How to say public prayer

On this form of prayer the Ethikon says: “The Worshipper should stand facing the East, with his hands modestly folded on his breast. He should free his mind completely from worldly distractions, and making the sign of the Cross should say:

“Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”

He should then say:

“Holy, Holy, Holy, O Almighty Lord” 

At this he should bow by bending over from the waist, and then straightens and makes the sign of the Cross on his forehead saying:

“The heavens and the earth are full of His praises. Glory in the Highest.”

He then Bows again, makes the sign of the Cross, and says:

“Blessed is He who did come and shall come in the name of the Lord. Glory to God in the Highest.”

He then Bows a third time and makes the sigh of the Cross saying:

“Holy are You, O God. Holy are You, O Almighty. Holy are You , O Immortal. You who were crucified for us, have mercy upon us.” 

Then the worshipper will kneel down and bow till his forehead touches the ground, get up on his feet, cross himself-repeating this a second and a third time. He then says:

“Our Lord, have mercy upon me. Our Lord, have compassion and mercy upon me. Our Lord, answer my prayer and have mercy upon me. Glory be to You, Our Lord. Glory be to You, O our Hope forever.” 

He then bows, without kneeling, and recites aloud the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, Who are in heaven…”. 

He bows down once again and asks God all that is in his heart of good petitions.

This is an essential public prayer for all the faithful wherever they may be: in Church or at home, on the road, at the top of a mountain or on a ship. Everyone who neglects it at any time he could have performed it will come under judgment with the unbelievers. Whoever can add to the number of bowing mentioned here will receive a greater reward. Remember that the prayer, “Holy are You, O God…” known as the “Trisagion” is addressed to the Lord Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity as appears clearly from its meaning. Let the worshiper be quite attentive to this. It is a glorious and ancient hymn of praise in the Church, ascribed by many of the Church Fathers to Saint Ignatius The Luminous, the Third Patriarch of Antioch in the first century. Some, however, have attributed it to some other author.

Since Christ, may His glory be exalted, said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name” (John 16:23), and since He is the Door, by Whom we enter into the Father’s presence (John 10:9; 14:6) , and also the Mediator and intercessor between God and man (I Timothy 2:5), we address our prayers to Him and by Him we attain ascension to the Father as we say: “Our Father”.

We praise the Son through the Holy Spirit, as the eloquent mouthpiece of the Church says: “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:3). Now the implication of this is that the Trisagion was meant in origin to be particular to the Son, the Word as He was Incarnate while He is God and put on our week flesh, though He is strength itself. He died in flesh, though He is the Living who never dies.

There are those who take the Trisagion to refer to the Trinity, basing their view on the fact that there are three separate exclamations of praise. As such, they claim that Divinity is characteristic of the Father, Power of the Son, and Immortality of the Holy Spirit. This is gross imagination. For no heretic, for example, has ever maintained that the Holy Spirit is subject to death so that the Trisagion had to be laid down to confirm His immortality. We further clarify this by pointing out that in our Eastern Liturgy, the Trisagion in the prayer of the Blessing of the Crown is recited as follows:

“Holy are You, O God. Holy are You, O Almighty. Holy are You, O Immortal, O Son Who are of one substance with His Father.” At times it is recited this way: “Holy are You, O God, Who, in His holiness, are far above sanctification of all those who sanctify Him. Holy are You, O Almighty, You Who did in Your strength conquer all the hosts of the enemy. Holy are You, O Immortal, Who did bring us life by Your death, and salvation by Your resurrection. O You Who were crucified for our sake, have mercy upon us.” 

Furthermore, some sects sing this Glorification differently according to the different feasts. For example, in the Christmas service they add, after the Trisagion, “O You who were born of the Virgin have mercy upon us.” In the Crucifixion service, they say: “O You who were crucified for us, have mercy upon us.” In the Resurrection service, they sing: “O You Who did rise from the dead, have mercy upon us.” Can there be any doubt now as to the rightful ascription of the Trisagion to the Second Person of the Godhead? This clarification of ours is nothing but refutation to those who imaginatively claim that we address it to the Trinity.

It was the custom of old to pray kneeling. In fact the Lord Himself, in His agony, knelt down or rather fell on His face as He prayed. (Matthew 26:-39). Paul did the same (Acts 20:36). Said he: “I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians. 3:14). So, kneeling at prayer is required at all times, so that we remember Adam’s fall and that of his posterity with him. Sundays, the Feasts of the Lord, and the season of Passover, which lasts from the Great Feast (Resurrection) to Whitsunday (Pentecost), are accepted. At these times we pray standing, as a reminder of the Resurrection of the Savior Who lifted us out of our great fall. Also, on the day of taking Communion we should stand at prayer.

In some prayers we hold our hands outspread and lift our eyes to heaven, to denote the lifting of our minds to high above. In Isaiah we read: “When you spread forth your hands” (Isaiah 1:15). Psalm 123:1 reads: “To You I lift up my eyes, O You Who dwells in the heavens.” “When Jesus had spoken these words He lifted up his eyes to heaven” (John 17:1).

We should never pray at any time unless “our loins are girt”. The Children of Israel ate the Passover with “Their loins girded up”. Moreover, the Lord commanded us to be thus, with our lamps burning, so as to be ready to fight Satan. It is also most fitting, in fact obligatory, for men to have their head uncovered while at prayer, in particular during the Holy Mass. Women must always have their heads covered, as the Apostle says: “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered, dishonors his head. But, any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head.” (I Corinthians 11:4, 5)

Another condition of prayer is that the worshipper should be clean in body. When he washes early in the morning cleansing his visible senses, let him also cleans his inner senses, which are the mind, the thought, the conscience and the imagination, from all impure thoughts. When he washes his hands, eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth, let him say:

“Before You, O God, I have washed my hands that they may be extended for doing good works, not for evil doing; my eyes, that they may see truth, and may not become licentious; my ears, that they may listen to Your commands and be closed to all depravity; my nostrils, that they may smell the sweetness of Your salvation, not the odors of slothfulness; my mouth, that it may taste praises and thanksgiving, and not speak haughtily and utter falsehoods” 

Drawing the sign of the Cross on the forehead, then on the breast and then on the left and right shoulders, speaks of the Lord Christ. He came down to earth from on high and took our human race from darkness and shadows, (typified by the left shoulder), into the right path and light (the right shoulder). We make the sign of the Cross with one finger (the forefinger), to point to the fact that Christ, Who was crucified for us, is One. With this noble sign which conquered Satan, the accursed, all the devils will flee-that is, if you perform the act in true faith.

If crossing oneself has noble meanings and abundant benefits, what would most of the public, who do not do it right either out of habit, ignorance or in carelessness, say? Let it be known that doing it this way brings no benefits whatsoever.

Since we have spoken of the Cross, let us give the reason why we bow before it. Bowing is of various kinds. For instance, we bow down to God in recognition of His might, and also we bow to others. But what a great difference there is between the two acts of bowing down. When we bow to God, we bow in dutiful worship before the Divine Majesty. When we bow to a king or a lord or master, for example, or to one another, we bow to show respect which is due as a way of recognizing differences in ranks.

Since in the Cross we envisage Christ crucified, and Christ is our God, we bow down before the Cross as we do before Christ, for the former was the particular means the Savior used for our redemption. The Cross is our pride, as Apostle Paul says, and also the banner of Christianity, the Symbol of Salvation- the Tree of Life. With the Cross the sanctification of all the Holy Sacraments is completed. Great miracles have been worked and are always being worked with it. It was in the Cross that the Gracious Redeemer revealed His great love for us. The Cross will also herald His second coming, when true worshippers will be crowned with glory and unbelievers put to shame.

There are three forms of bowing in worship: Inclining the head, bending forward from the waist, and kneeling. Inclining the head will be observed whenever the priest at Holy Mass says: “Bless, O Lord, Your people, bowing before Your Majesty.”, or the deacon says: “Let us bow our heads before You, O our Lord and God.” We bow down our heads also whenever the precious name of Jesus is mentioned.

Bowing from the waist is the form used in all services from Resurrection Day to Pentecost, on Sundays, the feasts of the Lord, and on the day of taking Holy Communion. We should also bow before the Elements (Holy Qoorbono) and the Cross. Kneeling is the form used on the other days of the year.

The condition of true bowing is that the soul must take part in it together with the body in accordance with John 4:24 “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” It is befitting also, at the beginning and conclusion of prayer, to kiss the Holy Gospel for blessing and paying respect. As for facing the east, it is instated by Apostolic law. For the coming of the Lord will be as the lightning which shines from the East and is seen at the West. Let us look forward to this and be always in readiness.(See the Laws attributed to Mor Aday in the Didascalia of the Apostles).

Furthermore, the East alone, from among all other cardinal points, is mentioned numerous times in the Holy Book of God: “….from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name.” (Isaiah 41:25); “Therefore in the East give glory to the Lord” (Isaia 25:15). The star which rose to the sight of the Magi was seen in the east (Matthew 2:2). The glory of the Lord came by the gate which faced the east (Ezekiel 44:2). Malachi tells us: “But for you who fear my name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2). And so since Paradise is in the East, we should reflect on this in our prayer, longing for our own original state of happiness. In addition to this, the oldest temples and churches, including even the ones founded in the Apostolic era, have always faced the East.

We close this Chapter by showing the benefits of attendance at the exalted Divine Liturgy, which is the best type of worship and most revered prayers that can be raised to the Lord of Lords. It is, further, a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving and Atonement. It is in fact most rewarding and befitting to hear it each day if possible, and a must on Sundays and Feast Days. By our attendance at Mass we reverence these days, fulfill the Church’s bidding, and receive abundant graces. Anyone who neglects this spiritual duty which is one of the most important obligation of Christians, commits a grave sin and loses numerous graces.

Attendance at Mass must be with utmost awe, adoration and total reverence together with strong faith, firm hope, divine love, utmost yearning, godliness, passion, and particularly spiritual modesty. People present must gaze at the Divine Mysteries, listening with all comprehension to the divine words and pondering at this great and wondrous Mystery- the Mystery of Mysteries- and the awesome Holy of the Holies. They must do so joining the multitudes of Angels which surround the Holy Altar and glorify God of love and compassion, the Lamb of God slain for the salvation of men. Let them control their senses against all recklessness, and fast before the Mass. Let them guard themselves against conversation, looking at or listening to all that disrupts, and against every evil and vain thought that distracts their mind and takes it away from the Church.

Let them unite in intent with the celebrating Priest who is the mouthpiece of the Church and a mediator between God and people pleading forgiveness on their behalf.

It is noticed that most of the prayers at Mass are addressed to the Eternal Father. With these prayers, we perform to His Majesty the duties of worship, adoration, and thanksgiving for all His gracious goodness to us, asking Him for mercy, forgiveness, the grace of Mass and salvation, and all graces we need. We also ask that God’s goodness be poured in never-ending stream upon all living believers, and His dew of mercy upon the faithful departed, all for the Sake of His beloved Son, Who gave Himself for us.

During the Mass one should not pray the canonical or personal prayers save saying from time to time, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord.” By saying this one means that he repents of all that he has committed of sins and asks God’s pardon. The word “Amen,” too, is thus used, to mean “Truly” or “So be it.” It is an intimation that they are paying close attention and believing all that is being said by the Priest, and the Deacon, who are, as it were, standing in their stead, and pleading with the Almighty to answer their petition.

As for the general canonical prayers, they should be said before the Mass, if not said at the designated time. If a worshipper has come late, coming into the church after the Mass has started, let him confine himself to drawing the sign of the Cross, and say his own prayers after Mass is finished. If his late-coming has been unavoidable and is of rare occurrence, and he comes in a yearning Christian spirit, being present for only part of the Mass, he will receive the reward as that of those who were present throughout. For God regards the hearts and intentions. However, every effort should be made to attend the whole Mass, for the Divine Liturgy is celebrated only one time a day in our Church.

The congregation is required also to bow their heads fourteen times in the course of the Mass, as follows:

  1. When the deacon, after giving the Holy Peace , says:  “Let us bow our heads before You, Or our Lord and God.”
  2. When the Priest, giving the first blessing, says, “May the love of God the Father” and so forth.
  3. At reciting the Essential Words.
  4. When the Deacons say: “Have mercy upon us, O God Almighty. To You we offer praise, You do we bless, You do we worship…”
  5. At the decent of the Holy Spirit.

  6. At the second blessing, when the Priest says,  “May the mercies of God Almighty…”

  7. At the elevation of the Holy Bread, when the Priest says silently: “And He rose from the grave on the third day”.

  8. When the deacon, after the Lord’s Prayer, says: “Before we partake of the Holy Mysteries let us bow our heads before the Merciful God.”

  9. At the third blessings, when the Priest says:  “May the Grace and Mercy of the Holy Trinity” and so forth.

  10. During the elevation (or procession) of the Divine Mysteries.

  11. When the Elements are being raised and the Priest turns to the people, or steps down from the Altar to serve them, or utters thanks with the words, “Glory be to You, Glory be to You…”

  12. When he returns to the Altar with the Elements, and the Deacons say: “Before You The whole Creation Kneels…”
  13. When the deacon says: “Having partaken of these Holy Elements, let us bow down our heads before You, O our Lord and God.”
  14. At the final blessing and the dismissal.

    At the time of receiving the Holy Communion, if a Christian worshipper feels unworthy and unprepared, he must partake with spiritual yearning asking Christ to grant the grace of worthiness and preparedness to eat the Bread of Life and drink the Cup of Salvation. No one should leave the Church before receiving the blessing of the Priest for dismissal.

    Let the Mass be concluded with giving thanks to the gracious Lord for the grace of enjoying the Heavenly Table, or for attending the Holy Mass and asking His graciousness to sanctify our thoughts, words, works, and in general, our souls and bodies.


    — Patriarch Mor Ignatius Ephrem Barsoum