The Orthodox Christian respects and loves their clergy. Knowing that the clergy are servants of God and man, devoting their life for the salvation of their flock, the Orthodox Christian expresses his/her gratitude and respect to them on every occasion.
Orthodox Christians address the Priest as “Father”, for he is the spiritual father of his flock; he is their teacher, confessor, sanctifier, and healer. There are people that belong to Christian denominations that do not call their clergy, “Father”. But let us consider the words of St. Paul, “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). When we also read the gospel according to St. Luke, we find the rich man calling up to Abraham in heaven with Lazarus in his bosom and addressing him as “Father Abraham” (See Luke 16:20-31). Abraham’s response was not, “Do you not realize that only God the Father is to be called Father?” Rather, he replied, “Son, remember.”
When people greet a Hierarch or a Priest they kiss his hand as an expression of respect, as recognition of his Priesthood, and as a veneration to the holiness of his sacred office and duties. The proper way to do this is to approach the Clergyman with right hand over the left, palms facing up and then bow slightly while saying, “Master, bless” to a Hierarch; “Father, bless” to the Priest.
The fact that the Hierarch/Priest handles the Holy of Holies, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, when he offers the Divine Liturgy, is recognized by Orthodox people, at all time throughout the world, as a great and awesome privilege. The hands that touch and offer the Bloodless Sacrifice on the Holy Altar; the hands that give to us the Body and Blood of Christ; the hands that baptize and anoint us with Holy Chrism; the hands that absolve us in the Sacrament of Penance; the hands that bless our wedlock in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and anoint our bodies with the healing oil of the Sacrament of Holy Unction; the hands that sprinkle upon us the Holy Water of Sanctification; the hands that bless us, alive and dead, these hands are the instruments of salvation. For this reason Orthodox Christians through the centuries have kissed the hand of the Hierarch/Priest when he is greeted either in church when he distributes the “Antidoron” at the end of the Divine Liturgy or outside the church whenever he is present.
Listen to the words of St. Paul: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith; Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings. Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:7-9, 13, 17).
Kissing the hand of the priest is all about Christ
The kissing of the hand of the priest is not about the man, but rather about Christ. It is much like the kissing of an icon, which is not about the veneration of paint and wood, but about the archetype represented in the icon. When we kiss the hand of the bishop or priest, we are not showing respect to the person of the priest but to his sacred office.
The priest as priest represents Christ, and is therefore a living icon of Christ. Though he be a sinner, and unworthy in and of himself of such respect, that he touches the Most Holy Things – the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord, the kiss is in actuality, extended to Christ. Through ordination he has received the Grace of God to impart spiritual gifts and blessings, so we should not deprive ourselves of blessings by refusing the priest’s blessing.
There is the true story of a priest pulling away his hand in order to prevent Czar Nicholas II from kissing his hand. The Emperor ordered him to extend it, saying “I am not kissing your hand, but the hand of Christ”. In refusing to allow anyone to kiss his hand, any priest, who out of false humility would deprive a pious Christian the opportunity to kiss his hand, deprives the person of Christ’s blessing.
We should show this respect and receive this blessing whenever we greet and bid farewell to our spiritual authorities. Also, we should kiss their right hands when we receive the antidoron (the blessed bread at the end of Liturgy) from them or receive the prayer of absolution at confession or other prayers. We do not, however, kiss the priest’s hand when receiving Holy Communion, lest we risk an accident with the Holy Chalice.
With love in Christ,