The Sign of the Cross

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
from The Law of God by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodksoy

We call ourselves Christians because we believe in God as we were taught to believe by the Son of God Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ not only taught us to believe in God correctly, but He also saved us from the power of sin and eternal death.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, out of love for us sinners came down from Heaven and, as a man, suffered instead of us for our sins: He was crucified, He died on the Cross, and on the third day He Resurrected. As the sinless Son of God, by His Cross (that is, by suffering and death of the Cross for the sins of all men and of all the world), He conquered not only sin but also death itself--He arose from the dead, and He made the Cross the weapon of His victory over sin and death.

As the vanquisher of death, Who arose on the third day, He saved us also from eternal death. He will resurrect all of us, all the dead, when the last day of the world comes; He will resurrect us for joyful and eternal life with God.

The Cross is the weapon--or sign--of Christ's victory over sin and death. Our Lord Jesus Christ received in His breast the terrible spears of sin and death which were invincible for us. He died on the Cross, but He also arose, as the vanquisher of sin and death, and thus opened for us the way to eternal life.

Now everything depends on us: if we wish to be delivered from the power of evil, sin, and eternal death, then we must follow Christ, love Him, and fulfill His Holy Will, being obedient to Him in everything, and live with Christ.

This is why, in order to express our faith in Jesus Christ our Savior, we wear a cross on our body, and during prayer we form the cross over ourselves with our right hand--that is, we make the sign of the Cross.

For the sign of the Cross we put the fingers of our right hand together as follows: We bring the tips of the first three fingers together (the thumb, index, and middle ones), and bend the last two (the "ring" and little fingers) against the palm.

The first three fingers express our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as the Trinity one in essence and indivisible. The two fingers bent signify how the Son of God, when He comes down from Heaven, being God, became man; that is, they signify His two natures--divine and human.

In order to make the sign of the Cross, with our fingers in this position, we touch our forehead, for the blessing of our mind, our stomach, for the blessing of our internal feelings, then our right and left shoulders, for the blessing of our bodily strength.

The sign of the Cross gives us great strength to repel and conquer evil and to do good, but we must remember to make the sign of the Cross correctly and without haste, otherwise it will not be the sign of the Cross, but just waving our hand around, which only gladdens the demons. By making the sign of the Cross carelessly we show a lack of reverence for God. This is a sin, called sacrilege.

When we cross ourselves, mentally we say, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Amen means: in truth, truly, let it be so, so be it.

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Furthermore the act of "Placing the cross on oneself" is a supplication for a blessing from the Almighty God and Creator. We make the sign of the cross from right to left to mirror the actions of the priest when he blesses us. The celebrant priest, facing at the congregation, blesses from left to right. Therefore, the faithful, putting on the sign of the cross on themselves, do it from right to left.

Because the Lord separated the sheep from the goats, putting the faithful sheep on His Right side, and the goats on the left, the Holy Church always treats the right side as the place of honor.

Theodoret (393-457 AD) gave the following instruction:

This is how to bless someone with your hand and make the sign of the cross over them. Hold three fingers, as equals, together, to represent the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are not three gods, but one God in Trinity. The names are separate, but the Divinity one. The Father was never incarnate; the Son incarnate, but not created; the Holy Spirit neither incarnate nor created, but issued from the Godhead: three in a single Divinity. Divinity is one force and has one honor. They receive on obeisance from all creation, both Angels and people. Thus the decree for these three fingers. You should hold the other fingers slightly bent, not completely straight. This is because these represent the dual nature of Christ, Divine and human. God in His Divinity, and human in His incarnation, yet perfect in both. The upper finger represents Divinity, and the lower humanity; this way salvation goes from the higher finger to the lower. So is the bending of the fingers interpreted, for the worship of Heaven comes for our salvation. This is how you must cross yourselves and give a blessing, as the Holy Fathers have commanded.

Peter of Damascus (12th Century) gave the following instruction:

Then we should also marvel how demons and various diseases are dispelled by the sign of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, which all can make without cost or effort. Who can number the panegyrics composed in its honor? The Holy Fathers have handed down to us the inner significance of this sign, so that we can refute heretics and unbelievers. The two fingers and single hand with which it is made represent the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and He is thereby acknowledged to exist in two natures and one hypostasis or person. The use of the right hand betokens His infinite power and the fact He sits at the Right hand of the Father. That the sign begins with a downward movement from above signifies His descent to us from heaven. Again, the movement of the hand from the right side to the left drives away our enemies and declares that by His invincible power the Lord overcame the devil, who is on the left side, dark and lacking strength.

History

The first mention of Christians making the sign of the Cross is in the 2nd Century by Tertullian who said: "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross" (De cor. Mil., iii).

In the early Church it is believed that the Gross was made only on the forehead. Therefore Tertullian also says: "We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the Cross." It is also believed that Christians would also use one finger to make the sign of the Cross on their foreheads or on other items. Therefore in the life of Saint Barbara, we read: "One day, as Barbara stood by the pool facing the east she said, In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and she miraculously drew the sign of the Cross in the marble wall of the bathhouse with her finger."

However, by the 4th Century it appears as more than one finger began to be used for making the sign of the Cross. Thus Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses remarks: "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 everything; 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."

However, at least by the 9th Century, the practice had become prevalent throughout the Orthodox East and West for the sign of the Cross to be made using three fingers instead of one or two. The thumb, index finger and middle finger were joined together to symbolize the Holy Trinity, while the ring finger and little finger were tucked into the palm to represent the two natures of Christ.

Over a century after the schism of 1054, the Frankish Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), made the following declaration: "The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Holy Trinity...This is how it is done: from above to bellow, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left)."

In 1569, the Frankish Pope abolished the use of three fingers in the West, and ordered the sign of the Cross to be made with five fingers, and from the right to left, instead of left to right. However, this practice was not introduced in the East, neither among the Orthodox, nor among the Monophysites and Nestorians.

Finally, in the Sacred Rudder, Saint Nicodemos of Mt. Athos informs us in his 2nd footnote to the 91st Canon of Saint Basil the Great: "The ancient Christians used to make the sign of the Cross with a different configuration of the hand, that is to say, more explicitly speaking, with only the two fingers of the hand, namely, the index finger and the middle finger, as Saint Peter Damascene informs us (page 642 of Philocalia), where he says that the hand as a whole signifies the single substance of Christ, while the two fingers signify His two natures. But the tradition now prevailing among Christians is for the two fingers to be conjoined with the thumb; and with these three together to represent the Holy Trinity..."

Use of Sign

In Eastern Orthodox prayers, the sign of the Cross is usually made whenever all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are addressed, or even alluded to. Before commencing any prayer, in fact, the Sign is typically made. Upon entering a church, and the sanctuary within the church, one will make the Sign partly as an outward sign of reverence and veneration. Orthodox laymen will make the Sign as one way of venerating an Icon; Priests have many more specific occasions upon which to make the Sign. Many members of the Faith will make the Sign in a way that may seem idiomatic to some for example, if a member is exposed to blasphemy, he or she may make the Sign, partly to suggest subtly and politely to the speaker that an offense has been committed. Some members of the Faith will use the Sign in what almost appears to be a wish for good fortune; it may be that, or part of an unsaid prayer for God's blessing, as when beginning a journey or a sports competition.

The Sign of the Cross has minor variants as well: it can be made in the air to bless objects, and it may trace a very small trajectory, such as on the forehead (as the earliest descriptions of the Sign suggest). For a member of the Faith, perhaps the essential element of the Sign is that it physically indicates the direct relevance of the Cross, of the Sacrifice of Jesus, to one's person or surroundings. It is an engagement of the body that affirms what the faithful professes. It is also a sign to others of what one professes.

In general, the complete sign of the Cross was and is made to acknowledge that all of our faculties (mind, heart, and soul) and all of our strength (shoulders) are being dedicated to the service of God through the Cross of Christ, the sign of our redemption. (Source: OrthodoxWiki)

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Please note: The respectful and pious Orthodox Christian makes the sign of the Cross with faith, conviction, thought, humility, understanding, carefully, and earnestly. One should never make the sign of the Cross flippantly. The Orthodox Christian, when making the sign of the Cross, invokes and invites the grace of the Life-Giving Cross, and therefore that of the Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ Who sacrificed His life on the Cross to save us and all of mankind. It is an awareness and a reminder that if one truly "desires" to follow Him, he must be willing to "deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (St. Luke 9:23).

The Sign of the Cross is used in virtually every situation in life. The great spiritual advantage of making a habit of this is that, when we are confronted with a dangerous or compromising situation, we will make the Sign of the Cross without hesitation. This will save our life and our very soul, depending on the circumstances.

Also, the Sign of the Cross is the ID of the Christian. The Christian identifies himself/herself publically, when he or she either wears a cross, or makes the Sign of the Cross. He or she is not ashamed to be a Christian. Our Savior Jesus Christ says, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy Angels" (St. Mark 8:38).

We should make the sign of the Cross:

  1. Both upon entering the House of God and upon leaving it.
  2. Every time the words, "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," are mentioned.
  3. When we hear or say the Trisagion, "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us" (Agios o Theos...").
  4. When we hear the name of the All-Holy Mother of God (Theotokos), the Ever-Virgin Mary and the names of the Saints.
  5. Before and after receiving the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Communion.
  6. At the end of the recitation of the Creed (Symbol of faith) and the Lord's Prayer.
  7. After the reading of the Holy Gospel Lesson.
  8. When we venerate (kiss) a holy icon, a cross or the Evaggelion (Holy Gospel Book).
  9.   Before and following our daily prayers (evening, morning, etc.
  10. Before and after each meal.
  11. When passing by an Orthodox church.
  12. Before we leave or drive away from our home or work. Generally before we travel anywhere. When we are tempted from demons during the day or at sleep.

Preferably, we should make the sign of the cross three times. The three times symbolize God the Holy Trinity.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George