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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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The cross of Christ has taken on many forms over the centuries

The cross of Christ has taken on many forms over the centuries

We often see members of a team sign themselves with a cross before or after they perform on the playing field. While we do not know their intentions, that gesture can have great significance. The following is a brief history of the Cross of Christ.

Until the year 312, the Roman Government persecuted the church. So we don’t find the cross openly displayed on monuments and catacomb sepulchers. One disguise was an anchor, which took on a much deeper meaning: a hope based on the Cross of Christ.

Other disguises were a trident (a three-prong spear), or the mainmast of a ship. Another hidden symbol of the cross was an X also called the St. Andrew’s cross because he is supposed to have died on that type of cross.
When the church was free from persecution after Constantine’s Edit of Milan (313 AD) most Christians were still not comfortable enough to display the cross. The simple Greek cross (+) is found below the inscription of Rufinus and Irene, in the catacombs, in the early 3rd century.

During the 5th and 6th centuries, the crosses are decked with flowers, palms, and foliage, and the jeweled crosses were adorned with gems and precious stones. The earliest example of the crucifix, a carved representation of Christ attached to the cross, is from the late 6th century.

The early Christians had the custom of making the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Tertullian wrote about 204 AD: “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on a couch, on a seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign.”

Afterwards these signs of the cross were united in one large sign that we use today. In the Western Church the hand was carried from the left to the right shoulder; in the Eastern Church a person signed with the first three fingers from the right shoulder to the left. The sign of the cross was also made at liturgical functions over persons and things, sometimes with five fingers extended, to represent the Five Wounds of Christ, sometimes with thumb and lower two fingers joined representing the Persons of the Trinity.

In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, St. Helena, then about 80 years old, journeyed to Jerusalem to destroy the pagan buildings that were put on the site by the Romans to discourage believers from coming to Christ’s death and burial places.

The Cross-was covered in a ditch with stones, so that the faithful might be able to venerate it. Only a few Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, pointed it out to the excavators. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint.

During the excavation three crosses were found. The plaque with Jesus’ name on it was detached from the Cross-so there was no way to identify it. Following an inspiration, St. Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, brought the three crosses to the bedside of a saintly woman who was dying. She touched two of them and nothing happened.

When she touched the third, the woman got well.

From the 6th to 12th centuries, Christ is depicted not as the suffering Messiah, but the Christ who is triumphant and glorious on the Cross. Moreover, Christian art for a long time objected to stripping Christ of his garments, and the traditional tunic remained until the ninth century.

When Europe was suffering from the Black Plague and war in the 12th and 13th centuries, and death was all around, the living and triumphant Christ gave way to a Christ dead from his Passion.

The Cross-is a powerful symbol in whatever form.