What do the two snakes on a bishop’s staff mean?

The episcopal staff has the cross of Christ with two snakes and this may seem disconcerting. There are actual two explanations for this symbolism.
The staff reminds us to the brass serpent erected by Moses in the desert (Numbers 21). When the Israelites were bitten by poisonous snakes (being the sign of sin and earthly / demonic wisdom) the brass serpent that was lifted up was a type of the cross. Jesus Christ “became sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us and triumphed over the poisonous and lethal power of sin. Hence, the snakes on the staff recall this story and the words of the Lord in John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”
Another way to consider the snakes it to see them not as symbols of false wisdom (James 3:15) but of true and holy wisdom, as in Lord’s saying (Matthew 10:16): “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
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  1. The two snake heads on the bishop’s staff should have NEVER been allowed in the Orthodox Church. These snakes are definitely from Sumerian beliefs. Moses’ serpent had only one head. Since the two snake heads are disconcerting and confusing to many Orthodox Christians, they should be abolished. Why doesn’t the bishop carry a simple shepherd’s staff? (Comment posted September 2, 2020)

  2. The snake is an Idol worshiper symbol. In Hinduism, Buddhism and ancient Persia the snake is a symbol of power. That is why it was worshipped. This symbol must be abolished from Christian beliefs.

    1. Dear Amenu’el,

      there are halos involved in Buddhist art, are we to abolish halos? There was the great flood in Gilgamesh, are we to abolish the story of Noah’s ark from the bible? Caesar believed he was the son of god and born of a virgin, are we to abolish the incarnation and all of Christianity? There have been news of Haitian cults quoting scripture to do voodoo magic, are we to abolish the whole bible?

      1. Actually yes, yes the church should stop making sun halos. They should stop making status in anyone’s image if there is a chance people will nil before it. There’s scripture that says it. And we should not add to God’s word.

        1. Dear Lynn,

          it is clear that Jesus and the apostles were not American. They would not have shook hands to greet each other. Nor would they drink grape juice. They would have readily bowed and prostrated themselves before holy objects in the temple. They were Jews.

          If what you are saying is right, scripture has been challenged because Genesus 47:31 reads.
          “Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.” or “and worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff”

          Lastly, let us not take away from God’s word. Have your elders anointed you with oil and prayed over you for your sins to be forgiven? Does your church acknowledge Peter as leader of the apostles? Do your elders wash feet just as Jesus washed the apostle’s feet?

  3. This almost the same staff as the one from asclepius, the greek god of pharmacy, except this one has a cross and 2 snakes. It seems to me better to the church to not use symbols excessively, as this was not done in early christianity, reading from Acts at least. I get it should refer to the verse saying “be ye sharp as serpents”, but this is not commanded by God’s Holy Word, which I consider to be the only near infallible word of God. I must point out that I mean by “near” tranliterate errors, of course. Still, peace be you from God and may the Lord watch His flock in these perilous times!

  4. I reqdad once, though I know not where, that the two represented two poisons administeted for our spiritual heath. 1st are the troubles of life which the bishop helpa us see as from God and for our good. 2nd are the disciplines of ascetecism the bishop imposes for our good. Both bitter, both for salvation both navigated with wisdom of the one with the staff.

  5. i like the Orthodox Church alot. And i like history alot too. The Eastern Orthodox episcopal staff started having two snakes in the 1600s and is an adoption of and adaptation of the caduceus “herald’s wand, or staff” with a cross added to the very top of the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology and consequently by Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology. The same staff was borne by other heralds like Iris, the messenger of Hera. The short staff is entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography, it was depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury, the messenger of the gods.

    Another thing to know of is what most Orthodox think just a thing of the Roman Catholic Church existed in the Eastern Orthodox Church : the practice of issuing indulgences, but having existed at first unofficially, got its official confirmation at the Constantinople Council of 1727, and in 13th clause of the document it is said: “The power of the forgiveness of sins, which is termed by the Eastern Church of Christ “Absolution Certificates” when given in writing, but by the Latins “Indulgences,” is given to the Holy Church by Christ. These Absolution Certificates are issued in the whole Catholic Church by the Four most holy Patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.”
    It’s remarkable that even such a theologian and expert on the canonical tradition of the Church as Venerable Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain not only did not oppose, but participated in the practice of indulgences. Thus, in his letter to Paisius, Bishop of Stagonas, who at that time was living in Constantinople, dated April 1806, he asks him to get an Absolution Certificate at the Patriarchate for a “living” monastic, also named Nicodemus, and send it to him. He promises him that he would send the money necessary to purchase the certificate as soon as he knows how much it would cost.[

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