Why Orthodox Christians Stand During Divine Services
In performing divine services ill it manner like the saints, Whom the God-inspired
prophets Isaiah, Micah Daniel and St. John the Theologian saw "standing in the
heavens next to the throne of God" (Isaiah 6:2; I Kings 22:19; Daniel 7:10;
Apocalypse 7:11), Christians similarly should not sit during divine services, but stand.
The custom that Orthodox Christians stand during prayer arid church services is not
only a representation of spiritual service in the Heavenly Church, but also in the Church
of the Old Testament.
In the description of the blessing of Solomon's temple it is said: "The Levites
and all the singers, being arrayed in white linen and having cymbals and psalteries and
harps stood at the east end of the altar'' (II Chronicles 5:12); "All the
congregation of Israel stood" (II Chronicles 6:2).
Another example from tile Bible occurs in tile description of the reign of Josaphat. In
order to protect his homeland from the Ammonites and the children of Moab, he "stood
in the congregation of Judah in Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord before the new
court. And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives,
and their children" (II Chronicles 20:5, 13).
Ezra and Nehemiah, speaking of the services of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity,
say: "And they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons
of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of
Israel" (I Ezra 3:10); "And the Levites stood according to their rank and
cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God, and the Levites caused the people to
understand the law; and the people stood in their place" (Nehemiah 9:4,5; 8:7;
also Matthew 6:5).
To stand during prayer was thus it customary rule among the Jews, as is proven in their
writings, in the manner of the Heavenly and the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians
have maintained the custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. The
correctness of such it practice is evident from New Testament scripture, where we find the
words of Christ: "When ye stand praying" (Mark 9:25), and in apostolic
tradition, where it is often proclaimed "Let us stand well."
Christians, according to the apostolic teachings, all had to stand during the reading
of the Gospel and the "Liturgy of the Faithful." During other readings and
homilies some would stand, others would sit. Tertullian, in the year 190 A.D., mentions
the practice of standing during services. He says: "Some, in preparation for prayer,
throw off their cloaks, and some think it their duty not to stand, but to sit, and we are
not to imitate these. It is especially improper to pray while sitting at the very time
that a multitude of angels stand before the face of the Lord in fear and
trepidation; sitting shows that we are somehow praying unwillingly, carelessly, in a lazy
manner." Blessed Augustine, when discussing standing in church, says: "Moved by
fatherly love, I have advised those who have an affliction of the legs, or are burdened by
other sickness, that they should sit quietly and listen attentively during lengthy
readings. But now even some of our healthy daughters think that they should do this all
the time.... Even worse, they engage in idle talking not listening themselves, nor
allowing others to listen. Thus, I ask you noble daughters, and implore you with fatherly
concern, that none of you should sit during readings or homilies, unless a profound
weakness of the body forces you to do so."
In the early works of the Holy Fathers a reverent attitude during services was shown to
be an important and sacred duty. In one such writing it says: "One must stand and not
look around, nor lean against a wall or pillar, nor stand with a cane, nor shift one's
weight from one foot to the other."
To stand before God and His holy saints during the church services is the only
acceptable posture for the faithful, both for the ones who art serving, and the ones
praying, for does a servant sit before his master The faithful are all servants of the
Lord, redeemed by His blood (Luke 17: 10; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
The entire life of an Orthodox Christian, according to the Scriptures should he it
continuous Spiritual uprightness and attentiveness toward God. The Apostle Paul says:
"Watch ye, stand fast in the faith" (I Cor. 16:13); ''Stand, therefore,
having your loins girt about with truth (Ephes. 6:14); "Stand fast in the
Lord, my dearly beloved" (Philippian 4:1). If a Christian must always stand on guard
spiritually over his salvation then he must do so even more during, the divine church
services, which serves as an expression and an enrichment to private everyday service to
God. If the spirit of the ones serving and praying strives toward the Highest, will it not
also lift up the body which is subject to it? Standing during church services shows us to
be humble servants, ready, attentive and willing to serve God. Not unlike the Old
Testament sacrifice: the faithful, standing and becoming fatigued during services,
themselves symbolically become offerings to God, as the Apostle says: "Present you
bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is you reasonable
service" (Romans 12:1).
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 33, No. 6, pp. 48-49. This is an excerpt from
the book The Concern of the Orthodox Church for the Salvation of the World by Rev.
G. S. Debolsky. Translated from the Russian by Maria Naumenko.