On Making the Sign of the Cross

Patriarch Macarius of Antioch 1600-1672

A Brief Commentary on How Christians Ought to Make the Sign of the Cross over Their Faces

This has two explanations. The first one is as follows. The Holy Fathers prescribed making the Sign of the Cross in the following way. First, the person intending to pray must gather together the three fingers of his right hand (three, in reference to the Holy Trinity)—the thumb and the two fingers adjacent to it. Then, he must raise them to the upper part of his head and place them on his forehead. Then, he should bring them down and place them on his abdomen. Then, he should raise them again and place them on his right shoulder. Then, he should raise them from there and place them on his left shoulder. After that, he should bring them down.

When a person places these three fingers on his forehead he should say, “Holy God.” When he places them on his abdomen he should say, “Holy Mighty.” When he places them on his right shoulder he should say, “Holy Immortal.” Finally, when he places them on his left shoulder and then goes down in prostration he should say, “Have mercy on us.” Alternatively, when he touches these four parts of his body [with his fingers], he can say, “O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God” or “O God, forgive me, a sinner, and have mercy on me.”

When a person raises these three fingers to the upper part of his head, this signifies Christ’s coming down from heaven to earth. When he places them on his abdomen, this signifies Christ’s coming down from heaven, dwelling in the Virgin’s womb, taking a body from her, and the fact that He was crucified in this body and saved us. When he places his fingers on his right shoulder, this signifies that Christ will count us among the [righteous] standing on His right hand on the Day of Judgment. When he places his fingers on his left shoulder, this signifies that Christ has delivered us from standing with the sinners on His left.

The second explanation is the following. When a person gathers these three fingers together, raises them to the upper part of his head, and places them on his forehead, this signifies that Christ our Lord and God came down from heaven to earth for the sake of our salvation and so that we might believe in Him. When a person places his fingers on his abdomen, this signifies that Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, and descended to the lowest reaches of Hades, to save the souls of the righteous who had been undergoing a punishment there in the days of old. It also indicates that He is going to save all those believing in Him and keeping His commandments. When a person places his fingers on his right shoulder, this signifies that Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, and also that He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. He will make the righteous to stand on His right hand, as He had promised us in the pure Gospel. The sinners, however, will stand on His left. When a worshipper places his three fingers on his left shoulder, this signifies that he is praying to [Christ] and beseeching Him that He will not make him one of the people of the left side but will deem him worthy to stand on His right hand [on the Day of Judgment]. For all these reasons, it is incumbent on every Christian to make the sign of the cross after this fashion, so as to gain all the said benefits, and not to make it in any other way, lest one forfeit the great benefits mentioned above. (Noble, Samuel; Treiger, Alexander [2014-02-15]. The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700 – 1700: An Anthology of Sources [Orthodox Christian] [Kindle Locations 6319-6344]. Northern Illinois University Press. Kindle Edition)

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