Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Kneeling on Sunday...

''Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be rendered unto God standing.'' (Canon XX of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, A.D 325).

''We consider it forbidden to pray on bended knees on the Lord's Day.'' (Tertullian, 210).

''There are many other observances in the Church which, though due to Tradition, have acquired the authority of the written Law, as, for instance, the practice of not praying on bended knees on Sunday.'' (St Jerome, 330).

Kneeling on Sundays is hardly new in the West but it's still an aberration. Is this another example of ''development''? Like the Sign of the Cross? In which case one would fain ask what are the use of such ''developments'', and why are they called that? Did St Jerome, among the great Fathers of the Western Church, understand the Lord's Day less than an elderly Catholic woman of the 1930s who knelt in her pew counting beads? I don't think this is exactly the case here, but one in which, like the Sign of the Cross, there has been a gradual loss of tradition, only to be slowly recognised, and codified, by Rome. Like the modern Romish understanding of Canon Law, of course, the most recent ruling is the more authoritative rather than an ancient rule, which has stood the test of time, and will be observed, long after the Catholic Church has crumbled, in the churches of schismatics. It is now a kind of shibboleth. A friend of mine of long standing went to the London Oratory once for their DIY Novus Ordo liturgy (with pretend Subdeacon and everything) and stood (for health reasons) for the Canon Romanus, only to be berated afterwards by an irate Trad who accused him of Modernism. Since kneeling on Sunday is the innovation who, therefore, is the real modernist?


  1. Presumably one's understanding of 'schismatic' is from a Roman perspective... even if Rome is in the wrong? ;o)

  2. Hmmm.

    I wonder where the inspiration for this post came from. ;-)

    Was this a mutual friend of ours, by any chance?

    And yes, I agree with you. Many of our lot do it as well. There are those who, refusing to hear any argument to the contrary, will state with absolute certainty what is the proper way of doing things as though the instruction fell from the Saviour's back pocket at the Ascension, even though the practice that they know as "what we have always done" is merely a local custom that is no more than a few generations old.

    Because there's generally less of an expectation of uniformity of movement in Orthie circles, I am abloe to take the approach of quietly ignoring them and doing what my heart calls me to do but I imagine it must be difficult in such a situation as our friend found himself, finding it difficult to kneel yet not wanting to remain seated casually.


  3. The story is told of Hilaire Belloc, attending Sunday High Mass in the newly-built Westminster Cathedral, being discreetly approached by an usher at the commencement of the Canon:

    "Excuse me, sir - we kneel at this point."

    "Bugger off!"

    "I'm terrribly sorry, sir - I didn't realise you were a Catholic."

  4. I understood Hilaire Belloc's language was rather stronger than that.

    Perhaps a chorus of "Stand up, stand up for Jesus" is called for.

    Moretben & Michael,

    Am I right in thinking one Canon from a Council decreed excommunication for those who kneel on a Sunday or in Paschaltide?

  5. I'm not sure, rubricarius. (Are you well?).

    Hieromonk Irinei (Steenberg) responded in the negative on this point when it came up on, stating that the canons and other writings speaking against Sunday kneeling stop short of actually anathematising any who do so.

    The quotations I found pertinent are here, which seem to be in keeping with that spirit. However, I don't claim to have any sort of exhaustive collection.

  6. Kneeling on Sundays is a no-no. That said in the grand scheme of things it's not something I loose sleep over. It has regrettably crept into Orthodoxy (usually via some of the old Uniate churches that returned to Orthodoxy but kept some of their latinizations). But I look at it in much the same light as pews in church. I don't like them. But we are not talking heresy here.

    In ICXC

  7. Hello,

    I just found your blog from an Orthodox friend. I like the Tolkien and monarchical aura to it. I look forward to reading your posts.

  8. John (Ad Orientem)--

    But what about the Russian Old Believers? It is my understanding that they do prostrations even on Sundays. I seriously doubt that this is a Latinization, unless it was a Latinization that crept in prior to Patriarch Nikon.

  9. John-

    What about the Old Believers? I believe that they do prostrations even on Sundays. If this is a Latinization, it must be a Latinization that pre-dates Patriarch Nikon, and it must be a native Latinization, not one that was carried over from being former Uniates.

  10. @ Han

    If you allow me:

    At the back of the Drevnepravoslavnye Molitvennik(Old Orthodox Prayerbook) are found interesting 'rubrics'. From what i've gathered, bows only are used on sundays, no kneelings or prostrations. Prostrations seem to be a particular observance of Great Lent. Bows seem to be of various sorts: simple, to the waist, to the ground(zemnoy poklon? zemnoy-earth, like zemlia? or is it called metania?)

    It also says:
    The root cause of this evil which harms the soul, the failure to perform prostrations during the Holy Great Fast, lies in the hurried chanting which divides the ecclesiastical singing into many voices on account of brazenness, carelessness and laziness.May the Lord God spare us in His Mercy towards us, and direct us to strive to fulfil all these things, that we may not be cast out with the heretics and be separated from Him.

    That book is very interesting and curious as well, for a Latin. Could the Orientals frequenting this blog further enlighten us?

  11. F.G.S.A.-

    Are you using the one published by Nativity of Christ ROC in Erie, Penn.? On page 347 under "On Bows at the Liturgy throughout the Year": "On Saturdays and Sundays, at the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or of St. Basil, there are ordinary bows from the waist before the Gospel and after the Gospel, and at the Augmented Litany. After the Cherubic Hymn, at the Great Entrance, there are two ordinary bows from the waist, and a third great bow to the ground. Before "It is truly meet" and after it there is always a great bow to the ground.

    So what we have here is a full prostration prescribed in two places during the Divine Liturgy even on Sunday (which also strongly suggests that the full prostration at the epiclesis found on p. 111 is done on Sundays as well).

    Sorry for the previous double post. I didn't see the "Comment will appear after approval" note.

  12. Han, may I direct you my blog post on this subject to which I provided a link in my earlier comment, posted in response to rubricarius? It is my understanding that the canons and fathers are addressing the subject of kneeling for prayer as opposed to standing for prayer, and do not touch on the subject of prostrations.

    My reasoning is outlined in that post.

  13. Thanks again for all your comments. Sometimes I think that all the good stuff on this blog is found in the combox rather than the posts, so much want of knowledge there...

    Tesla, thank you and welcome to my blog.

    I have seen Russian Orthodox kneel during Sunday Vespers (well most of them, there were one or two still standing)...

  14. Michael-

    I read you post. It is very interesting, and it certainly seems to explain why the Old Believers, sticklers are they are to rubrics, nevertheless make prostrations on Sunday. My quick search on the internet for the original Greek of the Canon XX, yields the following term: "gony klinein" ( "Gony" means knee, and "klino" means "to incline, to bend". It seems that the Greek for prostration is "proskynesis" ( which I think comes from "pros" - "towards, against, beside" + "kyneo" - "to kiss", although the word "proskyneo" means "to worship". Please note that I am not fluent in Greek, and all this has been worked out with the aid of a dictionary.

    If we use the terms from the OrthodoxWiki, it seems that there is a Greek term for the bow "Metanoia", which actually means repentance, then there seems to be kneeling "little metanoia" and prostration "great metanoia" or "worship". These terms therefore seem to me to be theological terms that have been associated with postures, whereas the 20th Canon of Nicaea I seems to be concerned with describing the posture itself ("knee bending"). On the one hand, in both kneeling and prostrating, the knees are actually bent, so one might think that both are prohibited. On the other hand, my Greek is none too good, so the term used in the Canon might connote a state of being rather than an action that is performed before quickly returning to a standing state.

    Since I am now rambling, I will note that I am not sure if the Latin can help illuminate what the Fathers thought about the term. I know that on Good Friday, the deacon invites the congregation to "let us bend our knees" (flectamus genua), which seems like a pretty direct translation of the bodily motion described in the Greek in Canon 20. I seriously doubt that this was a sort of prolonged one knee bend (ninja style!) in the days before pews and kneelers. However, if we look at the rubrics in the Roman Missal where a short genuflection is to occur--in the middle of the Creed and in the middle of the Last Gospel--we get "hic genuflectitur" in the Creed and "Genuflectit dicens: 'Et verbum caro factum est', Et surgens prosequitur [&c.]". Furthermore at the words of institution, we get "genuflexus adorat" (worship with knees bent). If "flectamus genua" invites the faithful to "kneel" rather than simply tough the knee to the floor (and it must, because there is a subsequent command to "levate") but the same root words also refer to shorter genuflections, is there any real distinction in the Latin mind between to two actions. More significantly, if short "worships on bended knee" are appropriate at the Words of Institution, and these are comparable to a prostration at the Epiclesis, and if we believe that this action is ancient, then how did the Latins understand Canon XX, inasmuch as their term of the action describes the bodily movement as opposed to the Orthodox term, which describes the interior orientation?

    Finally, back to the original topic, I would just like to comment on how in Denver, the Greeks actually kneel (in their churches with pews, kneelers and, [kyrie eleison], organs) on Sundays, whereas the Russians don't even prostrate (presumably following the rubrics in the back of the Jordanville Prayer Book).

  15. Greeks sit and kneel on Sundays. Russians stand and bow--and will kneel on certain Sundays, such as "kneeling Vespers" on Pentecost (which isn't officially Sunday since it's Vespers, I think). Russians will prostrate on certain Sundays when the Cross is venerated.


  17. @Michael

    Thank you very much for your clarifications on your blog. A clear difference then bet. punctual prostrations and kneeling.

    Another question, though, this blog might not be the place: why is a prostration prescribed at the Axion Estin not only in Divine Liturgy but in all the other services as well. It seems to me that this prayer occupies a very special place in Orthodox worship though i do not why.

  18. Met. Isaiah's essay was ripped from the anthology, "Greeks Are Never Wrong".

    Don't misunderstand me. Given a choice, I'd rather live under the EP than the MP, but I agree with the Russian priest who told me that seats in church are for the mentally and physically infirm.

  19. Thank you, Han, for your illuminating post. I certainmly found it helpful in further clarifying the distinction between the state of kneeling and a momentary act. It has recently become my parish's practice for servers to prostrate at the relevant points on Sundays, (only because they simply copy what I do, under a misguided impression that I have any idea what I'm talking about half the time).

    F.G.S.A, thank you. I'm glad you found it useful. I'm afraid I can't answer your question about the Axion Estin but yes, you're right: it does seem to hold a special place and I am in the habit of making the prostration at the end, (provided I'm not handlign the censer at that time - that wouild be potentially problematic). The story is that it was, at least in part, revealed by the Archangel Gabriel, so this may have something to do with it. That said, the prostration is also made at the end of other seasonal hymns that replace the Axion Estin at the appointed times, although I suspect that is purely the result of osmosis due to the fact that the people were accustomed to prostrating at that point in the Liturgy and weren't about to stop simply because the hymn was not the same.