Making the Sign of the Cross

I received this via e-mail from St Nicholas Church in Johannesburg.

It seems a good time to remind the faithful how to make the sign of the Cross reverently. First of all, we should always remember that in making this sign we are making an act of worship, a confession of our Faith and a prayer, and therefore it should not be done carelessly or thoughtlessly, nor simply a matter of habit or nervous reaction.

To make the sign, first join the tips of the thumb, index finger and second finger of your right hand, while folding the other two fingers into your palm. Recollect that the three joined digits represent the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The two folded fingers are an expression of that other fundamental teaching of our Church, the Incarnation, for folded into the palm (the earth) they recall God the Son Who came down to earth and became man and is known in two natures, being both perfect God and perfect man.

With the hand held thus, make the sign over yourself by touching in turn the forehead, the stomach, the right and the left shoulder. In this way taking up His Cross, dedicate your whole being to Christ in fulfilment of the commandment to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength and with all thy mind.”

Having done this, you then bow from the waist. Oftentimes this bow is slight, but sometimes during divine services we bow deeply to touch the floor with the fingers (now extended) of the right hand, or even make a full prostration to the ground, touching it with the forehead. This bowing reminds us of the attitude of the Publican, who feeling his unworthiness to stand before God, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven. The touching of, or prostrating to, the ground, can remind us of our end, that “dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Gen. 3:19).

With such dispositions and such reverent care, our making of the sign will indeed be a call for God’s mercy. Perhaps we should add one warning: although it is right and proper to make the sign reverently and with care, bearing in mind its rich significance, we should try to avoid doing it theatrically or demonstratively. No one in this life who sees you will be awarding prizes for the way you do it! And in the life to come, you will find that the Awarder of Crowns will have been looking rather at the disposition of your heart than your melodramatic talents.