27 March 2011

The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross
Saturday, 26 March 2011 13:40

Dear Friends in Christ,

Positions of the Fingers While Making the Sign of the Cross, Licensed from

I'm writing this message the week before the Third Sunday of Lent, when we
commemorate the Holy Cross. The Holy Cross has such an important meaning to
us, that we celebrate it twice a year. Back in September's bulletin, I wrote
about the appearances of the Cross in history. Appearances of the Cross led
to such miracles as the conversion of the Emperor St. Constantine in AD 312.
Since we've so recently covered the appearances of the Cross, I would like
to take this opportunity to speak about a related subject, namely, the Sign
of the Cross.

Humans seem to have a natural desire to identify themselves as part of a
group. One of the ways that members of a group identify themselves to one
another, and cement their ties, is by the use of signs. A well-executed
performance elicits a thumbs-up, the peace sign became a symbol of a
generation opposed to war, and a certain obscene gesture can be used to
insult others. The handshake is used to greet and to seal a deal, and a
salute is used to show obedience to a superior.

Christians from the time of the Apostles have had their own unique sign as
well. This is the Sign of the Cross, which we should make many times a day.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (+ AD 386) writes:

Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal,
made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the
bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our
sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when
we are at rest.

In other words, making the Sign of the Cross should become second nature to
the Christian, because Christ should be Lord over all aspects of our life.

This Sign should be executed attentively, however; it should not be done out
of habit without reflecting on its action. Each of the many times that we
make the Sign, it should be done deliberately. Let us not fall into the trap
of thinking that by doing something often it will become rote; let us do it
often and with attention! Tertullian (+ AD 220) writes: "We Christians wear
out our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross."

We make the Sign of the Cross properly by taking the thumb, index finger,
and middle finger of our right hand, and joining them together. This
represents the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We then take the
ring finger and pinky finger of our right hand and close them into the palm
of our hand, representing the two natures of Jesus Christ: divine and human.
With our fingers in this formation, we move our hand to our forehead, to the
solar plexus (navel area), then to our right shoulder, then to our left
shoulder (it should be noted that Roman Catholics make the Sign from the
left to the right, but this is an innovation dating to the 13th century). We
should avoid what some call the "banjo" Sign of the Cross, where the Sign
appears to be more akin to a man strumming an instrument rapidly with no
discernable pattern!

The Sign of the Cross identifies us as Christians, and it wards off the
demons. In fact, in some lives of the saints, we see that when an "angel"
appeared to a monk, he would be naturally cautious and ask the "angel" to
make the Sign of the Cross. At this moment, in many cases, the "angel" would
reveal its true nature, that of a demon, and flee. Demons cannot make the
Sign of the Cross, because of the power of Jesus Christ that the Sign
communicates. In fact, we know that in the last times, some men will take
the Sign of the Beast, or the Devil, instead of the Sign of Christ, upon
themselves: ".that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or
the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:17). We
perhaps should not understand this mark to be literal in a physical sense,
but a figurative mark or sign that mimics in opposition the Cross of Christ
that Christians have made since the beginning of the Church. At the same
time, there is a spiritual reality that many of us cannot see because of our
sinfulness, such that the Sign we make with our hand may make a spiritual
impression that is visible to God and the Angels.

As a visible sign to other humans, making the Sign of the Cross marks us as
Christians. It is a mini- "confession of faith." We should never be ashamed
to make the Sign of the Cross in front of other people who are not
Christians (while of course keeping humility in mind). The Sign of the Cross
is seen by the patristic quotes above to be something that dates back to the
beginning of the Church, and should be performed by all Christians. Finally,
in the lives of the Saints, we see the power of the Cross. Many more
examples from the saints' lives could be elicited if there were space in
this column to include them. I encourage you all to do some research on the

Let us make the Sign of the Cross our own; let it adorn us in everything we
do. May it lead us to greater repentance, and to focus our lives even more
on Our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Fr. Anastasios

23 March 2011

Inward Sign of the Cross

Throughout its history the sign of the cross has been seen as a mark of Christian identity. From this perspective it is performed so that the sign may be seen by others.  This was the case especially in earlier Christian centuries, as well as during times when Christianity became threatened.

According to the sign's other meaning, which has become more prominent in the last twelve centuries, the gesture of the cross is also a self-blessing, a gesture that imitates and reflects the sacramental blessing of the priest.

As both interpretations suggest, it is not directed towards God - unlike the gesture of the outstretched arms. In the first case, as the mark of Christian identity, it is directed at someone else.  And in the second case, as a gesture of blessing, the sign is turned toward the self. In both cases, since it is traced over the body, its conceptual start is the most graspable sense of the self, which is the body. Where the gesture of the outstretched arms formed an invocation, the inward direction of the sign of the cross creates a gesture of profession of and acceptance of the faith.  Both the sign of the cross and the gesture of the outstretched arms signify prayer, but the direction, and therefore the meaning of the prayer formed by the gesture, is different in each case.

Lifting the hands is something we do when we address God in heaven. This form of address works similarly to the way we communicate among oursleves.  We speak, and our words are sent, offered toward and heard by the other person.  Tracing the sign of the cross over one's body is different.  We gesture the sign of the cross when we invite God to talk to us, to accept and clean our body and our entire being, so that our body becomes a temple for God to dwell in.  This kind of prayer is more contemplative in nature.  It starts with the self and is directed to God in heaven through an inward journey.

Andreas Andreopoulos
The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, The Mystery, The History
Paraclete Press, 2006
pp 72-73