The Sign of the Cross
1. our Head,
2. then our Heart,
3. then our RIGHT Shoulder
4. and then our Left Shoulder.
Then we make a bow. (We generally always make a bow when crossing ourselves.)
The entire gesture is called a "Reverence".
We touch the Right Shoulder first (i.e. before the left) in order to symbolise Christ, Who sits at the Right Hand of God. This is the most ancient manner of making the Sign of the Cross, a practice not only used by Byzantine Christians, but also preserved by Church which has retained the most primitive and original liturgical rites - the Great Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East (which uses the Chaldean rite).
1. The first three fingers together (symbolising the Oneness of the 3 Persons of the All-Holy Trinity
2. The remaining two fingers are tucked down into the palm.
These 2 remaining fingers represent the 2 Natures of the Christ [Divine and Human]. The placing of these 2 fingers down into the palm symbolises the descent of the Word into our world, i.e. the Holy Incarnation.
Bows and "Reverences"
There are 3 types of Reverences that are customary in the Byzantine Tradition.
2. The Small Reverence. (a.k.a. the "Waist Reverence) We Cross ourselves, then we bow from the waist.
3. There is a 3d Reverence that is Very common (albeit without formal recognition apparently). We Cross ourselves, then we touch the ground with the right hand.
Rubrics for Reverences:
You will notice that at times during Divine Services the Faithful:
-all make a Reverence
-never make a Reverence
-Bow their heads without Crossing themselves.
And there are times when some of the people make a Reverence and others do not.
The Reverence is Prayer and/or Praise in physical form. Thus when in other Traditions, people are moved, or are moved to sing "Halleluia" or shout "Amen" or drop to their knees in worship or raise their hands in praise, in the Orthodox Tradition, we make a Reverence. Thus at one level, it is a matter of personal devotion, made when one feels moved.
But we NEVER Cross ourselves when:
-the Priest blesses us, making the Sign of the Cross over us with his hand saying: "Peace be with You/All."
-here it is proper to Bow one's head in order to Receive the Blessing. (Logically, there is no need to Cross oneself, when the Priest has already signed us with the Cross.)
We generally always make a Reverence during Services:
-when we hear the Trinity: e.g. "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"
-at the beginning: e.g. "Blessed be the Kingdom..."; "Blessed be our God..."; "Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial..."
-when the Priest invokes a blessing and Crosses himself, e.g. at the end of Services: "May Christ our true God....have mercy on us and save us for He is good and ...." (Thus just as he crosses himself, so we too cross ourselves.)
Outside of Divine Services, we generally make a Reverence:
-when entering and leaving Church
-when we begin a prayer
-when venerating Icons and other sacred objects
The "Full Reverence" (sometimes called a "Prostration") is more proper to the Fast Seasons (given that it is a kind of Kneeling).
-It is never made on Sundays (which begins with Great Vespers on Saturday evening) - since kneeling is forbidden on Sundays.
-It is never made between Pascha and Pentecost (since all kneeling is prohibited).
-It is made many times during the Great Fast, e.g. during the Presanctified Liturgy.
The Priest's Blessing
The Priest will bless with the Sign of the Cross:
Thus, the Priest’s blessing is in the Name of Christ, as he emphasizes in his response to the believer’s request for a blessing.
Historic Note: This is actually the most ancient manner of making the sign of the Cross and was used by lay people as well when they blessed themselves. In the Churches of Rus', the Tradition was only replaced by the present innovation relatively recently during the Nikonian Reforms. Of course, this ancient manner is still retained by the "Old Believers", who did not accept the innovation of the present Tradition.
"Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me your statutes!"
Fr. Roman Galadza