|This article forms part of the series|
|Baptism - Chrismation |
Confession - Eucharist
Marriage - Ordination
|Nepsis - Metanoia |
Hesychia - Phronema
Mysticism - Nous
|Chastity - Obedience |
Stability - Fasting
Poverty - Monasticism
|Humility - Generosity |
Chastity - Meekness
Temperance - Contentment
|Worship - Veneration |
Prayer Rule - Jesus Prayer
Relics - Sign of the Cross
|Apostolic Fathers |
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
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Worship is faith in action. In the words of Georges Florovsky: "Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second". Orthodoxy sees people as liturgical creatures who are fully complete when glorifying God.
One of the first tasks of Orthodox missionaries has always been to translate the service books into native tongues. From Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century, to Innocent of Alaska and Nicholas of Japan in the nineteenth, there has always been a need to translate the service books into native tongues.
Emphasis on Divine Beauty and Self-Confident Informality
Orthodox, inspired by a vision of 'heaven on earth,' have striven to make their worship in outward splendor and beauty an icon of the great Liturgy in heaven.
There is no Orthodox equivalent to the 'Low Mass'. At every Liturgy, as at every Matins and Vespers, incense is used and the service is sung, even though there may be no choir or congregation, but just the priest and a single reader. Since the Orthodox sincerely believe in the One Church, every service is served as if all of the One Church is present, both the visible and the invisible.
In Orthodox worship, people come and go freely, and nobody is surprised if one moves about during the service, arrives late, or does not stay to the end. The absence of pews, at most churches, adds to the feeling of being at home when at church, or like children in their Father's house, and not patrons at the opera.
The same informality and freedom is in the behavior of the clergy. Ceremonial movements are not so minutely prescribed as in the west, priestly gestures are less stylized and more natural.
This informality can lead to irreverence at times, but it is this precious quality which allow the Orthodox to glimpse the beauty.
Preserves the Faith
The Orthodox have their whole religious experience in the Liturgy. It is the very expression of their faith. It is the Liturgy which has inspired their best poetry, art, and music. Among Orthodox, the Liturgy has never become the preserve of the learned and the clergy, as it tended to be in the medieval west, but it has remained the common possession of the whole Christian people.
One of the most effective missionary tools, it turns out, is the worship of the Orthodox Church, especially the Divine Liturgy. In Eastern Europe and the Middle East, during the 400 years of Ottoman Turkish rule, the liturgy was one of the primary methods of preserving and proclaiming the faith. Illiterate People learned the Holy Scriptures and teachings of our faith by listening to the readings and hymns of the services.
Likewise, during the years of Communist persecution in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the other nations of Eastern Europe, the faith was literally saved by the liturgy. When it was impossible, on pain of imprisonment and even death, to preach the Gospel, the Word of God was made known through the liturgy. Martyrs were educated in the school of faith, that is orthodox worship.
Posture in Worship
One distinctive feature of Orthodox worship is that the faithful generally stand at all times during the service. This varies somewhat based on local custom, but historically the people have stood in Church in hopes of maintaining an attentive posture at all times. Sitting is practiced by some at various times in the services and is recommended for those who feel physically unable to stand. Most churches accomodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that indivuals stand in front of.
During services, a bow is often made by the inclining of the head and neck (also called a reverential bow). It is more than a mere nod of the head. A bow at the waist (also known as a deep bow or profound bow) is also practiced with the metania.
Another common gesture is the metania. Metania (or metany) comes from the word metanoia (Greek μετάνοια). It is performed by first making the Sign of the Cross. Then, one bends from the waist, reaches toward the floor with the right hand open and facing outward, and touches the ground. It is used as the substitute for the prostration when it is normally prescribed, but not permitted by the Canons of the Church. The metania is often used when venerating an icon and when approaching a hierarch or a priest for his blessing.
The metania is known by other various names:
- Lesser prostration, little prostration, small prostration, waist prostration, half prostration
- Waist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence
- Small bow
Full prostration, also simply called prostration, is an act of distributing one's weight on the knees, feet, and hands, touching the forehead to the floor, staying in the position as long as desired or necessary, then standing up. One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before or after the movement. This physical motion is similar to the Chinese kowtow ("bump head"). Interestingly, the use of the word prostration in this way is different than common english usage, where prostration means to pronate oneself or lay completely flat. The full prostration is sometimes called kneeling. Again, this word usage is different than the english usage of kneel, which means to distribute one's weight on the knees and feet only.
Prostration is known by other various names:
- Proskynesis (Greek προσκυνήσις)
- Great prostration, greater prostration, semi-prostration
- Full reverence, great reverence, earthly reverence, "reverence down to the ground" (Slavonic: zemnoy poklon)
- "Bow to the earth," full bow, large bow
- Great metania
- Greater penance (metanoia megale)
- Panchanga pranam
Prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance. According to custom and tradition, prostration is assumed (or not assumed) at different times in the services and church calendar. The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council forbids kneeling on every Sunday and the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost.
Kneeling, as it is used in the English language, is also practiced by some Orthodox in their services. The bending of one's knees is also known as the lesser penance (metanoia mikra). Genuflection, or the bending of the right knee, is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.
In some church buildings, pews are equipped with kneelers in front of the seating bench, so that members of the congregation can kneel on them instead of the floor. Although kneelers are less common in Orthodox church buildings, they do appear in some. They often appear where there are pews in the building or when the building was purchased from Roman Catholic or liturgical Protestant churches.
- Why Are Prayers Said In Church Without Kneeling On All Sundays and From Pascha Until Pentecost?
- O Lord, I Have Loved The Beauty of Thy House: How We Should Conduct Ourselves in Church by Fr. John Whiteford & Matushka Olympia Sibley
- The Theology of Kneeling
- Catholic Encyclopedia entry on kneeling