This Old Believers cross pendant recreates a model that originated in Russia in the 17th century and is widely popular among Old Believers.
It is characterized by a simple four-pointed shape and straight bars, with the vertical bar being somewhat longer than the horizontal one. The fixed rounded top of the cross includes an element shaped like a two-level pyramid. Its basis is a four-pointed cross with rectangular bars, where the vertical bar is longer than the horizontal. The cross is framed along the entire perimeter in a rich baroque ornament that gives the bars the semblance of leaves. This enables one to convey the symbolism of the Cross as the Tree of Life. It is this floral ornamentation that caused the Old Believers to identify it as feminine, based on the words of the Psalmist: “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house” (Ps. 127:3).
The central and main element of the frontal composition is the eight-pointed cross set on Mount Golgotha, a replica of the Lord’s Precious and Life-Giving Cross. Inside the mountain there is a skull that stands for the head of Adam, since, according to legend, Adam’s remains had been buried in this exact location. In addition, a connection is made between Adam and Christ. The Fathers of the Church referred to Christ as the new Adam, Who redeemed the original sin and revealed to humankind the path to eternal life. On either side of the Calvary Cross one can see the Instruments of the Passion – the spear and the cane with a sponge at the tip. They are subject to adoration along with the Cross, and, as a result, are invariably present on any wearable crosses used by Old Believers and form a single composition with the eight-pointed cross and Mount Golgotha.
As for the actual figure of the Savior, a common opinion shared by Old Believers is that it cannot be portrayed on cross pendants, as the cross is meant for continuous wear and cannot be taken off under any circumstances, but some places we may visit are such that the presence of the Savior’s image there would be improper, obscene or even tantamount to sacrilege. In the remaining free space one can see the traditional inscriptions that either have a doctrinal character or glorify the Lord. The top of the cross reads Цр7ь Сл7вы (“King of Glory”), an inscription that appeared on Byzantine crosses in the 12th century at the earliest as ΒΑΣΙΛΥΣ ΤΗΕ ΔΟΞΗΣ, an antonym to the ironic Pontius Pilate inscription that refers to the glorious Ascension of the Lord. The edges of the horizontal bar read I&С Х&С (“Jesus Christ”), which affirms that the Savior is, indeed, the Messiah, Whose coming was promised and foretold in the Old Testament. Inscribed along the horizontal bar is the word НИКА (“the victor”), a reminder of Christ’s victory over hell and death. The inscription I&С Х&С НИКА (“Jesus Christ the victor”) first appeared on crosses that were made under the orders of Emperor Constantine immediately after Empress Helena discovered the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.
Let us focus separately on the meaning of the eight-pointed cross, which generated so much controversy and debates in the Church after the reform, and which is not only a particularly revered by the Old Believers, but is, at present, a symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole. The eight-pointed cross as the instrument of execution that was used to crucify the Savior can be found in ecclesiastical art from the 9th century onwards. By the 16th century, the image of the Calvary Cross in Russia had become predominantly eight-pointed. This graphic form, which had developed over the centuries, is the best spiritual reflection of the genuine Cross of the Lord, the symbol of the Savior’s Sacrifice and Victory. The eight-point shape, in turn, consists of three parts: the basic four-pointed cross and two additional horizontal bars at the top and bottom. The four-pointed cross serves as a graphic duplicate for the figure of the crucified Savior, the One “Who has created and maintains all things ahove and below, Who descended from up high and united the heavens with the earth, and then ascended from the earth into the heavens; He united all things within Himself and called upon every corner of the earth.” The upper bar stands for the title of Pontius Pilates, which is mentioned in each of the four Gospels. But the actual inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, which testifies to the Savior’s alleged guilt, was not used on crosses until the 16th century, as its false content and mocking nature were incompatible with the Adoration of the Cross. Instead, the true title “Jesus Christ is the King of Glory” was used, or, in most cases, a plain abbreviation of the Lord’s name I&С Х&С (“Jesus Christ”). After all, in the Roman tradition titles (from the Latin word “titulus”) were “plates that signified royal power and contained an image of the emperor or an inscription with his name”.
The Pontius Pilates insciption appeared on Russian crosses in the 17th century as the Slavic abbreviation I.Н.Ц.I. and is usually present only in conjunction with the figure of the crucified Christ. However, eight-pointed crosses as such, without a Crucifix, do not contain any inscriptions; instead, these are located close by. Thus, the upper bar crowns the cross and denotes the true dignity of the Savior in keeping with the inscriptions found nearby. The bottom bar stands for the foot of the cross. Despite the fact that the Gospel does not mention the foot and its existence has not been proven by any reliable archaeological evidence, it is mentioned by many Fathers of the Church and has been present on Russian and Byzantine crucifixes since ancient times. Most researchers believe that, according to the Byzantine ceremonial regulations, the foot denoted the greatness of the person being portrayed. Its presence converts the cross into a throne and positions Christ as a king, the King of Glory. Moreover, the Cross is perceived as an altar, for which a foot is an essential attribute. Thus, the foot of the cross shows that the crucified Christ is not merely the one being sacrificed; He is also the High Priest offering Himself as the sacrifice.
These meanings of the foot are confirmed in many books of Scripture (Is. 60:13; Ps. 98:5; Ps. 131:7; Mat. 22:44; Jews 10:12-13). Given the exceptional significance of the foot, this term is frequently applied to the Cross as a whole rather than just the lowermost part. On ancient crosses, the foot had a three-dimensional cubic shape, was sometimes decorated with an ornament and was similar to the foot at the throne of the Almighty seen on icons. One must bear in mind that, at the time, the figure of the crucified Christ also had regal dignity. Over time, from the 9th century onwards, the three-dimensional foot in Byzantine and Russian art became a wide board. On Russian crosses made in the 16th-17th centuries this board eventually came to be depicted as slanted, with the right-hand end positioned somewhat higher than the left-hand one. The version of the foot came to be loved by artists and became canonical in Russian icon painting, acquiring a new symbolic meaning as the “standard of righteousness”. The slanted or sloping foot reminds us of the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Christ, and represents the balance beam of the scales at the Last Judgment. One end is dragged down by the sins of the unrepentant thief, relegating him to hell, whilst the other is freed by the repentance of the wise thief and soars upward, lifting him up to Heaven, as promised by the Savior. In a figurative way, this highlights the importance of repentance as the path to salvation. Furthermore, the reminder about the crucified thieves recreates a complete picture of the Crucifixion with three crosses.
This composition has an important symbolic significance, since it illustrates the regaining of the lost paradise with two trees in the middle, as evidenced by the traditional inscription, МЛРБ, or Место Лобно Рай Бысть (“the place of execution has become paradise”). Here, the Cross of Christ is a symbol for the Tree of Life, while the crosses of the thieves represent the duality of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is possible that, in combining the symbolism of the trees in Eden, the eight-pointed cross with the oblique foot becomes the “Holy Tricomponent Tree” sung about in the Canon to the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Song number 8).
The reverse side of the cross contains the prayer to the Precious and Life-Giving Cross in the pre-reform spelling: Да воскреснетъ бGъ, и6 разhдутсz врази2 є3гw2, и6 да бэжaтъ t лицA єгw2 ненави1дzщіи єгw: я4кw и6счезaетъ дhмъ, да. (“Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered; and let those who hate Him flee from His face. As smoke vanishes, let them vanish.”) * This spelling of Christ’s name was used before the church reform of 1651-1685 and remains common practice among the Old Believers to this day. Our cross can be executed in silver with blackening and fragments of gilding (Item number KS109) or decorated with hot enamel in different colors (item number КS109-1).