Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Dr Alex Tang
“What are you doing? Sign language?” asked disciple junior grade Ah Beng of
disciple senior grade Ah Kong. “Making the sign of the cross,” replied Ah Kong
“Why?” Ah Beng asked again, reaching out for the last piece of bread on the
table. They were having dinner in a large wooden shed. The simple wooden shed is
the site for the Annual Conference of Desert Fathers, Mothers, and Hermits.
Usually the hermits attend by proxy.
“Abba Isaac is doing it, that’s why” replied Ah Kong with an air of superiority.
“I saw him making the sign of the cross over his bread just before he eats it.”
“Does that make it holy bread?” asked Ah Beng with an air of innocence. “You
trying to be funny,” Ah Kong asked suspiciously, rolling up his sleeves.
“No fighting,” said Abba Isaac to his disciples, “What are you two arguing
“It’s this sign,” Ah Kong answered making a motion of his hand over his body, up
down, then side to side.
“What sign?” asked Abba Isaac with a surprised look on his face, “why are you
waving your hand like that?”
“I am doing the sign of the cross like you did before you say grace” replied Ah
“Ah so,” nodded Abba Isaac understanding. “first, stop waving your hand when you
make the sign. Watch me.”
Holding three fingers together - thumb, forefinger, and middle finger - Abba
Isaac demonstrated to his disciples how to make the sign of the cross.
“The three fingers symbols the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The two
fingers on your palms represent the two natures of Christ, human and divine.
When you drop your hand from your forehead to waist, it represents Christ’s
descend to earth. The upward movement is the resurrection. I do this to remind
myself of Our Lord”
“But Abba Mathenius uses two fingers only,” said Ah Kong, “I saw him.”
“Abba Mathenius’ uses two fingers to signify the two natures of Christ and the
three fingers on his palm, the Trinity. Notice how he makes the large cross over
his whole body,” explains Abba Isaac. “He said it reminds him of God’s
“How about Abba Rinardo?” chipped in Ah Beng, not wanting to be left out. “He
crosses himself from left to right. Or Abba Andropus. He crosses himself from
right to left.”
“Maybe Abba Andropus is left handed.” Ah Kong said.
“Abba Rinardo is from Rome. The Roman Catholics uses the left to right movement
which is the left cross. With that gesture, his followers signify that they do
not wish to be on Christ’s left but rather be at Christ’s right side. Remember
Christ’s parable on the goat and sheep? The goats will be on Christ’s left and
the sheep on Christ’s right on the day of judgement. You do not want to be a
goat on the day of judgement. Understand?”
“Ai yah, there is no sheep in China, only goats!” exclaimed Ah Beng.
“Stupid!” shouted Ah Kong, whacking Ah Beng on the head. “Jesus is speaking
“Oh,” Ah Beng whispered sheepishly.
“Abba Andropus,” continued Abba Isaac as if nothing has happened, “is from
Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church’s gesture from right to left symbolises
Christ descended from heaven to earth and to the Jews on the right and he now
have passed to the Gentiles on the left.”
“We don’t do that,” said Ah Kong smugly, “we are Protestants!” “What are we
protesting against...” Ah Beng started to say. “That’s a misconception,” Abba
Isaac interrupted, “Abba Martin Luther prescribe using the sign of the cross.
The Anglicans and Lutherans are still using it today.”
“Shall we cross left to right or right to left?” wondered Ah Beng, “Ah, I know-lah,
left cross one day, right cross another day. Left, right, left, right.”
And Abba Isaac sighed.
For many of us, worship is the section of Sunday service where we sing hymns or
songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments and PowerPoint sceneries.
Worship is more than that and should encompass the whole of our lives. It is
more than using our mouths to sing. It should involve our mind, heart, spirit
and body. Not many of us realise how our bodies are also involved in worship. It
may be as simple as closing our eyes while we sing, or opening our hands, or
lifting our arms. During prayers, we lean forward and close our eyes. When we
feel the Lord’s presence, we may have an intense desire to kneel, or even lie
prostrate on the ground. All these are indications that our physical bodies are
involved in the act of worship. These are our body language of worship. And
consciously or unconsciously it may help us to worship better.
During its long history, the Church understands that our bodies worship together
with our mind, spirit and soul. That is why Church developed liturgy in the
worship services and certain practices. These practice or action reminds our
body of their language of worship. In other words, it primes our body for
worship. Making the sign of the cross is one. Nobody knows when and how it
originates. It does, however, help some people to recall their body language of
worship. The great Church Father John Chrysostom said, “You should not just
trace the cross with your finger, but you should do it in faith.”
1. What is your body language of worship? To identify it, think of what posture
is most helpful in your worship. Is it sitting, walking, kneeling, lying
prostate or on your back? Does lighting a candle or incense helps? Discover your
body language of worship and experiment with other postures too.
2. Which aspect of your church worship service reminds your body of worship? Is
it during the singing, listening to the sermon, taking part in the Holy
Communion, or reading the Bible during scripture reading? How will you use this
to enhance your worship experience?
3. The body language of worship connects thinking and doing. Which liturgy or
parts of your church’s worship service reminds you of God the Father, Jesus
Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Using the sign of the cross is one of the
ways some Christians use to remind themselves of the Trinity. What practices or
rituals do you use to remind yourself of the presence of the Trinity?
We thank you for creating us as body and spirit. We thank you for our
bodies-whatever shape, size and colour. As the psalmist said, our bodies are
beautifully and wonderfully made. We thank you for this fantastic creation.
Teach us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Teach us to worship you with our
bodies as well as our minds, souls and spirits.
Soli Deo Gloria
Posted 11 March 2008