The Prostration of the Prodigal

This Sunday we will listen to the story of the Prodigal Son. Upon  listening  to  this  Gospel,  it  occurs  to  me  that  the  repentant  son,  realizing  his  mistake,  humbles himself  and  prostrates  before  his  father  in  order  to  beg  his  forgiveness.  We  in  the  east  know  what prostrations  are;  at  least  we  should.  They  have  always  been  a  symbol  of  our  humility  before  God  for generations  and  should  be  a  part  of  our  daily  prayers, especially during the Great Fast.  I never remember seeing anyone do this when I was young; and that was quite a while ago! I had heard that it used to be done, but never did anyone I ever saw get out into the aisle and bow before the tabernacle. I never questioned why...it just wasn't done.


Several years  ago  when  I  taught Eastern Christian Formation  classes  at our  parish,  another  teacher at that time was  a  student  from  Ukraine  who  was  helping  at  our  church  while  he completed  his  university  studies.  At  our  weekly  meeting  during  the  first  week  of  the  Fast,  he  told  us teachers  that  something  was  bothering  him.  We had all been at  the Presanctified  Liturgy during that past week, and he noticed that when the  time  came  for  us  to  do the  prostrations, nobody  did  them;  everyone  remained  in  his  comfortable  seat.    He  was  amazed. He  told  us  that  when  he  was  growing  up  in  Communist  Ukraine  his  family  had  to  attend  services  in the  woods,  so  nobody  would  arrest  them.  His  grandmother  had  him  baptized  in  secret  and  even  his own  parents  didn’t  know  so  that  they  wouldn’t  have  to  lie  if  anyone  had  asked  them.  Being  a Christian  there  at  that  time  was  a  very  dangerous  thing.  Yet  at  every  Presanctified  Liturgy,  they  all got down on their knees right there in the woods, and put their faces to the bare ground in devotion.  He could not understand why it was that here, where no one arrests us, nobody spies on us or persecutes us for our faith, not one person in  our  congregation  even  bothered  to  move.  When  we  realized  what  he  was  telling  us,  we  all  cried  in shame.  On  that  day,  every one of us who  were  the  teachers  at  the  time  made  a  promise  to  each  other  that  we would  always  get  into  the  aisle  during  every  Great  Lent,  with  all  of  our  own  children,  and  prostrate with  our  faces  to  the  ground  in  thanksgiving  and  humility,  and  even  a  bit  of  shame  for  having neglected  to  do  this  for  so  very  long.  Perhaps  we  can  each  begin  a  movement  in  our  own  parishes  to be brave enough to show our devotion to Christ and revive this beautiful tradition.

Take the time this week of the Prodigal Son, to:


Teach the children how to make a great prostration We first make the sign of the cross,

then kneel down on both knees,

then bowing forward we place our hands down, and our faces to the ground.   

We then rise to continue our prayer.

Learn the Prayer of St. Ephrem:

Lord and Master of my life, spare me from the spirit of indifference,

despair, lust for power, and idle chatter (make a great prostration)

Instead, bestow on me, your servant, the spirit of integrity,

humility, patience, and love (make a great prostration)

Yes, O Lord and King, let me see my own sins,

and not judge my brothers and sisters;

for you are blessed forever and ever.    Amen. (make a great prostration)



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