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How Christians changed the rules of the sign of the cross and why it caused so many problems
How Christians changed the rules of the sign of the cross and why it caused so many problems

When entering and leaving the temple, after prayer, during the service, Christians make the sign of the cross - with a movement of their hand they reproduce the cross. Usually, in this case, three fingers are connected - the thumb, forefinger and middle, this is the method of finger-making adopted among Orthodox Christians. But he is not the only one - and for many centuries there has been debate about how to be baptized correctly. At first glance, the problem seems far-fetched, but in reality, behind two-fingered, three-fingered and other ways of fingering there are, no less, no less, the dogmas of Christianity. What does the position of the fingers symbolize at the sign of the cross, and why did the issues of two fingers and three fingers become a stumbling block in their time?

Sign of the Cross with two fingers

The sign of the Cross is associated with the main symbol of Christianity

The cross is a symbol that is at the very center of Christian philosophy, and therefore the rituals related to the cross are of great importance for believers. It is believed that the custom of making the sign of the cross traces its history back to apostolic times, that is, it originated at the very dawn of Christianity. There is no documentary evidence of this, but from indirect evidence it can be assumed that in the first centuries of the new era it was customary to depict a cross on separate parts of the body with a movement of the hand - on the forehead, on the lips, on the eyes, etc.

Christ Pantokrator, icon of the 6th century The fingers are shown folded two-fingered

The big cross, when the fingers touch the forehead, then the abdomen, then the right and left shoulder, began to be used not earlier than the 9th century. They crossed themselves with two fingers, an extended index and a slightly bent middle one, the rest of the fingers remained in a bent position. Thus, the dual nature of Christ was emphasized - human and divine. This position was consolidated by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in the 5th century. Two fingers as a way to fold fingers in the implementation of Christian rituals can already be seen on the mosaics of Roman temples. Apparently, this custom of finger-composing for many centuries was not disputed in any way, did not require justification and confirmation, in any case, until the 16th century, no discussions on this topic were conducted.

The relics of St. Elijah Muromets in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra

After the baptism of Russia, the Greek custom was adopted - two-fingered. When trifing arose is a rather controversial question, since each of the parties in the dispute, which has been going on for more than three centuries, looks in its own way at the history of each of the methods of fingering. Apparently, the Greeks could fold three fingers at the sign of the cross as early as the 13th century. Pope Innocent III argued in his essay that “one should be baptized with three fingers, for this is done with the invocation of the Trinity.” Nevertheless, over time, the church, once tolerant of any options for implementing the sign of the cross, began to consider the only true two-finger, in as a result, by the decision of the Stoglava Cathedral in 1551, all the others were banned; “Cursed be it” - it was decided with respect to the one who does not accept two fingers.

Two fingers until the 17th century was not disputed and was recognized as the only true way to be baptized and bless

Nikon's reform and three fingers

That is why the prerequisites for a future split of the church arose long before Nikon's reform in the middle of the 17th century.It is interesting that the prohibitions did not succeed in eradicating the three-fingered from the everyday life of the faithful: a significant part of the believers still, perhaps not so openly, continued to use it, even though the two-finger remained officially permitted.

About three fingers - Psalms

Was it just the external, aesthetic side of the ritual? Of course no. If the first - supporters of two fingers - tied the sign of the cross to the designation of the dual nature of Christ, then those who considered the only correct and reasonable three fingers justified it by referring to the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. Violent disputes about the dogmas of the church in this regard will unfold during the reform period of 1653.

V. Surikov. Boyarynya Morozova

Already under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov, or rather, under Patriarch Nikon, the so-called "Memory" was sent all over Russia, prescribing to cross with three fingers and nothing else. This immediately aroused a stormy protest among some of the clergy, first of all - the protopoles Habakkuk and Daniel. The main argument of the opponents of the reforms was that Christ alone suffered the execution - in his two incarnations - and not the whole Trinity as a whole. If we start from the latter, then it will turn out that the human in Christ is rejected, and with this the adherents of the old rules categorically disagreed, since they saw in this a denial of the very essence of Christianity.

13th century sculptures from Strasbourg Cathedral, symbolizing the Tempter and the Virgin

Nikon explained his decision by the fact that three-fingered is an older Christian custom, supplanted later by heretical sentiments and the influence of foreigners. Even the fact that on most ancient icons one could see how the saint blesses with two fingers was explained - supposedly this position of the fingers is just an oratorical gesture that draws attention to the words of the speaker, but in no way the way in which one should bless and be baptized. Indeed, no ancient images of the sign of the cross actually existed, and therefore opponents in the dispute could only resort to abstract reasoning and an attempt to interpret fragments of church books. True, rather quickly the preponderance in the dispute turned out to be on the side of Nikon: his reforms were supported by the Great Moscow Cathedral of 1666-1667, and the tsar himself approved them.

Titian. Christ the Almighty

Other fingerprinting options

If the Old Believers - those who did not accept the new order - recognized only the sign of the cross with two fingers, then the “new believers” spoke about several more, in addition to what they recognized as correct. For example, about one-fingered, which was allegedly practiced at the dawn of Christianity. And about the name-word sign - which is used only by priests for blessing. In this case, the fingers are folded so that they form something similar to the letters of the Greek alphabet - IC XC, that is, "Jesus Christ". Until the middle of the 17th century, such a sign was apparently not practiced.

About the name-word sign.

In 1971, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church recognized all methods of finger-making as "equally salvageable," but the Old Believers do not always have such tolerance for other, than they admit, ways to make the sign of the cross. The Catholic Church has avoided such conflicts, it has long admitted all of the above. options, and the most common was and is still the way to be baptized with five fingers - while they symbolize the five wounds on the body of Christ.

The Catholic Church did not know any reforms or conflicts regarding the formation of signs

Anna Kashinskaya, a saint who was deprived of her status as a result of Nikon's reforms, became a kind of "victim" of Russian disputes about faith. How and why it happened - read here.

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