The Omega Symbol
'Mega' is the old Greek word for 'great'. When prefixed with the interjection 'O', the final letter of the Greek alphabet 'Omega' can be thus interpreted as not only 'the end', but also 'the great end', the end of time, the end of life as we know it.
Omega shaped headrest from the late First Temple period in Jerusalem
© Biblical Archaeology Society
There are two characters for Omega: the capital Ω and the more recent small ω. Understandably, the capital Ω is considered more the important of the two and usually the one chosen for the Omega Cross.
Pre-dating the Cross, we can see one of the earliest uses of the Omega as a burial headrest, carved onto the stone benches of the École Biblique burial caves in Jerusalem, which date from the 7th century BC.
The Omega Cross
With a Christian cross, the Omega is often seen paired with Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Jesus calls himself "the Alpha and the Omega"; the beginning and the end, living since before the Creation, and will continue to live eternally. On an Alpha and Omega Cross therefore, the positioning of the Alpha and the Omega symbols are usually given equal weights of importance.
On its own, Omega can be positioned anywhere on a cross:
When above the cross, the arc of the Omega appears like a halo, reminding us of the divinity of Christ.
Alternatively, the arc appears as a shrine or the tomb used to hold the body of Jesus before his Resurrection.
A similar design is where the 'tails' of the Omega form the horizontal cross arms. This integrated design shows that eternity is a fundamental part of the Cross.
Placed in the centre, like a Celtic Cross, the Omega, rather than a man, appears to be hanging on the cross. Indeed, when we refer to Jesus giving up his life to save mankind, we are not referring to just his physical human life. The crucifixion of Jesus was to enable him to take over all the sin that mankind carries. It is this sin that was taken by Jesus into death, for eternity.
Kashubian Omega Cross in Niezabyszewo cemetery
© Peter von Pazatka Lipinsky
(Click image to enlarge)
At the base of the cross, the Omega acts as a sort of brace, preventing the cross from toppling over. The limitless love and the everlasting life represented by the Omega is the base of the Crucifixion.
A rather special example of this design can be found in Polish cemeteries and museums at Pomeranian and Szczecin. This hand-made wrought-iron grave marker is known as the Kashubian Omega Cross and you can read a fascinating description on Peter von Pazatka Lipinsky's page at members.shaw.ca/....
Occasionally we might see a cross with the Omega inverted, like the ℧ symbol (formerly used for mho), which you'll remember from school is the electric conductance equal to the reciprocal of an ohm Ω. This has nothing to do with the Christian Cross, but combined with a Latin Cross does create a neat symbol that looks like the cross-section of a boat with a mast.
... and an inverted Omega with a slightly longer shaft makes the cross look like an Anchor – a life saver that can prevent a ship from crashing on to rocks. For Christians, the analogy is that Christ can save spiritual lives. The nautical image also leads to the idea of navigation (through life).
Lower down the shaft a small omega produces a variation of the Celtic Cross.
Finally, a small omega at the base of the cross looks similar to the lotus seen in the Nasrani Cross
Or with cropped edges it looks similar to the Anchor Cross. Indeed, numismatics refers to this as a Croix Ancrée.
It so happens that in the Greek numeric system, omega has a value of 800. Since the shapes of both "8" and "0" are never-ending lines, the numbers are often associated with eternity.
Ω from the 8th century BC, ω from the 3rd century BC.