On Kissing the Priest’s Hand
A few of our new inquirers have asked about the practice of kissing the priest’s hand. For people outside of the Orthodox Tradition (and even for some of the Faithful), this is one of those foreign, counter-cultural and awkward practices that can be difficult to grasp. The following article may shed some light on this ancient practice.
Why in the world do we kiss the hand of the Priest?
The real question is, “Why don’t we kiss more people’s hands?” Kissing the hand of the priest is not an exceptional thing, but rather is the remnant of what was once a perfectly normal custom: showing reverence to our elders by kissing their right hands. There are certainly many people alive today in Greece who remember that the kissing of the hand was the normal and expected way to show reverence not only to the clergy but to parents, grandparents, godparents, and others in authority over us or holding a revered position in our lives. The disappearance of this custom is part of the disintegration of traditional Christian society, which was based on hierarchy, humility, and respect. And based, of course, on love, which does not exist without respect.
When we kiss the hand of the bishop or priest, we are not showing respect to the person of the priest but to his sacred office. The priest as a man is a sinner, but the priest as priest represents Christ; he is an icon of Christ. Also, though his hand is unworthy, yet it touches the Most Holy Things – the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord. Furthermore, despite his unworthiness, in Holy Ordination he has received the Grace of God to impart spiritual gifts and blessings. Why would we deprive ourselves of the blessings of our Lord Himself, by not seeking the priest’s blessing?
So when would we ask for a blessing? We typically seek this blessing whenever we greet and bid farewell to our spiritual fathers. Also, we kiss their right hands when we receive the prayer of absolution at confession or at other prayers. We do not, however, kiss the priest’s hand when receiving Holy Communion, lest we risk an accident with the Holy Chalice.
I know why we kiss the hand. But what exactly is a blessing? What do we receive spiritually from the blessing?
A blessing is something we find throughout Scripture. We find for example St. Paul blessing St. Philemon with the words “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit.” (Philemon 1:25) It is essentially a prayer to the Lord for the spiritual and eternal wellbeing of the other person. In the Old Testament we find father’s give their children their blessings (e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Israel..). The priests of the Old Testament were to bless the people with the words: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
Kissing his hand is no problem with me. I have a hard time getting to an Orthodox church here in Cincinnati, Ohio. I have no car.
Every Orthodox Priest was ordained by an Orthodox Bishop, every Orthodox Bishop was consecrated by a previously consecrated Orthodox Bishop back to the original Holy Apostles (known as Apostolic Succession) and every Apostle had direct contact with The Lord Jesus Christ Himself; therefore by kissing the Orthodox Priest’s hand, we have an unbroken physical and spiritual link to the True God Man Jesus Christ Himself.
Wonderful information. Thank you for posting this.
Thank you so much never really questioned it just followed what my parents thought me and I still do and thought my kids to always good to know thank you again.
Such a beautiful photo. It gladdens the heart.
Thank you for refreshing the info my parents taught me.