I read this in my Catholic Parishes bulletin today. I was wondering about both Catholic and Orthodox thoughts on this...
When worshiping in another church, the priest says, "Let us pray," and you might find yourself looking around to see what everyone else is doing - standing, kneeling or sitting?
There are five traditional postures for prayer.
Standing with hands uplifted and open, head up, and eyes open is the oldest posture for prayer. It is called the orans position, from the Latin word for praying. By praying this way, the worshipper acknowledges God as external and transcendent. This posture is for thanksgiving, praise, blessings, benedictions, and general prayers. This is still the normal position for prayers in eastern churches and in Jewish synagogues, and it is still used in the western church, particularly when the clergy bless the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Standing with hands clasped at the waist, head bowed, and eyes averted or closed is the traditional posture of a shackled prisoner of war who is brought before the conquering king. The hands are clasped at the waist as if they were shacked in chains. The eyes are averted - in ancient times, looking directly at one's captor was insolent and a good way to get killed on the spot. This posture is for submissive petitions or for intercessory or penitential prayer, as we see in Luke 18:10-13.
Kneeling, either with the head up, eyes open, hands open, or with head down, eyes closed, and hands clasped is the traditional posture for requesting favors from a king, and so it became the traditional posture for prayers of repentance or supplication. The Council of Nicea in AD 325 forbade kneeling on Sundays, because penitential prayer is not appropriate during a celebration of the Resurrection. In western Christianity, kneeling came to mean simple humility and submission, and so kneeling became the normal posture for most prayers in the west. However, to eastern Christians, kneeling still means repentance or supplication.
Lying one's belly, hands up, either with the head up and eyes open or with the head down and the eyes averted or closed is the traditional posture for begging favors for a king when the favors are great and the petitioner is either desperate or has - literally - no standing before the king. It became the traditional posture for desperate, penitential, or intercessory prayer and is still used in eastern churches which have plenty of room because they don't have pews.
Sitting, head down, eyes averted or closed, and hands clasped. The Roman Catholic Church invented pews during the Middle-Ages, right before the Protestant Reformation. Since the Protestant Reformation was essentially a Christian education movement with very long sermons., the Protestants kept the pews even though they rejected just about everything else they regarded as a "Roman invention". As a result, sitting has become the normal posture for prayer for many western congregations.
So, why don't we kneel at St. Michael Church?
Aside from the lack of kneelers, we adhere to the teaching that the Eucharistic Prayer is not the responsibility of the priest alone. Rather it is the prayer of the church. Although spoken aloud by the presider, it is the public prayer of the assembly, beginning to end.
Following the Memorial Acclamation, the priest says:
"In memory of his death and resurrection. We offer you, Father, this life-giving bread, this saving cup. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit."
We demonstrate that thankfulness by actually standing in God's presence during the liturgy.
So, when do we kneel?
At St. Michael Church we kneel in awe and reverence before the tabernacle in which the reserved Body of Christ rests.