The most natural thing an Orthodox Christian can do is to kiss his ‘spiritual family’, including the icons of the Saints, Holy Relics, the Cross, the Gospel, as well as kissing the priest’s hand. It is an ancient custom signifying love, respect and reverence: as it is Christ Himself that we encounter and experience through these holy things.
St Paul instructs us to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12); hence we greet the priest or bishop by making a bow and saying, “Father bless”, kissing his right hand.
When a priest is ordained, he receives the Grace of God to impart spiritual gifts and blessings, through Apostolic succession by the laying on of hands. It is the Bishop or priest who handles with great reverence the Body and Blood of Christ as he prepares Holy Communion, regardless of his unworthiness, abilities or personal traits.
St John Chrysostom tells us that if one were to meet a priest walking with an Angel, then one should greet the priest first and kiss his hand, since that hand has touched the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
When the priest or bishop blesses us he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram “ICXC”: a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for Jesus Christ. Thus the priest’s blessing is the Name of Christ.
Seeking a blessing is a sign of a humble heart, and it reveals a deep faith in the power of God. The woman who had a flow of blood had to touch Christ’s garment to obtain healing, and the Lord praised her great faith. The sinful woman kissed the Lord’s feet in repentance (Lk 7:38) and in the parable of the Prodigal son, the father runs out to meet the repentant young man and kiss him (Lk 15:20).
Source: February – March 2016 Lychnos Edition