|Anchor, from an early Christian sarcophagus [Roman].|
(Copyright © Edward Riojas)
Copyright © Edward Riojas
I have a feeling the early Church would have viewed our present crisis as a cakewalk. Let’s be honest, few of us have been dragged from our homes and beaten, few of us have been ostracized because of our beliefs, and few of us have been tortured or crucified or worse. And toilet paper wasn’t even a thing.
The wealth of our society and the gross abundance of things has arguably clouded our eyes to the things that matter, and it is difficult for us to see beyond the things that don’t. It seems that only when faced with uncertainty do we look to the cross.
For early Christians, however, the first place they looked for hope was not the cross. The cross still had a great stigma of shame attached to it and, in spite of what many may think, it was not among the earliest Christian symbols.
The anchor preceded the crucifix, in common use, by hundreds of years. The anchor preceded even the [empty] cross by many decades. Seemingly, it takes a storm to appreciate the anchor’s existence.
With many of the apostles connected to fishing, it is no surprise many references to the Church are in nautical terms. The Church itself was commonly called “The Ship.” Parallels to the ark were also used. St. Paul’s experiences led him to refer to some as making a “shipwreck of their faith,” and men’s tongues were likened to the rudder of a ship. Indeed, the place were we sit in church is still called “the nave.”
It was, however, the writer to the Hebrews that firmly set the idea of the anchor in the Christian’s mind:
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20)
This is also where the anchor symbol was tied to the word “Hope.” If one reads carefully, however, that Hope is not some kind of spiritual bootstrap that we pull. Rather, it is the One who enters the Holy Place. I think it no accident that the early Christians identified with the anchor, not only because of this Scriptural reference, but also because an anchor’s structure is nothing if it is not fused with the one thing so dreaded, so shameful, and yet so blessed – the cross.