Russian Orthodox cross

Cross of the Russian Orthodox Church 01.svg

Russian Orthodox cross
Russian cross.png

Greek cross.svg

Serbian cross.jpg

Russian Orthodox cross or Orthodox cross is a variation of the Christian cross since the 6th century in the Byzantine Empire. The cross has three horizontal crossbeams, with the lowest one slanted. Nowadays it is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church[1][2][3] and a distinctive feature of the cultural landscape of Russia.[4] Other names for the symbol include the Byzantine cross, Russian cross, and Slavonic or Suppedaneum cross.

It was introduced in the 6th century before the break between Catholic and Orthodox churches, and was used in Byzantine frescoes, arts and crafts. In 1551 during the canonical isolation of the Russian Orthodox Church, Ivan the Terrible, Grand Prince of Moscow, first used this cross on the domes of churches.[5] From this time, it started to be depicted on the Russian state coat of arms and military banners. In the second half of 19th century, this cross was promoted by the Russian Empire in the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a symbol of its Russification policy.[6]

A variant known as the Russian cross has only two horizontal crossbeams with the lower one slanted.[7] Some Russian sources distinguish the Russian Orthodox cross from the Orthodox cross.[8] In Unicode the symbol (☦) is denoted as Orthodox cross.[9] The same USVA headstone emblem is called Russian Orthodox cross.[10]


USVA Headstone Emblem 5 "Russian Orthodox cross"

According to many sources[1][11][12] the name of the three beam slanted cross is Russian (Orthodox) cross (Russian: русский православный крест[2]

Sometimes it is also called Byzantine cross, as it was the most common cruciform in the Byzantine Empire.[13] Alternatively, "Byzantine cross" is also the name for a Latin cross with outwardly spreading ends. Other crosses (patriarchal cross, Russian Orthodox cross, etc.) are sometimes misnamed as Byzantine crosses, as they also were used in Byzantine culture.

Sometimes it is also called just Orthodox cross.[14] At the same time the various Orthodox churches use different crosses, and any of them may be called an "Orthodox cross".[8] Moreover, there are no crosses universally acknowledged as "Orthodox" or "Catholic": each type is a feature of local tradition.[4]


Calvary variant of Russian Orthodox Cross

The topmost of the three crossbeams represents Pilate's inscription which in the older Greek tradition is "The King of Glory", based on John's Gospel; but in later images it represents INRI. The middle crossbeam is the main bar to which the victim's hands are fixed, while the bottom crossbeam represents the footrest which prolongs the torture. In many depictions, the side to Christ's right is higher, slanting upward toward the penitent thief St. Dismas, who according to Russian tradition[3][15] was crucified on Jesus' right, but downward toward impenitent thief Gestas. It is also a common perception that the foot-rest points up, toward Heaven, on Christ's right hand-side, and downward, to Hades, on Christ's left.

In Russia, the top croossbeam can be absent; however, in northernmost Russia it may be affixed on top of the vertical beam.[16]

Another variation is the monastic Calvary Cross, in which the cross is situated atop the hill of Calvary, its slopes symbolized by steps. To the viewer's left is the Holy Lance, with which Jesus was wounded in his side, and to the right, the pole topped by a hyssop sponge with which he was given vinegar. Under Calvary are Adam's skull and bones;[17] the right-arm bone is usually above the left one, and believers fold their arms across their chests in this way during Orthodox communion. Around the cross are abbreviations in Church Slavonic. This type of cross is usually embroidered on a schema-monk's robe.

Current usage[edit]

The Russian (Orthodox) cross (☦) is widely used by the Russian Orthodox Church, and has been widely adopted in the Polish Orthodox and the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Churches, which received their autonomous status from the Patriarch of Moscow in 1948 and 1951 respectively. It is also sometimes used by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (e.g. in the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese).

This cross is also found in Byzantine frescos in churches now belonging to the Greek and Serbian Orthodox churches.[18]


The slanted cross with three horizontal crossbeams existed already in the 6th century, long before the Great Schism. However, it was used only in church paintings, arts and crafts, and never on church domes. There are old frescoes depicting this type of cross in the regions of modern Greece and Serbia.

At the end of the 15th century this cross started to be widely used in Muscovy when its rulers declared themselves the "Third Rome", successors of Byzantium and defenders of Orthodoxy.[19] In 1551 at the council of the canonically isolated Russian Orthodox Church, the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan the Terrible decided to standardize the cross on Russian church domes to distinguish Muscovy from the "Lithuanian, Polack cross".[20] This was the first time the Russian Orthodox Cross was used on church domes. Between 1577–1625, the Russian Orthodox cross was depicted between the heads of a double-headed eagle in the coat of arms of Russia. It was drawn on military banners until the end of the 17th century.[21]

In 1654, the Moscow council, erasing the vestiges of the canonical isolation of 1448-1589, coordinated Russian Orthodox liturgy with that of other Orthodox churches.[22][23] At this council, Patriarch Nikon ordered the use of the Greek cross instead of Russian Orthodox cross. These reforms provoked the Raskol schism.[24] Replacement of the Russian Orthodox cross by Greek cross was caused by Russian disrespect for the second one.[25] Soon, however, the Russian Orthodox Church began to use the Russian Orthodox cross again. According to the Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom Stefan, the Russian Orthodox cross was worn by Czar Peter I[19] (1672-1725), who transformed the Moscow Patriarchate into the Most Holy Synod.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Russian Orthodox cross was promoted by the Russian Empire and USSR in Belarus, Poland and Ukraine as a part of Russification policies.[15][26][27] At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the Russian Orthodox Church replaced many traditional Greek Orthodox crosses in Belarus with Russian Orthodox crosses.[4]

The Russian Orthodox cross is depicted on emblems of several Russian ultra-nationalist organizations such as Brotherhood of Russian Truth and Russian National Unity.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Liungman, Carl G. (2004). Symbols - Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms. Ionfox AB. p. 140. ISBN 978-91-972705-0-2.
  2. ^ a b Святейший Патриарх Московский и всея Руси Кирилл. Воздвижение Честного и Животворящего Креста Господня // Тихвинский листок №41, 27 Сентября 2017.
  3. ^ a b Фещин А. Довірся Хресту // Християнский голос. — 2002. — № 18 (2854). С. 232.
  4. ^ a b c Бурштын Я. Ірына Дубянецкая: Дзякуючы намаганням РПЦ пачынае мяняцца культурны ландшафт Беларусі (Фота і відэа) // Служба інфармацыі «ЕўраБеларусі», 16 ліпеня 2016 г.
  5. ^ Русский крест: символика православного надглавного креста. — Москва, 2006. С. 149.
  6. ^ Мілаш Я. Традыцыі ўшанавання крыжа беларусамі ў канцы XIX ст. // Наша Вера. № 3 (65), 2013.
  7. ^ Рэлігія і царква на Беларусі: Энцыкл. даведнік — Мн.: БелЭн, 2001. С. 168.
  8. ^ a b "Православные кресты: как разобраться в значениях" [Orthodox crosses: how to understand the meanings] (in Russian). 30 September 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  9. ^ Unicode Character 'ORTHODOX CROSS' (U+2626).
  10. ^ Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers, Supreme Court of the United States
  11. ^ Thomas, Robert Murray (2007). Manitou and God: North-American Indian religions and Christian culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 121–122. ISBN 978-0-313-34779-5.
  12. ^ Milo D. L. The Ankh: Key of Life. — Weiser Books, 2007. P. 13.
  13. ^ Becker U. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. — New York London, 2000. P. 71.
  14. ^ Chwalkowski F. Symbols in Arts, Religion and Culture: The Soul of Nature. — Cambridge Cholars Publishing, 2016. P. 112
  15. ^ a b Яременко В. Золоте Слово: Хрестоматія літератури України-Русі епохи Середньовіччя IX—XV століть. Книга перша. — Київ: Аконіт, 2002. С. 485.
  16. ^ Kuznetsov 1997.
  17. ^ McGuckin, John Anthony (2011). "Cross". In John Anthony McGuckin (ed.). The encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. 1. John Wiley and Sons. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-4051-8539-4.
  18. ^ Gerstel, Sharon (2006). "An Alternate View of the Late Byzantine Sanctuary Screen," in Thresholds of the Sacred: Art Historical, Archaeological, Liturgical and Theological Views on Religious Screens, East and West, ed. S. Gerstel. pp. 146–47.
  19. ^ a b Гнідець Р. Св. Хрест, його форма та різновиди в Україні // Греко-Католицька Традиція №9 (193), вересень 2013 р.
  20. ^ Белы А. Крыж Еўфрасінні Полацкай // Наша Слова. № 29 (817) 1 жнiўня 2007 г.
  21. ^ Shpakovsky, Viacheslav; Nicolle, David; McBride, Angus (2006). "Infantry and cavalry banners". Armies of Ivan the Terrible: Russian Troops 1505-1700. Osprey Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-84176-925-7.
  22. ^ Мицик Ю. Московський Патріархат // Енциклопедія історії України : у 10 т. / редкол.: В. А. Смолій (голова) та ін. ; Інститут історії України НАН України. — К.: Наук. думка, 2010. — Т. 7 : Мл — О. С. 87.
  23. ^ Нуруллаев А. А. Нуруллаев А. Ал. Религия и политика. — М., 2006. С. 299.
  24. ^ Изотова О., Касперович Г., Гурко А., Бондарчик А. Кто живет в Беларуси. — Минск: «Беларуская навука», 2012. С. 740
  25. ^ Русский крест: символика православного надглавного креста. — Москва, 2006. С. 147.
  26. ^ Щербаківський В. Чи трираменний хрест із скісним підніжком – національний хрест України? // Визвольний шлях. — 1952, листопад. — Ч. 11 (62). С. 33—34.
  27. ^ Білокінь С. Українська форма хреста // Укр. слово. — 1994. — № 17 (2713).

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