Why 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, patriarchy, humility, and respect. And based, of course, on love, which does not exist without respect.
Further Reasons to Venerate the Priest's Hand
When we kiss the hand of the bishop or presbyter, 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 priestrepresents 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 should we deprive ourselves of blessings by refusing the priest's blessing, saying arrogantly, "Well, he is a sinner! He is unworthy!"? We are only hurting ourselves.
When Should We Kiss the Priest's Hand?
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 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.
Reviving Respect and Reverence
We should also instruct our children to kiss their godparents', parents', and grandparents' hands, at least in the church before receiving Holy Communion, if not at other times. This does not cease when children become adults: as long as their elders are alive, they should show them this respect. And it should not be limited to our time in Church, for Orthodoxy is a way of life, not just something we do at church. When we go for a visit, for example, the younger people can and should greet the elders with this sign of respect. Before we go to bed at night, family members should ask the mutual forgiveness, and the children should kiss their parents' hands. This may be uncomfortable at first, because we are no longer used to it. But after awhile, since it is inherently normal, it will start to feel quite normal, and as it will deepen the love in your family, the children will miss it if you stop doing it.
This is another, powerful step in restoring the ORTHODOX WAY OF LIFE, which is not something for "long ago", but the timeless, sane, healthy, joyful way of life taught by Christ, the Apostles, and Fathers. It is also simply part of being a traditional human being in a traditional society based on humility, reverence, connection to our ancestors and elders, love of the young for the old and the old for the young - where these beautiful traits are woven into life. Yes, today we live in an anti-traditional society, but we DON'T have to be anti-traditional people.
Let us struggle to restore these time-honored customs, these humanizing, grace-imparting, and beautifying practices, with humility and love. Our children, one day, will thank us deeply for this.