Double-headed eagle

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The double-headed eagle is the most recognizable symbol of orthodoxy today (other than the cross) and was the official state symbol of the late Byzantine Empire, symbolising the unity between Church and State; the heads of the eagle also represent the dual sovereignity of the Byzantine Emperor; the left head representing Rome (the West) and the right head representing Constantinople (the East) whilst the claws of the eagle hold a cross, or a sword, and an orb.

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Church of Greece flag

The modern double-headed eagle flag for the Greek Orthodox Church, features the double-headed eagle with a sword in the right claw and an orb in the left. Above the eagle, is a crown and the background colour of the flag is yellow.

Church of Russia emblem

The two major symbolic elements of Russian state and church symbols (the two-headed eagle and St. George slaying the dragon) predate Peter the Great. The double-headed eagle was adopted by Ivan III after his marriage with the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologo, whose uncle Constantine was the last Byzantine Emperor. After the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, Ivan III and his heirs considered Moscow to be the last stronghold of the Christian faith, and in effect, the last Roman Empire (hence the expression "Third Rome" for Moscow and - by extension - for the whole of Imperial Russia).

From 1497, on the double-headed eagle proclaimed a Russian sovereignty equal to that of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The first remained evidence of the double-headed eagle officialised as an emblem of Russia is on the great prince's seal, stamped in 1497 on a Charter of share and allotment of independent princes' possessions. At the same time the image of gilded double-headed eagle on red background appeared on the walls of the Palace of Facets in the Kremlin.

Examples of double-headed eagle

The following gallery, shows examples of the double-headed eagle in the history of the church.

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