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Labarum Symbol

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Labarum (or Chi Rho) can be viewed as the first Christian Cross. As a pre-Christian symbol, it signified good fortune. The Chi Rho became an important Christian symbol when adopted by the Roman Emperor Constantine,. Some believe Chi Rho represents the first two letters in the name of Christ- the Chi, or ‘Ch,’ and Rho, or ‘r.’

Labarum Symbol

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Labarum is one of the most prominent symbols of the early undivided Church. It is found both in th manuscripts and art of early Christians and became intertwined with the Church of the Roman Empire after the conversion of Constantine. According to Church Father Eusebius, on the eve of the Battle of the Milvan Bridge, the Emperor saw the emblem in a dream, with the inscription, “By this sign, you shall conquer.” According to the story, the battle was won. In return for the victory, Constantine legalized the religion and erected Christian churches. Unfortunately, this story is very unlikely, as Constantine’s conversion occured on his deathbed, if at all. In any case, the symbol was the standard of the Emperor’s army, prominently displayed on the Emperor’s labarum, or battle standard.

Before it became the monogram of Christ, the chi rho was the monogram of Chronos (whose name also begins with a Chi-rho), the god of time, and an emblem of several solar deities. The Chi-ro is also the origin of the tradition of abbreviating “Christ” in “christian” or “Christmas” to “X.”  The small letters in the image are the alpha and omega. In Hebrew, Chi-Rho equates to Tav-Resh. The chi rho was used in hermetic alchemical texts to denote time.

In any event, he labarum as a symbol looks to Christ and is a reminder that we have an historic faith – one occurring in time but with an eye always looking to eternity. It hearkens back to a time when the Faith was guarded. It reminds us of the early persecuted Christians who used this symbol (and others) as a sign of hope. It recalls the period when the Church first emerged from the oppression and drew the boundaries against heresy. Most importantly, its use as a military standard is a sign to us that we are engaged in warfare – albeit a spiritual one against principalities and powers and we must remain vigilant until the end of the age.

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