The Slavonic Cross
The cross is the most prominent of all Christian symbols. It is symbolic of the crucifixion of Christ and His suffering and death for the sins of the world. Constantine, Emperor of the Roman Empire, placed the cross over the symbolic eagles of Caesar, and this emblem has been the standard symbol of Christian faiths the world over. The Slavonic cross is distinctive, especially in that it includes the lower bar or foot rest set at a diagonal. There are several historical explanations for this. Beginning in the ninth century, crucifixes began to have the additional footboard in the shape of a horizontal bar in addition to the earlier form which had an upright bar and a single cross bar. This lower bar provided a place for Christ to rest His feet. Byzantine artists used this form of the cross regularly.
The first Byzantine crosses had the added footboard placed horizontally, but successive Slavonic crosses put the lower bar at a sharp diagonal. This change took place between the tenth and eleventh centuries. One explanation is that it serves as a graphic rebuke to those who held the opinion that Christ did not actually suffer on the cross but only seemed to suffer. The inclined position of the lower bar indicates the intense reality of the suffering in the flesh by Jesus as He hung on the cross. His agony was so intense that His nailed feet wrenched loose the nailed parts of the cross when He thrust one foot down while drawing the other up.
Another religious interpretation is that the right side of the footboard points to indicate the lightened burden for believers and the left side down to indicate the weighing down of disbelievers. The uplifted right side also indicated that on the second advent of Christ, believers will soar up to Him. Christ's head on the cross is also usually inclined to the right, to beckon disbelievers to follow Him, worship Him, and be saved.
Still another interpretation of the slanting footboard is that it symbolizes the part played by those two thieves who were crucified with Christ. The thief on the right repented and is represented by the raised side of the lower crossbar, while the lowered left side represents the other thief who blasphemed Christ during His crucifixion and was condemned. The extra cross bar at the top of the Slavonic cross represents the inscription board nailed above Christ on the cross. The inscription, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews", was written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. One explanation sometimes given in Eastern Church literature is that the Slavonic cross is the replica of the cross planted by the Apostle Andrew when he looked northward over the mountains of the Caucasus and predicted that a great Church would arise. St. Andrew thus became the prophet of the Slav-Byzantine Church. The modern St. Andrew's cross, however, is in the form of an "X", the shape of the cross upon which this disciple was crucified. The Slavonic cross, with its added inscription bar at the top, and one slanting footboard bar below, more fully symbolizes the crucifixion that the commoner simple cross, which has only one upright bar and only one crossbar. NOTE: This cross is used extensively both by Catholics of the Byzantine Rite and the Eastern Orthodox of Slavic descent who share the same heritage of Eastern Christianity.
It was the custom to erect such crosses before the entrance to towns and villages in Central Eurpose to ward off evil and unfriendly spirits, also to serve as a sign of welcome to fellow Christians passing by, and as a pledge to God of their solidarity as a deeply rooted Christian community.