A pectoral cross or pectoral (from the Latin pectoralis, "of the chest") is a cross, usually relatively large, suspended from the neck by a cord or chain that reaches well down the chest. It is worn by the clergy as an indication of their position and is different from the small crosses, that have no special significance, worn on necklaces by many Christians.
In Orthodox Church practice the rules for wearing the cross differ with various traditions. The pectoral cross is worn by all bishops, but not necessarily by all priests. In the Greek tradition, the pectoral cross is only given to specific priests for faithful service; in the Slavic tradition, a cross is worn by all priests.
The cross worn by priests depicts the crucified Christ, whether in painted form as an icon, or in relief. On the Orthodox crucifix the body of Christ is not in full three-dimensional form, but in no more than three-quarter relief. It also bears the inscription INBI (the title that Pontius Pilate placed above the head of Jesus at the crucifixion) and the letters IC XC NIKA (meaning Jesus Christ Conquers) around the four arms of the cross. Orthodox pectoral crosses are almost always on chains of either silver or gold, sometimes with intricately worked links. Priest's crosses will often have an icon of Christ "Made Without Hands" at the top. This is the icon before which Orthodox Christians usually confess their sins. In Russian practice, the back of a priest's cross is usually inscribed with St. Paul's words to St. Timothy: "Be an example to the believers in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12).
Pectoral crosses are awarded in several degrees (particularly in the Slavic tradition):
- In the Russian tradition, the Silver Cross is awarded to all priests by their bishop on the day of their ordination. This tradition began with the last Tsar, Nicholas II, who awarded a silver cross to every priest in the Russian Empire. Even after the fall of the Romanov dynasty, the practice of awarding the Silver Cross to Russian priests at their ordination has continued. This practice helps to distinguish priests from deacons or monks, all of whom wear the same type of cassock (riassa}, and are otherwise indistinguishable when not vested. The Silver Cross is not enameled or decorated in any manner except for engraving or relief. For Orthodox priests who do not wear the cross by right of their priesthood, but only by permission of their bishop, one way a bishop may punish one of his priests is to forbid him to wear the priest's cross.
- The next degree is the Gold Cross which is a simple gold cross, similar to the Silver Cross. It is also without enameling or other decoration. The Gold Cross is worn by archpriests, abbots, and abbesses as a mark of their office, and may be awarded by the bishop to other priests, both married and monastic, for distinguished service to the church.
- The highest pectoral cross, is With Decorations. It is jeweled and sometimes enameled and generally with the depiction of an Eastern-style miter at the top. This type of pectoral cross is also referred to as a Jeweled Cross and is worn by bishops, archimandrites, and protopriests as a sign of their office. The Jeweled Cross may also be awarded to other priests. All bishops are entitled to wear the pectoral cross with decorations, although most simply wear a Panagia when not vested for services.
Other aspects of wearing a pectoral cross are:
- A priest may be granted the right to wear a second pectoral cross.
- A priest who has been given the pectoral cross will typically wear it at all times, whether vested or not.
- In Russian practice, a nun who is not an abbess may also be granted the privilege of wearing a pectoral cross, as an honorary award which, however, is not an award granted to monks who are not priests).
Whenever the cross is put on, the wearer first uses it to make the Sign of the Cross on himself and then kisses it and puts it on.