Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: The Sign of the Cross

Arabic original here.

The Sign of the Cross

Today I would like to talk about the sign of the cross and the way it is made. In Saint Basil the Great's On the Holy Spirit, he talks about things that we have received from the apostles, since not everything is written in the Holy Bible and there are things that have come to us through tradition or the oral teaching that has come down to us from the first Christians and was written down at first but was recorded later. Saint Basil the Great mentions things like baptism with three immersions and says that these are things that are not written in the New Testament, but we have received them from those who rubbed shoulders with the apostles and they have been transmitted from generation to generation.

Basil places the sign of the cross on the same level of importance as baptism by three immersions and we still cross ourselves. That is, we make the sign of the cross whenever the Holy Trinity is mentioned. If someone says "glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" or "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," we make the sign of the cross over ourselves. We notice that the sign of the cross is made in different ways. During the divine services, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the faithful. We notice that he makes it from top to bottom and from left to right, so that it reaches the people on his right, then on his left, because the people are facing the priest.

The usual sign of the cross, however, is the one that one makes over himself on various occasions: when entering or exiting a church, when leaving the home, when one hears certain prayers, at mention of the cross, or if we hear in the Gospel the phrase "the bowed down and worshiped Him". We notice that if the Orthodox faithful hear the phrase "prostration", they bow and make the sign of the cross over themselves.

So the sign of the cross is connected to mention of God or mention of the Holy Trinity. It is said of Christ in the Book of Revelation, that he is "slaughtered before the foundation of the world." That is, from eternity the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, planned to send Christ to save the world. God in His eternal knowledge of the human race and in his foreknowledge of man's sin knew that the second hypostasis-- that is, Christ-- would come down to the world at a suitable date in order to save it. To put it more clearly, God's dispensation for the world, His care for the world, has been for Christ to come down to be crucified. God embraces the world through redemption, through Christ's love, and so whenever God's name is mentioned in our Church and especially when the Holy Trinity is mentioned, the sign of the cross is made.

The sign of the cross is tied to our faith and it is a sign of our faith. Only it must be made with understanding. That is, the heart must connect to the Trinity, to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If the heart does not connect, then the sign of the cross is material and meaningless, something performed externally. The sign of the cross is a prayer rising up from the heart to God that is tied to a physical gesture. This is normal in the Church because man is composed of body and soul and the body shares in worship. We notice that we bow at church, we prostrate, we chant... So long has a person has a body, his body must participate in prayer. In the human encounter between two friends, there is a handshake, an embrace. The body moves by a nature that moves the human heart. And so a person moves his body in church. He bows, he rises, he sits, he kneels... This physical participation is the sign traced on our breast, on our face: the sign of the crucified one.

Here I will mention a verse from the Gospel of John. When the Lord approached death, He said to His disciples, "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him" (John 31:13). Now the Son of Man is glorified. That is, Christ is glorified when He is crucified. He is raised up when He is crucified. And so the expression "glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" is tied to the sign of the cross, so that we may know that God's glory is tied to Christ, the crucified redeemer.

So when we make the sign of the cross in the proper way that was handed down to us from the Apostolic age, we are aware of our fidelity to the Holy Trinity and to Christ incarnate, who is risen from the dead.

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