The Sign of the Cross

As you have no doubt noticed, I have been pondering quite a bit lately about the liturgical practices of the church – particularly the early church. One of the practices that has been intriguing me lately is that of making the sign of the cross.

Kyle, over at Captain Sacrament gives a nice summary of the reasons why he began crossing himself throughout the day. He emphasizes the importance for Christians to remember who they belong to, and to place actions and thoughts within the context of Trinity.

Scot McKnight talks about this on Jesus Creed as well, noting that the sign of the cross has been integral to the daily lives of Christians since the early church, but is often attributed to Roman Catholicism, and therefore rejected by Protestant Christians.

On one level it seems pertinent to liken the sign of the cross to a WWJD bracelet, or a cross necklace, serving to remind the Christian of both obligations to and promises of God. But I think it goes deeper than this. When one makes the sign, whether before prayer, before and after the Eucharist, when one gets up in the morning, or when one lays down to sleep, they are doing more than remembering obligations and promises. They are, in fact, re-framing their very lives in a context of Divine and communal relationship.

In one sense, the Christian is recognizing their position as an adopted child of God, and co-heir of Christ. They are participating in the life of the Trinity through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. And they are invoking their right as justified persons to stand before the throne of God.

In another sense, the “signer” is participating with the Body of Christ, the church catholic, in identifying oneself as part of this community of the New Covenant. It serves as a unifying statement of faith that transcends denominational boundaries and generational gaps.

I don’t cross myself currently. There are a number of reasons why, but none of them are good ones. Why am I so afraid to participate in the practices of the church? Why do I shy away from the mystical publicly, only to punish myself mentally and emotionally with the desire to understand these practices more fully? I am neither ashamed of nor angry with the “low church” tradition in which I have been raised. But I wonder if I’ve missed out sometimes? I wonder if I should be ashamed that I question so many things rationally, rather than participating in these means of grace in faith?

Let me leave you with these words from Tertullian from the 2nd and 3rd Centuries (Hat Tip to Jesus Creed):

At every forward step and movement,

at every going in and out,

when we put on our clothes and shoes,

when we bathe,

when we sit at table,

when we light the lamps,

on couch,

on seat,

in all the ordinary actions of daily life,

we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the Cross].

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One thought on “The Sign of the Cross

  1. It’s interesting to note that St. Basil argues that making the sign of the cross is a direct oral tradition handed down from the Holy Apostles themselves. Basil isn’t the only one to argue this, I just know that I’ve read his assertion.Also there is a very strong tradition (in East and West) that making the sign of the cross rebukes and drives away demons and the works of Satan. Even though the biography of St. Antony is hagiography it is beautifully evident there. Fear not, however, it is evident in much more than hagiography.I find that not only is the sign of the cross at a very basic level symbolic, so is the formation of the fingers with which we cross ourselves. The two fingures into the palm remind us of the dual nature of Christ while the three “crossing” fingers remind us of the union of the Holy Trinity. Even the hand with which we cross has significance – using the right hand, the hand of blessing, instead of the left.You’ll also find these things mirrored in the Church art through ages, especially its iconography.On another note: two weeks until Pascha. You need to be there. Saturday 4/26: 11:15pm – 2:00am.You know you want to be there – what better time to learn to cross oneself?

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