This might help to clarify why in the Armenian Church we "bow" instead of "kissing the ground" on the Lord's Day.
Frequently Asked Questions:ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š On Kneeling
From the book:ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š Frequently Asked Questions about the Armenian Church
by the Very Rev. Fr. Krikor Maksoudian
(by Order of His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate)
-When should the faithful kneel down during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy?
In our churches in the United States, it has-become traditional to kneel at certain times during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. These include:
a) the Great Entrance (when the chalice is brought to the celebrant);
b) the Inclination (after Hayr mer);
c) the Fraction (when Der Voghormya is chanted);
d) the Communion (when only the celebrant and two attendants on his left and right side kneel, holding a cloth);
e) the Confession.
Yet, in most of our churches abroad neither the celebrant nor the congregation kneel during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The exceptions are d) and e) cited above.
There are different ways of expressing piety in church. People obviously kneel to pray before God and to express the awe and respect that they feel in their hearts. Even in Armenian churches abroad, in places like Holy Etchmiadzin and Jerusalem one can see old people participating in the entire Divine Liturgy on their knees.
The Church, however, reserves kneeling for a specific purpose, which we shall see a little later. As for kneeling on Sundays, which is the Lord's Day when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, the 318 bishops participating in the Holy Council of Nicaea (the first Ecumenical Council that met in AD. 325) bid the following:
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 XX)
The Armenian Book of Canons translates the same canon with a minor variation: instead of saying "and in the days of Pentecost," it reads: "and in the days until Pentecost" The same ordinance is repeated in Canon III, attributed to the late fifth century Catholicos Hovhannes Mantagoonnee, and, also in later canons.
The reason for not kneeling in church "on the Lord's Day and in the days of [or until] Pentecost" is given by the 12th and 13th century Armenian theologian Vartan Vartabed Aykegtsee:
But you, Brother, take note that Sunday is a superior, glorious and awe inspiring [day of] honor, since the books inspired by the [Holy] Spirit do not allow kneeling on that day [nor] touching the forehead to the ground, as we do on the [remaining] six days [of the week], but [they instruct us] to worship God on foot, by slightly bowing [the head] and only extending the tips of the fingers to the ground. . . We do not prostrate ourselves on the ground, but worship God standing, since Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday and he raised us on our feet from the destruction of sins and the perdition of idolatry.
It is clear from Vartan Vartabed's treatise that on Sundays when the priest (during the morning services) and the deacon (during the Divine Liturgy) say/chant "Let us bow down unto God," the congregation's response should be a bow (1), and if possible the faithful must extend the fingertips of their right hand to the ground and touch it, after which they must stand and cross themselves, as is still the custom in many places and with many people. Vartan Vartabed explains the symbolism of kneeling in church as follows:
Our father Adam, deceived by the evil one, fell [headlong] from sublime heights into this accursed world. In his example we are born from the womb of our mother in a head down position and fall into this world, resembling our [fore] father Adam. . . For the reason that Adam fell headlong into the world, we kneel before God for six days, with our forehead touching the ground.
-Should we kneel down when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a weekday, for example on January 6th or Vartanants Day?
The answer is still no, since the day on which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, be it a Sunday or a weekday, is always considered to be the Lord's Day in our tradition and is referred to as "Geeragee [Sunday]." The church calendar [Donatsooyts, Jerusalem, 1915] lists the following weekdays as Geeragee in addition to the 52 Sundays during the year, as well as January 5th, January 6th and Easter eve:
.The Second day of Theophany (the day after Armenian Christmas)
.The eighth day of Theophany (Christ's circumcision)
.February 14th (Presentation of the Lord in the temple)
.April 7th - the Annunciation
.Ascension Thursday (forty days after Easter)
.Saturday - the Invention of the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator
.Monday after the Transfiguration Sunday
.Monday after the Assumption Sunday
.Monday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
.September 8th - the Birth of the Holy Virgin
.November 21 st - the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the temple
.December 9th - the Conception of the Holy Virgin
.Saturday - Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew (usually in early December)
.Optional are the following days:
.Saturday - the feast of the Holy Archangels
.Saturday - St. Thaddeus and Princess Santookhd
.Saturday - St. Gregory the Illuminator's entry into the pit
.Saturday - St. Gregory the Illuminator's coming out of the pit
.Thursday - St. Vartanants Saturday - Holy Translators
.(The feasts with no set dates are movable.)
Besides these days, the Divine Liturgy can be celebrated on special occasions only with the permission of the diocesan Primate. As an example one can cite the name day of a church, or the funerary rites for a clergyman. Medieval monasteries traditionally celebrated the Divine Liturgy on weekdays for the salvation of the souls of deceased benefactors.
-If it was not traditional to kneel, did our forefathers stand at confession?
They kneeled at confession, but confession was not held during the Divine Liturgy. People confessed their sins to the priest on weekdays, usually in the church vestry. After the confession they did penance, and when they felt ready, they received Holy Communion on Sunday. In many parishes the priests had special days during the week when they received the faithful for confession.
-If kneeling is not acceptable on Sundays, why does the celebrant kneel to administer Holy Communion?
The celebrant administrating Holy Communion is really not in a kneeling position, since he rests only on his right knee and places the base of the Holy Chalice on his left knee, which is in a raised position. We don't consider that a kneeling position in our church.
The kneeling required from the candidates at the time of ordinations is a part of the ordination ceremony. While the candidate kneels, the congregation continues to stand. This clearly indicates that the kneeling, which is done by the candidate, is not required from the congregation as a part of common worship.
When the celebrant is a bishop, at the beginning of the liturgy he ascends the bema and proceeding to the front of the altar, he kneels to read the two prayers of St. Gregory of Nareg. This tradition is of a much later origin, probably taken from the Western Church, in order to enhance the mystical effect of the festive occasion. The congregation remains standing.
On ordinary Sundays, the celebrant, even if he is a bishop, reads these prayers in a standing position behind the closed curtain.
Hope this helps.
p.s.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š I fully concur with the comments about how sad it is that some have a "fast-food" mentality when it comes to Divine Worship.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š Thank God our leaders in the Church have not been swayed to adopt such foolishness.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š I too would love to see the pews go back to their inventors: the Protestants, and the organs return to our Latin brethren from whence they came.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š I must confess that I have a secret fantasy about sneaking in one Lord's Day before the Badarak and sabotaging our own parish's organ just so I can hear the Badarak acapella as it was originaly intended.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š The few times I've been to a Soorp Badarak where the organ was not operating, I was treated to a strickingly beautiful celebration of the Liturgy.ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€š Finally, our parish also offers Matins weekly before the Soorp Badarak.