I was recently interviewed by Tom Fox of the Catholic Vitamins website (www.catholicvitamins.com). He wanted to talk about icons and this came under the heading of O for Orans, You can hear the interview here.
I have to admit I had forgotten when doing the interview that the connection that had sparked off the interview was the orans prayer position – in which the person is standing with arms raised – because Tom associated it with icons that he had seen. As a result I was caught off guard at he end of the interview when he asked me about it and wasn’t able to say very much. I hope he will forgive me.
So, about two weeks too late, I will pass on a little bit more. This ancient prayer posture is indeed seen in icons – left is an icon I painted of St Victoria; and below of the Mother of God (not by me). One of the things that always strikes me when I go to Eastern Rite churches is the way that they pray standing and especially if addressing a saint, will face the icon with an open posture. Hands will often be down by their side. I remember now that when I asked my teacher Aidan about this he told me that they always pray standing because it emphasises that we are raised up to the divine – we ‘partake of the divine nature’ – and so enter into a personal relationship with the Father , through the Son, in the Spirit. This is the dynamic of the liturgy. this posture and that of the orans prayer position, which is similar, does emphasise the enhanced status of man. It makes him on the same level, in a manner of speaking, as God.
Western posture in prayer tends to emphasise as well humility and our absolute need for God through kneeling. We do pray standing as well. During the Mass, for example, the priest says, ‘let us pray’ and at that point the congregation stands for the prayers. Aidan told me that Orthodox Christians, unlike Roman Rite Catholics would not pray kneeling at all. There were no pews or kneelers in the Orthodox churches that I have attended.