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Why don’t Ukrainian Catholics usually kneel?

It’s the weekend and you are going to visit your friends for a party. As with any good party, people sing and dance, greet other guests with well wishes, the host raises a toast to all present, and, if you’re polite, you’ll thank the gracious hosts with a hug for inviting you into their home. You leave the party feeling good, hardened in your relationship with the friends you visited and celebrated.

There was something peculiar at this party, however. There were people who, albeit in the room, were not engaging in the party. When people raised their arms to dance they averted their eyes, when people sang they only but whispered the words under their breaths, when they thanked the host they closed their eyes and held their hands to themselves, and when the toast was offered they knelt in a corner. This kind of party occurs every Sunday in our parish, at the Divine Liturgy.

As with any gathering, the body language and posture of a person says a lot about what one is feeling in a given situation. Most psychologists will say that by folding his or her arms a person is symbolic of putting up a physical barrier – kneeling a sign of penitential submission. During the Divine Liturgy, neither of these is the case! It is a celebration of our salvation, a joyous remembrance of Christ’s Resurrection, one which we should embrace standing upright and with open arms. The Divine Liturgy is a party, why would we want to physically close ourselves off from that?

In fact, the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Trullo made kneeling illegal (yes, illegal) on all Sundays, Holy Days, and every day between Pascha and Pentecost. The council’s canon reads verbatim, “we are making it plain to the faithful, that after the entrance of those in holy orders into the sacrificial altar on the evening of the Saturday in question [vespers], let none of them bend the knee until the evening of the following Sunday.”

This is not to discredit the deeply powerful prayers of our Church done kneeling or in prostration. After all, the most ancient models of prayer, the Old Testament Prophets and Early Church Monastics, knelt in penance and reconciliation; and much of our Lenten worship relies on such prayer; the operative words being penitential, reconciliatory, and Lenten. The issue is, however, that Sundays Liturgies and most Holy Days of our Liturgical Calendar are not times set aside for penance. By then, the time of penance has already passed!

A person does not attend a party having previously offended the host. Rather, he or she seeks forgiveness before entering the celebration, not during. In this case, however, it is important to mention that the host is incredibly understanding and loving, and will not usually thwart a person from celebrating in His company.

Prayers like the Our Father lend themselves to opening up. Picture a young child, running to his or her father for an embrace, to be picked up and played with. This is exactly what we are doing when we recite this prayer – seeking eternal joy with our Heavenly Father. The Mother of God with her hands raised, as depicted above every church altar is the ideal that we all should emulate – not only the clergy.