A Study of the Crucifix Icon

For the Sunday of the Cross, 2020
Now that many of us have been asked to maintain physical and social distance, we are searching for ways to stay connected to our Orthodox Christian faith and way of life. There are many services being streamed for us to attend "virtually." And we can continue to observe the fast and pray at home. We can also use these days to study the content of our faith, on our own, with our families. The Department of Religious Education has created a "Religious Education at Home" website that you might find helpful.
In addition, I've created the following closer examination of the Cross of Christ for this Third Sunday of Great Lent.
For the Third Sunday of Great Lent
In the Holy Cross Chapel at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, there is a Cross enthroned on the altar table that contains a piece of the Cross of Christ. On the Third Sunday of Lent, we would be lifting up this Cross as a sign of triumph, a sign of hope, a sign of the victory of Christ’s resurrection, which we will celebrate at Pascha. It’s hard to fathom that His Sacred Body laid upon this small portion this wood, or this tree as many of the hymns call the Cross.

This weekend, take some time to study an icon of the crucifixion of Christ, or a crucifix. Find a Byzantine icon on line (a simple google image search will show many).

The crucifix in your church depicts Jesus after His death. We can determine that with certainty, because we see that His eyes are closed; His head is dropped to His chest. We can see the wound in His side, where one of the soldiers pierced Him with a lance to confirm that Jesus had died. When the soldier pierced His, the scripture says, blood and water poured out (John 19:34). He is affixed with nails to the Cross, the practice of crucifixion. We know that crucifixion a form of public execution was a form of torture and humiliation. Death was by suffocation, because as the body weakened over time – and it could take days – the victim could not raise itself up to breathe.

But this Christ is not depicted as a sign of defeat. His body is not beaten up. His arms are still supporting Him.

Crucifixes usually have an inscription over them: INBI the Greek abbreviation of “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” or the Latin INRI. The other frequent inscription is “The King of Glory”. This is a reference to the exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus in in the Gospel of John. Pilate asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world.” (John 18:33-38). It also reminds us of the Psalm, that sings out, “Who is the King of Glory?” (Psalm 24). This is the great mystery of Christ’s kingship, reigning from the Cross.


Christ is the King of glory. So this Sunday while you may not be in church services, you can still study the Cross of Christ, the icon, and then reflect on the wood on which his body lie, as you prepare to celebrate His resurrection.


Some questions for deeper study:

Compare the account of the crucifixion in the Gospel of John (19: 17-37) with the other Gospel accounts – Matthew 27:32-55, Mark 15:21-47, Luke 23:26-49. How are they same? How are they different?

Read the various Scripture passages mentioned above. What details do they provide that add to your understanding of the event of Christ’s crucifixion? How does the Psalm help you understand the event?

How do you understand the “kingship” of Jesus? How does the icon of the crucifixion challenge and expand your understanding?

Find a Byzantine icon of the crucifixion of Christ on-line (a simple google image search for “Crucifixion icon Byzantine” will find many). Do your own investigation of what the icon depicts based on the Gospel accounts.