The bars of this four-pointed cross widen toward the ends, which are shaped like the blades of an axe; their edges are connected at the edges with four arcs, which, taken together, form a circle. This shape is characteristic for ancient crosses from Novgorod, such as the Alekseyevski triumphal cross from the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod, which was made in the 14th century, or the stationary prayer cross from Borovichi, which dates back to the 13th-14th century and echoes the plain cross pendants from the 12th century, where the cross was enclosed in a circle.
The combination of the two most essential symbols – the circle and the cross – has a profound meaning and may be understood in several different ways. The fact that the circle often serves as a solar symbol allows one to perceive it as a symbol of Christ, the Sun of Truth and the source of Divine Light. But perhaps even more prominent here is the meaning of the cross as a symbol for that which is has no boundaries, no beginning and no end, denoting both the Creator of the world and the sphere-shaped universe consecrated by the cross – the symbol of the Savior’s redemptive sacrifice.“Behold the extraordinary miracle! The latitude and longitude of the cross are equal to the heavens, for it blesses everything with divine grace” (the Praise Verses, Tone 8).
The front of the cross depicts a composition known as Deisis or Deesis, which is Greek for “prayer”. Standing in prayer before the central figure of Christ the Almighty (known as Pantocrator in Greek) there are the Mother of God (to the right), St. John the Baptist (to the left) and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel (at the top and bottom). All the figures are shown down to the chest. This iconographic theme is often found on 12th-14th century encolpia and can be seen on the stationary prayer cross from Borovichi. The Byzantine tripartite icon of the Deisis was the nucleus that gave rise to the entire iconostasis found in Russian churches today. Interestingly, in Russia the Greek word “deisis” or “deesis” acquired a new folk etymology, as it was taken to be a compound created from two Russian words – “Deyaniya Iisusa”, that is, the Works of Jesus. As a result, in Russian the name of the icon is usually written with a “u”, as “Deisus”, rather than “Deisis” or “Deesis”. Thus the icon acquired a liturgical significance. On the cross, which is seen as a Work of God in its own right, this meaning becomes particularly prominent.
The back of the cross fulfills a protective and defensive function and depicts the guardians of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox people. The central place is occupied by a full-length image of the Holy Guardian Angel with a cross and a sword in his hands. From the 16th century onwards, such images, similar to the image of the Archangel Michael, were often found on the reverse of Russian cross pendants. To the left of the Guardian Angel one can see St. Nicholas, and to the right, St. Sergius of Radonezh. The composition is completed by the Image of the Savior not made by human hands, which is understood as Christ the Priest and Head of the Church. Thus, taken as a whole, the composition reveals the unity in Christ of the saints who are depicted on the back of the cross and embody Christ’s Church. In addition, the Holy Face of the Savior is also believed to have a protective significance. This is connected with the history of this particular icon, known as the Mandylion or, more commonly, as the Image of Edessa. It was given by the Lord to Abgar, King of Edessa, to alleviate his suffering, after which it was placed over the gates of the fortress and protected the city from enemy attacks.
The arcs that connect the ends of the cross carry the beginning of the troparion to the Holy Cross: Сп7си2, ГDи, лю1ди тво‰, и3 бл7гослови2 достоsніе ТвоE (“Lord, save your people and bless Your patrimony”).