ask an eastern orthodox Christian

Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: Posture in Church

What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus

I understand the posture of prayer is to stand.  Is it the history of the church in all jurisdictions to not have chairs or pews for each person? I have heard that Americans are trying to be “ultra” Orthodox with the elimination (or extreme minimization) of chairs for people to sit in when it’s appropriate to sit.  Depending on jurisdiction I have seen only a few chairs in some churches where you are expected to sit on the floor during homily etc… I would like to know how this started.

Orthodox Christians know that when they enter the church, it is where Heaven and earth meet. They know they are stepping into an ark that joins them with that which is sacred and holy. That same majesty of God which is in heaven is also in His church, and on this account, the Orthodox

Christians must enter with reverence and awe.  Why do we say this? Because the “the Presence” of Christ is always on the alter table when you walk into an Eastern Orthodox Church. In this house of God, there is no holier place for Eastern Orthodox Christians.  

To be more specific, for Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox Church that they enter is the same as being in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant or the presence of Christ on Mount Tabor where Moses removed his sandals standing on the hallowed ground in the presence of God.

For Orthodox Christians, this Trinitarian God is sacred, holy, and held in awe.   Jesus is not my buddy or my pal, but my ‘Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name.’ 

1 Peter 1:15-16  “..… but as He who called you is holy,  you also be holy  in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

If, let’s say, the president of our country greeted you or, let’s say, the leader of your church or the governor or senator of your state, would you be sitting down while they continued to stand?  Would you not show some reverence or respect by standing and greeting them until they motioned you to sit down?

If one does not show or acknowledge honor, authority, and reverence, let alone sacredness, then I would say we have lost something that is an essential part of the moral makeup of who we are.

 On further comment, the sense of the sacred appears to be vanishing from our culture and especially in the worship of our churches. I would say in a lot of cases it’s about the latte in the pew, the great sermon, the band on the stage, the music heard, the gymnasium, it’s where my grandmother went to church, it’s where my friends go, not essentially about worship, but about entertainment.

Pews are a western innovation, not that they are a bad innovation, we do have a lot of sick and elderly. When a person is sitting, they are not as active and tend to get comfortable and less focused. They are more likely to become distracted in observations and their thoughts.  Worship is defined as “the work of the people,” and by standing, we are “making an effort” to participate proactively and communicatively.

Sacred Posturing in the Eastern Orthodox Church in Services

The traditional or customary way is to stand through most of the Church service.    I would say that some Eastern Orthodox Church jurisdictions have pews and others don’t.  In the U.S., you will find most Greek Orthodox Churches with pews however, in the Russian, Antiochian, and other jurisdictions, they are, for the most part, absent or sparsely present on the sides of the church walls.

Worshipers stand at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church/Nicholas Damascus

Standing or Sitting is it proper and right during different parts of the Liturgy and other services.  We stand in hopes of maintaining a more attentive posture in our worship.  We stand in the Liturgy at the beginning while the priest gives the blessing, during the Little and the Great Entrances, when the priest is censing the icons and congregation, during the Gospel reading, at the Anaphora (“Eucharistic Prayer; for Holy Communion), and the final Blessing.  If you find the amount of standing too challenging, you are welcome to take a seat.  It gets easier with practice.  Those who feel physically unable and the elderly may sit.

Bowing in the EOC is a more reverential and profound bow than just mere nodding of the head.

Kneeling is known as the lesser penance the bending of the knees usually on a kneeler attached to the pews.

Metania from the Greek word “μετάνοια” is an expression of reverence and is executed 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 touching the ground and then rising upward — a wonderful participating experience of reverence, obedience, and praise.

Prostration from the Greek “προσκυνήσις” is associated with penance, submission, obeisance, an earthly reverence and is a delight and wonderful experience to do.  From a standing position, it is an act of distributing one’s self on both hands and knees, touching the forehead to the floor, then standing up.  One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before and in its completion.

We as Orthodox say “Come taste and see” and experience the antiquity of what has been practiced in the Church from the beginning.  In our belief, the Fathers of the Church tell us that to function as a “whole person” one must not just concentrate on our spirit alone but the inclusion of the mind and body.    

1 Corinthians 6:19 -20  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own.   For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

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