Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I cross myself.
For years that’s how I felt I needed to introduce myself in some of my Protestant/Evangelical churches. I secretly and vigorously crossed myself for years prior to my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, particularly after taking Communion.
Oh, don’t think I was bold about it out in Rome-a-phobic land. Nope, I was quite furtive, slipping the right hand up, across, over and down with great speed. It probably looked like I was just swatting a fly, but I’m hoping God understood. I’m sure He did.
I remember watching those Catholic neighbor kids make the sign of the cross when they would come over for dinner, and I remember being strangely drawn to it. My customary question “Why?” drew the answer “Because they’re Catholic.”
“But why don’t we cross ourselves?”
“We just don’t.”
The practice of making the sign of the Cross on one’s person is one of Christianity’s oldest, appearing somewhere before the 3rd century. I read a story some months ago of a handful of Christians working for a pagan Roman ruler. He had ordered a pagan ritual of some type to be done by his priests, and the Christians were present in the room (deeply closeted I am sure). When the priests were performing the ritual, which was to have had some whiz-bang effect, the Christians discretely made the sign of the Cross and whatever was supposed to happen didn’t. They went home and told their brothers and sisters, and all glory and praise was given to God.
The practice still exists in all the more traditional practices of Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglican). But it was nowhere to be found in my free-church Evangelical/fundamentalist Baptist worlds.
Somewhere about halfway through college I found myself unable to refrain from making the sign. I have no idea why or what triggered it, but often in private prayers, particularly times that felt particularly fervent or reverent or whatever, I’d zip the hand up. I don’t know if I did it from right to left (Orthodox way–oldest way) or from left to right (Roman Catholic et. al). And it didn’t happen all the time, but there were times when I needed, HAD TO HAVE, a physical expression of what I was feeling/thinking inside my head.
When I attended a small, charismatic homechurch, and then later a raucous Vineyard congregation, nobody batted an eye when I did it. It was all good, whatever you needed to do to get in touch with Jesus was OK. Besides, who noticed at the Vineyard when there were people running down the aisle waving big flags.
The mega-churches required a little more discretion, though it was easy to get lost there, too. The last Protestant church I attended used creeds, church history, and taught a little bit on the lives of the Saints (though of course they didn’t call them such), so they noticed what I did occassionally, but they didn’t seem to mind.
The snowy night before I visited St. John Chrysostom’s, as I scoped out the parking lot and its quiet neighborhood, with tears streaming down my face, I crossed myself as I drove by and looked up at the cross on top (We kinda have a steeple, and pews…our building is a bit liturgically challenged…it looks like an old Baptist church. My mom felt right at home till she saw the icons 🙂 ). That night was the last time I felt the need to be sneaky about it, though my family still looks at me funny when we bless holiday meals.
The whole idea of physical practice in worship (crossing, prostrations, standing, bowing, etc.) has been very helpful to me. I am weak and struggle with finding words for my prayers, or ways to express those things so deeply inside. Sometimes I am unsuccessful. But at those times I can cross myself, my right hand demonstrating a belief in the Triune God as it accepts for me personally the saving, life-giving Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ. When I struggle, when I feel lost and helpless to connect with that faith, it is ok to rest under that Cross , to know that He is enough and He will save me.