Skip to content

Meaning of the Orthodox Cross

The Orthodox Cross (also known as the Eastern, Greek or Russian Orthodox Cross) has been a variant of the Christian cross since the 16th century. However, it bears some resemblance to a cross with a bottom crossbeam slanted the other way (upwards) in the Byzantine Empire since the 6th century. Three horizontal crossbeams make up the Orthodox cross, the lowest of which is slanted downwards. It is now a symbol of the Eastern, Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and a prominent feature of Russia’s cultural landscape.

The cross is the Christian religion’s primary symbol of atonement, recalling Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the symbol of his Passion, death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). As a result, the cross serves as a symbol of Christ and the Christian faith.

In the Orthodox tradition, the slanted line is reminiscent of the two thieves who stand on opposite sides of the cross. The one to Christ’s right ascended to Heaven, while the other descended to Hell. As a result, the slanted bottom cross beam spiritually and symbolically functions as the scales of justice, with its points indicating the path upwards to Heaven or downwards to Hell. This feature of the Orthodox cross is unique among crosses.

What Does the Orthodox Cross Symbolize?

The Orthodox cross is a unique version of the cross with some symbolic elements that distinguish it from others. It is divided into three diagonal bars by a vertical line. These bars represent the crucifixion of Jesus in a stylized way: the highest plate has the inscription ‘Jesus Christ, King of the Jews’ (INBI in Greek or INRI in Latin), which Pilate ordered to be put up to mock the Savior; the lowest plate is the footstool, which is diagonal in Russian iconography and straight in Greek iconography. The bottom bar’s slope has symbolic meaning, as it represents Christ’s ascension and the concept that “the Cross is the Scales of Justice.” The truth is that the Orthodox cross conceals a plethora of hidden symbols and signs, not only in its unique form but also in the decorations that sometimes adorn it.

For example, in an orthodox crucifix, the figure of Jesus is not depicted randomly: he does not wear a crown of thorns and is nailed to the cross with four nails rather than three. His brows are slanted to the right. The spear with which Longinus pierced his side, and the towel with which he was quenched with vinegar, were behind him to resume the lines of his body.

Difference between Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox

The Eastern Orthodox Church, also known as the Orthodox Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 220 million baptized members. Russian Orthodox can be defined as one of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the world’s largest autocephalous or ecclesiastically independent, with more than 90 million people.

The difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics is that the Pope is considered infallible and has complete authority over the churches of Roman Catholics. In contrast, the Pope is not infallible in Greek Orthodox churches.

Orthodox Crosses have become quite popular over the years, because of its unique stylized design and symbolic relevance to the Gospels and the Christian faith.