In the Spotlight: The St. Olga Cross

St Olga crossAlthough inspired by ancient symbols and designs, Gallery Byzantium’s St. Olga Cross is an original design dating to the late 20th century.   The cross features a central, engraved cross illuminated by the sun with the letters “IX IC.”  On the reverse side is the Slavonic phrase “spasi I sokhrani”, meaning “save and protect”.
The sun, found at the top of the cross, is a symbol commonly found throughout Christianity.  While the sun, literally, provides light for the earth, the sun in Christianity represents Jesus as “the light” and the “Sun of Righteousness.” As the sun, he is the light that guides and enlightens.   In English, this connection between Christ and the sun can be seen as sort of a play on words – the “son” of God and the “sun” in the sky.

Also known as the “Eastern Orthodox Cross,” “St. Andrew Cross,” or “Russian Cross,” the center cross within our St. Olga Cross appears frequently in Slavic religious symbolism.  It was originally a Byzantine cross, later adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The topmost arm represents the inscription above the crucified Christ’s head – typically the Slavonic translation of “King of Glory.”

The center arm, where His hands were nailed, is often accompanied by the inscription “IX IC,” which can be seen on our St. Olga Cross.  This represents  “the first and last letters of Christ’s name in Greek” (Jesus – “IHCOYC” – and Christ – “XPICTOC”).

The bottom arm (or foot plate) can be depicted as tilted or straight.  Tradition teaches that when the Apostle Andrew preached in southern Russia he placed a life-size three-bar cross at his side. While explaining the Last Judgement he tilted the foot plate to signify that those on the right side of Christ will go up into heaven and those on the left will go down into hell.

The Life of St. Olga

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Considered to be the first saint of Russian Orthodox Church, St. Olga’s legacy can still be felt today: she influenced the conversion to Christianity of the Kievan Rus (which, today, includes parts of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland).

Although her origins are unknown, it is believed that she was born in Pskov around 890.  “About 903 she married Prince Igor I, who was the son of the founder of Russia, Rurik.” Not much is known of their life together.  Prince Igor was murdered in 945 and Olga was became regent for their son, Svyatoslav, until he came of age.  This made her Russia’s first (recorded) female ruler.

Olga was a strong and effective ruler.  “The chronicles are filled with accounts of her incessant “goings” throughout the Russian land with the aim of the well-being and improvement of the civil and domestic manner of life of her subjects.” It was a visit to Constantinople in 957, however, that truly cemented her legacy.

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In Constantinople, Olga became familiar with the teachings of Christianity and sought baptism.  She visited Emperor Constantine VII who, admiring her looks, intelligence, and diligence, sought her hand in marriage.  Olga said put off the proposal, reasoning that she wanted to be baptized first.  Constantine acted as her godfather.  When he proposed again, after the baptism, quick-thinking Olga (still devoted to her dead husband) cited that since she was now his daughter in baptism, it would be unholy to accept him as her husband.

During her baptism, Olga was given the name “Helen,” in honor of St. Helena, discoverer of the True Cross.

“In an edifying word spoken at the conclusion of the rite, the Patriarch said: “Blessed are you among Russian women, for you have forsaken the darkness and have loved the Light. The Russian people shall bless you in all the future generations, from your grandson and great-grandson to your furthermost descendants.”

Upon returning home, St. Olga was not successful in converting or son or others to Christianity.  She did, however, inspire her grandson, Vladimir, to become an Orthodox Christian.  Once he ascended the throne, he “[…] led the inhabitants of Kiev and Rus’ to follow him in the Baptism of Rus.”

St. Olga died on July 11th, a day now commemorated as her feast day.  Not surprisingly, she is the patron saint of widows (for her devotion to Igor after his death) and converts.

Orthodox Church Symbols –
Christian Symbols of Faith –
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Christian Symbol: IC XC NIKA –
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St. Olga the Princess of Russia, in Holy Baptism Called Helen –
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