The cross combined with circle can be seen among the ancient symbolism of pre-Christian heathen Russia where it signified Sun. Russia having been baptized the ancient symbol gets new meaning, becoming a bearer of the image of True Sun, the Sun of Christ Truth. “Sunny” crosses have established a big presence, particularly in Novgorod land. This tradition underlies the image of the next-to-skin cross having Old Testament Trinity on its obverse and The Mother of God Icon “The Sign” on its reverse.
In Old Testament in Genesis narrated is of God apparition as three angels to Abraham and Sarah. God promised to Abraham Messiah to be born among his offsprings, to save the people of the Fall and to open Paradise gate for them again. From antiquity the Church interprets this event as a prophecy of Christ future cross sacrifice. The famous icon-painter Roublev (14th – beginning of 15th century) gave up the traditional “hospitality of Abraham” and created a new – circular – composition where remained only three angels sitting around table. In circular movement angels reverberating infinitely in each other create quite a new image of the perfect triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
On the icon two angels bowed before the third that consecrated the chalice. This is a symbolical picture of future cross sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God. Blessing the chalice the Lord as if blesses impending sacrificial death on the cross, the tribulation chalice that He should drain for human sins.
Since the end of 14th century the Trinity icon has become the icon of Pentecost holy day when on the fiftieth day after Christ Resurrection the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. People now just call this holiday “Whitsunday”, since the Third Hypostasis as well presented its activities on earth. “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us”, the believers ask both at home and in church. This Trisagion is crossover written around the Trinity on this cross.
Prophetic as well is the Mother of God icon “The Sign” located on the reverse. Our Lady upraised Her hands in praying, and on Her bosom the benedictory Infant Christ intercedes with. Enclosed in circle, the symbol of heaven and eternity, He is as if just conceived in His Mother womb, remaining personified image of Divine Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Iconography follows the vision of St. Isaiah, Prophet: “Because of that the Lord God gives you this sign behold, the Virgin shall conceive and give birth to a Son and his name shall be called Emanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Since the middle of 14th century (at that time a high iconostasis appeared) this icon has become the central in the range of prophetic ones. It is usually placed right above the Trinity icon that stands in the center of the Patriarchs (Forefathers) tier.
In the iconographic composition of “The Sign” icon one more story of Old Testament is of great importance – about Israelite fight against Amalek army: “And when Moses raised his hands Israel overcame, and when he let his hands down Amalek overcame… <…> And he kept his hands hoisted until sunset. And deposed was Amalek by Jesus… <…> and Moses established an altar (for the Lord God) and called the name Jehovah Nissih (the Lord God is my banner)” (Js. Nav.10-11; 12-13; 15). Moses prayed for Israelite entrusted to him by God, the Most Holy Mother of God being an eternal primate before God – She beseeches Him for all beings leading them from spiritual desert to the Kingdom of God. And while She is beseeching, while Her hands are hoisted, all the peoples on the earth will overcome in the invisible battle against devil forces.
“The Sign” icon, the most celebrated one for its wonder-makings is now in Novgorod. During the battle of Novgorod folks against Suzdal ones in 1169 the Mother of God on this icon started to shed tears as a sign of mourning over “odious dissension in this world”. This amazing event is narrated of in the oldest Russian chronicle. The miracle is commemorated on November 27.
Glorifying the Holy Lady the Church venerates Her “More honourable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphimas standing beside God”, i.e. standing nearer to God than all the cherubs and seraphs, and all types of angels. This glorification is scripted around Her image on this cross.
Four-ended cross shows the image of the world that stretches to all four parts and aspires from the earth to Heavens having God in the center thereof. United in God are all ends of the world, as well as the earth unites with God. “Just as the cross four edges are being held and united by its centre, so by the power of God held are the height and the depth, the longitude and the latitude, that is, all visible and invisible creation” – wrote the St. John Damascene (8th century).