Why do the Orthodox cross themselves differently than Catholics?

They cross from the right to the left shoulder, while we cross from the left to the right. They go with the fingers to the belly making a complete cross, while we go with the fingers to the place between shoulders. Why is that?

I’m waiting to see what the responses will be. Don’t the Eastern Catholics also do the sign of the cross that way, too? I’m Latin rite, and I always cross myself with a big sign of the cross with my fingers going from my forehead then down to the belly before coming up to the left and then the right shoulder.

Slippery little critters. I think it has to do with why water empties clockwise in one hemisphere and counterclockwise in the other hemisphere.
I await with anxiety and interest at this thread for the real answer.

Yes, Eastern Catholics do the sign of the cross that way too. I live in a house full of Byzantines, so I do it too!


The Catholic encyclopaedia 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 Christina 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?

My understanding is there’s no real reason on this stuff. There were a bunch of different ways of doing it early on. They just sort of standardized by region.

Eastern Catholics & Orthodox cross themselves like this using their Right Hand:

Thumb, Index Finger & Middle Finger touching -** this represents the Trinity: Father, Son & Holy Spirit as One God. **

Ring Finger & Pinky laying across the Palm together -** this represents Christ’s Two Natures: Divine & Human.**

Tips of the Thumb, Index Finger & Middle Finger touch the Forehead & then Stomach -** this represents the Father, the fountain-head of the Trinity **- while saying, “In the Name of the Father”

Tips of the Thumb, Index Finger & Middle Finger touch the right shoulder - this represents that Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father - while saying, “And of the Son”

Tips of the Thumb, Index Finger & Middle Finger touch the left shoulder - while saying, “And of the Holy Spirit” and then touch their heart - the throne of God.

In a Melkite Greek Catholic parish, years ago, I came across the pamphlet that quoted an early century Roman Catholic Pope who detailed that is how all Christians (Catholics) cross themselves from the beginning of the Church.

To add more confusion to the matter, the Byzantines (both Orthodox and Catholic) do it right-to-left as described by 1Tim215Mommy, but the Orientals (that is, the Copts, the Syriacs, the Ethiopians and Eritreans, the Armenians, and the Indian Syriacs – again, both Orthodox and Catholic, to my knowledge) do it left-to-right, and have always done it that way (pamphlets produced by Byzantines polemically declaring one way or the other the way that “all Christians” have always done it are wrong, as are those who look at the way we do the sign of the Cross and assume that we are aping the Latins, without realizing that the Latins themselves used to do it as the Byzantines did until fairly recently, so it really isn’t the “Latin” way. If anything it is the “Oriental” way, and just seems wrong to Byzantines because they think we’re wrong anyway, and because the Latin Church is so much larger and well known than we are. Meh.)

We do it left-to-right is because the theological significance of the movements is different than in the Byzantine tradition. In brief, as it was explained to me by our priests, the symbolism is that Christ came down from heaven (the forehead), was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and lived, preached, and was crucified and resurrected here on earth (heart), and through His crucifixion, death, and resurrection has carried us from death (left shoulder, recalling that those who will depart from Him on judgment day will be on His left side) to everlasting life (right shoulder, recalling that those who will be told “Well done, good and faithful servant” will be with Him in paradise at the right side of God). So in the sign of the Cross there is the entire salvation history of our Christian faith, and a reminder of the coming judgment and the last day. Little wonder then that we Cross ourselves so much, both in and outside of liturgy! :wink:

[We likewise do not fold in two fingers to represent two natures of Christ, for obvious reasons… :smiley: Once a Coptic friend asked me why I don’t cross myself the “Orthodox” way, as he had apparently learned to do in the years of going to the local Greek Orthodox Church before we had a Coptic Church here. I told him to pay attention to Father Marcus next time we are at liturgy and do it how Father does it. After the liturgy, he came up to me and apologized for assuming that I was doing it wrong, since he realized after watching the priest that he was the one who was wrong, and following the Greek way without thinking about it, instead of his own Coptic tradition. Haha. Oops!]

My father was Orthodox and explained the same thing to me. A lot of oral traditions later popped up to explain the symbolism further, including we "push the goats away (left shoulder) while declaring ourselves as sheep (right shoulder).

You indirectly make an excellent point here.

The way we do the sign of the cross is an excellent tool for teaching church theology. I doubt God thinks differently of people based on how they do it, but the theology we can learn through doing it is important.

Exactly. For the record, I have nothing against the Eastern Orthodox/Byzantine Catholic way of doing it, or the theology behind it. Ours is just a bit different, but within the context of what it is meant to symbolize and remind us of, it makes perfect sense to me.

This was a good lesson in traditional practices. Speaking of which, does anyone know why in Eastern Churches, crosses are often seen with a double cross at the top? Is there a meaning to this?

The shorter top one is the sign that was hung above His head that read “King of the Jews” in several languages.

And the shorter one at the bottom shows that the repentant thief went ‘up’ to heaven while the end pointing down shows that the non-repentant thief went ‘down’ to hell.

Actually, those in the Western Church cross themselves forehead, heart or belly and then left to right. I have never seen Protestants [Lutherans/ Anglicans] cross themselves using the Orthodox way. Not that it really matters since the sign of the cross is a blessing in any form.

I belong to the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (in Kerala, India), where we cross ourselves from left to right, but is very similar in the above explanation, we also use the three fingers, thumb, index and middle finger to signify the TRINITY and start from the fore-head, to signify that CHRIST came from the FATHER and Heaven, to Earth (we touch between our shoulders), to bring us, who were on the Left Side (touch the left shoulder) of GOD to the Right Side (touch the right shoulder) of GOD.

This is something that my mother had taught me when I was small (and also made sense), though I have to admit, I’ve not had it checked with anyone else.

The rite I belong to is an Eastern Catholic Church.

There just so orthodox that’s why.

=livingwordunity;11790928]I’m waiting to see what the responses will be. Don’t the Eastern Catholics also do the sign of the cross that way, too? I’m Latin rite, and I always cross myself with a big sign of the cross with my fingers going from my forehead then down to the belly before coming up to the left and then the right shoulder.

What your asking about my friend, is a “Church Practice.” NOT a doctrine or dogma.

It’s a matter of culture and there is absolutely noting wrong about it.:thumbsup:

God Bless you,

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