KISS OF PEACE (Greek, aspasmos)
A greeting exchanged among the clergy and the congregation during the Divine Liturgy as a token of pure love and communion of spirit. The aspasmos dates back to the apostolic age. In his epistles Saint Paul repeatedly referred to the “holy kiss,” as in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. Saint Peter described it as a “kiss of charity” in 1 Peter 5:14. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (c. 315-386) prescribed the essential spiritual nature of the kiss of peace: “Do not think that this kiss is like that which friends are accustomed to give one another when they meet.
This is not such a kiss. This kiss unites the souls together and destroys all resentment. This kiss is a sign of union of souls” (1955, no. 23, p. 153). Saint Augustine called it a “sign of peace” and added that “the outwardly shape of the lips expresses what is in our hearts” (PL 38, col. 1101a). Its intrinsic quality was stressed by THEODORUS OF MOPSUESTIA: “By this kiss people make a kind of profession of the unity and charity which they have among themselves. It is not fitting for those who form one body in the church that anyone of them should hate any of his brothers who are sharing in the faith.”
The introduction of the aspasmos in the Coptic liturgy directly after the Prayer of Reconciliation signifies, in the words of Saint Paul, that God “reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Accordingly the celebrant says, “And make us all worthy, O Lord, to greet one another with a holy kiss,” to which the deacon responds, “Pray for perfect peace, for love, and for the holy aspasmos of the Apostles.” Then the congregation sings the aspasmos hymn that starts with the words “Rejoice, O Mary the handmaiden and mother.” For this reason the Prayer of Reconciliation was named the Prayer of the Aspasmos in some old euchologia; the verbal greeting accompanying it was “Christ is between us,” to which the response was “He is and will be” (Gogol, 1934, p. 36).
At first the Kiss of Peace was a real kiss exchanged by the faithful in the church, but in time it became a movement in which four hands enfold in a mutual greeting with two palms touching, as is practiced now. The thirteenth-century Coptic writer IBN SIBA‘ described it as a kiss on the right cheek, reciprocally given and received, followed by a handshake.
The Kiss of Peace is also given at certain points during church services. At the start of the liturgy, having made a prostration toward the east before the altar, the celebrant bows to his fellow priests, embraces them, and asks for their absolution and prayers on his behalf. In the presence of the patriarch, metropolitan, or bishop during the liturgy, a priest takes the incense box to him and then kisses the cross and his hand. When he has passed the incense to his fellow priests, they embrace as a sign of peace and love. After the Liturgy and preceding the dismissal, the priests embrace, as do the members of the congregation.
Following the completion of the sacraments of baptism and anointing with the holy chrism, the priest and the faithful embrace the person baptized, who has become a member in the body of Christ. The Constitutions of the Holy Fathers (1951-1959, p. 483) laid it down that following the consecration of a bishop, “he be placed in his throne, in a place set apart for him among the rest of the bishops, they all giving him the Kiss in the Lord.”
The kiss is not permitted on the Wednesday and Thursday of HOLY WEEK, in memory of the treacherous kiss of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ (Mt. 26:48; Mk. 14:44; Lk. 22:48).
- Gogol, N. V., ed. La Divine liturgie, trans. T. Belpaire. Namur, 1934.
- Ibn al-‘Assal, al-Safi. Kitab al-Qawanin. Repr. Cairo, 1927.
- Ibn Siba’ Yuhanna ibn Abi Zakariya. Kitab al-Jawharah al-Nafisah fi ‘Ulum al-Kanisah, ed. Viktur Mansur. Cairo, 1902. Latin version Pretiosa Margarita de scientiis ecclesiasticis, trans. Vincent Mistrih. Cairo, 1966.
- Malati, T. Y. Christ in the Eucharist, Bk. 5. Alexandria, 1973. Yuhanna Salamah. Al-La’ali’ al-Nafisah fi Sharh Tuqus wa-Mu‘taqadat al-Kanisah. Cairo, 1909.