Understanding the Kiss: Reverence in Orthodox Christianity

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
March 25, 2024

Ever wondered why people kiss the priest’s hand in Orthodox Christianity? It’s a practice steeped in tradition, symbolizing respect and veneration. But there’s more to it than just a sign of reverence.

In this article, I’ll dive into the fascinating reasons behind this ancient custom. From the theological significance to the cultural implications, we’ll explore why this gesture has stood the test of time in Orthodox Christian worship.

Stay tuned as we uncover the deep-rooted meanings and the powerful message conveyed through the simple act of kissing a priest’s hand. It’s a journey through faith, history, and devotion that might just change the way you view this time-honored tradition.

Origins of the Tradition

Delving into the origins of this profound tradition, it’s important to note that kissing the priest’s hand has biblical roots. The custom harks back to the early Christian Church, where kissing was a common greeting among believers, mentioned in the New Testament as a “holy kiss.” This aspect of culture carried a connotation of respect and fellowship, creating a tangible connection between the clergy and the laity.

In Orthodox Christianity, the reverence towards the priest’s hand specifically is significant due to what the hand symbolizes. Priests are ordained to perform the Sacred Mysteries — Holy Communion, Baptism, and other sacraments — therefore, their hands are viewed as tools consecrated for God’s work. By kissing the hand, believers are not just showing respect to the person of the priest but venerating the priesthood itself and acknowledging the sacramental role the priest plays.

Historically, the tradition can also be traced to the influence of Byzantine court customs. The kissing of hands was a common practice among the nobility, often used to show fealty or ask for blessings. As the Orthodox Church was heavily intertwined with the Byzantine Empire, ecclesiastical practices inevitably absorbed certain aspects of the imperial ceremonial protocols.

The spread of this practice can be attributed to the ways in which the Church became a central part of community life. In villages and towns throughout Orthodox countries, the local priest often played multiple roles — spiritual guide, counselor, and educator. Kissing the hand came to be seen as a gesture that encapsulates a multitude of sentiments: respect, gratitude, and the seeking of blessings.

Theological significance plays a critical role in perpetuating the practice even today. It serves as a reminder of the reverence due to the sacred, the continuity of tradition, and the deep connection between the physical and spiritual realms in Orthodox worship. Understanding this origin and meaning adds depth to every encounter with the practice, revealing its role in the spiritual rhythm of an Orthodox Christian’s life.

Theological Significance

In delving into the theological significance of kissing the priest’s hand, I find that it’s much more than a gesture of courtesy. It’s an act that embodies deep spiritual symbolism. By kissing the hand of a priest, I’m showing reverence not just to the person but to the entire vocation which is consecrated to God. Given that priests are tasked with handling the Holy Eucharist, there’s an inherent holiness attributed to their hands.

According to Orthodox theology, the hand of a priest becomes a conduit of divine grace during sacramental rites. As I approach to kiss the priest’s hand, I’m reminded of the sacred mysteries that these hands partake in and the transformative power they channel during the liturgy. This simple act solidifies my connection to the divine, reinforcing the belief that through the priest, the faithful receive blessings.

Moreover, kissing the priest’s hand is a way to acknowledge and honor the succession of the priesthood that has continued unbroken since the time of the apostles. It connects me to the apostolic tradition and the lineage of those who have preserved the faith. Each time I participate in this practice, I’m affirmatively linking myself with centuries of believers who have shown similar veneration.

For me, the practice serves as a tangible reminder that the clergy are not only spiritual leaders but also the stewards of the Church’s sacraments. By honoring their role, I am in essence:

  • Respecting the office and the responsibilities it entails
  • Demonstrating humility before the mystery of the divine
  • Embracing the physicality of faith which Orthodox Christianity often emphasizes

Understanding the theological significance of such actions immeasurably enriches my spiritual journey, helping me to see beyond the surface of rituals and grasp their true essence.

Symbolism of Respect and Veneration

In the rich tapestry of Orthodox Christianity, the act of kissing the priest’s hand has layers of significance that resonate with the faithful. Respect and veneration for God’s servants are deeply embedded in this practice, highlighting their divine mission.

The hand that blesses, baptizes, and breaks the bread during the Eucharist holds a special place in the theology of the Church. It’s not the individual I’m honoring, but the sacred duties assigned to them. By kissing the hand, I’m showing reverence for the sacraments and holy rites that are performed through these hands.

When I approach a priest, I’m acutely aware that in that moment, I’m partaking in a lineage that stretches back to the early apostles. The hands that I humbly kiss have been ordained to carry forward a tradition precious to my faith — a tradition that has persevered through time and tribulation.

The practice is a physical manifestation of the principle of dulia, a type of honor given to saints and holy objects. I’m not just acknowledging the priest’s role but also expressing my reverence for the entire ecclesiastical order. It’s as if I’m connecting with the entire cloud of witnesses — the succession of clergies throughout history — by performing this simple yet profound act.

The symbolism extends beyond the confines of the church and touches the everyday lives of believers. It’s a reminder that respect and veneration should permeate my interactions with everyone, recognizing the inherent dignity bestowed upon them. Embracing this ethos contributes to my spiritual growth and enriches the community of faith that I belong to. Through this gesture, I affirm the values that are core to Orthodox Christianity and ensure that the traditions which underpin my faith are not just understood but also lived out each day.

Cultural Implications

When it comes to the cultural underpinnings of kissing the priest’s hand in Orthodox Christianity, there’s a rich tapestry of tradition and respect woven into the practice. Historically, this gesture has been a potent signifier of the communal and societal esteem held for spiritual leaders. Deeply rooted in history, it echoes the virtues and values cherished within Orthodox communities.

In many Orthodox cultures, the interface between the secular and the sacred is notably seamless, with religious practices infusing daily life. As such, the veneration of a priest through kissing his hand extends beyond the boundaries of the church, fostering a unique blend of the religious and the cultural. It’s not just an act performed within the hallowed confines of liturgical events; it flows into homes and public gatherings, underscoring the profound interconnectedness of faith and community life.

Here are several cultural perspectives this tradition highlights:

  • Respect for Elders and Authority: Kissing the priest’s hand is a vivid demonstration of deference to both the age-old traditions and the authority figures who uphold them.
  • Manifestation of Unity: This act strengthens the sense of belonging and community among believers, unifying them under shared beliefs and practices.
  • Symbol of Devotion: Even outside the liturgy, showing reverence to spiritual guides embodies a continuous commitment to one’s faith.

Moreover, kissing the hand of the priest also serves as a social equalizer. Regardless of one’s status in society, when it comes to receiving blessings or expressing respect, everyone follows the same humble approach. This galvanizes a sense of solidarity and shared purpose across diverse social strata, reminding me that within the church, all stand equal before God.

Furthermore, for those visiting or newly integrating into Orthodox Christian societies, observing and partaking in this tradition can be a deeply enriching experience. It signals a willingness to embrace and respect the local customs, paving the way for greater understanding and integration within the community. It’s not merely an adherence to a religious act but an entry point into a culture that reveres its heritage and keeps its timeless rituals alive.

The Role of History and Tradition

The act of kissing the priest’s hand in Orthodox Christianity is steeped in centuries-old traditions. I’ve found that understanding the historical context of this ritual enriches my appreciation for its current practice. The roots of this tradition date back to the earliest days of the Church, where respect for the sacred and for those in spiritual authority was paramount. This tradition has been preserved meticulously through the generations, reflecting a profound continuity within the faith.

By engaging in this ritual, I’m participating in a legacy of reverence that transcends time and culture. It’s a gesture that has been passed down through countless generations, embodying the same devotion and respect that was shown by the early Christians. It’s not simply about the physical act but about taking my place within that lineage of faithfulness and commitment to the church.

Tradition plays a pivotal role in how the church maintains its connection to the past. For me, kissing a priest’s hand is more than a ritual; it’s a bridge to the apostolic age, where the laying on of hands was a common practice for imparting blessings and performing sacred rites. This connection to history can be profound, providing a sense of continuity and foundation for my faith.

Moreover, the historical practice has also evolved to encapsulate cultural significance. In many Orthodox cultures, the act symbolizes not just spiritual submission but communal respect. By observing this tradition, believers from all walks of life, including me, are unified in a collective expression of humility and honor towards those who serve God. It reinforces the idea that within the church, all are equal before God, joined through shared beliefs and time-honored customs.

It’s remarkable how this ancient practice continues to hold such symbolic weight in contemporary times. It reminds me that the traditions of the church are not static relics of the past but living, breathing aspects of Orthodox Christian life. They are dynamic, influencing not just spiritual discipline but also the cultural fabric of the communities where these traditions thrive. Through this lens, the interweaving of history and tradition becomes a powerful testament to the endurance and adaptation of faith over the ages.


Kissing the priest’s hand in Orthodox Christianity isn’t merely a formality; it’s a profound expression of respect and veneration. Through this simple yet significant act, I’m reminded of the sacredness of the priesthood and the unbroken chain of spiritual authority that dates back to the apostles. It’s an honor to participate in a ritual that not only connects me with the divine but also binds me to the community of believers, past and present. This gesture transcends the boundaries of time and culture, reinforcing the values of humility, unity, and reverence that are central to my faith. As I continue to explore and embody the rich traditions of Orthodox Christianity, I find that these practices deepen my spiritual journey and enhance my connection with the ecclesiastical heritage that has shaped my beliefs and the community I cherish.

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