victory can be gained”, and is mentioned under this name in church services. This establishes a connection between the Cross of our Lord and the saint’s name, Nicetas or Nikita. In addition, the image of the Holy Martyr striking down the demon is a vivid and easily understandable allegory of Christ’s victory over hell and Satan. It is no coincidence that on icons St. Nikita is given a superficial resemblance to Christ. The description of the martyr’s physical appearance on the original icon says: “A beard and hair like unto the Savior”. That is why we decided to combine the theme of St. Nicetas overcoming the demon on the back with the icon of the Resurrection on the front of our cross.
The iconography of the front basically repeats the icons of the Descent into Hell that were painted in Pskov. The dynamic figure of Christ, Who is standing over the crushed gates of hell, serves as the center of the composition. It is surrounded by a halo of glory in the form of an almond-shaped mandorla. The Savior’s sudden, impetuous movement hints at the opening doors of Heaven, in accordance with the phrase from the Gospel: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). In church this symbolic role is played by the Royal Doors, which are opened during the Easter liturgy and remain open throughout the entire week that follows. On either side of the Savior one can see the kneeling figures of Adam and Eve. Christ is holding them by the hands, leading them out of their former captivity in hell. There are halos above the heads of our ancestors, which is rather rare on icons of the Resurrection, but is typical for icons from Pskov. As a sign of holiness, the halos indicate that the original sin has been redeemed and recall the icons of the Last Judgment, where Adam and Eve are traditionally depicted as kneeling before the Throne with halos around their heads. In the background, against the icon of the Resurrection, we have placed the cross of victory – the Calvary Cross with the inscription І&С Х&С НИКА (“Jesus Christ the victor”). Having sacrificed Himself on the cross, the Lord seems to come down from the cross, completing the salvation that had been promised to humankind. The lower part of the Lord’s Cross penetrates into the depths of hell and strikes down Satan, who is shown at the bottom of the composition as a bound bearded man. The triumphant cross is characteristic for Russian icons of the Resurrection, while the scene of Christ’s Cross treading down upon hell and Satan can be found in the ancient Byzantine icons of the Crucifixion. This illustrates the continuity and inextricable connection between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, as well as their timeless character.
The fixed round top of the cross contains the inscription mentioned above – аникитъ (“invincible”, “one over which no victory can be gained”), which describes the cross as an invincible weapon against the devil.
We have deliberately employed the iconography of the “Resurrection” with the image of the fallen Satan to show the general idea that is also present in the scene where St. Nicetas strikes down the demon. If the Descent into Hell illustrates the salvation of all mankind from the power of hell and Satan accomplished by our Lord, the feat accomplished by the Great Holy Martyr Nicetas is an example of an individual Christian’s victory over the devil. This personal victory would have been impossible without the victory of Christ. Satan has no real power over a Christian, so he tries to tempt us through wile and cunning, in our time as much as seventeen centuries ago, when St. Nicetas was undergoing his ordeal. The devil appeared to the martyr in prison in the guise of an angel, praised him and offered him to make a sacrifice to the idols, then to continue praying to his own God. Today, such a proposal appears quite decent and reflects our commonplace pluralistic views. As for the saint’s response – that is depicted on the icon at the back of our cross. Above, over the icon, one can see the name of the saint: о агi Никита (“Saint Nikita”). Inscribed along the edges of the horizontal bar is the cryptogram ББББ, deciphered as бич Божий биет бесов (“the scourge of God beats at the demons”), which is often found on crosses next to the image of St. Nicetas. At the bottom of the cross there is the verse to the Cross: “крcту твоему покланzемсz влdко..,” another traditional element in the scene where the saint smites down the demon. These texts serve to emphasize, yet another time, the value of the Cross in fighting demons. A for the image of the Holy Martyr St. Nicetas, that serves as a symbol for spiritual warfare, as described by the Apostle: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).