A common gesture that is seen in the Orthodox Church today is the sign of the cross. It is seen before we commence our prayers, during prayers, end of a prayer, when the word "sleeba" is uttered, during specific celebrations, in liturgy, during sacraments, during benedictions, etc. Do we really understand why it is done? Most Christians, Orthodox included, do not fully appreciate the significance of the gesture. To some it may seem a meaningless act, while to others it is a confession of their faith as well a reminder of God's love towards mankind.
For those who do not know what the sign of the cross is, a description follows. It is the gesture made by taking the thumb, index, and middle finger of the right hand, bringing them together, while the ringer and little finger are pressed into the palm. This hand formation is then traced in a cross-like manner from the forehead, to the breast, and then from one shoulder to the other.
What does all this mean? To the Orthodox, the motion represents the confession of two very important doctrines in the Orthodox Church: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The three fingers that are put together symbolize the doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). We confess the Trinity that exists undivided, co-eternal and co-equal. The two fingers pressed against the palm symbolize the doctrine of the Incarnation. We remind ourselves that Jesus became man while remaining God. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The motion that is made is in the form of the cross. The greatest symbol of love in history is when God died for us on the cross in order for mankind to be right with Him again. We confess God's love for us on the cross. The forehead, breast, and shoulders represent our mind, heart, and strength. We confess that we will dedicate our mind, heart, and strength to the precious cross.
How powerful and beautiful the sign of the cross is to those who understand its message. The message behind it is the reason we begin and end our prayers with the sign of the cross. The message of the cross is why we make the sign in liturgy. The message of the cross is why make the sign in celebrations, sacraments, and benedictions. St. Paul so profoundly says in 1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
Carlton, C. (1997). The Faith. Massachusetts: Regina Orthodox Press.