The representation of the tortured, wounded, body of Christ on the Cross has become a central sign and symbol in many Churches. This crucifix is often centrally displayed as a focus for devotion and prayer. In fact it was only in the twelfth century that this began to happen in Western Christianity, and to this day it is not a central feature of Orthodox Christianity.
An early representation shows a majestic Christ clothed in kingly or priestly robes, often crowned, and reigning from tree. In the crucifix form of this image Christ’s arms are outstretched in an open and welcoming way and the image as a whole appears as one of triumph and glory.
This style of crucifix, the Christus Rex, comes from the earliest years of Christianity and has a long honoured tradition. It is a symbol of victory.
On the Christus Rex cross we see the risen Christ, still bearing his wounds, as the Universal King who has triumphed over death and opens arms for all in loving, serving, embrace.
It is this style of crucifix which we have recently had placed centrally at St Chrysostom’s, behind the altar, as a focus for our faith and worship. The Christus Rex cross suggests perspectives which are central to our outlook in faith at St Chrysostom’s. We are an Easter People encouraged and inspired by the Christ, the Universal King, the Christ of the cosmos, who has come among us as a human being and has suffered and died, and has shown us God’s victory over death in which we share.
We are encouraged to see the liturgies – the worship – of the Great Three Days as one great liturgical act honouring Christ the servant of all (Maundy Thursday), crucified for us (Good Friday) and risen and victorious Lord of the Universe (Easter Day). So these elements are united in the Christus Rex cross.
Canon Vernon Staley (1852-1933) a leading Anglo Catholic apologist put it well when he wrote: “It is not well to regard the Eucharist as commemorative solely of the death and passion of our Lord, and to forget that it is also the memorial of His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension. In thus emphasizing His humiliation at the expense of His exaltation some have been led to associate the crucifix with the altar rather than the cross of glory. In connection with this, it may be pointed out that our Lord in glory is a much more suitable subject. . .over the altar, than our Lord crucified.”
From St John Chrysostom’s Sermon The Thief and the Cross:
Do you not see, then, how the cross symbolizes the kingdom? If you desired further proof, it lies in the fact that the cross did not leave Christ earthbound, but lifted him up and carried him back to heaven.