Over the years I’ve noticed that some visitors to Orthodox services feel uncomfortable and uncertain about kissing the cross at the end of the Liturgy Service. I’d like to try to explain why we do it.
Kissing the Cross of Jesus
We have to admit, that from a modern perspective, it is a really a strange thing to do. Kissing the depiction of a man being executed could, in fact, be seen as grotesque. The reason we do it, however, is because of what this particular person means to us.
On the one hand we kiss the body wounded for our sakes. He demonstrated his love for us by dying, and this inspires love in us which we express by kissing the depiction of his death. I suppose the final kiss given by Orthodox Christians to the dead bodies of loved ones at their funerals could similarly seem grotesque, but it is also an expression of love. Our modern intuitive withdrawal from death is a symptom of our death-denying culture. Old-World cultures are more accepting of death.
On the other hand, and most importantly, we kiss the cross and honour it in so many other ways because it represents Christ’s triumph over death through his own voluntary death. Some Orthodox crosses have an abbreviation inscribed on them which stands for “The Place of the Skull [Golgotha, where Christ was crucified] has become Paradise.”
Orthodox hymns talk about how the cross has become the tree of life, budding and bringing forth life as its fruit. We ought not forget Christ’s humiliation and pain, but bearing in mind the price paid for our salvation we honour the cross with fear and love.
Thanks to Sub-deacon Jeremy Davis for these thoughts.