Meaning of Bottom Crossbeam in Eastern Orthodox Crosses
The Bottom Crossbeam on the Eastern Orthodox Cross dates back to the 6th century
St. Andrew is thought to be the first to slant the Bottom Crossbeam
The Patriarchal Cross also displays the Bottom Crossbeam
One of the significant differences between the Eastern Orthodox Cross and other notably recognized crosses
, is the bottom slant crossbeam. Both Christians and unbelievers alike that are outside of the Orthodox Church are unaware of the magnitude of the bottom crossbeam and the symbolism for which it is intended.
The reality is that the crucifixion is documented to be one of the most painful forms of execution recorded in history. Dr. C. Truman Davis speaks of those moments with such vivid detail that one can imagine being present. In his article; "A Physician Testifies About the Crucifixion", he states; "the heavy patibulum of the cross is tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion begins its slow journey along the Via Dolorsa. In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance." The bottom crossbeam on the Eastern Orthodox Cross is meant to be a reminder of this agony. The agony of a Savior, who willingly suffered, for a world that shunned Him.
During the 6th century in the Byzantine Empire the placement of the bottom crossbeam became widespread. It wasn't until the 11th Century was it customary to slant the bottom beam. There is much speculation about the intent of the slanted beam. One theory of thought is that at the end of the crucifixion, "the earth shook and the rocks split" (Matt. 27:51). This may perhaps refer to a massive earth quake that could cause the beam to slant with the shifting of the earth. Another theory is that when St. Andrew first brought Christianity to Russia, legend states, that while he was teaching he used the traditional Eastern Orthodox Cross from the 6th century. When it came time to explain the crucifixion he slanted the bottom beam to demonstrate the Scales of Justice.
The Scales of Justice refer to the two thieves that were crucified along with Christ. One of the thieves mocked Jesus, yet the other thief turned to Jesus and acknowledged Him as Lord. Luke tells us in Chapter 23, verse 42 - 43: "then he said, Jesus , remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." The Scales of Justice are a pictorial symbol that those that accept Christ will go to Heaven and those that do not will go to Hell.
The rich tradition of the Orthodox Church can be demonstrated in their Cathedrals, iconography, and the detailed heritage of their crosses
. The bottom crossbeam is more than an artistic expression. It was a delicate part of the cross that carried the brunt of the burden that was thrust upon Christ. The entire weight of Christ was placed upon that tiny footrest. With much honor the bottom beam of the Eastern Orthodox Cross is a reminder to all that the sacrifice that Christ gave so freely came at an enormous cost.
Davis, Dr. Truman C. (1976). A Physician Testifies About the Crucifixion. Retrieved on May 21st, 2009 from The Review of the NEWS
"Eastern Orthodox Cross." Seiyaku. Retrieved May 21st, 2009 from Seiyaku
"Eastern Orthodox Cross." (2007) St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church. Retrieved on May 21st, 2009
From St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church
The Holy Bible, the NIV/The Message Parallel Bible.
Zondervan. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004