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Posted January 15, 2007

Book: The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History
Author: Andreas Andreopoulos
Paraclete Press. Brewster, MA, 2006. Pp. 152

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The sign of the cross is literally a tracing of the Cross of Christ onto the body. By doing so, Christians invite the mystery of the cross into their everyday lives. Now, and for the first time, young Greed scholar Andreas Andreopoulos explains the tremendous meaning, mystery, and history of this dramatic gesture shared by Christians worldwide.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The idea of a sign made on the forehead did not originate with Christianity. References to a sign, or rather to a mark on the forehead, appear in the Old Testament as well as in other pre-Christian civilizations. Cain was perhaps the first person in history to associate his name with a mark on the forehead. In the book of Genesis, God makes a mark on Cain (and biblical scholars assign the place of the mark as forehead) identifying Cain as someone who has killed, and also as someone being protected from being killed.

Similar references are found throughout the Old Testament. A sign on the forehead, and sometimes also on the hands, is a sign of castigation, a way to set aside a sinner. This is reflected in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel where God commanded, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and who cry because of all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof.” Even a sore on the forehead could mark a person as unclean, as chapter 14 of Leviticus suggests. There is no mention of a mark on the forehead in the New Testament, except in the book of Revelation, where such a mark sometimes appears as a sign of the people of God, but also as a sign of the Antichrist.

The mark on the forehead as we see it in the Old Testament and in the Book of Revelation reveals something spiritually significant about the person who bears that mark, usually declaring something about the spiritual condition or identity of that person. The mark on the forehead is something like a “reading,” an exposition of what this person is really like inside, as God sees him or her. Unlike a gesture or sign on the forehead, the mark is something permanent. The forehead is chosen as the most conspicuous place of display. In later Hellenistic Platonist and Neoplatonist tradition, which identified the mind with the true self, the forehead could be connected with the mind, but this connection does not bear out in the biblical tradition, where the heart and not the mind is identified as the center of the human being, the true self.

Table of Contents:

1. Experiencing the Sign of the Cross

2. The Sign of the Cross: its history

3. The need for symbols and signs

4. A prayer to Christ

5. The cosmic cross


Further suggested readings