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The symbol of the cross has been in widespread use since ancient times. It possesses all kinds of meanings and attributes, spanning a great many peoples and faiths. But the cross found its deepest sense and symbolism in Christianity. In fact, the cross became a symbol of all religion. Once an instrument of ignominious and agonizing death, the crucifix in Christianity became a symbol of protection and memorial. Each time we touch the cross we wear on the chest, touching the skin, we have the chance to think of the Saviour and the sins He took upon himself for the world.
The cross can take a great many different forms, with over 400 versions in existence. By far the most widespread are the so-called Greek cross, a simple four-sided cross with lines of equal length, and the Latin cross, a typical Catholic cross, also four-sided, but with its vertical bar elongated downward. In Orthodoxy, the conventional form has been that of an eight-pointed cross. The memorial cross most commonly takes on this particular form.
The tradition of placing memorial crosses into the earth dates back to ancient times, with the apostles being the first to do so, thus marking the beginning of their missionary work in this world.
Memorial (or penitential) crosses have been raised above the Russian land for centuries, and often not just by one person but by entire towns and villages. Their main purpose was to commemorate some place or event, so that people would remember and offer their thanks or make a request in prayer. For example, memorial crosses could be raised in times of drought to mark the place of special worship and prayer to the Lord for the return of rain to the earth.
A memorial cross had to be placed beside a road, close to a settlement. This way, it would come to mark the settlement and symbolize the protection of the village or hamlet under the Lord as well as act as a call for each passing traveller to ask for the mercy and help of the Saviour.
Memorial crosses were also placed at the sites of destroyed churches. They would therefore serve as reminders of the holiness of the land, allowing people to reflect on the sacred space and, if necessary, offer a prayer.
These crosses were most often made from wood or stone. Given their size, these were the ideal materials in terms of cost. Modern-day memorial crosses can be made from more expensive materials.
Today’s large, golden crosses on the cupolas of churches are also in fact memorial crosses. It is actually most often because of these large church crosses, which come into view when we walk to church, that we bless ourselves by making the sign of the cross. Large gold crosses are a symbol of our faith and a symbol of the triumph of light over darkness.