Dear Parish Faithful,
We continue with the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross through Sunday, which is the Leavetaking. The Cross is the Christian symbol par excellence. We bow down in veneration before the Cross, we wear a cross, and we make the sign of the Cross over ourselves. This seems to be an ancient Christian tradition, so embedded in the past and time of the early Church that it is difficult to determine exactly when and under what conditions the first Christians began to make the sign of the Cross over themselves. (Christians who do not make the sign of the Cross have broken with a long-standing and venerable tradition, found both in the West and the East). As a reminder about the meaning of this simple, yet highly significant gesture, I am sharing a paragraph I wrote about this from my booklet, The Divine Liturgy - Meaning, Preparation and Practice. This paragraph is primarily about the use of the sign of the Cross during the Liturgy:
Upon entering the church, we are in that part of the church known as the narthex (sometimes referred to as the "vestibule," but never the "lobby!") This can be a small or relatively large area depending upon the architectural design of the church. The narthex is the entrance into the nave, or main body of the church, where the faithful gather for the Liturgy. Our first act is to bless or sign ourselves with the sign of the Cross before we do anything else. The Christian symbol is the Cross, for Jesus Christ suffered and died upon the Cross so that we may live and have salvation in Him. The power of sin and death were "nailed to the cross" (cf. COL. 2:14) and abolished by Christ's sacrificial death. Therefore, in the Liturgy we sing: "through the Cross joy has come into the world." The Resurrection of our Lord followed upon His death on the Cross. The Church and our personal lives are placed under the sign of the Cross, both as an emblem of victory and of our own willingness to bear our personal crosses in our daily struggles against sin, temptation, the devil, and all manner of evil. Throughout the entire Liturgy, whenever we glorify God, we make the sign of the Cross over ourselves, revealing our faith in Christ, the "Lord of glory" (I COR. 2:8) crucified for our sakes according to the will of the Father and "through the eternal Spirit." (HEB. 9:14) Holding the thumb and first two fingers or our right hand together is expressive of our belief in God the Holy Trinity; and the two remaining fingers held down in the palm of our hand is expressive of our faith that Jesus Christ exists in two natures - the divine and the human.
For this reason, the sign of the Cross should always be made carefully and prayerfully, whether we do it once or three times as some traditions will vary. I have seen crosses made so quickly and carelessly, that I call it "strumming a guitar." In church we cross ourselves when the Holy Trinity is being glorified, as at the end of every prayer; and at home when we make the sign of the Cross we should inwardly or outwardly say "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."