Across the Orthodox Christian world, symbols, images, flags and much more play a significant role in expressing the beliefs and identity of Orthodox Christian peoples and nations. Back in 2013, Mode of Life was approached to examine designs for the creation of Orthodox Christian flags for the Australia-Oceania region.
The following 5 key designs were deemed to be the most popular, as they emphasised those symbols that are held in common by the nations of the region which hold cultural and spiritual significance. Namely the Southern Cross, along with the importance that the sea, land, skies and radiant sunlight play for this region of the world, both indigenous peoples and those who have settled here.
(It is hoped that the following designs will in due course be produced for supply to the Orthodox faithful).
Flag 1: Oceania Orthodox Christian Flag
The design was quite simple that utilised blue to represent the sea and skies, with gold representing the strong sunlight, and black for the earth of the lands that constitute the region. Along with the stars representing the Southern Cross and the 4 points of the compass as the message of the Gospel embraces all peoples, irrespective of their race, culture or location. The double-headed eagle being a well-known symbol of Orthodox Christianity and heritage, characteristically re-emphasizes the point by looking east and west, that is, that all people are embraced by the message of the Gospel which soars high like an eagle, and transcends our limited mortal reality. Within the the context of Oceania it symbolically represents the joining together and gradual merging and interchange between the cultural religious heritage of the Orthodox Christian peoples with the indigenous and other peoples who live in Oceania. The Cross above the eagle with the Alpha and Omega are a reminder once again of the all-encompassing salvific and transformative message of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. One commentator having seen the flag highlighted the flag displays that Orthodox obsession with placing symbols within a symbol, by placing a cross within a cross. Nevertheless the marine type blue contrasted against black and gold was cited as being very eye-catching.
Flag 2: Composite Oceania Orthodox Flag
Again, in this flag we have the recurring colours of gold/yellow, black and blue together with the white of the stars. We see the Cross of Christ emphasized as the central focus and theme which is blue as a reminder of the seas that embrace the nations of Oceania, along with the skies which are illumined at night with the presence of the Southern Cross. Within the four cantons of the flag we see key images such as:
*The double-headed eagle of Orthodoxy in the top left-hand canton.
*The Greek letters “Chi-Rho” that represents the first letters of the name of “Christ” in top right-hand canton.
*The “Alpha and Omega” in the bottom left hand corner which again is a symbol of Christ and means that God is both the beginning and end of all of human reality and of our lives.
*The “Fleur de Lis” (Iris flower) represents the Holy Trinity and its Trinitarian communion, the One God in Three Persons to which Orthodox Christian believe and worship. This symbol is more classically associated with French Christianity and Western Christendom, but was a symbol that was extensively used also within Byzantium and Czarist Russia, as the iris was a plant cultivated extensively within monastic gardens. Yet considering that the largest religious presence within the Oceania region, and which has had a great impact on the region, and to which Orthodoxy in Oceania interacts with, that is Roman Catholic-Protestant Christianity, it was viewed only appropriate to utilise this symbol; (especially given the large numbers of converts coming from Western Christianity that have become part of the Orthodox Christian family).
Flag 3: St Andrew’s Southern Cross Flag
The colours of this flag are entirely blue to remind us of the sea and skies of Oceania, with the Southern Cross featured in its true form upon the flag as the central focus that frames the very name of Christ in the presence of the “Chi-Rho”. We thought it was quite appropriate that a flag of the Apostle Andrew should be designed, as the Saint is held in great affection by all Orthodox Faithful, but also to honour him as the patron of the only Orthodox Theological College in all of Oceania (and I’m told the Southern Hemisphere also), which has done much work to foster and form the future clergy and lay servants of the Orthodox Churches across all jurisdictions. It is this college which has allowed the opportunity for all Orthodox to come together to study, meditate and discuss with each other, the beautiful mysteries of our Trinitarian Creator, Lord and Saviour. So we offer this flag as an unofficial banner of the Theological College of St Andrew’s in Refern, Sydney.
A slight variation of the St Andrew’s Southern Cross flag which was very popular, utilised differing shades of green for the Cross of St Andrew’s. The use of green representing peace, tranquillity and the bounty of the plant life of the lands of Oceania.
Flag 4: Dual Oceania Orthodox Southern Cross Flag
This flag was the most simplest and some have said, least imaginative or least inspiring of flag designs. But then again, it is the least radical that seeks to merge the two key symbols that represent Oceania on one hand, and the Orthodox Church on the other. We see on the left side, the deep blue of the Oceania night sky that has the Southern Cross shining bright that frames within its embrace the first two letters of Christ’s name, the “Chi-Rho”. And on the right in all bright gold, one of the Byzantine flags used (and has been in use) as the unofficial flag of the Eastern Orthodox Church (despite being supplanted by other flags used to represent specific national Churches or Patriarchates). We see the sword of truth wielded in defence of the Orthodox Ecumene, the eagle looking both East and West as the Gospel is to be preached in all lands and amongst all peoples. With the crown representing the Heavenly Kingdom to which all faithful aspire to and is an offering and legacy of love which crowns all of humanity.
Flag 5: Fleur de Lis Oceania Orthodox Flag
The colours of this flag brings together the blue that represents the sea and skies of Oceania; but contrasts that with the brightness of red and white which represent the two paths of bearing witness to Our Lord Saviour Jesus Christ. That is, the path of red martyrdom whereby we are called to shed our blood for truth and love in the name of Christ, and white martyrdom, where we offer our whole lives to bearing witness to Christ during times of peace through complete dedication and asceticism. The writing in the four cantons which spell “ICXC NIKA” (Jesus Christ Victorious) are the very words stamped on the Offertory Bread (Prophoron) that Orthodox Christians bring to church to be offered upon the altar as the Holy Eucharist and Antidoron. But it is also a reminder that God is above all troubles of the world, above mortality and pettiness, and that we can take comfort and stregth that no matter how problematic the world becomes, or our lives or our spiritual struggles, God is already victorious over all and bestows to all peoples love, truth and life. The flag has the Cross as its key symbol which frames and brings our focus to the Fleur-de-Lis (iris flower) which is that ancient symbol of the Holy Trinity and the stars of the Southern Cross embracing it. As for the colour of the Fleur-de-Lis and the Southern Cross Stars there was two colour schemes put forward. The above flag shows the scheme with black to contrast against the starkness of the red and to remind us of the earth we came from and the earth to which we shall return, that is from creation by God at our birth and a return to God upon our burial. The alternative was to utilise gold to indicate the luminosity of God’s presence within our lives, who transcends our mortal reality, and to Whom we aspire to join ourselves to and live a life in eternal blessedness by His side.
Flag 6: Aboriginal Orthodox Flags and their Variations
In response to submissions and requests made by fellow Orthodox Christian faithful, inclusive of those who are of Aboriginal origin or ethnicity, we include certain variations of some of the above flag designs utilising the colours of the Australian Aboriginal flag. The colours of the Aboriginal flag which has become widespread, represent the struggle and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples across Australia. The flag holds a somewhat official significance within Australia, and is often flown alongside the National flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag by many governmental agencies/departments, prominent businesses and community organisations. The colour red has a number of meanings. Firstly it represents the red earth of Australia, and the red ochre used in Aboriginal ceremonies and the Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land. Another meaning that is drawn from the colour red, refers to the blood that has been shed by Aboriginal peoples in their struggle to survive since British colonisation and the formation of the Australian nation, and their integration into the mainstream (-A matter which is still ongoing). The black represents the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, as well as the night sky; while the yellow represents the sun which in Aboriginal culture is seen as the giver of life and protector of all peoples. The Australian sunlight is known for its intensity and its ever-present embrace of the Australian landscape.
Having said all that, the variations of the above displayed designs combine the colours and meaning of the Aboriginal flag colours with Orthodox Christian symbolism and meaning. The yellow/gold which represents the Light of God and God’s presence amongst us as He is the Light as cited in Scripture. Black not only represents the Aboriginal peoples, but also the renunciation of the world’s ways in favour of the Royal Way of Christ and the deeper realities of the spiritual life; or as one of our Aboriginal Orthodox brethren coined the phrase, “the Biblical Dreamtime”. Red of course recalls to memory the blood of martyrdom for both the Faith and the struggle of one’s own people. The red utilised in our designs varied between the red utilised by the National Aboriginal flag and the preference to utilised a burgundy type red to highlight the point of martyrdom. There was also discussion as to whether to use the bright yellow or to use a less stronger but golden type yellow:
Variation 1 – Southern Cross and Orthodox Christian Eagle
Variation 2 – Southern Cross, ICXC NIKA and Fleur-De-Lis
Variation 3 – Polystavrion (Multiple Crucifixes)
An adaption of the African-American Orthodox Flag
In addition to these differing flag variations that proved popular in our survey, we also had some submissions made that utilised the Southern Cross upon the Aboriginal National flag in various locations. Amongst the submissions, there were some which place a “Chi-Rho” at the centre of the Southern Cross, however these did not prove themselves to be popular within our survey.