By Jay Denne
Originally posted March 5, 2014, at The Benedictine Lutheran. Republished with permission of the author.
If you are like me, prayer is primarily a mental activity, and not a physical discipline. That was not the case for Christians of the early church, as the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian (306 – 373 A.D.) indicates:
O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [prostration]
Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [prostration]
O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [prostration]
Eastern Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote a commentary on St. Ephrem’s prayer, which concluded with these words on the importance of using our bodies, and not just our words, when we pray:
After each petition of the prayer we make a prostration. Prostrations are not limited to the Prayer of St. Ephrem but constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire lenten worship … The Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. … The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the “psycho-somatic” sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the lenten rite par excellence.