Here’s How the Russian Cross is Different From Western Crosses

“This Grim and Deathly Place was has become unto us Paradise”

This article from our archives was first published on RI in November 2017

The Russian Orthodox Cross is iconic and unique, famously different from the more simple construction of most Western crosses.

Some of the most visible differences:

  1. Right above the Russian cross appear the letters: IC XC NIKA = Jesus Christ Conquers, This is by far the most famous Orthodox abbreviation.

  2. Towards the top, the cross has a small horizontal board which says: The bar above the cross bears the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” written by the Romans in three languages (John 19:19-20). This also appears on some Catholic crosses with the Latin abbreviation INRI

  3. .Russian crosses have a third bar beneath the main arms bars which is bent upwards to the right almost like a scale. This represents the good thief crucified on his right side of Jesus who ascended to heaven, the last thing he “stole” being paradise itself, pointing downward represents the evil thief’s descent into hell

  4. At the base of the cross, there is a mound of three steps with a skull and bones underneath. This represents Mount Golgotha where Jesus died and the Skull of Adam.  According to tradition,  Adam died on the same spot where Jesus died, and Christ’s blood symbolically washed over the skull and bones of the first man (Adam), defeating sin and death. 

  5. Towards the bottom of the cross are the words МЛРБ. This abbreviation means most literally: “This place of execution has become paradise”, or perhaps more poetically: “This Grim and Deathly Place was has become unto us Paradise”

Sometimes, the Russian cross also has a  crescent-like object is seen beneath the third bar. 

This either represents the victory of Orthodox Christianity over Islam, in places where the Russian army conquered Islamic cultures such as Kazan, or alternatively, it can represent the anchor of a ship as seen on naval cathedrals.

Here is a graphic breakdown of the mystical symbolism of the Russian cross, translated just for you by the Russian Faith team.

Of course, It is important to note what you are seeing is the Archetypical Russian style of cross, in its most ornate form; this is not the only style of cross used in the Russian church, nor is the Church claiming only this is the “true” cross.

Other Orthodox peoples have slight variations on this cross, and you can see this style or its elements in other Orthodox countries.

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