ORIGIN OF ORTHODOX
Introduced to Orthodoxy in the 4th century
by St. Meletios, Patriarch of Antioch
Orthodox Christians throughout the world, for almost 1700 years, have signed themselves with the Cross using thumb and next two fingers joined, with the other two fingers pressed against the palm; first to the forehead, then the navel, and to the right shoulder and the left. There is nothing in Holy Scripture or the sacred Canons that speaks of this practice of signing, which originally had been made with a single finger, as mentioned by St. John Chrysostom, bearing witness to the importance of oral tradition
It is good to always keep in mind that the way we sign ourselves with the Cross was introduced to the Church by our holy father, Saint Meletios, Archbishop of Antioch. The way this spread like lightning throughout the Church witnesses his divine inspiration. The Saint was well known for his sincerity and good attitude towards all men, always bearing a radiant countenance and friendly smile, attracting many people to him. He lived and preached the truth about Christ and our Faith, and his character was so outstanding that even the heretical Arians held him in high esteem. The Saint lived during a period when the Arians, who denied Christ’s divinity, were in a majority in Antioch. Erroneously thinking Meletios to be like-minded with them and their heresy, the Arians cast their votes making him Patriarch of Antioch. In their battles against truth, the Arians continuously aroused continuous turmoil. Because of His pure Orthodoxy, the Saint was removed three times from the Archepiscopal throne, and driven into exile. His meek and humble nature radiated Christ from his countenance at all times.
There were constant struggles between the Orthodox and heretics which at times became bitter. When St. Meletios was preaching of the essential Unity and of the Divine Trinity, his own deacon, who was a heretic, ran up and stopped the Bishop’s mouth with his hand. Then prevented him from speaking, St. Meletios raised his arm high, opened his three fingers to their full extent. Then closing his hand he raised his fist, showing the unity and the trinity. The deacon then, took his hand from the Saint’s mouth in order to hold back the Bishop’s hand which enabled St. Meletios to speak again.
As the Arians, in a profane manner, were attempting to obscure the truth with their heretical arguments, God revealed the mystery of the signing of the Cross through this noble man who at the Second Ecumenical Synod. St. Meletios was elaborating the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the Arians, first he raised his three fingers, separated, but then he brought them together, and at that moment, lightning and fire flashed from his hand before those present. The heretics were put to shame and enlightenment was bestowed upon the Orthodox who witnessed this. Following this, the sign of the Cross with three fingers brought together and the remaining two pointing down, remains an identification of Orthodox Christians worldwide.
St. Meletios baptized the young John Chrysostom and later in 370 AD ordained him as Reader. His acquaintance with St. Meletios had a great affect on St. John’s character, who says about St. Meletios: “It was a truly the greatest delight to see his holy face. Not only when he taught or spoke; when people only looked at him he brought virtue to their souls.” St. Meletios also ordained St. Basil the Great as Deacon.
St. Meletios, used the term co-essential (homo-ousios) boldly in his confession of Orthodoxy, for God is known to be three hypostases with one nature and one essence. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.
We greatly honor this sweetest of men, holy and pure, humble and meek he was chosen to be the source of the Orthodox signing themselves with the sign of the Cross. It would ve good to remember St. Meletios when we sign ourselves with the Cross.