Friday, June 13, 2008

Transposzing the Kneeling Prayers

I remember the first time I attended Orthodox liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost - several years ago now. I was still a Lutheran then, visiting Holy Trinity with my Orthodox family that day. I'd visited enough times by then to know when the liturgy was about ended, but on this particular day as it seemed that as the liturgy was ending, there was a note of "unfinishedness" about it. I was standing in the back of the church, as was my custom when visiting (I was very self-conscious about not knowing - or understanding - the body language of Orthodox worship. So in those days as a visitor I planted myself in the back so that my ignorance and confusion would be hidden from most everyone else).

After communion was over as we came to the end of the liturgy, I noticed that folks in the perimeters of the church were sort of creeping toward the center, little by little - but I maintained my familiar position near the wall at the back. Then the priest invited worshippers to kneel and we did. It was at that moment that I realized why everyone was inching toward the center of the church - they were getting a spot on the rug. Because I hadn't followed suit, I got a spot on the nice hardwood floor as we knelt for the kneeling prayers - which were long, I remembered thinking.

I wasn't a complete stranger to kneeling at worship back then. I regularly knelt for the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness at my own church - but we had kneelers (nice padded ones!), and the rite was, well...brief (as it promises).

I have mentioned in this forum before my creaking bad knees - and all I remember of this first experience of the Kneeling Prayers is that they felt really long. I confess that I had no idea what was actually being prayed, I just knew that my knees hurt on that hard floor after only the first couple of minutes, and that's all I knew.

In thinking about the Kneeling Prayers later that day, I sort of regretted not paying better attention to them. I was sure there was a good reason we were all kneeling for such a long time at the end of this particular liturgy - that there was something significant about these prayers - and if I'd spent less time concentrating on myself, maybe I'd have known what that reason and significance was.

In the next few years when I'd visit Holy Trinity in the spring, I was always careful to check first. "It's not Pentecost at your church this week is it? If it is, I'll let you guys do the kneeling and opt to go sit on my duff with the Lutherans and visit next week if it's all the same to you." Our kids teased me lots of times about my aversion to the Kneeling Prayers - ElderSon told me once as I accompanied them to liturgy during Nativity that there were Kneeling Prayers for Nativity, too (everyone's a comedian).

But for me the Kneeling Prayers (which are beautiful and rich prayers) are a classic example of a simple truth I have known for a long time but am learning in an even deeper way now: the liturgy is not about me - when I become consumed with myself, I miss out. And if I can just forget about myself - my own petty and personal issues and concerns and wants and preferences and allow myself to listen and participate as fully as I can in God's great gift of the liturgy, the petty issues and wants and preferences seem to be very petty indeed.

Before last Pentecost, I never prayed or even heard these beautiful prayers - I just dreaded them because they are long and they make my knees hurt. But having heard them - prayed them - having paid attention to them - I look forward to praying them again this Sunday.

Earlier this week I received this photo and text message from DearHusband's cell phone while I was at work and he was out shopping with our boys.

"YoungerSon thought you would like this for the Kneeling Prayers on Sunday."

My response: "Did you get me one?"


magda said...

How sweet of your son and husband! I remember visiting Romania last summer. My husband in the altar, I was mothered by all the nice little old ladies (who weren't bothered by the fact that I had no idea what they were saying). For the services there, rather than standing most of the time, they *kneel* for most of the time, and stand where I'm used to kneeling. They had brought little pillows for their knees, but I hadn't been that prepared. (I also didn't get the "there's no air conditioning" notice until the plane tickets were bought, either, but my mother-in-law did provide a head scarf for me to struggle with all through services.)

Mimi said...

Well, did he?

What a sweet story, Magda! I didn't know that pillows would be brought.

-C said...

No - he didn't (though after reading about the ladies who brought pillows, I've half a mind to go and get one myself before next Pentecost!).