This was written by Frederica Mathewes-Green in her forward to The Sign of the Cross by Andreas Andreopoulos, Paraclete Press, 2007.
The discription was so tender, while being so funny, I wanted to share it.
At my Orthodox church every Sunday I see families arrive at church and go up to the iconostasis, to greet the icon of the Lord. The parents stand before his searching gaze and make the sign of the cross fluidly: the right thumb and first two fingers together to recall the Trinity, and the last two fingers together and pressed down to the palm, to recall Christ’s two natures and his descent to the earth. They touch forehead, abdomen, right shoulder, left shoulder, then sweep the right hand to the floor with a deep bow. After making two of these “metanias,” they kiss Christ’s hand, then make one more sign of the Cross and a last bow.
With practice, what sounds like a very complicated ballet becomes second nature. Behind the parents come their children, who execute the same moves but have a shorter trip to reach the floor. And then there are the toddlers. If you’re seated to the side, you can see a look of stern concentration come over the chubby face. Then there’s a blur, as a tiny fist flies from ear to elbow to knee to nose, or just makes quick wobbly circles over the tummy. If these gestures were literally analyzed as to their symbolic meanings, they might be signaling heresies not yet imagined. But all this commotion is concluded by the little one stretching up on tiptoe to kiss the hand of the all-compassionate man in the painting. That hand is giving a blessing; it is making the sign of the Cross.
These children are doing what we all do to some extent: we take part in mysteries we can only partly comprehend. We do it within the safety of our Father’s home, following in the footsteps of our elders.