The act of greeting a priest or bishop by kissing their hand is an ancient tradition of our church. For some who are not familiar with this custom, it can seem somewhat strange or awkward. Yet, like with all customs of our faith, there is much meaning behind this practice.
An ordained priest represents Christ Himself. In having been ordained, the priest has received the grace of God to impart Christ’s blessing through Apostolic succession by the laying on of hands. One step further, at the pinnacle of the Divine Liturgy, the priest’s hands, despite His unworthiness, are instruments which touch the Holy Body and Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest as a man is a sinner, but the priest as priest represents Christ; he is an icon of Christ. So, in seeking to be blessed by the priest through the kissing of his hand, we are seeking the blessing of Christ Himself!
St Paul explains we are to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12); In this way, we greet the priest or bishop by making a bow and saying, “Father bless”, and kissing his right hand. We do this out of love and respect.
We seek a blessing from a priest when we greet them and farewell them, as well as during other instances such as after the prayer of absolution is read after the Sacrament of Confession. We don’t seek their blessing following Holy Communion , so as to avoid any accidents in knocking the Holy Chalice.
Seeking a blessing signifies a humble heart and shows a deep faith in God. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father runs to meet his son who has returned, with a kiss. Similarly, the sinful woman kissed the Lord’s feet in repentance, as an act of obtaining Christ’s blessing.