Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why do Some Crosses Have Three Bars?

It is not known exactly when Orthodox Christians began to use a three- barred cross. However, this form of cross clearly shows the shape of the crucifix upon which Christ died. The top bar represents the sign placed on the cross by Pontius Pilate, which reads "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," in Latin, Greek and Hebrew[John 19 : 19]. The middle bar is where our Lord's hands were outstretched and nailed. And the bar at the bottom represents the slanted footrest on which his feet were nailed.

The slant of the bottom bar refers to the two thieves who were crucified with the Lord. The thief on the left, where the slant points down, taunted Christ and blasphemed, while the one on the right, where the slant points up, acknowledged Jesus' divinity with his prayer, "Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." To this Christ replied with the promise,"This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise" [Luke 23 : 42-43].

The slanting bars in this ancient Russian cemetery serve as a reminder to us to pay attention to the direction in which our lives are going. The cross takes many forms in Orthodox practice and not all have three bars. Notice how I have chosen to stand where the slant points up in the opening picture of this blog.

St. Michael's Cathedral is a centerpiece of downtown Sitka, it's onion dome and spire topped by gold crosses, commanding attention.

The original church, built in 1844 and the oldest church structure from the Russian era in Alaska, burned in Jan, 1966.

Nearly all the icons and historical artwork were saved and are on display in the new church, an exact replica of the original.

This is an active church with regular services still performed.
For thousands of years a Tlingit stronghold, almost a hundred years an important part of Russia and it's capitol in the new world, Sitka combines a treasury of Native culture, Russian history and Alaskan wilderness. Our planned three-day stay was extended to a week and this is another place we would love to come back to.

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