Pentecost (May 27, 2007)
Orthodox Christians have a particular way of expressing our submission and obedience to God. We do this in a small way by bowing our heads. Repeatedly throughout our worship, we hear the priest or deacon say, "Let us bow our heads to the Lord." This petition occurs right before a prayer in which we usually ask for something. We ask for things from God because we realize: 1) that we are powerless to obtain them and, 2) God has the power to grant them. Bowing our heads is physical way of expressing our words and emphasizing that we don't necessarily deserve what we ask for. Bowing expressed our humility before God and says in effect: "God you are greater than me. I need you."
We also express our submission and obedience to God by bending our knees or kneeling. At every Divine Liturgy, during the Small Entrance of the Gospel, we sing "Come let us bow down to Christ and worship Him the Son of God ... " It comes directly from Psalm 95:6-7 "Oh come let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His Hand." The words we use in the Greek are proskyneisomen which means "worship," and prospesomen which literally means "to fall down".
At the end of the Divine Liturgy today, we will pray a portion of the Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost. Before each Kneeling Prayer, the priest or deacon will say, "On bended knee let us pray to the Lord." What will we be asking from God in these prayers?
The First Kneeling Prayer acknowledges that Jesus Christ kneeled when praying to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). We ask God to 1) hear us; 2) accept us; 3) forget our sins; 4) purge our sinful thoughts; 5) make us worthy to return to Him; 6) visit us; 7) free us from the devil; 8) make our lives secure in His holy and sacred laws; 9) entrust us to a guardian angel; 10) gather us into His Kingdom; 11) grant us forgiveness; and 12) cleanse us by the Holy Spirit.
In the Second Kneeling Prayer we ask God to: 1) teach us how to pray and what to pray for; 2) govern our life, 3) make known the way we should walk; 4) grant us wisdom; 5) renew our spirit, 6) make our mind firm; 7) not to be fooled by worldly delights; 8) to desire enjoyment of future and heavenly treasures; 9) grant mercy; 10) make us holy; 11) extend a helping hand to us; and 12) Accept our prayer.
The Third Kneeling Prayer, interestingly, is for our departed loved ones, in which we ask God to: 1) give rest to their souls; 2) place their names in the book of life; and 3) forgive their sins. No doubt this final prayer is also for us as we anticipate the time when we will leave this earthly life and join our departed loved ones.
Kneeling down in worship in church and reciting the prayers are only two of the three components in being submissive, obedient and humble before God. The third element is the actions of our life once we walk up into the social hall and out the doors back to our homes and daily life.
How will God hear us if we never talk to Him in prayer each day? He cannot accept us if we do not come to Him. He cannot forget our sins if we keep committing the same ones over and over again. God cannot purge our sinful thoughts if keep holding on to them. He cannot make our lives secure if we keep ignoring His sacred and holy commandments. He cannot forgive us if we do not forgive others.
God can cleanse us if we bathe in the Sacrament of Holy Confession. He can teach us how to pray and what to pray for if we regularly practice prayer. He can grant wisdom, renew our spirit and make our mind firm if we read daily from His required textbook-the Holy Bible. God extends His helping hand to us all the time, but we must make an effort to stretch out our hand to Him.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.