One of the first images of the crucified Jesus Christ that have survived to this day dates back to the 5th century. It was depicted on the doors of St. Sabina’s church in Rome. Since the V century, the Savior began to be depicted in a long robe as if leaning against the cross. It is this image of Christ that can be seen on the early bronze and silver crosses of Byzantine and Syrian origin of the 7th-9th centuries.
The saint of the sixth century Anastasius Sinait wrote the apologetic (in Greek – “protection”) work “Against acephalites” – a heretical sect that denies the unity of two natures in Christ. He attached the image of the crucifixion of the Savior to this work as an argument against Monophysitism. He begs of the rewriters of his work to convey inviolably the image attached to the text, what, by the way, we can observe on the manuscripts of the Vienna Library.
Another, even more ancient of the surviving images of the crucifix is on the miniature of the Gospel of Ravvula from Zagba monastery. This manuscript of the year 586 belongs to the Florence Library of St. Lawrence.
Until the 9th century, inclusive, Christ was depicted on the cross not only alive and resurrected, but also victorying, and only in the 10th century the images of the dead Christ appeared. Since ancient times, crucifixion crosses, both in the East and in the West, had a crossbeam for support of the feet of the Crucified One, and His feet were depicted nailed individually, each foot with its nail. The image of Christ with crossed feet, nailed with one nail, appeared firstly as an innovation in the West in the second half of the 13th century.
Greek letters OOH meaning “Yahweh” (I Am) were necessarily written on the Savior’s cruciform halo. Because “God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am” (Exodus 3:14), revealing by this His name, which expresses self-existence, eternity and immutability of God’s being.
The idea that the death of the Lord is the ransom of all and encouraging of all nations, derives undoubtedly from the Orthodox dogma of the Cross (or Atonement). Only the cross, unlike other executions, enabled Jesus Christ to die with outstretched hands calling “all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22).
Therefore, the tradition of Orthodoxy is to depict the Savior Almighty as victorying Crossbearer, holding and calling into His arms the whole universe and bearing the New Testament altar – the Cross. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this on behalf of the Christ-haters: “δεῦτε καὶ ἐμβάλωμεν ξύλον εἰς τὸν ἄρτον αὐτοῦ” (Let us put tree in His bread) (11:19)*, that is, we will put the tree of the cross on the body of Christ which is called heavenly bread (Saint Dimitry of Rostov).
And on the contrary, the traditionally Catholic image of the crucifixion, with Christ hanging down on his hands, shows how all this happened, depicting the dying sufferings and death, instead of eternal Fruit of the Cross – His triumph.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
*We’ve translated this extract from Septuagint because in Enlgish translations it is presented in other version.