Protection of Theotokos: Sign of the Cross

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember today, the Holy Protection of the Theotokos (Agia Skepi in Greek).

It is a celebration of our Mother’s appearance to Saint Andrei of Constantinople, when the city was threatened by invaders. When Saint Andrei was nearing the end of his life, with his disciple Saint Ephiphanius, and some people, were praying in the Church of Blachernae, where some of our Theotokos’ relics were kept, including her robe, veil, and part of her belt. Our Theotokos appeared to them and moved to the Church center, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time, full of tears on her face. Then she took her veil off and covered everyone in the Church as a sign of protection. Thereafter, the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering. Our Theotokos, Mother of God, pray for us.

In Wisdom of Sirach 39:1-5, we get a sense of what it means to live an Orthodox Christian life, that of observing the Laws, understanding and praying of Holy Scriptures, observing the Holy Traditions, and discernment of the human condition. The verses also remind us especially to pray, and to bring our attention to the Lord.

Let us therefore, sign ourselves with a Christian identity. The Apostle Saint Paul, in his epistle 1 Thessalonians 2:9-14, reminded us to be mindful of our Christian identity, especially that of imitating Christ our Redeemer. We have read, listened, and walked, the ways and Word of our God, such as the confessional prayer of a sinner, in LXX Psalm 27. But, other than the simplest spoken prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, the Sign of the Cross is another seemingly simple prayer. Our father among the saints, Saint John Chrysostom, said, “Never leave home without making the sign of the Cross.”

The sign of the Cross is often invoked in conjunction with the Holy Trinity of Father the Creator, Son the Redeemer, and Holy Spirit the Comforter. The sign of the Cross is a confession of faith as a Christian, a liturgical prayer, a blessing, a denial of the Devil and his works, a leaning on the Church of Christ, a proclamation of carrying the burden of the Cross in our lives, a form of thanksgiving of Christ who came, and the revelation of the Second Coming of Christ in glory and judgment, which is preceded by a sign of the Cross in the sky.

The sign of the Cross is a visible symbol of our Christian faith. In Luke 11:14-23, Christ our Lord asked us to be with Him with clarity and faith. Likewise, we must remember the admonition of Saint John Cassian in the Philokalia, to understand that the demons would make us forget about God, His Word, His laws, and His mercy, and keep us busy with mundane and worldly attachments. And by visibly professing the sign of the Cross with the inner prayer of the heart often, we prevent the demons from robbing us of the spiritual lights in us, and keep them away from us.

It is a prayer that can be done by anyone, from the very young, to the very old. And increasingly, with the mercy of God, not just the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, but even other ecclesial communities are beginning to trace the sign of the Cross in their daily lives.

We make the sign of the Cross by touching our thumb and first two fingers together, symbolizing the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We tuck the last two fingers into our palm, symbolizing the 2 natures of Christ, fully God and fully human, touching the earth we live in. We trace the sign from our forehead to our waist, signifying in Heaven above, and on earth. Then we trace from the right shoulder to the left. Touching the forehead allows us to remember God in our mind, and touching below our breast reminds us of God in our heart, and the right and left shoulders signifying that God is in our limbs, taking charge completely by His will. The right shoulder also signify Orthopraxis, or right actions, and to remember not to do the wrong things (left shoulder).

The sign of the Cross is profound, powerful, and yet visually simple. We must remember that the sign of the Cross is not to be taken lightly, but reverently, humbly, and with great faith. Famous father among the saints, Saint Ephrem the Syrian, also said, “Make all your actions with the sign of the life giving Cross. Do not go out from “the doors of your house till you have signed yourself with the cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating and drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going on a journey.” Join the sign of the Cross, with our profession of the prayer of the heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Let us pray the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Readings today:
Wisdom of Sirach 39:1-5
Psalm 27 (LXX)
St Luke 11:14-23
1 Thessalonians 2:9-14