Saint Volodymyr le Grand b
Ukrainian Orthodoxy
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Orthodoxie ukrainienne

Sign of the Cross

Question:

What is the proper way to make the sign of the cross?

Answer:

Dr. Alexander Roman alex@unicorne.org

Until the 14th century, Orthodox and Catholics made the Sign of the Cross in the same manner.

They joined the thumb, index and middle fingers to symbolize the Holy Trinity and then invoked the Trinity as they touched their head then their stomach and then went from right to left.

The Sign of the Cross symbolized a compendium of the life of Christ and the touching of one's stomach when one said "And the Son" symbolizes the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of His Mother.  

By going to the right shoulder, we confess that Christ, after His death on the Cross and Resurrection, ascended to heaven where He sits at the Right Hand of the Father.  This is also a confession of Christ's Deity, since only equals may sit in the Presence of the King - in this case, God the Father.

Pope Innocent III, who met with St Francis of Assisi , also taught the Sign of the Cross in this way.  Western Christians, however, only made the Sign once, whereas Eastern Christians made it three times.

Later Catholics began crossing from left to right.  The reason for this was that the laity began imitating their priests who, when they blessed their congregations, moved their hands from left to right (they were facing the congregation and so moved their hands in unison with their flock who were going from right to left).  Soon, laity began doing as the priests did and a new practice was born, different from the ancient Latin one which was formerly the same as that of the Eastern Orthodox.

The Oriental Orthodox also cross themselves from left to right, and they understand this to mean that Christ brought us from the darkness of sin (the left, in Latin "sinister"), to the Light of His Grace on the right.

The RC practice of crossing with the whole hand also derived from an imitation of their priests who blessed with their whole hand rather than with the Christogram (shaping the fingers to represent the letters of Christ's Name, IC XC).  This was because the popes of Rome reserved to themselves the sole right to bless the faithful using the Christogram.


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