This is the first thing I notice as I begin my journey into Orthodoxy. The sign of the Cross. I shake my head because I can’t figure out when they do the sign. When I’m about to make the sign of the cross, it seems no one else is. When I am least prepared, everyone else is on board.
Always a step behind the sign of the cross.
The thought leaves me depressed. It’s what I often feel on this journey — a step behind everyone else. If I didn’t know this was the right path I would give up, just because I hate that I am a baby in the journey. At heart I know this is pride. And with the sign of the cross, I pray His grace will trump my pride, anyday and everyday.
The sign of the cross reminds me I’m in a humble place of learning. I know none of the answers and am barely able to ask the questions. It’s healthy to realize I know only one thing – Christ crucified for me.
When my oldest daughter Annie was six she began making the sign of the cross. We had a number of Catholic friends, and she picked up the gesture naturally. One day I was talking to my mom about this. My mom is a lifelong believer, a mentor in my faith since I was old enough to understand anything. “There’s nothing wrong with that” she said. “It’s totally Biblical!” This is one of the many reasons why I love my mom. The stuff that counts is black and white, the other stuff is many shades of grey. The sign of the cross? In her opinion whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox the sign of the cross made complete sense.
Because this sign represents the cross itself as well as loving God with my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. And as often as I can, I need to be reminded of this.
Orthodox make the sign of the cross differently than Catholics. Pressing my index and middle fingers to my thumb I go up to my forehead, then down toward my stomach, over to the right shoulder and across to the left: “In the name of the father (forehead) son (down) and the Holy Spirit (over and across)”
Up, down, over, across. Up, down, over, across. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Trinity. Up, down, over, across.
There is a rhythmic prayer and beauty to this and I realize I have looked for a symbol like this my entire life. I’ve always envied my Catholic friends, feeling they could, with one sign, indicate a faith. This may sound simplistic, and I am well aware that God’s concern is the heart, not the outward symbols. But when the outward symbol can reflect the heart? This is a gift.
I look toward the altar. The choir, in exquisite harmony, is singing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity one in essence, and indivisible”.
Up, down, over, across – The sign that reminds me of a love sacrificial, a cross that overcomes sin and death, a Lord who is present. I gratefully bow my head.