The topic of religion is often a touchy one, and often results in an apathetic discussion at best. However, no one can deny the prevalent influence that religion plays in many people's lives. In the Western world, Christianity still dominates as the most popular religion among millions of people. And it is impossible not to recognize the many significant roles Christianity has played throughout history, whether it be through politics and government, wars and crusades, social structures, ideologies, and of course, personal convictions and practices.
Although Christian practices may be waning in several parts of the world, many people throughout the world are just as devout believers as ever have been before. Christianity continues to retain a strong presence in the world, even after thousands of years of history, as is evident by the many Christian symbols visible on streets, buildings, and elsewhere. And the most popular symbol of Christianity is the cross.
The Christian cross is by far the best-known Christian symbol, which often features atop church buildings, on walls and street corners, and on cross necklace jewelry. The symbol of the Christian cross has a long and interesting history that culminated to the present time in which, for Christian followers, the cross represents faith in Christ and is a symbol of hope in salvation through Christ.
Literally, the cross is a replica of the instrument on which Christ was killed. But it's important to note that the symbol of the Christian cross is different than a crucifix. A crucifix is a cross that includes a representation of Jesus' body and represents the crucifixion of Christ. On the other hand, while the cross still represents the instrument on which Christ was killed, it does not feature a representation of the Jesus' body. The absence of Christ's body makes the cross more of a symbol of Christ's resurrection and the hope for life after death and salvation, rather than merely a symbol of death.
In early Christianity, the cross was seldom used as a hopeful symbol, as it directly correlated in most people's mind to a painful and gruesome method of public execution that still occurred during the first two centuries of Christianity. Instead of the cross, Christianity was most often symbolized by a fish representation called the Ichthys.
However, as is made evident by early writings, the cross was associated with the Christian movement from as early as the second century, and there is evidence that the tradition of tracing the cross on foreheads was popular among Christians. Despite the introduction of the cross into worship practices, many early Church Fathers had to frequently defend themselves against the accusations that they worshipped the cross. There is also evidence that many of the early Christian faith used to swear by the power of the cross.
But early protestations against the use of the cross were not uncommon. Some church leaders condemned the sign of the cross, believing that it had pagan origins. Indeed, cross-like symbols were used prior to Christianity in several different religious rituals and practices. Eventually, the cross lost its pagan associations, and during the 5th century, the first Christian cross appeared on a piece of Christian architecture.
Interestingly, the first Christian crosses were not of the same shape that we are used to seeing today. The first crosses were Greek crosses which had four arms, all of equal length. Later, crosses in the shape of a "T" became common, and finally, the Roman cross, which is the cross most of us are familiar with today, became the Christian cross most prevalent among artwork and architecture.
Since the symbol's inception, the popularity of the cross grew first among Catholicism, which places a great deal of emphasis on the use of symbols and tradition, and then among Protestantism. And the popularity of the symbol continues to grow into the present time. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox, and some members of Lutheranism and even some Anglicans and Protestants makes the sign of the cross on themselves as a sign of devotion and faith. And there are even a few Christian holidays that commemorate the cross.
In addition, during religious celebrations such as Easter, First Communion, baptism, and other Catholic and Protestant events, it is common to give cross necklace jewelry to loved ones to symbolize their faith, and many Christians adorn their homes with crosses.
The symbol of the cross is now farther removed from the notion of a painful and excruciating death and holds a variety of related meanings and reminders. The cross can be viewed as symbol of self-denial, as the Bible records that Christ asked his followers to take up their cross and follow him, indicating that those who believe in Christ should sacrifice their worldly ambitions and lead a life devoted to God.
The cross is also a symbol of the shame and suffering that Christ overcame out of love for humankind. The Christian cross serves as a reminder to believers all that Christ suffered in order to overcome death and provide salvation to his followers.
However, the cross is most often construed as a representation of God's love and Christ's sacrifice and atonement that took place at Calvary. Hence, the cross also symbolizes God's reconciliation with humankind. The absence of Christ's body on the cross also symbolizes Jesus' victory over sin and death and that through him, humanity can also overcome death and achieve salvation.
The symbol of the Christian cross is a powerful representation for many Christian believers. The symbol has lasted centuries and is likely to last for several centuries to come. Although Christian practices may have evolved and changed, the symbol of the Christian cross has retained its singular importance in the Christian religion, and for those who believe in Christianity, the cross is a powerful representation of faith, devotion, and salvation.
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