What’s with all the bowing?! If you’ve been attending the parish for a little while (and especially through the Great Lent) you’ll have no doubt noticed that we do quite a bit of bowing in Eastern Orthodoxy! There are in fact at least five different kinds of bows that we perform, depending on the part of the Divine Liturgy - we’ll go over them here, but first let’s talk briefly about why we bow in the first place. We bow to show deference, veneration, or respect at various points in the Liturgy, as well as to the Gospel book, Holy Communion, and icons, depending on the service. So the first bow is the head bow, and is most common during the first great censing of the temple (remembering to follow the censer with your eyes but not turn your back on the Holy Table!) and the reading of the Gospel. There’s no real prescribed time for this bow, and it can certainly take the place of other, deeper bows if your back is bad or space is constrained. The ordinary bow or “belt-low bow” (Russian has funny translations sometimes) is the most common type and what you will see most doing in many services. The “belt low bow, touching the earth by hand” is a sort of “abbreviated” earth-low bow, most often seen before asking a priest’s (and especially a bishop’s) blessing; generally it involves touching the ground with the right hand before laying it in the left for a blessing. The metania, most frequently encountered in our service book rubrics, is another version of the “earth-low bow,” usually specified for clergy at various points in the Liturgy. The poklon or “full earth-low bow” is to be performed by the priest and as many of the congregation as are physically capable during the epiclesis (see previous entry as to when this is). Kneeling is very rarely prescribed and most our of prayer posture derives from the First Council of Nicea which prescribed standing for all Sunday prayers, with a few exceptions throughout the liturgical year.
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