In this fourth chapter of Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition, Father Gabriel (Bunge) continues by pointing out that, while standing was the characteristic prayer posture for the Fathers, they didn’t just stand there, but, at the same time, lifted up their hands to heaven. This position was so typical that the orantes position is seen in countless examples of Christian iconography. However, this position was not limited to Christianity and so one needs to look at the particular meaning the Christians gave it.

Whereas the pagan – and also the apostate – throws himself down to worship before an idol and lifts up his hands to this “strange god” in vain, since this mute object fashioned by his own hands is less capable of helping than any other man would be, the believer lifts up his hands only “in the name of God”, who “created heaven and earth” and is able to do everything that he wills. He does this also “in the night” when he “cries aloud to God” in his distress. He not only “lifts up” his hands; he “stretches them out”, when his “soul, like a parched land,” thirsts for the living water of God. And because God has communicated himself to man completely in his word, in his commandments, the one who prays stretches his hands out figuratively – imploring, yearning – toward these manifestations of the divine will also, “which he loves”. (150-151)

This biblical gesture, which was taken over by Christ and the apostles, expresses an intimate and personal relationship between the creature and the Creator. It also gives prayer a direction.

For the one praying lifts up his hands “to heaven” as the symbolic “place” of God, or else to the temple as the place of his presence among his people in the course of salvation history. Christians go even one step further by turning, not only toward heaven, but also toward the “orient”, as we have seen. (151)

This symbolism involved and intimate connection between body and soul.

It is often said nowadays that one must also “pray with the body”, and therefore much importance is ascribed to the corresponding “techniques”. What the Fathers meant, though, was something different. The body does not stand, as it were, on its own beside the soul. Rather, the two make up a perfect unity. The whole man prays, body and soul, whereby the body, so to speak, provides the soul with a medium through which it can make visible its “special condition” – in this case its striving for God, which is invisible in and of itself. And this is no insignificant thing, as we shall see, because this “embodiment” keeps the inner disposition from evaporating into something insubstantial. (152)

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