Stylistically, this small cross pendant is similar to the ancient Russian miniature encolpia made in the 12th century. The cross is four-pointed, with a vertical bar that has rounded ends and a horizontal bar whose ends are slightly sharpened. Each of the ends has two extensions that convert them into ternary lily flowers (“krinos” in Greek). This blossoming of the cross marks it as the Tree of Life. The immovable top part is circular in shape.
The iconographic themes are also characteristic for the encolpia mentioned above. The front of the cross contains a relief image of the Crucifixion against a recessed background. The figure of Christ is straight and His head is somewhat bowed to the right. Above the Savior’s outstreatched hands one can see the title І&С Х&С НИКА (“Jesus Christ the victor”). This iconographic image of the crucified Savior, which is characteristic for most ancient crosses, is often referred to as the Triumphant Christ. In it, the Savior’s death on the Cross does not obscure the Triumph of the Lord over the conquered hell and death. Perhaps for the same reason, many ancient cross pendants did not portray the actual wood of the cross, except for the lowermost part – the foot, which, according to the Byzantine ceremonial regulations, denotes the greatness of the person depicted, and thus indicates that the Savior is the King of Glory. “Lift up the Lord our God, fall to His feet and worship the foot of His cross, for it is sacred”, sings the Psalmist (Ps. 98:5). For us, it is important to note that the same verse from the same psalm was selected for the prokeimenon read durig the liturgy on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and is associated with the worship of the Cross. In this item we have followed the same ancient iconographic tradition.
Moreover, our item has one more important detail, which is characteristic for the ancient encolpia – namely, the image of the cross over the Saviour’s head. On some ancient encolpia, its role is performed by the protruding upper part of the cross, which carries the so-called “board of Pontius Pilate” and is depicted as a Greek cross of regular roportions. However, there is a whole range of encolpia where the cross over the head of the crucified Christ is a separate and complete image in its own right; in some cases, this cross even has elements of blossoming. On this particular item, it represents the Holy Cross and forms a symbolic composition along with the Crucifixion, which, in the context of the Orthodox liturgy and iconography, establishes a connection with the rite of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, well-known to us from church services and the numerous icons dedicated to the feast of the Exaltation. The Savior Himself performs the rite. He appears to be erecting His Own Cross for us to adore. In addition, the Cross of the Lord reveals the connection between Christ and Adam. Everyone is familiar with the traditional image of Adam’s head underneath the Cross of Calvary, which stands for the redemption of the original sin. This image appeared in the 9th century and later became almost an obligatory attribute of the Calvary Cross. In this case, when the cross is positioned over the Savior’s head and the head of Adam is absent, Christ also represents Adam. According to the patristic teaching, the Savior became the New Adam, who redeemed the original sin and revealed to mankind the path to eternal life. The connection between the Holy Cross and Adam is mentioned repeatedly during the church service held on the feast of the Exaltation. During the actual rite the priest stands the Cross on his head, not only to repeat the actions performed by Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem, but to indicate that his head stands for Adam’s head. Thus an extremely laconic composition of the Crucifixion, through immersion in church ceremony, allows one to fully convey both the kenosis (self-renunciation) and the greatness of the Savior, as well as the triumph of His victorious weapon – the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.
On the back of the cross, in a small niche, one can see the relief image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Her palms open and positioned at Her chest. Inscribed at Her sides are the letters М&Р F&V (“Mother of God”). As this iconographic type is often encountered on the icons of the Ascension and serves as a double for the Theotokos Oranta, it is referred to as the Theotokos Assunta (“The Ascended”), after the definition provided by scholar N.P. Kondakov. The image appeared in the 8th – 9th centuries and became particularly common in the 11th – 12th centuries. The main symbolic meaning of the gesture made by the Blessed Virgin is prayerful vigil, which makes it similar to the posture of the Theotokos Oranta. But in contrast to the Theotokos Oranta, the Theotokos Assunta is less solemn and majestic, and shows us a Blessed Virgin Mary who is humbly and tenderly confessing Her faith in the Lord and is open to accepting His will. In the 11th-12th centuries this iconography of the Mother of God began to acquire an independent quality and turned into something akin to an “emblematic formula of prayer”. These days it is widely used on the reverse of cross pendants.
At the ends, the three bars are decorated with images of liles (called “krinos” in Greek). The lily motif is widespread in Byzantine and ancient Russian ornaments. It is an ancient symbol of life and the renewal of nature, and, as such, serves as a symbol of the Annunciation, the spiritual renewal of the world and the coming of the Savior. Also, considering its ternary shape, the lily is used as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. Since the lily is a symbol of innocence and purity, it is used to denote the Virgin Mary. This, the threefold image of the lily on the reverse side of the cross is a symbolic complement to the image of the Blessed Virgin standing in prayer before the Lord, and enhances the idea of the Cross in Bloom inherent in the lily-like shape of the ends – the Cross understood as the Tree of Life.