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