GENUFLECTION, the act of kneeling in prayer as a sign of reverence and veneration. It was a common practice in the Old Testament (Ex. 12:27; 1 Sm. 1:19; I Kgs. 18:39; 1 Chr. 19:20). Likewise, in the New Testament we learn that Jesus knelt down and prayed at the Mount of Olives (Mt. 26:35; Lk. 22:41). The Acts of the Apostles relates various instances of kneeling in worship (Acts 9:40; 22:36; 21:5).
The following postures of genuflection are observed in worship: (1) standing upright with the head and back bent slightly forward, when the deacon says, "Bow your heads before the Lord" and the priest says the prayers of inclination and of absolution; (2) kneeling on both knees, during the morning service of the liturgy in the great
fast of Lent and the fast of Jonah, and at the end of the prayers of the canonical hours during Holy Week. The service of genuflection on Whitsunday consists of three sections each including a solemn prayer during which the whole congregation kneels; and (3) kneeling with the head touching the floor, during the prayer of the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the deacon says, "Worship God in awe and trembling."
In the Institutes of John CASSIAN (c. 360-435), in which he describes "the canonical system of the nocturnal prayers and psalms, observed by the servants of God throughout the whole of Egypt," he pays special tribute to the distinctive custom of the desert monks in practicing genuflection: "". . . before they bend their knees they pray
for a few moments, and while they are standing up spend the greater part of the time in prayer. And so, after this, for the briefest space of time, they prostrate themselves to the ground, as if but adoring the divine mercy, and as soon as possible rise up, and again standing erect with outspread hands—just as they had been standing to pray before—remain with thoughts intent upon their prayers." Some early fathers attached special symbolical significance to the act of genuflection in its relationship to man's fall prior to his redemption. Thus Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-200) states, "Since it behooved us always to remember both our own fall into sins and the grace of our Christ through which we have arisen from the fall, therefore our kneeling on the six days is a sign of our fall into sins, but our not kneeling on the Lord's Day is a sign of the rising again, through which, by the grace of Christ, we have been delivered from our sins and from death."
John Cassian refers to this tradition as observed by the Egyptian monks, "This, too, we ought to know, that from the evening of Saturday which precedes the Sunday, up to the following evening, among the Egyptians they never kneel, nor from Easter to Whitsuntide."
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