I originally posted this on March 19, 2009 after a Pre-Sanctified Liturgy that seemed particularly strenuous. Tonight I just got home from a 2010 Pre-sanctified Liturgy. My joints are one year older and really feeling it. There is something so right though about worship that requires hard physical effort. The psychological effects of prostrating yourself before God reminds you how humbling it is to be in His presence.
We are almost at the halfway point – I pray you all persevere in good spirits looking towards the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection.
Orthorobics – that’s what my friend and fellow parishioner Jamie A. called it after we climbed back up off the floor for what seemed like the hundreth time during the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts last night. Well, actually four sets of prostrations with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the entry of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, a couple of kneeling sessions, and various metanias (bows from the waist). My knees aren’t what they used to be, but there’s nothing like a little orthorobics to keep you fit and awake for a long Lenten service.
I think the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, more than any other Orthodox service, emphasizes the physicality of worship – the active participation of your body in praising God. Orthodox worship reflects the heavenly worship which is also active. The angels and saints are active in their movements as they surround the Throne of God. Here on Earth in your unresurrected body, the pain in your joints, the stiffness in your back, only reminds you that worship is real hard work.
My kids complain all the time that Church is boring, their feet hurt and they’re tired from standing so much (mind you, they make a miraculous recovery as soon as they go outside after services to chase their friends for an hour). I used to worry about their complaining and feared they weren’t connecting with their faith, until I remembered that sometimes all the other grownups, me included, feel just the same way. Liturgy is not easy. It’s not meant to be completely still, passive or comfortable. Yes, there are quiet, meditative moments, but on the whole, an Orthodox Christian acknowledges and dedicates himself to God and the Church in both his body and soul with physical signs. And, in my opinion, if something doesn’t hurt by the end of a service, you might want to take it up a notch.
To understand the Orthorobics of the Church more fully, I am excerpting a great primer on Orthodox worship below, courtesy of an unknown contributor at OrthodoxWiki. ( http://orthodoxwiki.org/Worship)
Standing – 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 accommodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that individuals stand in front of.
Bowing – 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.
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. Waist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence Prostration
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. The prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance. According to custom and tradition, a 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 – Kneeling 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.