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Coptic Orthodox Church
edited December 1969
I wanted to know if there is a spiritual meaning behind matanias? Why 41 times. Is it an act of our reverence?
I believe it was (St.) Augustine who said that kneeling to the ground meant admitting we sinned and (literally) fell, and asking for forgiveness, when we get up, it symbolizes God's mercy for He raises us from our old ways of death so while we get up we thank Him... I think we can say in a way that Metania is the physical expression of (part of) repentance..
Here is an excerpt from the book "Spirituality of the Rites of the Holy Liturgy" by H.G Abba Mettaos, its a bit long but very insightful,
I hope you find it usefull.
The Coptic Church, in its humble and meek spirit, teaches her children three types of prostration, or metanias (bowing). These are: prostrations of worship, repentance, and honor.
1. Prostrations of Worship
These are the prostrations offered to God during our individual or public worship, such as at the beginning of each of the hourly prayers when we say “Lord have mercy….” St. Isaac said about such prostrations, “Bow at the beginning of your worship, asking God from your heart, with humiliation, to give you patience and control over your thoughts during prayers.” St. John Cassian said about the monks in Egypt, “I saw them in prayer. When they have finished reciting the Psalm they do not prostrate themselves in a hurry, as if it is a duty they want to get out of the way, like many of us do, on the contrary, they stand for a while to raise a short prayer, then they prostrate themselves in awe and great devotion. After that, they get to their feet in a brisk manner, standing uprightly with all their thoughts absorbed in prayer.” The Church’s Canon defines the number and arrangement of such prostrations by saying, “the worshipper starts his prayer either with one or three prostrations. He should kneel down after each psalm or praise, or whenever the words “kneeling down” are contained in the prayer.” Believers (and in particular monks) who prostrate themselves as a daily routine during prayer follow these regulations. The aim of prostration is to offer thanks to the Lord for His great mercies, or for His help in a certain matter. These are known as thanksgiving prostrations. Another aim of prostrating in prayer is to implore the Lord to grant us certain virtues or to pray for other people, saying such things as, + “Thank You my Lord Jesus Christ, for You have saved us“, or,+ “Grant me, O Lord, the life of purity”, or, + “Grant me, O Lord, the life of patience and tolerance”, or, + “Grant me, O Lord, the life of complete love”, or focusing on any of the other virtues. The Church does not allow prostration on Saturdays and Sundays or during the fifty days of Pentecost or after having Holy Communion, because these occasions are considered to be joyous occasions.
2. Prostrations of Repentance
There are two types of these prostrations:
+ Offering metanias to God, asking Him to have mercy on us, to give us the life of repentance and to forgive us our sins. These prostrations may be given as a task from our father of confession for the repentance of a certain sin, either for practice or as a
+ Offered by a person to his brethren after a meeting of discussion or reconciliation. The other party should accept these metanias and offer a similar metania in return, then they should shake hands in love, reconciliation and forgiveness, as it is written in the
Bible, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day and returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). The word “metanoia” is a Greek word which means repentance, that is, to change the mind from that which is wrong to that which is right. St. Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” ( Romans 12:2). Prostrations offered from the heart are a powerful action in attempting to attain the forgiveness of those whom you have transgressed against. If sincere, they can wipe out all effects of insult or transgression, and refill the heart with a love greater than it felt before.
3. Prostrations of Honor
There are two kinds of these prostrations: Metanias offered to the martyrs and saints, and those offered to the fathers of the church.
+Metanias offered before the bodies of the martyrs and saints to honor their bodies because they endured devotion, hunger, thirst, tears and sweat on account of their great love for our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through this they became a dwelling place for the Holy
Spirit. We honor them according to the promise of our Lord, Who said, “For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who despise Me, shall be lightly esteemed” (1Sam.2:30). With such prostrations we also honor God, Who worked in them and led them to the shores of eternal peace.
+Metanias offered to the fathers of the Church, the Patriarch or bishops, are the second type of Prostrations of Honor in which we honor them as a sign of our love and obedience as they are ambassadors for Christ and successors of the Apostles in the holy Church. We also prostrate in worship to the Holy Spirit which dwells in them, through which they consecrate Altars and ordain priests and deacons. The Holy Bible is full of evidence that Prostrations of Honor to the clergy are proper.
Thank you very much Pi Onkh and Truthsetsfree, that gave me a real insight. I must confess i used to just do matanias, as H.G Abba Mettaos said "as if it is a duty [i] wanted to get out of the way".
thanks for that very interesting information.
also the number 41 is from the 39 times Jesus was hit with whips before His crucifixion, 1 for the crown of thorns, and 1 for the spear in His side.
but i want to ask, i thought in our church you can do prostrations on saturdays and sundays. is that ok?
i know in the eastern orthodox church you can't, coz i once knelt in front of the Body (Bread) of Christ during communion (i couldn't take communion with them but i wanted to worship) and the priest later said, 'i though you might be coptic because we don't kneel on sundays'
other eastern orthodox people have confirmed to me they don't kneel on sundays.
but i saw lots of people doing it in our churches, is this ok?
In the Coptic Church we kneel on Saturday and Sunday. Even during the liturgy, which is on Sunday, the deacons command the congregation saying “Bow your heads unto the Lord”, and everybody kneel and bow down. However, on the weekends we don’t prostrate and touch the ground with our forehead. It is forbidden to touch the ground with your forehead doing a full prostration. It is also forbidden to fast on the weekends without eating anything, you should eat breakfast.
I asked my priest about these restrictions and my FOC explained saying that Saturday is a day a light shone from the tomb and Sunday is the day of Resurrection, both are days of celebration.
Pray for me
This is a question that I have not been able to answer yet.
It is the constant tradition of all Orthodox not to bow the knee on Sunday. This was made a canon after the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.
Since there are some persons who kneel in church on Sundays and on the days of Pentecost, with a view to preserving uniformity in all parishes, it has seemed best to the holy council for prayers to be offered to God while standing" (Canon XX)
There are too many other references to quote to show that this was the constant practice of the Church. But I will quote one more that shows that this was the practice also of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria. St Peter of Alexandria, Patriarch between 300 and 311 AD, gave this canon..
But the Lord’s day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it He rose again, on which day we have received it for a custom not even to bow the knee. (Canon XV)
St Basil the Great says the same thing.
At some point subsequently the practice has been modified to allow prostrations and kneeling. It would seem to me to have occurred quite late. I note that the Greek Orthodox in the US have been allowed to kneel in the Sunday liturgy only since the 1930's when it was allowed because many Greek Orthodox could not attend a weekday liturgy and therefore had no other occasion to express their penitence before the altar.
I do note ...
The 8th century Armenian Church father and theologian St. John of Otzun says that during the fifty days of Pentecost, "every day is Sunday." By this he means that every day is a day to celebrate the Easter mystery of Christ risen and active among us. There should be no fasting and no kneeling down because these are penitential rites which are not compatible with the joy of Easter.
I also note that Bishop Mettaous writes that the Coptic Orthodox Church forbids kneeling after having received the Holy Mysteries. Clearly the original practice was that there should be no kneeling at all on Sundays, but it is not clear when and where the instructions were changed.
Father Tadros el-Bakhoumi mentions several of the canons I have referred to but says that kneeling is done out of reverence not for repentance. The canons don't actually make that distinction. But I can imagine that the very great reverence in the Coptic Orthodox Church to all sacred things would have an effect on such practice.
I also note that in the 13th century, in the collections of Church instructions we read...
There are times in which we are commanded not to kneel like the Pentecost Season, the feasts of the Lord (“Ayaad Saideiah”) and after receiving communion.
This seems to show a transitional position between the strict prohibition on kneeling and prostration from the early period, to the situation of today. This is not a situation where we say that any practice is wrong. But it is always best to know and understand when there has been a development of practice, especially when that practice tends to be different to other Orthodox communities.
As the previous posts suggests, even in modern times the Church seeks to preserve some difference in practice on Sundays, although any such kneeling and prostration would have been forbidden in the first centuries of the Coptic Orthodox Church on a Sunday.
Thanks to all for your excellent info.
I have also heard once that when we are doing prostrations we must do it with a tight and closed fist, with our thumb over our index finger- to form a cross. We should never do it with our hands open (i.e fingers pointing away from the palm), as when satan 'fell', he fell on the palm of his hand. So we symbolise the devil's 'fall', by doing prostrations with an unclenched hand.
Has anyone heard anything as such? Is this true or false.
I have to say that I have never heard this, and wonder where it is written in any of the Scriptures or teachings of the Fathers?
Do you have any more information?
It does sound more like a pious custom than anything else.
Christ's Servant, i have heard this also, i'm not sure if that is the reason though....
I have only ever seen in done with a closed fist in the COC, not sure about other churches.
I always thought it is done with a closed fist because we are not falling down due to weakness or spiritual defeat but rather because we are willingly putting ourselves in humility before the lord by prostrating. I'm not 100% sure but i will try and find out.
[quote author=Chirsts' servant link=topic=9908.msg121331#msg121331 date=1288090119]
I wanted to know if there is a spiritual meaning behind matanias? Why 41 times. Is it an act of our reverence?
At the moment I am busy trying to make sure I can pay the mortgage this week, and I guess others are too. You know that people DO answer questions here!
Why not do some research on our behalf and find out what the Fathers say on this passage and post the info here, then others would know what our Church teaches. There are lots of places online to find the teachings of the Fathers on various passages.
There is no need to look at Protestant sites, just the commentaries of the Fathers.
You could try this one:
and ask on monachos.net the users who started this thread. I think a lot of them are theologians.
Start with these and see what you can find.
Good luck and thanks for using tasbeha.org
all my friends in my last church said u had to do prostrations with the fist clenched, that is leaning on your knuckles not your palms. they said it was something to do with not giving glory to satan, but they couldn't explain why. some of them are church servants, so i am sure it is a true tradition, but we don't (at the moment) know why.
I can't find any mention in any reference books, including that of Bishop Mettaous which is very thorough and usually says something about most practices.
On the one hand we must not make ourselves the judge of the teachings we receive in the Church, on the other hand we should be careful not to do things without any understanding.
There is clearly an explanation given for prostrating with clenched fists, and this gives meaning to the practice. But the majority of Orthodox do not follow this practice. So I think that there is room for both and there should be tolerance of both, but especially of the more universal practice of not making any special signification with the hands.
I heard this from my servant after one of the youth told him that someone was yelling at her because she was doing metanias with her fist open and leaning on her palm because her knuckles hurt:
"When we prostrate with our fists clenched it signifies us trampling upon the devil"
Forgive me for asking too many questions... I was just think about the number 41, mabsoota said that "the number 41 is from the 39 times Jesus was hit with whips before His crucifixion, 1 for the crown of thorns, and 1 for the spear in His side." (which i fully acknowledge and accept) But i was thinking if 41 symbolises Jesus wounds, what about the 4 wounds caused by the nails that pierced of Saviours body, why not then do 44 prostrations rather than 41. I know that this is an old church tradition and not a big difference, and we shouldn't question it, but i am just trying to understanding the meaning behind it, because i know that our church does everything for a reason. Correct me if am mistaken.