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Why do we stand at worship?



Liturgy of Church of the East



It is important to note at first that there is technically no "right" or "wrong" way to pray. There are only traditional ways, and these traditions have more to do with what part of the world you come from, and how the people in that part of the world are used to showing respect, or carrying on conversations, or showing devotion, contrition, etc. In the Bible people prayed while kneeling or while standing.

To get an idea of how standing came to be the norm in the East, let us consider this passage from the writing of an early Christian layman of north Africa: "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 preference (though he talks about it as though it were law) actually became law at the Council of Nicea a few years later: "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.] Here the practice of kneeling at prayer, which was a wide-spread practice in early Christianity, was outlawed for Sundays and all days during Pentecost (i.e., the 50 days between Easter and the Feast of Pentecost).

Why would something that was essentially an indifferent matter become a subject of law? It is because the Fathers (and Tertullian before them) thought it very important that Christians make a statement about the meaning of Sunday and Pentecost, and about themselves in the process. Every Sunday we celebrate our Lord's resurrection--his victory over sin and death, which is our victory as well, if we remain in him. Our celebration is one of joy and confidence, as we come before God with "open face" and a clear

conscience, confronting the "Good News" of our salvation with happy hearts and much hope. Standing also indicates reverence in the presence of something or someone greater than one's self. Kneeling, which carries with it a symbolic sense of contrition and sorrow, seemed an inappropriate statement for Christians to make on days of victory and celebration (fasting was also forbidden on Sundays and during the "days of Pentecost").

In the Roman West the practice of standing at Communion did not become a universal practice, but in the Roman East and in Persian domains it became the normal way of prayer--especially on Sundays.

But why do we stand for the Gospel reading?

We normally sit during the readings of the Old Testament and the Apostle. We sit because we are listening and learning. We also sit during the sermon for the same reason. But as soon as the Gospel is brought out to be read, everyone stands at attention. This is because we rise in the presence of our Lord, as we would in the presence of a king, an elder--any person of significance. We stand also because we consider ourselves to be entering into conversation with Jesus, who speaks to us as brothers and sharers with him in the Kingdom of his Father. We are drawn into his life through his words and deeds in the Gospel, even as we are given his life through the Sacraments when we approach them (also standing).

Standing, then, is the normal and proper posture during prayer on Sundays, though kneeling or sitting while praying are not wrong. By standing we bear witness to the victory of Christ, and by standing we testify to our confidence and sure hope that his victory is ours as well. Hallelujah!