KISSING THE HAND
Kissing the hand of the priest is not about the man
The kissing of the hand of the priest is not about the man, but rather about Christ. It is much like the kissing of an icon, which is not about the veneration of paint and wood, but about the archetype represented in the icon. 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 priest represents Christ, and is therefore a living icon of Christ. Though he be a sinner, and unworthy in and of himself of such respect, that he touches the Most Holy Things – the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord, the kiss is in actuality, extended to Christ. Through ordination he has received the Grace of God to impart spiritual gifts and blessings, so we should not deprive ourselves of blessings by refusing the priest’s blessing.
There is the true story of a priest pulling away his hand in order to prevent Czar Nicholas II from kissing his hand. The Emperor ordered him to extend it, saying “I am not kissing your hand, but the hand of Christ”. In refusing to allow anyone to kiss his hand, any priest, who out of false humility would deprive a pious Christian the opportunity to kiss his hand, deprives the person of Christ’s blessing.
We should show this respect and receive this blessing whenever we greet and bid farewell to our spiritual authorities. Also, we should kiss their right hands when we receive the antidoron (the blessed bread at the end of Liturgy) from them or receive the prayer of absolution at confession or other prayers. We do not, however, kiss the priest’s hand when receiving Holy Communion, lest we risk an accident with the Holy Chalice.
The proper way to greet a priest or bishop is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand, placing your right hand over your left hand and say “Father” or “Master” in the case of the bishop, bless.” He will make the sign of the cross, and place his right hand over yours.
When you kiss their hands, you show respect for their office — they are the ones who “bless and sanctify” you and who offer the holy gifts on your behalf. So next time you greet your priest or bishop, don’t shake his hand, ask for his blessing.
Also, it has been the custom in Orthodox countries (and still certainly in Lebanon) that the right hand of parents, grandparents, and respected elders be kissed. In those cases it doesn’t necessarily involve asking for a blessing, but it is a sign of respect, and perhaps also of love. We westerners are deprived of many good customs which help to form the person properly.
With love in Christ,
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