Standing vs. Kneeling

I would like to know the origin of the Eastern practice of standing throughout the Divine Liturgy. Do they consider standing to be the most reverent posture? I have heard some people say that the Easterners started standing during the Divine Liturgy as they became more “prideful” and disobedient toward the Pope. Is this true?

This is completely and utterly false. Whoever said that is guilty of historical revisionism. In early Christianity standing was always the preferred posture for prayer. In fact, early artwork depicts Christians in the “orans” posture, standing with their hands turned upward. This was the normal posture for worship in both the East and the West throughout much of the first millenium. The practice of kneeling for Sunday Mass in the West was a later development.

In the East standing was always regarded as the most reverent posture. Kneeling or making prostrations was always regarded as a sign of penance and repentance. Thus, kneeling was prescribed for certain liturgical services that emphasized turning away from sinfulness. But kneeling was strictly forbidden during Sunday liturgy. For evidence of this you need only to look at the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.):

“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 made to God standing.” [Canon 20, Council of the 318 Fathers Assembled in the City of Nicea in Bithynia.]

I was recently reading an Orthodox book that said kneeling is completely unacceptable on Sundays, but on a visit to an Eastern Catholic Church I found they DO kneel. Why is this?

The traditional practice is to stand during the Divine Liturgy on Sundays. In the Eastern Churches standing is considered be a greater sign of reverence than kneeling. For us kneeling is associated with penance, not worship.

However, some Eastern Catholic parishes in America have adopted the practice of kneeling during the anaphora (Eucharist prayer) out of imitation of the Latin practice. Surprisingly, some Eastern Orthodox parishes in this country have also adopted the practice of kneeling. There is currently a movement to restore the Eastern tradition of standing, but it hasn’t reached every part of the country.

I’d like to ask how experts have determined that standing was the the posture for prayer in the early Church? You once wrote that there are ancient frescoes on which people are depicted as praying standing. In my Bible, however, Acts chapter 10, Peter kneels to pray before Tabitha is cured. I would imagine that the book of Acts is more ancient than any early Christian fresco.

No one claims that in the ancient Church standing was the ONLY posture for prayer. However, it was the common posture for liturgical worship on Sundays at that time. This has been determined by examining descriptions of ancient liturgical worship, which typically indicate that the congregation was standing on Sundays. Tertullian, to name one example, says as much:

“We consider it unlawful to fast, or to pray kneeling, upon the Lord’s day [Sunday]; we enjoy the same liberty from Easter day to that of Pentecost.” [Tertullian, De Corona Militis, s. 3,4]

This was formalized (in the East) by the Council of Nicea:

“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 made to God standing.” [Canon 20, Council of the 318 Fathers Assembled in the City of Nicea in Bithynia.]

Both of these quotes indicate that kneeling was also a posture for prayer. However, at that time standing was deemed to be most appropriate for Sundays and the fifty days after Easter, while kneeling was permitted on weekdays. This is still the normative tradition in the Christian East, although the development of kneeling on Sundays in the West is equally legitimate.

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