The Cross Explained

Could you please explain why your Cross has three bars?

Often people coming to our church ask this question. What amazes me is that most of our parishioners cannot give an answer!

Look at the cross and pray before it. Read the Scriptures about Jesus' crucifixion. Look at the Icon of His Crucifixion and you will see all the events mentioned in the Gospels are present. But you must look, pray and read scripture! The meaning just doesn't come out without your faith, prayer and offering yourself to Christ.

The Cross is always placed before us as Christians as a sign of our faith and hope and trust in Jesus Christ who died for our sins. His precious blood cleanses us.

Why three bars?

The top bar is the title-board, which Pontius Pilate ordered to be hung in mockery over Christ's head on the Cross. On this board was inscribed: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (abbreviated in Greek as INBI or in Latin as INRI).

The middle bar is that on which the Lord's hands were nailed. With outstretched hands the Lord opens His arms to us: "Come to me all who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Matthew 11:28-29). Jesus willingly takes upon Himself our sins and offers Himself for us.

The bottom bar is the footrest. (In America we use a slanted bar. In Europe, Greek Catholics use a straight bar in order to distinguish a Greek Catholic cross from an Orthodox one.) The footrest is often likened to a balance of righteousness: "Between two thieves Your Cross did prove to be a balance of righteousness: wherefore one of them was dragged down to Hades by the weight of his blasphemy, whereas the other was lightened of his transgressions "This day you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Details in the Icon of the Crucifixion

(NOTE: Depending on the Icon of the Crucifixion you are looking at not all of these items may be present.)

Above Jesus' Cross is the Image of Christ on the towel (Veronica's Veil). This image is called "not made by hands."

Two flying angels worship the crucified Lord.

The inscription "King of Glory" is placed above the Cross. Jesus is the King who reveals God's glory by His love for us.

The Greek abbreviation IC XC signifies "Jesus Christ" and identifies the figure of Jesus. This abbreviation appears on all Icons of Jesus.

The Greek word NIKA which means "conquers". Part of our Resurrection Hymn runs "by death He conquered death" - Jesus is the victor over death and sin. Only in Him do we find eternal life.

The halo of Jesus is marked with a cross and within the cross are the Greek letters O W V which mean "He who is" - the divine name revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus is identified as the Son of God who offers Himself for us.

The sun is depicted on the left side of the Icon and the moon on the right, for "The sun hid its light, and the moon turned to blood" (Joel 2:31).

Behind the body of Jesus is depicted the lance and the sponge. The lance pierced His side and the sponge was soaked with gall (sour wine) and offered to Jesus to drink on a pole made of reed or cane.

Hidden in a cave under the earth is the skull of Adam. The abbreviation SA is placed on the icon to identify the Skull of Adam. The blood of Jesus reaches down to Adam and thus washes clean the entire human race. Jesus is the new Adam, who brings us Salvation and leads us to Paradise through the tree of the Cross.

The city of Jerusalem is depicted in the background, for He was crucified outside the city walls.

MG is the abbreviation for the Mountain of Golgotha.

The tropar "We bow before your Cross and glorify Your Holy Resurrection" is written around the Cross. We cannot come before the Holy Cross - except in faith, worship and prayer.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and St. John the Apostle may also be depicted on the Icon because at the Cross stood His Mother with the disciple whom He loved. Jesus gives His Mother to the care of John, and gives John to His Mother. Other figures may include the holy women and the centurion (John 19:2-27). The centurion testifies and declares: "Clearly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39).

The purpose of the Icon is for us to stand in the presence of this mystery of our Salvation, of God's great love for all of us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life. God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17).

Our Millenium Cross

To mark the jubilee year of 2000 our parish has placed a Cross at the parking lot entrance to the Parish Center.

The Cross is the sign that marks us as Christians.

May we honor the Cross by our lives of faith and love. Whenever you come to Church remember that we are here in the Name of Jesus and when we leave remember that we are to live our lives in His Name.


last updated 27 March 2000

Copyright © 1999-2001, St. Thomas the Apostle Church

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