Sunday, July 26, 2009

the sign of the Cross

From Nathan Bierma in Christianity Today...

Bierma's essay is, in essence, a reflection on two books-- The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History, by Andreas Andreopoulos and The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer, by Bert Ghezzi.

Over time, Christians have imbued this small, simple gesture with volumes of theological meaning. Holding three fingers together — thumb, forefinger, and middle finger — as you make the sign symbolizes the Trinity. Holding the other two fingers against your palm represents the two natures of Christ, human and divine. Dropping the hand from forehead to waist to begin the gesture represents Christ's descent to earth. The upward movement that follows represents his resurrection. And so on....

The origins of the sign are unknown; as Andreopoulos points out: "our information is sparse because this ancient practice emerged naturally, as something that made sense to most Christians."

Bierma then briefly discusses:

...the debates over whether to finish the motion with a left-to-right movement (left cross) or right-to-left (right cross). The right cross, still practiced by Eastern Orthodox believers, symbolizes how "Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left)," according to Pope Innocent III. In Roman Catholic practice, the left cross has become standard, showing, (in one of many interpretations) that the believer hopes to be not on Christ's left—with the goats, as in Jesus' parable—at the day of judgment, but on Christ's right....

Then, the punchline:

Protestant objections to the sign of the cross are seldom articulated beyond the vague dismissal, "It's a Catholic thing," but Martin Luther prescribed the sign of the cross in his Small Catechism, and the sign has long been part of Episcopal and Lutheran practice. As both Andreopoulos and Ghezzi show, the sign of the cross is hardly a uniquely Catholic practice; it has deep roots in the early and Eastern churches and clear ties to Scripture.

After reading these two books, this previously ignorant Protestant, for one, has decided to introduce the sign of the cross into his daily prayer, as a link with the early church, a sign of God's claim on me, and a reminder of the mystery of the Trinity.

Whether we practice it or not, the sign of the cross is one manifestation of how physical—how embodied—worship really is....


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