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Question 168

Is it OK to choose not kiss the Priest's hand? 

 

Answer to Question 168

 

For people outside of the Orthodox Tradition (and even for some of the Faithful), kissing the hand of a priest is one of those foreign, counter-cultural and awkward practices that can be difficult to grasp. Kissing the hand of the priest 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 Cyprus and Greece who remember that the kissing of the hand was the normal and expected way to show respect not only to the clergy but to parents, grandparents, godparents, and others having an esteemed 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. But there is more to kissing a priestís hand than just a sign of respect.   When we kiss the hand of the priest, we are not showing respect to the person, but to the Priesthood, 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 Ė 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.   Unless someone is an atheist and believes that God is simply an imaginary friend that priests talk to, why would anyone want to deprive himself of the blessings of our Lord Himself, because this is what kissing a priestís hand denotes. It is not something a priest demands; neither does a priest think he is above others or some self proclaimed god and therefore deserves to be venerated. It is a sign of respect for the office of the priesthood and also a request for the priest to bless you.   The proper way to greet a priest is not just to kiss his hand, but at the same time to ask for his blessing by saying ďFather bless -  Ευλόγησον ΠάτερĒ.  The priest will then make the sign of the Cross over you granting you Godís blessing and sanctification. Thus the priest has no need for people to kiss his hand, it is you that needs to kiss his hand to receive Godís blessing.  If you object to kissing a priest's hand then don't do so, no one is forcing you to and the priest will not be offended, but be sure that you are depriving yourself of Christís blessing.