The Orthodox atmosphere and way of life
We have often spoken of the necessity for creating the Orthodox way of life in our daily activities. It is the daily, habitual “little” patterns of behavior that modify our fallen psychology and make it into a sanctified and heavenly way of thinking and acting. One of the “little habits” we have is, when greeting a priest, to ask a blessing.
Why do we receive blessings?
God desires to bless us, both with earthly good things like health and well-being, and above all with heavenly good things, that is, spiritual cleansing and joy in this life, and eternal life in the age to come. But we have to ask for this blessing; it is not “automatic.” In the Gospel Christ teaches to “seek,” to “knock,” to “ask.” We have to ask. The priest, as the minister of Christ, bestows blessings in the form of the Cross upon the faithful who ask, as a means of Christ bestowing His grace upon us for every temporal and eternal blessing.
How do we receive a blessing?
When we see a bishop or priest, we approach and respectfully cup our hand, right over left, as we do when we receive antidoron, and say, Evlogeite (“Bless”). The clergyman will respond by signing us with the sign of the Cross, as he responds, o Kyrios (“The Lord,” that is, “The Lord blesses thee”). Then he places his hand in ours, and we kiss his hand (see My Orthodox Notebook # 13, “Why Do We Kiss the Priest’s Hand?). “Bless” sounds rather abrupt in English, and therefore we customarily say “Father, bless” or “Bless, Father,” or to the bishop, “Bless, Dhespota,” or “Bless, Your Grace.”
But we do not usually see it done this way…
That’s right; typically even pious people now do not cup their hands to receive the sign of the cross and kiss the priest’s hand; the priest simply extends his hand as though to shake hands, and the layman kisses it. This is a pious custom, but the older, more complete way is better, since it involves the priest actually giving a blessing with the sign of the Cross rather than an “understood” blessing as we kiss his hand.
Should we bow before the clergyman?
The most pious custom is to make a small metania (a bow from the waist, touching the ground with our extended right hand) before the bishop or priest before asking a blessing. This might seem kind of extreme nowadays. I suggest that my parishioners do this when greeting the bishop or an especially venerated monastic elder but not me. Of course, we should bow not only before clergy or monks. When laymen or clergy ask forgiveness or prayers from one another in the various circumstances of life, they should bow before the other person to show humility (see My Orthodox Notebook #14 “On Forgiveness in Daily Life”, especially the last paragraph, regarding asking forgiveness nightly in the home.)
How about greeting the priest in letters and on the telephone?
In correspondence, e-mails, and phone calls, we should always begin our communication with a clergyman by asking a blessing, writing or saying Evlogeite(Father bless, or Bless Dhespota, etc.). When we hear the priest’s voice on the phone, we do not just say, “Hello,” or “Good morning” as if it were an ordinary conversation, but we immediately put the conversation on a spiritual level by asking a blessing. This is good for the priest too – he needs to be reminded that the person he is talking to is counting on him to act like a priest. An alternate greeting to Evlogeiteis tin efhi sas (“Your prayer,” that is, “I ask for your prayer.”).
May we all continue or return to this blessed custom, as part of our ongoing, most vital project: to build an Orthodox way of life.