The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

The Sign of the Cross

You could probably do a whole series of blog posts about making the sign of the cross.  But since I’m no expert, I offer you just this one tongue-in-cheek, completely irreverent post about something I saw recently that made me want to laugh and cry at the same.

In case you’re not aware, many people in traditional liturgical churches (Eastern Orthodoxy included) attribute supernatural power to the act of making the sign of the cross with your fingers moving swiftly across your abdomen.  Some say it wards off evil spirits, others that it brings blessing and good luck, still others that it earns God’s forgiveness or that it helps purify your heart as you meditate on Jesus with your whole being (but especially your fingers I guess).

I need to say all this carefully, because I don’t mean any disrespect toward Orthodoxy or any other liturgical church, and, really, I want to win people to Jesus, not necessarily away from the Orthodox Church.  I’ll bring ’em to Jesus, and He can decide if they’ll leave Orthodoxy or bring revival to the system that has become corrupted.  And, yes, it has been corrupted.  The hypocrisy, greed, corruption, heresy, and immorality in the Orthodox Church can’t be what Jesus had in mind when He said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

But I’m not here to pick a fight with Orthodoxy.  Not yet anyway.  😉

People everywhere in Bucharest make the sign of the cross.  It’s always the approved Eastern version (forehead, belly, right shoulder, left shoulder), because apparently the evil spirits here aren’t as afraid of the Western cross, so you gotta stick with what they know.  You can check out a really nice guide to doing it yourself here, in case you want a little more instruction before trying it out yourself.

You’ll see people on the trams making the sign of the cross, people walking down the street, people in the parks, everywhere!  At first, it stood out a lot, but now we’ve mostly grown used to it.  It’s still funny when suddenly a whole bus full of people stops what they’re doing and they all start making the sign of the cross simultaneously.  Jessie and I look up and start looking for a church building or cemetery whenever we’re caught in the middle of a vigorous synchronized crossing procedure.

Recently, while we were on the tram (light inner-city rail), I was watching a woman talking on the phone out of the corner of my eye.  The conversation was getting really heated and she was almost yelling into the phone.  Suddenly, we must have passed a church building because everyone started doing the sign of the cross.  Without skipping a beat, the angry phone-caller told the person on the other end of the line, “Hold on,” methodically proceeded to cross herself a few times, cell phone in hand, then got back on the line yelling, as if nothing had happened.

I wanted to laugh at the comedy of it all and cry because her concept of Jesus wasn’t even big enough to bring peace to her phone conversation.

One of these days, I want to start doing the sign of the cross randomly, in front of a grocery store or something, just to see if I can get everyone else doing it along with me without thinking.

I love Romanians.  I don’t always understand them, sometimes their cultural habits make me laugh, but I sure do love ’em and want ’em to know Jesus.


One response

  1. EDW

    I can’t comment on Romanian Orthodox practices, because I am an American Orthodox Christian — with a vibrant and flourishing faith. Your story about the angry cell-phone lady on the bus is funny…and sad…and very, very human.

    Here is a different and maybe fresh way of thinking about making the sign of the cross, should you ever decide you want to participate in this practice (I would discourage you from doing it outside the grocery store in the way you mentioned, however): making the sign of the cross is a way of praying with your body. Orthodox Christianity, at its best, engages all of the senses and the whole body.

    We touch our heads in the Name of the Father, our hearts in the name of the Son, and each shoulder in the name of the Holy Spirit, symbolically consecrating ourselves to the Trinity.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm

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