With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
(Shay Walters' Icon)
Praying with Icons – Part 4
History of The Cross in Christian Worship
The history of the use and development of the cross in Christian worship is a long and complicated one. There was considerable reluctance to depict the crucifixion of Christ in the earlier centuries as that event was regarded by the early Christians from the side of Easter Day rather than Good Friday.
The complete absence of the depiction of the crucifixion in the paintings of the Roman catacombs, and even as late as the fifth-century mosaics, should be noted. The cross was certainly used as a decorative symbol of triumph. Christ is frequently shown with a diadem on his head and vested in kingly garments. His eyes are open and his arms outstretched.
It is not until we come to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries under the impetus of the Franciscans, when the emphasis on the passion was greatly developed, that the realistic crucifixes (i.e. a cross bearing a figure of the suffering Christ) begin to appear but this development does not reach its zenith until the fifteenth century.
Processional crosses can be found as early as the fourth century, but the altar cross was introduced much later.
The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, p. 209.
The crucifix is a model of the cross-bearing an image of the crucified Lord. Crucifixes are widely used in the Western Church by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. In the Eastern Church, the crucifix has been replaced by crosses with a flat likeness of Christ as a form of an icon. Crucifixes came into general use in the sixth century and since the fifteenth century have been used as the central ornament of the altar. Unlike a plain or empty cross, the crucifix emphasized the incarnation of Christ. At the time of the Reformation, the radical reformers removed the crucifixes and other images from the churches. Martin Luther, in his sermons on the Gospel of John, said: “The custom of holding a crucifix before a dying person has kept many in the Christian faith and has enabled them to die with a confident faith in the crucified Lord.”
Crucifixes are of two major types. One portrays the death of Christ on Calvary; the other represents our Lord in the vestments of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices reigning from the cross.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee.
In life in death, o Lord, abide with me.
“Abide with Me”
“Praying with Icons”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2021.
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