THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

Fr Luke A Veronis

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. How many of us make the sign of the Cross when we hear the name of the Holy Trinity? Do you ever pause to think WHY you make the sign of the Cross? What’s the purpose of making this gesture, this ancient ritual? Maybe we make the cross as a way to remember God or because we feel we honor Him. Maybe it’s our way to show that we are as Orthodox Christians. Sometimes we make the cross when we need something, or are grateful for something. How many of us make it when we’re scared or afraid? Or we may make it when we are praying for someone else.

There’s a beautiful children’s song that Presbytera Gigi Shadid wrote, which we’ve used in our past Vacation Church Camps as well as in previous children’s sermons. It goes like this:

When you make the sign of the Cross,

You remember that God is the Boss.

 

You say bless my thoughts and cleanse my heart,

Take the heavy weight off of my shoulders.

 

Watch my hands as they go,

Up and down, to and fro,

Bless my thoughts and cleanse my heart,

Take the heavy weight off of my shoulders.

 

Three for the Trinity, Two for the Natures of Christ,

Fully God and fully man,

now wouldn’t you say that was nice?

 

When you make the sign of the Cross,

You remember that God is the Boss.

Now this may sound like a cute song to teach our children but it also reminds us how to make the cross and what we can learn from the cross. Every time we make the cross we’re offering a prayer to God. We shouldn’t make the cross carelessly or mindlessly, moving our hands quickly as if we’re playing the guitar.

We should consciously make the cross carefully, with our whole heart. We also are making an important theological statement. Our three fingers represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet we put them together as one to remember that we believe in One God. Our two other fingers represent the divine and human nature of Christ. Again, a profound theological statement. Jesus was fully God yet fully human. We then touch our head, heart, and shoulders to remind us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

This isn’t a careless gesture but a deeply meaningful prayer and statement. We also make our cross – when we rise from our bed, in our morning prayers, before each meal, in the evening, and throughout the day – and this helps us turn our attention to our Lord Jesus Christ and make an offering to God. Each time we make the cross, we should pause and remember what Christ did for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross to take the sins of the world upon Himself (to take OUR sins upon Himself) and to free us from the burden sin which separates us from God.

When we remember what He did for us on the Cross, we never separate the Cross from His Resurrection. So, we also reflect on the Risen Lord who has conquered Satan, sin and death itself, and given us new life in Him! As we sing in the hymn during the Procession of the Holy Cross at the end of the Liturgy – “We venerate your Cross, O Christ, and we glorify Your holy Resurrection.” It is the Cross that opened up the gates of paradise for us. As we say in another prayer, “Through the Cross joy came into the world!”

Thus, making the sign of the cross isn’t some trite or quaint ritual that we do carelessly. It is an ancient tradition with sacred power.

Saint Anthony the Great noted the Cross is a powerful tool to use against the evil one and the temptations he brings: “When demons attack us, we make the sign of the cross and demons become cowards, utterly dreading the sign of our Lord’s Cross.” St. Athanasios the Great concurs “by making the sign of the holy and life-giving cross, our evil temptations and the enemies of God will be driven out.”

In the early 3rd century, Hippolytus said the same thing: “Whenever you are tempted, make the sign of the cross, for this is the sign of our Lord’s Passion. For when you do it with faith, the Adversary will flee.”

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who we just celebrated yesterday, tells us in his Catechetical Lectures, “Never be ashamed to make the sign of the cross. With boldness, make the cross at all times – when we eat, when we go out, when we travel, before our sleep, when we lie down and when we wake up, at all times.”

One of the great dangers of contemporary life in America is how we compartmentalize our lives. We have one compartment for our faith (on Sundays or with Church friends), yet we have other compartments in our lives (our work, our entertainment, our time at the gym, our time out with the guys or girls) in which we leave out our faith. We live schizophrenic lives. Yet, that’s totally contrary to an authentic Orthodox worldview. Our faith and life in Jesus Christ should imbue every part of our life, no matter who we’re with or where we are. And one of the ways to sanctify every compartment of our life is to make the sign of the cross. We bless everything we do by inviting Christ to come through the sign of the Cross. Thus, we make His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection a part of everything we do, a part of our entire life.

“When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling,” St John of Kronstadt emphasized, “I make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, and suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… The Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils and from the malice of the invisible foe.”

Making the Cross frequently protects us and gives us spiritual power, but it also reminds us of our path in life, the type of life Christ calls us to follow – a life of sacrifice and self-denial and of love. The Cross is a sign of victory but this triumph comes when we learn to deny ourselves, to control our passions, to reject our ego-centric desires and our addictive behaviors, and to willingly sacrifice ourselves, humbly accepting crucifixion from others, and then following Jesus in His way of life and love.

Of course, we have to take care how we approach the cross. “One of the greatest dangers for Christians,” Archbishop Anastasios of Albania states, “is to become forgetful in living the way of the cross, and instead creating a comfortable type of Christianity that wants the cross as an ornament, but often prefers to crucify others than to be crucified himself."

Making the sign of the Cross. It’s a sacred prayer. It expressed our faith and theology. It’s a protection in times of need. It’s a way we sanctify everything we do at all times in life. It is a reminder of how we should live and the path we need to walk in order to follow Jesus Christ.

“When you make the sign of the Cross, you remember that God is the boss!”

 

 

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