Sunday, May 16, 2010
To Kneel or Not To Kneel? That is the question.
At my church today we had a voters meeting to vote on what new pews would grace our nave. Really the question that was posed to the congregation was what type of wood would be used--oak or mahogany? In the end, oak won out simply because it was cheaper. It should have been a really short meeting, but like all voters meetings, this one just dragged on because other issues, not illegitimate ones, kept coming up.
One of the issues raised was whether kneelers would be part of the pew deal. It was not and it was not even part of the bid. So, a motion was made that new bids be sought out including kneelers as part of the deal. The motion failed. The arguments put forward for kneelers was that several parishioners kneel (on Sundays and at other times) during the epiclesis when we call down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and that kneeling is done as "pious custom" to honor this meeting of Heaven and Earth.
While I do not doubt the sincerity or the piety of the people who do such an act, it is a Western innovation that has crept into the Eastern Rite, especially here in America. As one of the proponents mentioned, a great number of churches of the Eastern Rite have both pews and kneelers to accommodate the faithful despite the fact that such is never found in the churches of the Old World. (I'm not going to get into arguments about whether pews are appropriate or not. That is for another time). However, just because all of the other churches have given into this innovation doesn't mean that we should as well.
Nevertheless, this issue got me thinking about when it is appropriate to kneel and when it is not. I think it has no place on Sundays as Sunday is always an anti-Pascha (i.e. mini-Pascha) and to kneel implies penitence when we should be rejoicing at our Lord's triumph over death. We also do not kneel at any service between Pascha and Pentecost when it returns on Vespers of Pentecost Day. Such is the rationale behind the 20th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council (Coincidentally, today we commemorated the 318 fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea). But does that preclude all kneeling?
As indicated earlier, kneeling does not always have to be an action of lamentation or sorrow or penitence. There can be a "joyful knelling" if you will and a lot of shades of gray in between.
I don't have the necessary learning to parse all the arguments for and against kneeling in various contexts, but the late Archbishop CHRISTODOULOS of Athens once wrote something about this very issue. You can read it here on the MYSTAGOGY blog. For what it is worth, I believe that kneeling is part of the Western Rite inheritance which has jumped rites to the Eastern Rite. When, however, kneeling is called for in the rubrics of the Eastern Rite, it actually should be understood for the faithful to make a prostration. When the epiclesis occurs on a Liturgy for a feast day, outside of the Pentecostarion period, I will prostrate at the words "changing them by the Holy Spirit."
But read it and make your own judgments. I believe that this is one of those American spins on Orthodox faith and practice and tradition that can really divide people from the greater Truth that should be proclaimed in our churches each and every week.