Bowing in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Different kinds of bows used in an Eastern Orthodox worship service / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The different kinds of bows one could encounter at an Eastern Orthodox service are shown in the drawing below.

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Different types of bows

Strict rules exist as to which type of a bow should be used at any particular time. The rules are very complicated, and are not always carried out in most parishes. Old Believers are generally much more punctilious about bows in comparison with the official Orthodoxy.

  1. The first type is a 'head-only bow'. This type of bow does not have its own assigned usage, but can be used only instead of a 'belt-low bow' (2) in some situations, such as when one cannot make a lower bow because of too many people in the church or for back problems. People also should keep standing in this position during reading of Gospels and some other important periods of the service.
  2. 'Belt-low bow' (поясной поклон) can also be called an 'ordinary bow', since it is the most widespread type of bow. Most bows during the Eastern Orthodox service are of this kind. However, sometimes, for example, during the Lent, the bows became lower and 'earth-low bows' (5) should be used instead.
  3. 'Metania'. This type of a bow could be treated in two ways: sometimes it is only the 'very thoroughly done type 2 bow'. Sometimes, on the other hand, it is a 'lightened' version of a prostration (5). For example, when Popovtsy Old Believers ask their priests for a blessing, they should, theoretically, perform an prostration. However, since one could ask a priest for a blessing during an occasional meeting on a street, where it is rather uncomfortable to make a full prostration, usually one only touches the earth with one's right hand (usually the back side of a hand).
  4. 'Prostration' This type of bow is preformed by falling down on one's hands and knees and resting their head between their palms.


Kneeling, standing on one's knees, is rarely prescribed or practiced. An exception is that the ordinand "bending both knees places his palms in the form of a Cross, and lays his forehead between them on the Holy Table" when a bishop is consecrated or a priest is ordained.[1]

In the 20th century in some western countries, some Eastern Orthodox churches have begun to use pews and kneelers and so have begun kneeling in some parts of the service.[citation needed]

The First Council of Nicaea's decree "that prayer be made to God standing" from Pascha (Easter) through Pentecost, and on all Sundays throughout the year, in honour of the Resurrection[2] is strictly observed, excepting only for prostrating before the Cross on the Third Sunday of Great Lent and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, if it falls on a Sunday, as well as for a few sacramental services, e.g., ordinations.

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