Catechesis Christian Living Church History Prayer Spirituality Theology

The Sign of the Cross

“The sign of the Cross gives us great strength to repel and conquer evil and to do good, but we must remember to make the sign of the Cross correctly and without haste…”

– Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy

Why Christians make the sign of the Cross

Our Lord Jesus Christ received in His breast the terrible spears of sin and death which were invincible for us. He died on the Cross but He also arose, as the vanquisher of sin and death, and thus opened for us the way to eternal victory over evil and death. That is, he opened the way to eternal life. Now everything depends on us: if we wish to be delivered from the power of evil, sin and eternal death, then we must follow Christ, that is believe in Christ, love Him, and fulfill His holy will, being obedient to Him in everything, live with Christ. This is why, in order to express our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, we wear a Cross on our body, and during prayer we form the Cross over ourselves with our right hand, or make the sign of the Cross…The sign of the Cross gives us great strength to repel and conquer evil and to do good, but we must remember to make the sign of the Cross correctly and without haste, otherwise it will not be the sign of the Cross, but just waving our hand around, which gladdens demons. By making the sign of the Cross carelessly we show a lack of reverence for God. This is a sin. This sin is called sacrilege.”

+ Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, The Law of God, p 23-24

The Power of the Cross

“For Christians the Cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ Who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the Cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, Who humbled Himself to such an extent that He was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the Cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling and with extreme reverence. For the image of the Cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.

Therefore the demons also fear the image of the Cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the Cross depicted even in the air, but they feel from this immediately knowing that the Cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God, and that they, as apostates and enemies of God being far from His Divine face, do not have any longer freedom to draw near to those who have become reconciled with God and united with Him, and they can no longer tempt them. And if it seems that they tempt certain Christians, let everyone know that they battle against those who have not properly understood the exalted mystery of the Cross.

But those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the Cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the Cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom. These with great joy cry out: Far be it from me to glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I unto the world (Gal 6:1-4). And thus, inasmuch as the sign of the Cross is great and fearful, every Christian has the duty to make it with fear and trembling, with reverence and heedfulness, and not simply, and not as it happens, simply out of habit or carelessly: for according to the degree of reverence which one has towards the Cross, he received corresponding power and help from God. To Him may there be glory and dominion forever. Amen.”

+ St. Symeon the New Theologian, The First Created Man, (pp 48-49)

“…thoughts and feelings come in church, yes, and the enemy attacks more violently in church, but with the sign of the Cross and the Jesus Prayer, you drive him away. It is good to stand in some dark corner in church and to pray to God. ‘Let us lift up our hearts!’ the priest exclaims, but our mind often creeps along the ground, thinking about indecent things. Fight against this.”

+ St. Barsanuphius of Optina,

…let him go to sleep, having protected himself with the sign of the Cross.

+ St. Seraphim of Sarov, instructions following one’s prayer rule before sleep

How to make the sign of the Cross

“…For the sign of the Cross we put the fingers of our right hand together as follows. We bring the tips of the first three fingers together (the thumb, index and middle ones), and bend the last two (the “ring” and little fingers) against the palm. The first three fingers together express our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as the Trinity one in essence and indivisible, and the two fingers bent show how the Son of God, when He came down from Heaven, being God, became man; that is they signify His two natures — divine and human…In the sacred book, the Psalter, from which Orthodox people were educated from ancient times, it is said in the “Brief Instruction”: about how it becometh the Orthodox Christian, according to ancient tradition of the Holy Apostles and Fathers, to form on himself the sign of the cross… I shall state: first on our foreheads, which touches the highest part of the cross, second on the stomach [not the chest], which touches the lowest part of the cross, third on our right shoulder and fourth on the left, by which the crossbeam is signed by the extended arms of the cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, His hands extended to gather all the nations scattered to the ends of the earth into one…We make the sign of the Cross, or “cross ourselves” at the beginning of prayer, at the end of prayer, and when we draw near to anything holy: when we enter a church, when we venerate the Cross or an icon. We should cross ourselves at every important moment of our life: in danger, in sorrow, in joy, and son on. When we cross our selves, mentally we say “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Thus we express our faith in the All-holy Trinity and our desire to live and labor for the glory of God.”

+ Fr Seraphim Slobodskoy, The Law of God, Forward xiii; p 23-24

When did Christians start
making the Sign of the Cross?

“The first mention of Christians making the sign of the Cross is in the 2nd Century by Tertullian who said: ‘In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross‘” (De cor. Mil., iii).


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