Prostration in our Church.

What are the different types of prostration?

Prostration is an act of bowing to the ground to show the state of being extremely weak or subservient to God, and hence asking for His help and forgiveness in front of His throne. 

“Do not think that prostrating yourself before God is a light matter. None of all the good deeds equals persevering in completing prayers with prostrations. Compel yourself to kneel down before God, for this invigorates the spirit of prayer. Persistence in offering bows every now and then, will give the vigilant worshipper the ideal atmosphere for worshipping.”

Mar Isaac

In Our Church there are three types of prostration :-

  1. Veneration/ Reverence/ Homage prostration -this kind of prostration, kneeling and bowing is to pay homage and give honor. The prostration are not [MUST NOT] carried out here for worship. This is the type of bowing we do for ​​

A. Saint Mary [ The Mother Of God]

St. Mary holds a special [unique] place and role in Orthodox Church [and every Christian] since God has favored and glorified her high as an instrument for the work of mankind’s salvation. God has extended His grace to humanity in the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the Holy Virgin. Therefore, according to St. Irenaeus, “St. Mary has a distinctive function in God’s plan towards our salvation. For she offered her free consent to God”. For the role she plays in God’s plan, and her willingness to be part of it, and her purity, holiness, she holds the most pre-eminent in honor and intercession from all saints. On Sunday’s Praises of St Mary we pray, “It is due for You, O You who are full of grace, more than for all the saints to plead on our behalf. You are greater than the high-priests and you are more honourable than the Prophets in you there is majesty of appearance which is greater than the majesty of the Seraphim and Cherubim, truly  you are the glory of our race, and the intercessor of life for our souls plead on our behalf to our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ, that He may confirm us in the Right Faith, that is to say, faith in Him and that He may graciously bestow upon us, His mercy and compassion, and may in His abundant mercy forgive us our sins for ever and ever Amen”.[ Praise of St Mary]. Other ladies are honored for having given birth to prophets, saints and martyrs. But our Lady is honored as the Mother of God. Therefore, the honor accorded to St Mary is below the Creator and above His creatures. She is, therefore, revered as such [John Chrysostom the Faith of Fathers Ch 28:36-39]. St Yaried said in his hymn that

St. John the baptist leaped [prostrate] in his mother’s womb in reverence to St. Mary when St. Elizabeth heard St. Mary’s greetings.

​B. Angels

Angels were among the first part of God’s creation [created on Sunday – Jubilee 2:6-8]. In the Creed we say, “I believe in one God…Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible”, it includes the Holy Angels. Holy Scripture says, “When the stars were made, all My angels praised Me with a loud voice” (Job 38:7]. “God is Himself the Maker and Creator of the angels; for He brought them out of nothing into being and created them after His own image. They are an incorporeal race, a sort of spirit or immaterial fire, even as the divine David says that ‘ His angels are spirits , and His ministers a flame of fire (Ps 103:6)” [Saint John of Damascus]. Angle’s primary role is worshipping God [Rev 4:8-11, Isa. 6]. God sends angels to earth to bring good news from God [ Lk 1:13; Lk 24:1-7], help the believers to inherit salvation[ Heb 1:14] , meeting their needs, guarding [Mt 18:10] and rescuing them from their spiritual or corporal enemies [Ps. 34:7, Gen. 19:12-22], punish those who do not obey God commandments [Ex. 23:21; Lk 1:]. They also present our prayer to God [Rev 8:4-5] and pray for humans [Zech 12] . Angels are venerated and honored in Orthodox church because God has honored them with the power to help and intercede for people every hours and days. The Holy bible warn us not to disobey the angel since the name of God s in them saying, “Beware of Him [Angel] and obey His voice; …., for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him” [Exodus 23:21].  From the beginning of the bible, we see homage of veneration of grace given to the angles. For example, –

  • Joshua bowed in reverence to the ground to Archangel Michael, “when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries? ” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”. [

  • Apostle John also has left us the importance of prostration to angels with an example, “I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things” [Rev 22:10].

​C. The Saints, righteous and Martyrs 

Saints are given favor by God because they have responded to the calling of God appropriately. St. Paul put their call in the book of Romans as, “God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…And..those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” [Rom. 8:29-30]. Saints accorded the honor of holiness and beatitude since they bore witness and serve Him boldly to the end of their life. The Church honor saints because God has made covenant with them saying, “ Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” [Math. 10:40-41]. Throughout the Bible God has revealed his wishes and will for us to honor and ask the intercession of His saints [Gen. 18, Gen. 20. 7, Ex. 3:6, Job 42:10, Math. 19:28, Rev 9:6]. Venerating saints was also practiced in the early Christian era as follows:

“Him indeed we adore as the Son of God; but the martyrs we love as they deserve , for their surpassing love to their King and Master, as we wish also to be their companions and fellow-disciples” [ St Ignitus letter from the Church of Smyrna dated AD 155]

​D. The Holy Cross

We bow and prostrate for the Cross of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ because He has consecrated it on Good Friday with His Holy blood. That is why we in our daily prayer we cross our self three times and pray, “ I worship before the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was consecrated with his precious Blood.”  St Paul described the Cross as a power God saying, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Cor. 1:18]. Likewise King David said, “Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us worship at His footstool [It was on the Holy Cross that His whole Body were rested upon, and that His feet stood -nailed for our sake] [Ps. 132:7]. It is therefore fitting to prostrate, to kneel down and to bow for the Cross in reverence and grace. The reverence is also based on St Yaried [Tsome Digua] which said, “O Master, we prostrate for Your Cross and praise your Holy Resurrection”. “Glory to be the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” St Yaried

E. Icons (i.e. Holy images)

Icon is a painting or Holy Image that used as an aid to devotion. Icons have been in use since the earliest days of the Christian Church. Actually, It is God Himself who ordered to Moses in Exodus 25: 18 to make a picture of an Angel on the Arc of the Covenant saying, “And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, . . .”.  Icons have served a manifold purpose in the Orthodoxy . They help teach the faithful about God, help to learn about the lives, devotion and struggles of the depicted saint, and aid the faithful in prayer and meditation on the person or events depicted. Icons can serve one’s mind to keep it from wandering and help focus one’s attention on prayer. The icons which fill the church serve as point of meeting between heaven and earth. As each local congregation prays Sunday by Sunday surrounded by the figures of Holy Trinity, Our Lord and Saviour, St. Mary, Angels and saints, these visible images remind the faithful unceasingly of the invisible presence of the whole company of heaven at the Liturgy. To venerate or kiss an Icon is to express one’s love and respect to the one represented on the picture.  They also served as a reminder to all the Orthodox of God’s omnipresence and immanence in the world. In the beginning of Christian Church St John the Evangelist is believed to draw the Icon of Our Lord’s Crucifixion as he saw Him on Good Friday [Jn 19:25]. The Icon of St Mary with Her beloved baby Jesus was drawn by St. Luke as expressed on a Hymn about Icon, “Salutation to your Icon as Luke one of the wise evangelists drew it by his hand” [Melkea’ Seil]

Orthodox Church has make quite clear that the faithful do not worship the wood and paint, but show their respect for the person depicted. The made a clear distinction between adoration (i.e., worship, due to God alone) and veneration (i.e., deep respect). The pagans worshiped idols because they believed that the deity was present in the stone or wood.The Orthodox make no such claim concerning icons. Icons are only images of the person depicted; therefore, do not venerate the wood but the person whose image it bears. The Church believes and teaches that we should say grace, give honor, bow, kneel down and beseech for mercy through the consecrated Icon of the Lord, Our Lady, Angels, Saints and Martyrs.

“I bow down before your icon and I submit to the icon of your son, Mary the Virgin, Mary the mother of God” [Melka’ Seil- Hymn of icon].

Bow out of respectful [Bow faces to the earth] 

this kind of bowing is frequent in our culture when greeting priests, the elderly, teachers, …..An example from the bible is found in the Book of Isaiah, “Kings shall be your foster fathers, And their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth” [Is. 49:23]. St Paul has also ordered us to, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” [Rom. 13:7].

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).