Learning the Cross September 8, 2011Posted by Matt in church.
Tags: church of christ, Episcopal Church, Feast of the Cross, liturgy, sign of the cross
Coming from a more fundamentalist, Evangelical background in the Church of Christ, there have been a myriad of adjustments and learning experiences in our family as we have become further ingrained in the Episcopal Church. One of these religious aspects comes in the form of a liturgical calendar, an alien concept to those still toiling along in the Restoration movement, so it has been with a great deal of interest that I have read about the seasons and special days as they approach. Today my fellow Episcopalian and friend, Barbara, posted a link to an article regarding the Feast of The Cross, a day approaching in the next week.
I read the article and learned about how the origin of the day rests on the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335 during the reign of Constantine. The day itself is one on which the Cross is recognized, but done so in a more festive manner in which it is seen as a “symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death and a reminder of His promise.”
That was intriguing, but one of the first pieces of our faith that crossed my mind was the action of crossing oneself. When we began attending at St. Tim’s last Fall, I do not believe I had ever seen anyone cross themselves outside of movies or television, and I’m sure that stared, open-mouthed like an idiot as I watched these people conduct themselves in an alien world. Over time, though, the idea began to grow on me and following our Lenten series on personal piety in the Church, it became an important part of my worship.
As Patrick, my priest and good friend, described it, the act of crossing oneself is a participatory show of reverence, one in which a person takes an active role in worship. The method of crossing oneself is as follows:
The thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand are held together, symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
The remaining two fingers press against the palm, symbolizing the human and divine natures of Christ.
The person then touches their forehead, chest, right shoulder, and left shoulder.
To help us remember the order, Patrick encouraged us to think of it in this way: Lord I give you my mind (head), Lord I give you my heart (chest), thank you for our blessings (right shoulder), forgive us when we fall short (left shoulder).
It’s a matter of personal piety that can and is done at a variety of times during services, but the sign of the cross is usually done when blessings are pronounced. This generally happens at the opening and closing of services, as well as the Sanctus (blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord) which is sung or chanted during Holy Communion.
Though the concept was completely foreign to me just one year ago, it has become an integral part of worship, one that acts as a deep connection to the Divine.