Have you ever notice this symbol located in the center of our altar?
It is a “Christogram” or a religious symbol for Jesus Christ. Originating in Medieval Western Europe, JHS (or IHS) is a Latin acronym for Jesus Hominum Salvator – Jesus Savior of Mankind.
The Christogram “HIS” is derived from the Latin word for Jesus, “Iesus”. It was first used by Christians in the early centuries of the Church to refer to Jesus Christ. The symbol has been used ever since, and is still popular today among Episcopalians and other Christians. You may see it on baptismal fonts, altar cloths, and other pieces of church furniture. The Christogram is also sometimes used as a personal symbol by Episcopalians.
From the Greek letters, it is an abbreviation of the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Jesus). This is where some might interchange the “I” for a “J” (because there is no equivalent of the letter “J” in the Greek or Latin alphabet).
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Christogram is composed with letters X, P, I and X arranged into the cross. They are the first letters of one from two words in Greek language: Christ and Jesus Christ.
In the Western culture there exist the compositions: “IHS” and also “IHC” being the first letters (iota-eta-sigma) of the name Jesus in Greek alphabet: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Ίησοῦς or ΙΗϹΟΥϹ with lunate sigma). The abbreviation in form “IHS” appeared in first time on the coins of Justinian II on the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries.
The order of Jesuits, in other words the Society of Jesus (Societas Iesu), adopted IHS as its fixed emblem - the symbol in 17th century. There appeared also Latin interpretations of the abbreviation IHS, among others:
Iesus Humilis Societas - Humble Society of Jesus,
Iesus Hominum Salvator - Jesus, Savior of men,
In hoc signo vinces- By this sign you shall conquer.
These developed inscriptions were most likely formed because in the Middle Ages people mistakenly read the letter “E” as “H” (because of the “eta” sound in the Greek).
According to legend, the inscription was seen by emperor Constantine the Great in his sleep before the battle against Maxentius in 312 on the Ponte Milvio. He had a dream in which this cross appeared with the words "In hoc signo vinces" (By this sign you will conquer). This event is considered as one of the most important moments in history, because it led to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. Some historians doubt the authenticity of this story, but it is still very inspiring.
So, there you have it. The Episcopal Church is steeped in history and tradition, with many symbols and icons that date back centuries. One such example is the IHS Christogram, which can be found throughout the world in many Episcopalian, Catholic, and Protestant churches. The inscription of this symbol on the Holy Eucharist is a sign of reverence and respect for Jesus Christ. In addition, the IHS Christogram is a reminder of the Christian faith and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.