From the times of the Apostles, Christian people have made use of the Sign of the Cross. When we are mindful of its significance, and we make the Sign of the Cross with care and reverence, it can become for us a source and fountain of every blessing.
Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, tell us “at every action, at every step, let our hand make the Sign of the Cross. Keep the door of your heart shut, and frequently defend your forehead with the Sign of the Cross – it repels evil, heals maladies of the soul, is a weapon of adamant strength, an impregnable wall, an impenetrable shield”.
St. Cosmas of Aitolia who has been given the title “Equal-to-the- Apostles”, by the Church tells us: “…..look my brethren how the holy and blessed Cross helps man; whoever makes the Sign of the Cross does not come to harm, for it protects against all manner of evil and every satanic act.” Throughout the centuries when Christians were persecuted, Holy Martyrs used it to give them strength to face their martyrdom.
Regretfully, nowadays we rarely make the Sign of the Cross and when on occasion we do so, instead of making the Sign with reverence, we flap our hand and move it so quickly that we look as if we are swatting flies.
Crossing ourselves is a pious act, a declaration of our Faith and our pride in the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ who allowed Himself to be crucified for our sake and for our salvation. So making the Sign of the Cross is a reminder of the Life of Christ, His Divinity and His Living Presence in ourselves who believe and call on His Name.
The Sign of the Cross for Orthodox Christians is made in this way:
The thumb, the index and the middle fingers of the right hand are held together, while the remaining two fingers (the ring finger and the little finger) are bent and touching the palm of the hand. The three fingers joined together symbolize the One God in three Persons – the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The two fingers bent to the palm of the hand, signify the union of the two natures in Christ – that is God and Man, the Divine and the Human
and, as we bring these two fingers downwards towards the palm, we remember that He came down to earth from heaven.
We mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross in this way:
First we touch our foreheads – this signifies that
God is in heaven and we pray that He will enlighten
Second, we touch our breast (that is our chest) and
this signifies that God is in our hearts (our feelings)
We touch our belly and thus signify that we believe that Jesus came down to earth from heaven and was made Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary
We touch all the way down to the ground ; we especially sign ourselves in this way during the prayers of the Great Fast of Easter when we also prostrate ourselves or give deep bows in front of God in remembrance of our Lord’s suffering and crucifixion – that is how the Holy Martyrs sealed themselves before the trials and tribulations of their martyrdom.
Next we touch our right shoulder, thus asking our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ to place us at His right hand when He comes to judge the world, but also this reminds us that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father (as we say in the Creed “…And ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father...”). Then we touch our left shoulder and by so doing we are asking the Holy Spirit to completely cover us.
By this sealing we are also confirming our own voluntary acceptance of our cross through our faith in God.
It is useful to remember the little prayer of St. Ioanicchius when making the Sign of the Cross and which we are supposed to say inside us at the beginning of the Liturgy. When the priest says “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and
from all ages to all ages”, we should say this short prayer of the saint within us as we Sign ourselves:
“My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is
the Holy Spirit. Holy Trinity Glory to Thee. Amen”
It is good to make the Sign of the Cross when we begin our prayers and when we close them; also when we begin any work or any journey, when we enter or leave a church, when we kiss the icons of the Saints, when the name of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and of the Saints are pronounced during the church services, when sacred instances occur during the Divine Liturgy, when we start and finish our meals, and
on many other occasions, for the frequent repetition of this Sign when we are mindful of its significance can become to us a source of great blessing, giving us calmness, strength and courage to face the trials that each day brings.
As a child, I was always taught to say the following words inside me when making the Sign of the Cross, especially if I was in a situation where I was frightened or felt myself threatened in any way:
“Iisous Christos nika” – that is: “Jesus Christ conquers”
© Panayiota Michael. 31.12.05
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