This small four-pointed cross with a movable top hoop continues the tradition of early Christian art, whose influence can be traced in the very shape of the cross, as well as in the visual details, which convey the theological ideas that were relevant for the early Church and retain their significance today.
The cross consists of two bars that widen from the center outwards, with the vertical bar being slightly longer than the horizontal one. Most of the ancient crosses made in the 6th-12th centuries had the same shape. As far as symbolism is concerned, it could be understood as the Light of Life, whose four beams emanate from the source – that is, from Christ.
The front depicts the body of the crucified Christ, which is positioned in the center. The figure of Christ is straight, with his head held high, which represents the fact of the Crucifixion without emphasizing the agony and death of the Savior on the Cross.
This is an image of the triumphant Christ, Who has won a victory against death. His arms are outstretched as if to unite all peoples, marking the words of the Gospel: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32).
At the foot of the cross of Calvary there is a chalice, which is often found on ancient crucifixes. From the chalice there grows a vine, which lines the entire perimeter of the cross along with the figure of the Savior and is continued on the mobile barrel-shaped hoop at the top.
The vine is the most common symbolic and ornamental motif in Christian art. The symbolism of the vine is based on the words of the Savior in the Gospel of John (15:1-6) where He refers to himself as the “true vine”, His Heavenly Father as the “husbandman” (vine-grower), and His disciples, who abide in Him, as the fruit-bearing branches. At the same time, Christ warned: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned”. In the Gospel the vine is used not merely as a symbol of Christ, but also as a symbol of His Church, which bears spiritual fruit. This can be seen in many early Christian artifacts, and, later on, in Byzantine art, including lamps, vessels, ornamental church plates, crosses and other items. In most cases, the significance of the Church was communicated through a symbolic link between the images and the sacrament of the Holy Communion. For instance, as with this cross, there could be a vine growing from a chalice, along with an image of the Cross. One can frequently see images of birds, which represent the human soul and are depicted as perched on the vine and pecking at the grapes. This symbolism is confirmed, among other things, by the famous words uttered by Clement of Alexandria (II-III c. A.D.): “For the vine produces wine, as the Word produces blood”. It is this idea of our Savior’s liturgical sacrifice that we have tried to express on the front of the cross.
The back of the cross continues the same theme. In the center, in a similar framing of vines, we see the famous Byzantine image of the Theotokos Kiriotrissa – Nikopoia (the Victorious Mother of God). Such images were common on Byzantine cross pendants and were meant to signal the Incarnation and to present a symbolic image of the Church while serving as a guarantee of protection and victory for those who wore them. When the figure of the Blessed Virgin is surrounded by vines, the symbolism of the Church becomes particularly apparent. It is further emphasized by details such as the number of grapes (twelve), which stands for the twelve Apostles. The same numerical symbols are present on the front of the cross pendant.
For a better understanding of the image of the Theotokos Nikopoia, one could quote the scholar N. P. Kondakov: “… the image of the Mother of God, who appears to be offering Her Eternal Infant to the world, which is moving forward to greet Him, represents to the Christian soul the ultimate purpose of our Lord and Savior, Who is coming to the aid of each person and of the whole world”.
Since an icon of the Virgin may serve as an image of the Church, with our cross these words take on a liturgical sense and serve as a symbolic reference to the sacrament of the Holy Communion.
Thus, the main theological idea expressed in our work was to show the crucifixion of Christ as a lithurgical sacrifice and to underline the importance of this Sacrament, which is offered to us by the Orthodox Church.