This four-pointed Russian Orthodox cross pendant appears to be eight-pointed due to the protrusions on the vertical beam. The bottom end finishes in a keel-like shape. This type of cross was popular in Russia in the 15th-16th centuries.
The front side of the cross depicts a detailed scene of the Crucifixion. The center is occupied by the figure of the Savior on an eight-pointed cross against the background of the Jerusalem wall, with the grieving Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene and the centurion Longinus standing before Him in prayer. Over the cross one can see the sun and the moon, while Adam’s skull is resting at the base. The small bar at the top contains the inscription Цр7ь Сл7вы (“King of Glory”), whereas the horizontal bar carries two inscriptions that run, respectively, along the upper and lower sections: І&С Х&С (“Jesus Christ”) and НИКА (“Victorious”).
In Orthodox iconography, the scene of the Crucifixion has never been a mere illustration of Christ’s execution. With the help of various inscriptions, symbolic elements and artistic techniques, artists have always sought to stress that the Crucifixion was the moment when Christ the Priest offered His redemptive sacrifice, and a sacrament of the Celestial and Terrestrial Church, as well as the victory of Christ and the redemption of mankind. In order to reinforce this idea, the scene of the Crucifixion was often supplemented with small sculptural detail that could depict themes or characters with no direct connection to this event of the Gospel.
For example, on this particular cross above the Crucifix there is a separate stigma containing the image of the Old Testament Trinity, the source of the world’s existence and destiny. The Russian language refers to this image using a term that could be be translated as “the Council of the Holy Trinity” and can mean both the eternal plan and fate that God has in store for His Creation, and God Himself, conceived as the single Entity in three Distinct Persons. Above, one can see is an inscription that reads Ст7аz Трbца (“the Old Holy Trinity”). The image stands for the unified Celestial Church, which is making an everlasting Eucharistic sacrifice at any given moment in time.
The Church on Earth is represented in the lower part of the cross by the images of the first Russian holy princes and martyrs: the Holy Righteous Princes and Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb and the Holy Grand Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles, with their respective names (Борисъ, Владимiръ, Глэбъ) inscribed above. Boris and Gleb represent the new Russian people, “the people of the New Covenant”, who ushered in the sacred history of the Russian land ?(or, as it was sometimes called by the Russians themselves, the Holy Rus) and became the foundation for the Russian Orthodox Church. Their images correspond to the image of the first martyr Abel, whose death in the Old Testament began the story of the Holy Land and the Jewish people, as well as the Christian martyrs of the first centuries, who formed the cornerstone of Christ’s Church. Inextricably linked with Boris and Gleb is image of their father, St. Vladimir, who is revered as a defender and protector of the Russian Land and Church. He is addressed in prayers as “the father of the Russian people” or “the father of all Russia”.
The images of the holy creators of the Lithurgy, St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom, venerated throughout the entire Christian Church, offer an additional focus for understanding the story of the Crucifixion as an ecclesiastical sacrament. Their waist-length figures can be found at the ends of the horizontal bar, standing in a prayerful posture. As with the other saints depicted on the cross, the names оаg Василiй В. (“St. Basil the Great”) and оаg Iw7а Злт7аустъ (“St. John Chrysostom“) are inscribed above them.
The top part of the cross depicts the Gates of Heaven and their guardian Cherub – the Gates that were opened through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
The reverse is entirely dedicated to the theme of redemption and restoration of the lost paradise.
The thief who was crucified alongside Christ and repented was the first person to find himself in Heaven since the Fall, apart from the prophets Elijah and Enoch, who had been taken to Heaven alive. The cross given to him by the Savior was a sign for the Gates of Heaven to open. As we sing in one of the hymns in church, “Thou hast destroyed death by Thy Cross, Thou hast opened Paradise to the thief”. This establishes a parallel between the two events: the Savior uses the Cross to crush the gates of hell, while the Good Thief uses the Cross to open the Gates of Heaven.
The scene of the Good Thief as he enters Heaven occupies the central position on the reverse of the cross. The Thief’s figure is full-length, clothed in a mere loin-cloth; he is holding a cross in his hands and has bowed his head in humility. The inscription over his head reads бл7г разбойник, which is Church Slavonic for “The Good Thief” or “The Wise Thief”). On either side of the figure one can see the half-figures of Elijah and Enoch, who are coming to greet him (the respective inscriptions above them read пр. Енохъ, “the prophet Enoch”, and пр. Илiz,“the prophet Elijah”).
The Good Thief symbolizes the wholehearted repentance of a human soul burdened with the gravest of sins, and serves as an example of firm, unshakable faith in the Lord in the face of the ultimate humiliation. His image strengthens our faith in the boundless love of Christ, reminds us that He can make any person worthy of Heaven, even if they used to be a robber in the past, and brings us the hope of salvation. This is why, in one of the prayers read before Communion, we call out to the Lord: ћкw разб0йникъ, и3сповёдаю тz: помzни1 мz, гDи во царствіи твоeмъ (“But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom”).
These words, which were uttered by the thief on the cross, are found at the base of the composition.
The lower part of the cross depicts the patriarch Abraham with the souls of the righteous in the so-called Bosom of Abraham, with an inscription above that reads “Лоно Авраамле” (Church Slavonic for “The Bosom of Abraham”). This is the place where souls of the righteous are believed to repose. Christ used it in the parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 22-23.). In Russian iconography, the Bosom of Abraham has come to be synonymous with Paradise and is found on icons of the Resurrection and the Last Judgment, as well as in the decorations painted on the Royal Doors, in combination with the image of the Good Thief.
On the opposite ends of the horizontal bar one can see the heavenly forces with their names in Church Slavonic: a Cherub (inscription: Херувiмъ) and a Seraph (inscription: Серафiмъ).
The composition on the reverse is completed by the Image of the Savior not made by human hands, also accompanied by its name in Church Slavonic, “Wбраз Нерукотворенный” and situated in the upper part of the cross. It portrays Christ as the High Priest, the Head of the Celestial Church and our Lord, the One by Whose will and grace we are saved.