What does the Chi Rho symbol mean?

The Chi Rho symbol, also known as the chrismon, is one of the earliest forms of a christogram. A christogram is a combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name Jesus Christ, similar to a monogram. The Chi Rho symbol superimposes the Greek letters Chi and Rho from the first two letters in the Greek word christos, meaning Christ. It is formed by placing the Rho so that its vertical stroke intersects with the center of Chi. It is pictured below.

Chi-Rho symbol

This symbol was used by the Roman emperor Constantine (306—337 AD) on his military standard, known as the labarum, in hopes of bringing divine protection from the Christian God during battle. Earlier symbols in use were the staurogram and the IX monogram. The Chi Rho symbol can also be found on coins, medallions, and signet rings from this time period. Christians also used this symbol in frescoes and on sarcophagi.

In pre-Christian times this abbreviation was short for chreston, meaning good, and would be written in the margin of a page to mark a particularly valuable or relevant passage. After the Chi Rho symbol became associated with Christ, Latin texts would use the abbreviation with different endings to modify the word—XPo for Christo, XPi for Christi, and XPs for Christus.

Some have noted that the Chi with its crossed lines can remind us of the cross. It is a crux decussata, a symbol of the cross. Others are reminded of a shepherd's staff when they see the Rho, remembering Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14). Sometimes the Chi Rho symbol appears with an N intertwined for Nike, meaning conqueror. Similarly, the symbol is seen with a laurel wreath surrounding it on some sarcophagi, showing that Christ is victorious over death (2 Timothy 1:10). The Chi Rho symbol often appears with an Alpha (α) on one side and an Omega (ω) on the other, showing that Christ is the beginning and the end (Revelation 21:6, 22:13).

Today the Chi Rho symbol is used in churches around the world, on banners, clerical stoles, candlesticks, rings, and other things. No matter where or how it appears, it should draw our minds to Christ and remind us to place our trust in Him alone and not in any symbol, talisman, or amulet.

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