The Slanted Footrest of the Orthodox Cross

variously known as the Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian Cross

imageStephen once again discusses the Russian Orthodox cross with its angled footrest.  His theory is that this symbolism developed (presumably) because on the Shroud of Turin it might appear to some that one of Jesus’ legs is shorter than the other. It is an interesting but highly problematic theory.

We discussed this in a posting earlier this year, Touching on the Byzantine legend that Jesus had a shorter leg and therefore was lame. Because of many useful comments, I came to realize how tentative this is. Interesting as this is, it is impossible for me to consider this theory historical evidence that the shroud is not medieval c. 1260-1390.

Wikipedia is informative on this:

The Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian (Orthodox) Cross, also known as the Suppedaneum cross, is a variation of the Christian cross, commonly found in Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine rite and the Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism. The cross has three horizontal crossbeams—the top represents the plate inscribed with INRI, and the bottom, a footrest. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, the lower beam is slanted: the side to Christ’s right is usually higher. This is because the footrest slants upward toward penitent thief St. Dismas, who was crucified on Jesus’ right, and downward toward impenitent thief Gestas. The earliest version of a slanted footstool can be found in Jerusalem, but throughout the Eastern Christian world until the 17th century, the footstool is slanted the other way, pointing upwards rather than downwards, making the downward footstool a Russian innovation. In the Greek and most other Orthodox Churches, the footrest remains straight, as in earlier representations. Common variations include the ‘Cross over Crescent’ and ‘Calvary Cross’.

Back when we discussed this in February, Kelly Kearse commented then:

For what it’s worth, I found this on two websites discussing Orthodox icons:

# 1: “Various reasons have been given for slanting the bottom bar. There is one tradition which states that, at the moment of His death, Our Lord’s foot slipped and the footrest tilted. A highly symbolic interpretation states that the slanted bar refers to the thief crucified on Our Lord’s right side—the “Wise Thief” who repented—who went to heaven and to the unrepentant thief crucified on Christ’s left side who did not. Another explanation is that the slant is an attempt to depict that the footrest slanted downward, toward the viewer, albeit in a two, rather than three, dimensional form.”

#2: “The foot-rest of Christ’s Cross is slanted because it is believed that in the final moments before Jesus gave up His spirit, His flesh spasmed and the foot-rest was kicked out of place. But in this true event there is also symbolism. The foot-rest points up, toward Heaven, on Christ’s right hand-side, and downward, to Hades, on Christ’s left. One of the Orthodox Church’s Friday prayers clearly explains the meaning: In the midst, between two thieves, was Your Cross found as the balance-beam of righteousness; For while one was led down to hell by the burden of his blaspheming,
The other was lightened of his sins unto the knowledge of things divine.
O Christ God glory to You”

O.K. commented:

Those are, of course, later interpreatations.

The truth is no one knows why the bar is slanted.

Louis did too:

Once again we see stale material about the shorter leg being posted as though it has been noticed only now. The Talmud should be used with care and circumspection.

Many other did too. Christopher Kelley was particularly informative.

The great Russian iconographer, Leonid Ouspensky, was convinced the Shroud of Turin was NOT the burial cloth of Christ BECAUSE the left leg appeared shorter, making Christ lame. I have this directly from one of his students in Paris, under whom I studied. I took her, very much a doubter, to a film on the Shroud in London; at the end of the film, she declared, “Ouspensky must have been wrong!”

Look earlier than the conversion of Russ, in 988. Sts Cyril & Methodios, the Apostles to the Slavs, carried this Cross with them. They grew up, secretly Orthodox, in Thessaloniki during the reign of the Iconoclasts. Thereafter, having lived among Slavs in their native city, and conversant in Slavic, they set out for the Slavs’ homelands, bearing a zeal for Orthodoxy, and the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the Iconoclast heresy. That heresy carried a profound misunderstanding or disregard for the Incarnation. 815 began a second stage of Iconoclasm, mild and “liberal” at first, but increasingly severe and tyrannical, in Cyril & Methodios’ youth. Yet, by a sudden turn of events, the Triumph of Orthodoxy was achieved in 843.

This design of the Cross is PRIOR TO the arrival of the Mandylion /Image of Edessa (Shroud of Turin) in Constantinople. The Image of Edessa was “the Prize” to be brought to the Imperial City for the Centennial of the Triumph; the Emperor desired to have it by 943. But it took longer to secure from Edessa (Urfa), so it came a year late, 944, and was first displayed to the public on August 16, when it is still annually commemorated.

However, at its arrival, the Cloth was still pinned to a board, folded in such a way that only the Face was visible, as had been characteristic of the Mandylion in Edessa. It may have been as late as 1025 that the Cloth was first unpinned, and the full length of the Shroud seen in Constantinople — well after 988. (We do see ikons changed as a result of this disclosure; eg., “Weep not for Me, Mother” – illustrating the Ode for Holy Saturday morning.)
IF it was Christ’s LEFT leg that was shorter, or lame, then the angle of the bar would have been in the opposite direction. That idea of lameness is not the answer.

Rather, whenever there is any change in iconography, it is with Purpose, not mere idle whim.

9th Century Byzantium faced a new heresy, not only Iconoclasm within, but its inspiration, beyond the borders. The new design of the Cross was a visual Answer to that heresy, which denied that Christ actually suffered in the flesh; it was a novel form of old Gnosticism. It was said, by Orthodox Christians in answer to that heresy, that Christ suffered SO MUCH that He wrenched the footrest loose. His suffering was not figmentary; it was Real!
The footrest then, like a scale, was “up” to the Good Thief on His right, and “down” to the other thief on His left. You will often see the “Russian Cross” standing upon a lunar crescent. The new form of the Cross, I suppose, did not “catch on” in quite the same way where the traditions were already fixed; but in Russia, it was the standard from the first.

Who was the new heretic, the originator of Iconoclasm? It was Muhammad. The Qu’ran denies the Crucifixion. This derives from Gnostic thought still lingering in Arabia.

[We see today certain strains of a desire to minimize focus on Christ’s Sacrifice, dubbed "a slaughterhouse religion" by some. It is another instance of the old Gnostic heretical twist.}

The Shroud makes clear that, after the Left foot was placed over the Right, and both nailed with a single spike, another spike was hammered through the Right Heel. A fourth nail. This was the last wound Christ received before dying. It achieved no necessary ‘structure’ for the hanging of a body; its only purpose was to dramatically increase Pains and Suffering to the Victim. The Roman soldier pounding it in could hardly have known that he was thus fulfilling the Oldest Prophecy of Redemption: The LORD spoke to the Serpent saying, "He shall crush your head, and you shall crush His heel."

[PS. In truth, as Muhammad’s earliest Arabic biographies clearly attest, when, by brigandage, terrorism, and breaking of pacts, he seized Mecca in 630, he entered the Ka’aba to destroy all its 360 idols; he personally placed his hands over an ikon of the Virgin Mother of God holding her Child, Jesus, to protect it, while even a mural of Abraham there on the inner wall he ordered destroyed. This same ikon of the Theotokos was known to exist even 50 years later.

But Islam still denies the reality of the Cross. Scientists raised in Islam are stunned by the verifiable facts arising from the Shroud. They see the errors of the Qu’ran.]

34 thoughts on “The Slanted Footrest of the Orthodox Cross”

  1. Point of order. The two men who were crucified with Jesus were not thieves. Romans didn’t crucify people for robbery; only insurrection. They were revolutionaries. The Greek word for robber is lestes but is also translated as brigand or insurrectionist. Interestingly, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden He asks if the mob came to seize him as a “lestes”. But here the word gets translated as robber. The same word, “lestes” is used to describe the two men, but here it gets translated as revolutionary.

    It appears that the Gospel writers sanitized the story of the arrest in order to gloss over the true reason as to why He was crucified.

    1. They could be thieves involved in insurrection, sicarii stealing to support their movement, which, Josephus tells us, began in AD 6. The sicarii hated the Sadducees, who collaborated with the also hated Romans when needed. The sicarii are said to have murdered Jonathan, the high priest and it is even thought that is was they who set the Temple on fire when Titus was besieging Jerusalem — to burn the records of who paid and did not pay the tax. They knew that the priests pocketed the money, turning a blind eye to the suffering of poor Jews.

      1. The were insurrectionists as was Jesus. Saying “The Kingdom at God is at hand” sends a clear message to Temple and Roman authorities that your days are numbered. A new king has arrived. I think he knew the consequence of His actions.

    2. According to Strong’s Greek: 3027 a Léstés is: a robber; a plunderer, freebooter, brigand. No mention of insurrectionists. Root is Léis= booty

      1. Thanks. I didn’t know that. I just bought the book.

        I still think He met the test as a revolutionary, one who seeks to undermine authority. Non-observance of the Sabbath, dining with the unacceptable, even healing, a job reserved for the Temple priests, set the tone for His ministry. He had a large following and taught them that this type of behavior was OK.

      2. Thanks Tom, I think what you listed were irritating to the Jews but not to the extent of capital punishment. What really got them was when he threw the “I Am” bomb. Telling people “Your sins are forgiven”etc…making Himself equal to God.

      1. brigand=a member of a gang that ambushes and robs people in forests and mountains.

  2. Dan, if one leg might appear shorter than the other on the Turin Shroud it should no surprise because we are dealing with a victim of crucifixion. Now, if the angled footrest on the Orthodox Cross is based on the Byzantine legend that Jesus had a shorter leg then it tells us that they could be cockeyed at times. Didn’t they read the gospels? How could a limping Jesus cure a lame man?

  3. The high priest did not tear his garments because of insurrection, the accusation was “blashphemy”, which was the reason for the condemnation. Insurrection was the reason given to the Romans.

    1. Absolutely, the gospel narrative was very clear. Jesus was condemned to death by the Jews for blasphemy but because they were under Roman occupation they had to talk Pilate into Jesus being King of the Jews and that was what was written on the cross. No one was sanitizing or polishing anything. However the two people crucified with him were robbers.

  4. Exactly, the Sanhedrin had to have Rome execute Jesus because of his fame, which was not the case with Stephen and James, who were stoned to death.

  5. Re: Christopher Kelley. He forgot to mention that the kaaba itself, not only the idols, was a pre-islamic object of worship.

  6. It makes little difference if the two men were robbers or rebels, in my view they could have been thieves stealing for the insurrection, as stated in comment 2 above. The central issue was Jesus, not the two crucified next to him.

  7. Initially, Jesus was sentenced to death for blasphemy, witchcraft and Sabbath breaking. The sentence was confirmed by HP Hanan.

  8. Yeshua was sentenced to death first in absentia (Sanhedrin of 70 to 72 or 23 members) and then in presentia (most likely Sanhedrin of only 3 members).

  9. The true fact is the High Priest(s) and Roman collaborators fear an insurrection and did perceive Yeshua as a troublemaker.

  10. Armed nationalists (sicarrii/zealots) were called brigands/thieves. Through the eyes of Roman and Sadducees they were terrorists.

  11. On May 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm, Mike M wrote: “Thanks Tom, I think what you listed (Non-observance of the Sabbath and healing) irritating to the Jews but not to the extent of capital punishment. What really got them was when he threw the “I Am” bomb. Telling people “Your sins are forgiven”etc…making Himself equal to God.”

    This is a half truth. Reminder, initially, Yeshua was sentenced to death for blasphemy, witchcraft and Sabbath breaking.

    The true fact is the Old Testament Law prescribed the death penalty for an extensive list of crimes including:

    Witchcraft and sorcery (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 13:5, 1 Samuel 28:9)

    Doing work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14, 35:2, Numbers 15:32-36)

    Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14,16, 23)

  12. BTW Shim’on-Kepha/Peter’s lopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus (John 18:10-11), is a rather unique attribute for the number one follower of the prince of peace. Shim’on Bar Yonah is not the son of a dove (“Bar Yonah”) as Matthew 16:22-23 portrays him. The name is a corruption for the Hebrew word for Zealots or Bandits, that is “Baryonim.”

    1. The baryonim or biryonim (An Akkadian loanword) were outlaws or terrorists.

  13. At first sight, it is strange that Yeshua tells his disciples to buy swords, “but that two is enough”. And just a couple verses later in 22:49-51 he has them put them away their swords. Why did Jesus have them buy swords then? Would Yeshua want the Temple authorities think him a troublemaker at the head of terrorists/armed nationalists from Galilee? This is most likely.

      1. Most likely it was to fulfill that which was spoken of him: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’?

  14. Or was it for his disciples to understand his kingdom was not a military kingdom? Actually, this was the only time Yeshua’s followers used a sword against the High Priest’s authorities and Yeshua’s clearly discouraged further violence.

  15. In Matthew 10:34 Yeshua said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”. Here he meant the sword of Truth.

  16. See Hebrew 4:12: “For the word of God (= Truth) is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.”

  17. Yeshua was “a spiritual terrorist” and as such could have put in jeopardy the authority, wealth and privilege of the Sadducees.

  18. “But Islam still denies the reality of the Cross. Scientists raised in Islam are stunned by the verifiable facts arising from the Shroud. They see the errors of the Qu’ran.]”.

    It is not so much the Qu’ran per se as its interpretation/translation that is erroneus.

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