The Russian Orthodox Cross is unique in that its powerful symbolism speaks to both the humanity of Christ and the divinity within each of us—a shared journey with Christ.
As in many traditional portrayals of the ancient capital-punishment device, the Russian Orthodox Cross bears a head “rest.” This top crossbeam was particularly cruel for Jesus as the crown of thorns which was pushed down upon his head only bore deeper into his skull any time he tried to take rest by laying his head upon it.
The mid-beam was, of course, the place upon which huge nails were plunged through his wrists, not his hands, as a nail through his hands would have torn through once the weight of his body pulled at them.
The lowest crossbeam is the place upon which the feet of Jesus were nailed. The symbolism for why the left side is pointed to the ground and the right side upward is complex. One mention from the apocrypha explains that the blasphemous thief hung to the left of Jesus, and thus, because of the hardness of his heart, the lowest crossbeam points toward hades. Whereas, the penitent thief softened himself and asked Jesus for help—and to be with him. Thus, hanging to the right of Jesus, this side points toward Paradise.
Perhaps, a more touching message in the symbol for us is that it tells the story that even Jesus could not bear the totality of the pain and suffering straight on. The pain was so great that he pivoted his weight from side-to-side seeking relief. We are encouraged to follow the example of Jesus in squirming, revealing our full humanity and inability to swallow the suffering of the world alone, but rather call out to God for help—even if sometimes that cry is doubting why all we see is the back of God.
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