18 So these are two things that don’t change, because it’s impossible for God to lie. He did this so that we, who have taken refuge in him, can be encouraged to grasp the hope that is lying in front of us.19 This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, since he became a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:19, Common English Bible).
The anchor has been a symbol of the Christian faith for just about as long as the existence of the faith. To sum up its meaning in a single word, “hope.”
The anchor was a key Christian symbol during the early church period during the period when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. For the early church, the common symbol was not the cross but the anchor.
It was a common practice for early Christians to hide in the catacombs. Worship often took place there. If I am a Christian in the early church period, hiding and worshipping in the catacombs the anchor served to remind me that my hope is anchored in Jesus. Christians needed these reminders many times but none more notable than during the reign of Emperor Nero. In his time Christians were thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, beheaded, crucified, set on fire and otherwise tortured. The anchor served to encourage early Christians that Jesus was (and for us is) their anchor. The symbol encouraged the faithful to remain anchored to the faith and hope of Jesus Christ.
It is said that the use of the anchor came into being during the rule of Emperor Trajan during the first century A.D. The fourth pope, St. Clement to the Crimea. Once there Clement converted the people of his new home. Trajan was livid. He ordered that Clement be tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. As the story goes, the sea receded three miles to reveal the burial place of Clement. There Clement was buried by angels in a marble mausoleum. This legend, like many legends, is rooted far more in story than in fact. However, what is clear from it is the death of Clement hand a major impact on the faith and life of the early church.
Surprisingly, considering its believed power, the anchor faded from and had all but disappeared by the beginning of the fourth century. When Constantine became emperor and Christianity became the “official” religion of the empire, the cross replaced the anchor in common use.
In the early 1600s, the anchor re-emerged as a symbol for the Church. It remained in use, particularly as an engraved symbol for tombs. By the 1800s the symbol again all but disappeared.
Though not as common today, the anchor can once again be found in Christian use. The silversmith James Avery has used the symbol in his popular “Faith, Hope and Love” ring. Each word in the ring has an accompanying symbol. Faith has a cross, love has a heart and hope is the anchor.
As a former sea-going man, I am attracted to the anchor. When I see this symbol on the Chrismon tree, it reminds me that my hope (as well as my faith) is anchored in Jesus Christ my Lord.
Have a Great day in the Lord.
With Joy and Thankfulness,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved