The Reason Why Orthodox Christians Cross Themselves from Right to Left

Orthodox cross themselves from right to left. First, we will describe the mechanics of making the sign of the Cross, then explain why it is indeed important that we make the sign of the cross correctly.
 
Placing the cross on oneself
 
1) We place our thumb and first two fingers together in a point, and our last we fingers flat against our palm. The three fingers together represent the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the two fingers in the palm represent the two natures of Christ.
 
2) We touch our forehead, then our belly, tracing the vertical part of the cross.
 
3) From our belly, we bring our hand up to our right shoulder, touching it.
 
4) We finish placing the cross on ourself by touching our left shoulder.
 
 
The act of “Placing the cross on oneself” is a request for a blessing from God. We make if from right to left to mirror the actions of the priest when he blesses us. The priest, looking at the parishioners, blesses from left to right. Therefore, the parishioners, putting on the sign of the cross on themselves, do it from right to left.
 
Because the Lord separated the sheep from the goats, putting the faithful sheep on His right side, and the goats on the left, the Church always treats the right side as the preferred side. We only cross ourselves with our RIGHT hand. The priest, when blessing a person, first touches or points to their RIGHT side, then their left. Also the censing of the Holy Table in the Altar is always done from the RIGHT side first; censing of the Ikonostasis, the Congregation and of the Church itself always begins with the right side. The priest always gives communion with his RIGHT hand, even if he is left handed. There are other examples of this right side preference.
 
When a parent makes the sign of the cross over a child, they will cross them from left to right, just as the priest blesses. When they make the sign of the cross over themselves, they would do it, logically, the other way.
 
The Catholic Encyclopedia states that in the Roman Catholic Church, the faithful crossed themselves from right to left, just as the Orthodox do, until the 15th or 16th century. They must explain why they have changed an ancient and apostolic tradition. We cannot answer as to their motivations.
 
Is it important to cross ourselves a particular way? In a word, YES. We do not have the authority to choose willy-nilly what parts of the Christian Tradition we want to follow. Our fathers, and countless saints crossed themselves from right to left. Ancient icons show Christ or bishops beginning a blessing from right to left. the right side is referred to in a preferential way many times in scripture and our sacred hymns What should we want to change?
 
Editor

About the author

The Editor of the Catalog of Good Deeds.

Comments

  1. My understanding was that it was the crusaders who began the practice of left to right to distinguish themselves from the Middle Eastern locals and that the practice was approved by the pope in the 14th century, about the same time he authorized baptism by pouring .

  2. The practice of left to right comes from the early church baptismal tradition when the one being baptized was to first face the west (left) and deny Satan and all his works/promises. Then the baptizee was to turn to the east (right), turning his back on the place of the setting sun to the place of birth of new light, in order to accept and acknowledge Jesus, His teachings and His Church.

    Now one question: why does this article include an aggressive dig against the Latin rite? It seems rather inappropriate for such an article.

  3. Such an explanation is pastoral and not theological. Meaning the practice of crossing oneself from left to right existed even before the aforementioned explanations. It is the tradition that we received and therefore we continue to keep!

  4. The idea that "We do not have the authority to choose willy-nilly what parts of the Christian Tradition we want to follow" runs the risk of the very Pharisaic approach Jesus and the Apostles, particularly St. Paul at Galatia, argued against! Jesus said, "If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!" We are not slaves to the stained out gnats of right-to-left crossing. Let the priests and monastics first rid the church of the camels they swallow: such as lying, stealing, adultery and the other seven commandments of God before writing articles like this on the commandments of men. For it is better to obey God, rather than men. What profit is there is crossing oneself correctly, if His soul is awry with sin?

    1. Wow. The thing is that obeying the canons of the Church, we obey God. God is the Head of the Church. The Church is the Body pf the Lord. If we have canons, if we have a tradition offered us by the Church lead by God Himself, then there is no other way for us except from to accept it all.
      There is a lot of pharisaism among the people in the Church, but when someone says so about our tradition (and often even about our sacraments), then there is no sense to explain something to such people.

    2. We cross ourselves in the acknowledgement of Christ's suffering on the cross. We cross ourselves to ask forgiveness for our daily sins. We cross ourselves to thank God for the all that he has provided. We cross ourselves when we enter any Christian church that is a follower of Jesus Christ and his teachings. It is an acknowledgement showing our LOVE and RESPECT for the life he has given us. I cross myself from right to left, as I consider myself a sheep separated from the goats on the left.

    3. No need to be rude..this article just explains why Orthodox cross themselves to the right first. I am not Orthodox but was glad to learn something new. We need to listen to others, not to be over sensitive, or politically correct about everything. That is my opinion. Peace & blessings to all

  5. Peace to everyone!

    Crossing ourselves has a threefold expression:
    1. We first draw the holy cross on our body, we confess that Jesus was in fact crucified, and we seek His protection through It. Besides that direct meaning, there are two other symbolic ones:
    2. By joining our first three fingers, we confess the Holy Trinity and the equality in essence of the three Hypostases. With the other two fingers joined, we confess the two natures of the Son of God (God and human) and by sticking them (the little two fingers) to the middle of our palm, we confess that Jesus was incarnated in the womb of saint Mary, the Mother of God.
    3. We start with the (fore) head because God the Father is the initiator, even within the Holy Trinity (above and outside the frame of time!). After that, we descend to our abdomen projecting Jesus’ descent to “dwell among us” and within the frame of time (and in the Virgin’s womb), then we reach our right shoulder imaging His ascension up to the right of the Father. Last (but not least), we touch our left shoulder in the same level as in the right one, confessing the equality in essence of the Holy Spirit to the Son of God (and, effectively to the Father too!).

    P.S. In Arabic, we do not use, as in the rest of the languages, the same term for the Father as Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity and for the “earthly” father. We call the former by “Āb” (Ā being a long a) and for the latter, we use the word “ab” (أب) that means father, generator, cause (figuratively), priest… Within the grammatical (syntactic) context, and in its indefinite form, this word should take one of the three morphological patterns: “abū” (ū being a long u) in nominative, “abā” (ā being a long a) in accusative, and “abī” (ī being a long I sounding like “abee”) in genitive.

  6. What would Christ say? Is it important to Him how we make the sign of the or cross or is more important our intention, what is in our heart? Jesus wants the church to be one, different traditions should not divide us. In a secular age we Christians have work cut out for us, in light of the challenge we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and together bring people to Christ.

    1. My friend, your Ecumenist concept of unity would only be true if Orthodoxy was ‘just another denomination’. But it isn’t. It is the truth untainted, the same Church as that of Christ among the Apostles. Existing for 2000 years, there has been quite a lot of tradition along the way. And why not? The countless saints did it too. It is necessary for a faithful child of the one Church of Jesus Christ to be submissive to this inheritance of sacred tradition. Yes we are in a secular age…. And a pick and choose Protestant ethos certainly helped us to get here.

  7. Almost all the heresies were born not in the West, but in the East and that fact has a lot of evidences from the Church history. While the Roman Orthodox Church in ancient times has always kept the orthodoxy and helped the Eastern brethren to fight the heresies. Maybe because of that the Orthodox people cross themselve from right to left in order to show that the right side, the East needs to be crossed and healed first and then the left side? I think that both traditions of crossing are generated by Church and are equal. The important thing is the faith in Jesus Christ and constant remembering of His sufferings on the Cross.

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