403. Pentecost: Let us keep the Feast! – by kneeling?

Holy Pentecost

Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece (with permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete, skete.com)

For my ancient commentary about Pentecost, you might want to go back to Posts 66, 67 and 68. Just scroll down on the far right to May, 2018.

The Kneeling Prayers

I do not understand.

Pentecost is one of the Great Feasts, a beautiful day in and of itself. We celebrate Pentecost Week appropriately with no fasting.

But then immediately at Pentecost Vespers we have long penitential Kneeling Prayers. Wouldn’t the Kneeling Prayers fit better, perhaps, on the Sunday after Pentecost when the feast has concluded? And to perplex me further, in many jurisdictions (not my own, so far as I can determine) the priest is directed to kneel facing the people as he prays the Kneeling Prayers. Why? The prayers are clearly directed to God, not the people.

Last week I promised to look into the origins of the Kneeling Prayers. I am no scholar, so using my trusty computer l looked…  and discovered that there is a remarkable paucity of information out there.

On my own I concluded that the Kneeling Prayers are ancient – because the Coptic Church has them, too, also at Pentecost Vespers. That means they precede the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451, when “Eastern Orthodox” and “Oriental Orthodox” split up.

Then I found several sites that said the Kneeling Prayers were written by Saint Basil the Great. I didn’t come across any direct evidence of this. * However, they certainly sound like him: He wrote beautifully, but he had trouble writing “short”.

  • Can anyone help us here?

There also seems to be little commentary on the meaning and content of the Kneeling Prayers. The best I found was written, not surprisingly, by that blessed man Father Alexander Schmemann:

“We are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fullness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.”

Together, bowing-low, we bowed our hearts and brought to God our repentance, and hope for forgiveness of sins.

Together, bowing-low, we bowed our hearts and cried out asking the Holy Spirit to help us, yearning to be taught how to pray and better follow the true path in these dark and difficult times where the foundation, and boundaries, of society are crumbling.

Together, bowing-low, we bowed our hearts and called to remembrance all those who have finished “the race” and completed “the marathon” of life, yet remain united with us through the love of God.

Each day we are all called to bow our hearts “unto the Lord” and truly realize what an incredible, and sobering act it is to enter into such prayers – supplicating the Holy Trinity is a serious gift.”

My personal opinion 

I think these beautiful, profound Kneeling Prayers are wasted. They are prayed only once a year at a service tacked onto Divine Liturgy, on an early summer Sunday when most people are very eager to get out of church. It may be that people in the ancient world, who had more time and  little written material and few visual aids, could easily absorb and understand the spoken word – but we today with our helter-skelter minds cannot. All those beautiful, profound words just pass over the heads of most of us. Including me, the priest: I’m so busy trying to enunciate well that I have little time to ponder their meaning.

Note also: After the first two prayers – when people are beginning to wonder “Is this ever going to end?” – the third prayer is by far the longest of all. This almost seems designed to make people turn off their ears, which is a shame because I think it is the most beautiful of all. As I said above, I don’t understand. But there it is.

The solution? Here’s the only one I can think of: Print the prayers and have them available to the congregation, so they can follow. Or possibly, print them in a Blog so people can read them beforehand. And since this just happens to be a Blog, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve used a contemporary English translation from the Greek Archdiocese. Reading this will take a few minutes. I hope it helps.

P.S. on Saturday June 3. In a comment below it has been brought to my attention that the first two prayers below are there only in part. I don’t know how that happened. I will correct this as soon as I get a chance, which probably won’t be today. Father Bill

The Kneeling Prayers from Pentecost Vespers 

As kneel, as the Priest, also kneeling at the Royal Doors reads aloud:


    Lord, pure and undefiled, existing before all eternity, invisible, incomprehensible, unsearchable, unchanging, surpassed by none, not to be calculated, long-suffering, the only immortal One, You abide in the unapproachable light. You created heaven and earth, and all the creatures that inhabit them, supplying all their needs even before they ask. To You we pray and You we entreat, loving Master, the Father of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven to be incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the glorious Theotokos. At first You taught in words, but then showed us by deeds, when in enduring the saving Passion You gave to us Your humble, sinful and unworthy servants an example of how to offer our prayers in the bending of our heads and knees for our own transgressions and for the failings of the people.

     All-merciful and loving Lord, hear us whenever we call upon You, but especially on this day of Pentecost, on which, after our Lord Jesus Christ had ascended into the heavens, to be seated at Your right hand, God and Father, He sent the Holy Spirit on His holy disciples and Apostles. As He came to rest upon each of them, and all were filled with His overflowing grace, they spoke in strange tongues of Your mighty works and prophesied.

     As we now pray to You, hear us, and be mindful that we are lowly and deserving of judgment; recall our souls from the bondage of sin. Your own compassion interceding for us. Accept us as we kneel before You crying the familiar, “I have sinned!” We have been dependent on You from our mother’s womb; You are our God. But because our days have been vainly squandered, we are stripped of Your help, without any defense. Even so, encouraged by Your mercies, we cry: Remember not our sins committed in youth and ignorance, and purge our secret thoughts. Do not spurn us in old age; when our strength fails us, do not forsake us; before we are returned to the earth, make us worthy to return to You, and treat us with Your favor and grace. Measure out Your mercies against our transgressions; contrast the depths of Your pity to the multitude of our offenses.

From Your holy dwelling place look down upon the people present here in expectation of Your rich mercy; visit us in Your goodness; free us from the oppression of the Evil One; make our lives secure within Your holy and sacred laws. Entrust Your people to a faithful guardian angel; gather us all into Your kingdom; grant forgiveness to those who hope in You; remit them and us our sins; cleanse us through the work of Your Holy Spirit; put an end to the wiles of the enemy

All stand for a Litany.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, raise us up and keep us, 0 God, in Your grace.

Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

Cantor: To You, O Lord.

Priest: For Yours it is to show mercy and to save, O Christ our God, and to You we offer up glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

Cantor: Amen.

All kneel as before while the Priest reads


Priest: Lord Jesus Christ our God, You have bestowed Your peace on humankind, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be with us even in thus life as a perpetual inheritance to believers never to be taken away. On this day You have sent this grace upon Your disciples and Apostles in a way more manifest, giving utterance to their lips by means of fiery tongues, so that every human race, hearing in our own language received the knowledge of God, and, illumined by the light of the Spirit, emerged from error as from darkness, and in the distribution of visible tongues of fire, and by extraordinary power, were taught faith in You, and were enlightened to speak of You, as of the Father and the Holy Spirit, as one Godhead, one power, one sovereignty.

As the reflection of the Father, the perfect and immutable likeness of His essence and nature, the source of salvation and grace, open the lips of this sinner and teach me how and for what I should pray. For You know the great number of my sins, yet Your compassion will overcome their enormity. For in fear I stand before You, casting my soul’s despair into the sea of Your mercy. Govern my life, as You govern all creation by the unspoken word and the power of wisdom, calm haven of the storm-tossed, and make known to me the way in which I should walk.

Grant me the Spirit of wisdom in my thoughts, the Spirit of prudence in my ignorance. Let the Spirit of the awe of You, overshadow my deeds. Renew a steadfast Spirit in my breast, and let Your guiding Spirit make firm my errant mind, so that each day, led by Your good Spirit towards that which is profitable, I may be worthy to keep Your commandments, ever mindful of Your glorious and soul­searching presence. Do not allow me to be beguiled by the world’s corrupting delights, but rather to desire the enjoyment of future treasures. For You, Master, have said, that whatever we ask in Your name, we shall without fail receive from Your co-eternal God and Father. Thus I, too, the sinner, at the descent of Your Holy Spirit, beseech Your goodness. All that I have asked, grant me for salvation. Yes, Lord, You are the lavish giver of everything good, giving far in excess of what we ask. You are the compassionate and merciful One Who, though sinless, became sharer in our flesh, and bending in love towards those who bend the knee to You, You became the propitiation for our sins.

Now then, Lord, grant Your people Your mercies; hear us from Your heavenly dwelling place; sanctify them by the power of Your saving right hand; shelter them in the shadow of Your wings; do not spurn the work of Your hands. It is against You alone that we sin, but it is You alone we worship; we know no alien god to adore, not to stretch out our hands to any other deity, O Master. Remit our offenses, and as You receive our petitions on bended knee, extend to us all a helping hand. Accept our common prayer as a pleasing fragrance, rising up to Your blessed kingdom.

All stand for a Litany.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, raise us up and keep us, O God, in Your grace.

Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

Cantor: To You, O Lord.

Priest: By the favor and grace of Your only-begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, good and life giving Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

Cantor: Amen.

Deacon: Yet again, on bended knee, let us pray to the Lord.

Cantor: Lord, have mercy. 

All kneel as before as the Priest reads the 


Priest: The never-failing spring, bursting with life and light, creative power co-eternal with the Father, You fulfilled surpassingly the plan for the salvation of humankind, shattering the unbreakable bonds of death and the bolts of Hades and trampling the throngs of evil spirits. You presented Yourself as a blameless victim for us, offering Your pure body, chaste and untouched by sin, in sacrifice, and by that terrible and indescribable oblation granted us everlasting life. You descended into Hades and broke down its gates, and sojourning among those below, You showed them the way of ascent. As for the Prince of Evil, that dragon of the deep, You snared him in an inspired lure, binding him in circles of darkness, in Your infinite power made him fast in the nether world, in the eternal fire and the outer darkness.

The glorious wisdom of the Father, You are the great help of those in peril, giving light to those in darkness and the shadow of death. Lord of everlasting glory, beloved Son of the Most High, eternal light of eternal light, Sun of righteousness, hear our supplications and give rest to the souls of Your servants, our fathers and brothers and other kin by blood, and all of the household of faith who have since fallen asleep and whose memorial we keep this day. For in You is the strength of all and in Your hand You hold the far reaches of the earth. Almighty Master, God of our Fathers and Lord merciful Lord of the living and the dead, Creator of all mortal nature, composed and again dissolved, of life and of death, of earthly existence and of the departure hence, You measure out the years for the living and set times of death, bringing down to Hades and raising up, fettering in weakness and liberating in power; You provide aptly for the present and fittingly dispose what is to come, restoring those who are wounded by the sting of death with the hope of resurrection.

Master, Lord of all, our God and Redeemer, the hope of all, at the ends of the earth and far away at sea, on this latter great and saving day of Pentecost You disclosed to us the mystery of the holy, consubstantial, co-eternal and life-giving Trinity, indivisible yet distinct, and in the descent and presence of Your holy and life-giving Spirit poured out its grace upon Your holy Apostles in the form of fiery tongues, making them proclaimers and confessors of our holy Faith, of true knowledge of God. On this universal and salutary feast, deign to accept petitions for those imprisoned in Hades, thus giving us great hope, and relief to the departed from their grievous distress and Your comfort.

Hear us, humble and pitiable, as we pray to You, and give rest to the souls of Your Servants who have departed this life, in a place of light, a place of renewed life, a joyous place, shunned alike by pain and sorrow and sighing. And place their spirits where the Righteous dwell, counting them worthy of peace and repose; for the dead do not praise You, Lord, nor do those in Hades dare to offer You glory, but it is we the living who bless and entreat You and offer You propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls.

This second Prayer is appended.

Priest: O God, great and eternal, holy and loving, having deemed us worthy to stand at this hour in the presence of Your unapproachable glory, to sing in praise of Your wondrous acts, be gracious to Your unworthy servants and grant us grace to offer You in contrition of heart the thrice-holy doxology and thanksgiving for the great gifts You have bestowed on us and continue always. Lord, be mindful of our weakness, and do not let us be lost in our wrongdoing, but show mercy as we humble ourselves, so that, escaping the darkness of sin, we may walk in the day of justice, and girded with the armor of light, we may live free of the assaults of the Evil One, and so with courage glorify You the only true and loving God in all things.

Truly great is Your mystery, Master and Maker of all, of the temporary separation of Your creatures, to be united again in everlasting rest. We confess Your grace in all things, for our entrances into this world and our departures, of which our hope of resurrection and a life of bliss, according to Your certain promise, are the guarantee. May we enjoy it in Your future second coming. For You are both the pioneer of our resurrection and the just but compassionate judge of our lives and Master and Lord of our reward. In ultimate condescension You shared in our flesh and blood and in our passions, willingly assuming them in the depth of Your compassion so that having Yourself been tempted, You offered Yourself freely as helper to us who are tempted. Thus You united us all to You in Your freedom from passion.

Will You, then, Master, accept our prayers and entreaties, and give rest to everyone’s fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters and children, or of the same family or people, and all the souls that have gone before to their rest in the hope of the resurrection to everlasting life. And place their spirits and their names in the book of life, the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the land of the living, in the kingdom of the heavens, in the bliss of Paradise, Your angels of light leading all into Your holy mansions. And on the day You have ordained, raise up our bodies as well according to Your unfailing promises. In departing our bodies to dwell in You our God, there is no death for Your servants Lord, but rather a change from the more sorrowful to the better and more pleasing, to rest, to joy.

And if we have in any way sinned against You, be merciful to them and to us; for no man is free of stain in Your sight though he live but a day. Only You, Who came sinless to earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we all hope to find mercy and remission of sins.

Thus as good and loving God, remit and forgive them and us our failings, whether witting or unwitting, committed in knowledge or ignorance, intentionally or unaware, in deed or in thought, in word, in all goings about. Both to those who have gone before and to us who await, give release and repose, granting us and all Your people a good and peaceful end, opening up to us Your heart of love and mercy at Your terrible and awesome Coming and judging us worthy of Your kingdom.

And this third and final Prayer is added:

Priest: Great and most high God, You alone are immortal, abiding in unapproachable light. In wisdom You created the world; You separated the light from the darkness, and set the sun, the greater light, to rule the day, and the lesser light, the moon, and the stars, to rule the night. You have judged us, though sinners, at this present hour to come into Your presence, giving thanks and offering You our evening praise. Loving Lord, let our prayer rise as incense before You, and accept it as a fragrant offering. Make this evening and the coming night peaceful for us. Gird us with the armor of light. Deliver us from the terror of the night and from everything that lurks about in the darkness. And let our sleep, which You have given us for rest, given our weakness, be free of all demonic images. Yes, Master of all, source of all blessings, so that, even as we slumber in our beds, we may speak Your Name in the night, and so, enlightened by the contemplation of Your statutes, we may rise, our souls rejoicing, to glorify Your goodness, offering prayers and supplications to Your compassion, for our own sins and for those of all Your people, asking that, at the intercession of the holy Theotokos, You will show them mercy.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, raise us up and keep us, O God, in Your grace. Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

Cantor: To You, O Lord.

Priest: For You are the King of peace and Savior of our souls, and to You we offer up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

Cantor: Amen.


Amen, indeed! That, even though long, is a gorgeous and profound piece of writing.

Next Week: All Saints of North America – a reprint from the past, because I’ll be traveling next week

Week after Next: Fathers’ Day

2 thoughts on “403. Pentecost: Let us keep the Feast! – by kneeling?

  1. Thank you for this Father!
    But I am still confused.
    This is the Vespers service from the GOA Digital Chant Stand.
    Before the Prayers comes the usual first part of Vespers.
    Then Prayer 1, and after that it says: “This second Prayer is appended. Prayer 2”. You have not included that: is it optional?
    At the end of the Litany it says: “All kneel as before while the Priest reads the Second Prayer. Prayer 3 ‘Lord Jesus Christ our God, You have bestowed Your peace on mankind’. Why is it called Prayer 3? Above you call it The Second Prayer.
    And then after that it says: “The second Prayer is appended. Prayer 4” – which again you have not included.
    Then after the next Litany it says: “All kneel as before as the Priest reads the Third Prayer. Prayer 5”. This is followed by two more ‘appended’ prayers which you DO include.

    1. No, you are not confused. It is I who am even more confused than I realized. Yes, those appended prayers are missing. How did I do that? I’ll correct my error. as soon as I get a chance, which unfortunately may not be today.

      Father Bill

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