variously known as the Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian Cross
Stephen 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”
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.]