There is a rich symbolism in the simple gesture of how we hold our hand as we bless someone; either by making the sign of the cross over them, or just as we pray for them.
This icon shows St John the Baptist one particular gesture. There are actually three different ways in which hands have been held in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Fig. 1 – In Eastern Rite icons of Jesus, the Lord is shown holding His right hand in a particular way. The pinkie and ring fingers are touching the thumb, these three digits symbolizing the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The other two fingers are held straight. Those two fingers represent the two natures of Jesus — Divine and human. It’s a gesture that is sometimes used by the Vicar of Christ, the pope.
Fig. 2 – There’s another gesture used by Eastern Catholic and Orthodox bishops and priests. It is a form of finger spelling. The index finger of the right hand is held up straight (forming the letter “I”). The middle finger is slightly curved (forming the letter “C”). The ring finger is held down and crossing the thumb, thus forming an “X.” The pinkie is held up, but slightly curved in the form of another “C.” Put it together and what have you got? IC XC. These Greek letters are a Christogram or monogram for the name of Jesus. The first and last letters of Jesus (Iesous) and Christos (Xristos) these four Greek letters therefore stand for the Holy Name — Jesus the Christ.
Fig. 3 – In the Jewish tradition, the Aaronic Blessing (Num 6:22- 27) is prayed by the kohamin, the sons of Aaron, with hands extended over the people. Both hands are held flat, palms down, with the four fingers of each hand divided into a “V” shape. (Think “Star Trek”: “Live long and prosper.”) The hand gesture forms the Hebrew letter ‘shin’,
This letter is used to represent the name of God ‘El Shaddai’. El Shaddai is “The Lord God Almighty” in Hebrew.
So when we bless one another we can choose to use either of these hand gestures as a means of enriching that act and situating it within the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Of course it is only God who can act in blessing, but he has saved us so that we can be a blessing to others.
But I will save you. And you will be a blessing. (Zechariah 8:13b, NIV)
We should certainly be a blessing to others in our acts and our speech, but we should also be a blessing to them through our praying.
Using these hand gestures is a rich way to convey the act of blessing and its root and foundation in the God who commanded the Hebrew priests to bless Israel and who, in Jesus, has opened up that blessing to all people everywhere.
(Adapted from Father GOLDRICK, The Anchor, 12th Jan 2015 accessed online at http://www.anchornews.org/columnists/goldrick/archive-2014/07-04-14.html on 16/12/2016)