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The Kiss in Church

Performing the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy was a significant element of church life during the first century of Christianity, the first mention of which we find in the Acts of the Apostles. The form of worship for the first community, the church gathering, was to divide the bread and to drink the wine as Christ’s blood, along with a reading from the Holy Bible together with an interpretation of it. That occupied the central position of the worship. Apart from that ritual, the holy kiss between members of the same church was a symbol of sincere and pure Christian love.

Mention is made of the practice to “greet one another with a holy kiss” in numerous places in the text of the New Testament, and that is regarded as the first step to Christian brotherhood and faithfulness. In the Apostolic epistles, the Apostle Paul closes his text with an urging, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Cor. 16:20). Elsewhere he says again, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12). As a sign of Christian brotherhood he writes, “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Thes. 5:26). The Apostle Peter makes the suggestion and urges, “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Pet. 5:14).

The best vestige of that brotherly love in the communal life of the apostolic era was the “holy kiss” that entered the Christian Church directly through the Divine Liturgy. It takes place at the time of the “greeting”, when the Church becomes “one soul” (“Holy greeting has been enjoined, the Church has here become one soul” – Hymn of the Kiss of Greeting). The words contained in the songs of the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church are marvelous, especially in that song.

The faithful people do not generally understand what it is that happens at that moment. The deacon kisses the Holy Altar and then the hand of the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, descends from the bema by the northern steps into the chancel and the nave, and transmits the message to all the people. He states, “Christ in our midst has been revealed.” The receiver of the message responds with, “Blessed be the revelation of Christ”. We have seen children, and even youths, who have no idea of the meaning of the “greeting”, break out into laughter when they see what to them seems to be “commotion” in the church as the adults transmit the greeting from one to another. What is more sad is that sometimes when a mature faithful tries to “transmit the greeting” to a young woman or possible anyone, he is faced with a cold, unwelcome stare – of course, for having no idea what is going on.

Certainly, one of the most uplifting, buoying moments in the Divine Liturgy is when the “Church” becomes ONE BODY. It is then that it joins with the body of Christ, through His being revealed there. From that point on, the faithful in the church are no longer separate individuals, but a brotherly union with Christ, that is, a “CHURCH”.

In the long ago past, the greeting was given by an actual kiss on the cheek. But later, as the Church grew and membership increased substantially, with strangers frequently in attendance, the practice took on a different form, for practical reasons, and the Christian kiss became more symbolic.

The various Christian churches now have a variety of forms for the holy kiss, the mutual greeting during the Divine Liturgy. In the case of the Maronite Church, when it is time for the greeting, the deacon, with the palms of his hands placed together, goes from row to row of the pews and the people receiving the greeting place their hands over his. They then in turn pass the greeting on in the same manner, from member to member.

In the case of the Armenian Apostolic Church Mother Church, the greeting is transmitted from person to person by nodding over the receiver’s right shoulder, then the left, as though an embrace, reciting the words of the greeting.

In their zeal to keep the Mother See of the Church at its sanctified and august level, our holy church fathers have ordained that pure practice of the “holy kiss”. It can be easily sensed that both the clergy and the lay people of our church want to preserve that hallowed practice. Fortunately, the Armenian faithful still look upon crossing one’s legs in church to be a sacrilege, but sadly, it may be seen among the faithful of other churches who waver in uncertainty concerning the words “simplicity” and “respect”, not knowing which behavior is the more appropriate when in God’s House. Or, perhaps in an exalted state, they cannot say for sure where they are, or why. It is a matter of conforming to ways of modern times, why do we not behave as we would when in the presence of a higher-up in the office, station, or authority? After all, is the head of an institution or the general manager of a large workplace higher than God?

Also, with numerous foreign practices that have gradually slipped into the church is the very inappropriate theatrical action of a marrying couple kissing in front of the church altar at the close of the ceremony. After making a holy oath before God, that practice of kissing after the ceremony is often prompted by the photographer. The church, whether during the ceremony or after, is still a church, losing nothing of its majesty. In the largest edifices of the Armenian Church, the distance from the altar to the main entrance is no more than thirty paces. Well then, why should the sanctuary of the church be confused with the hall for taking pictures? The church is where you, in your most hopeless moment, can talk to God, where He is ready by His presence to bring you solace. For, after all, the church is GOD’S HOME, and not an ordinary hall, or a common sidewalk, or a bus stop, or a corner of a bedroom.

Poles apart are the “kiss of greeting” and the other “kiss” mentioned above, which, regarded scrupulously, expresses a lack of respect for the sanctity of the Church.

Keep the “holy kiss” in its exalted state in our Church, which is a consecrated symbol of universal Christian life and pure and communal love.


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