September 14, 2015

The Honor Due to the Cross in the Canons of the Church

Synod in Trullo, known as Penthekti or Quinisext (A.D. 692)

Canon 73

Seeing that the life-giving Cross has shown us the way to salvation, we ought to make every endeavor to render the honor deserved to that which has been the means whereby we have been saved from the old fall. Hence both in mind and in word and in sentiment paying it veneration, we by all means command that imprints of the Cross on the ground made by some persons be erased, lest the symbol signifying the trophy of victory to us be desecrated by being trodden upon by people walking over the ground. We therefore decree that henceforth those who make the sign or imprint of the Cross upon the ground shall be excommunicated.


By virtue of the life-giving Cross we have been saved* and have been freed from the bondage of sin. Hence (says the present Canon) we ought to make endeavor to render due honor and veneration to it, both with the mind, by remembering how many good things we have gained through it; and with words, by telling these things to others and thanking Christ who was crucified upon it; and with feeling, by kissing and honoring it wherever we see it. But inasmuch as certain simple-minded people mark the figure of this honorable Cross everywhere, so far even as upon the ground of the earth, under the pretext of supposed reverence and in order to pay more honor to it, on this account the Synod commands that wherever the figure of the Cross be found printed upon the ground it shall be erased and spoiled in order to prevent its being trodden underfoot and consequently dishonored by people walking upon the victorious trophy of our salvation.** As for all those who hereafter make the figure of the Cross upon the ground, let them be excommunicated.

Comments by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

* In connection with what is here said concerning the Cross, the divine Chrysostom says: "Let us hang it (the Cross) over our bed instead of a sword; let us inscribe it upon our door instead of a bolt or a bar; let us surround our house with it instead of a wall." Hence it may be said that the Christians of today, whether men or women, young or old, great or small, instead of any other charm or talisman ought to carry a cross upon them, either wooden or gold or silver or brass, hanging round their neck, as the Christians of olden times used to carry one round their neck.

For St. Orestes, one of the five martyrs, by wearing a gold cross round his neck came to be recognized as a Christian by the Greeks; and Pancratios of Tauromeneia used to give a cedar cross to everyone he baptized to wear upon his person. St. Meletios the Confessor, in his Discourse on the Morals of the Italians, says that the Latins used to have the custom of marking a cross upon the ground and kissing it, and then stamping it out. As for us, however, not only must we not do this at all, but we must also honor the cross that is printed in books or even written upon letters and written documents of any kind, together with the divine names of Christ, and of the Panagia, or of the Saints, which are written in letters, by avoiding the use of these letters and documents in connection with dishonorable or base purposes, and instead burning them or throwing them somewhere where they will not be trodden upon, after tearing out these holy names, in order that we may keep from sinning gravely by profaning things that are holy. (See also in the Footnotes to Canon XCI of Basil, and the Footnote to Canon LXVIII of the present 6th Ecumenical Synod.)

** From the decree of the present Canon let the two-horned Pope of Rome learn how anti-Christian an act he is doing by imprinting under his foot the life-giving Cross and giving it to his visitors to kiss. For in this way he is treading upon the victorious trophy of our salvation, which not only Orthodox emperors wore upon their head and took greater pride in it than in their imperial diadems, but even the Calvinists themselves, though having discarded every trace of the Saints, keep in their churches on a high place and with respect bow down to it in veneration. What am I saying, emperors and Calvinists, why, even the Turks themselves who were captured during the reign of Mauritius had a Cross marked upon their forehead, as is narrated by both Theophanes and Simocates (Book V, Chapter 70); and when asked why they had it, they answered that because a deadly plague once fell upon their land, the Christians advised them to be marked with the Cross, after doing which they regained their health, and that they then became accustomed to printing the Cross upon themselves. Concerning the Cross St. Gregory the Theologian says against Julian: “He resorts to the Cross, and the ancient remedy, and with this he signs himself against fears, and makes the one pursued a helper; (and the following still worse things) the seal has prevailed; the demons are defeated, the fears are dissolved.” He says these things about Julian the Apostate, who, when he found himself with wizards, and demons were gathered together, made his Cross, and the demons instantly dispersed, and he himself was freed from his fear.

In his Homily 54 on St. Matthew, Chrysostom says: “Like a halo, thus do we carry about the Cross of Christ. And this is not strange, seeing that everything is accomplished for us through the Cross, whether it be that we have been nourished with that secret food [Eucharist], or have been ordained to office [Priesthood], or have done anything else whatsoever, this symbol of victory presents itself to us.”

Further Notes By John Sanidopoulos

1. It seems that the practice of the Pope, mentioned by St. Nikodemos, of wearing a cross below his shoe is no longer a practice, rather the cross is placed above the shoe (as can be seen here). Before the 18th century, the papal shoes for outdoor usage were made of plain red Morocco leather and had a wide cross embroidered in gold braid. The cross extended across the shoe and down to the sole. In the 18th century the ends of the cross were shortened. The custom of kissing the Pope's feet was abolished by Pope Paul VI (read here).

2. For many years, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece has been issuing statements against shoe manufacturers who place crosses on the soles of footwear. This was done even as recently as April 2015, when it was discovered that in China a shoe manufacturer was placing a Byzantine cross under shoes (see here). For this reason, before purchasing shoes, make sure they do not have a cross anywhere below the feet.

3. Often churches distribute bulletins or objects with crosses or icons on them. These should be handled with reverence for the sake of the images, and properly disposed of if need be through either burning or burial.

4. My pious grandmother never read about this Canon, but through her sense of reverence she instinctively knew not to trample on the Cross. One day when I was a teenager we were walking through the woods in Greece, and she noticed many small branches on the ground that would cross over forming the sign of the Cross. When I was about to step on one she would tell me to stop, then she stooped down and uncrossed it. Every time she saw this, she stooped down, despite her old age, and uncrossed them, to prevent any person or animal from trampling on the form of the Cross.