The Sign of the Cross

Some feel the need to put down the practices and traditions of those in Rites/Churches other than their own.  Whether it’s attacking the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, labeling the West as “azymites”, or trying to rewrite history to “prove” the early clerics were all celibate, there sometimes exists (in mostly Byzantine and Latin circles) an unwarranted superiority complex and a need to prove that “your way” was the way it was first done.  The Sign of the Cross is but one example, with both Latins and Byzantines claiming to do it the “original way”.

In such matters when Latin and Byzantine customs clash I like to look to the “Orientals”, the non-Byzantine Eastern and African churches, for another perspective.  It may surprise some to learn that the Orientals cross themselves left-to-right like the Latins and not right-to-left like the Byzantines.

However…

The “Orientals” share one thing in common with the Greeks: an attention to the position of the fingers (an issue that was one of the causes of the Raskol).  How this point was lost in the West is something I don’t know, but if the Byzantines are the stepchild by crossing themselves opposite everyone else then the West is also the odd one out for having forgotten what to do with their fingers.

In fact, Bar Salibi’s “Against the Melchites” opens with a long argument against the Greek way of doing the Sign of Cross, revealing that the Syrian Miaphysites and Monophysites crossed themselves left-to-right and with one finger only.  Interestingly, the Armenians are also criticized in the work for having a variety of practices in the matter and for not really being Monophysites.

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Now for some examples I found through research…

Armenians

Armenians make the sign of the Cross by joining the first three fingers of the right hand and touching the palm with the two other fingers. They place the right hand, as described above, first on the forehead saying, “In the name of the Father”, then a little below the chest saying, “and the Son”, then on the left side of the chest saying, “and the Holy”, then on the right side of the chest saying, “Spirit”, and ending with the palm in the center of the chest saying, “Amen”.

Ethiopians

Position 1 (Meaning: The Cross of Salvation or “power of the cross” we say Haili’h Mesq’hl.)
We make a cross with the index over the middle finger. In so doing we position (or orient) the index finger as ‘center’ to the middle finger as possible while keeping the index finger straight until the last segment of the middle finger naturally bends downward. Thus making a cross with these two fingers.

Position 2 ( Meaning:Trinity  Meaning also: God in man with 1 divine nature we say Tewahido)
While holding the above crossed figure position we then place our thumb on the tip of the ring finger while keeping the pinky ‘tight-up’ to the ring finger.

Now these finger positions define the belief.

While holding the two positions we make the sign of the Holy Cross while saying and raising the tip of the index finger to touch the forehead (In the name of the Father), then to touch the middle of the chest (in the name of the Son) , then to touch the left shoulder (In the name of the Holy Spirit), then to touch the right shoulder (One God), then a bow from the hip while saying in conclusion Amen.

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“The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity. …This is how it is done: from above to below, 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)…

Others, however, make the sign of the cross from the left to the right, because from misery (left) we must cross over to glory (right), just as Christ crossed over from death to life, and from Hades to Paradise. [Some priests] do it this way so that they and the people will be signing themselves in the same way.  You can easily verify this– picture the priest facing the people for the blessing– when we make the sign of the cross over the people, it is from left to right…” – Pope Innocent III

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