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)