On the night of Pentecost, Orthodox Christians observe an extraordinary service called the Kneeling Prayers or Kneeling Vespers. The service begins as the typical vespers, but three sets of long poetical prayers are added. The prayers were composed by Saint Basil the Great in the 4th century. As the priest prays the “kneeling prayers,” everyone kneels or makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor.
The significance of the Kneeling Prayers service is manifold:
- Orthodox Christians do not kneel for prayers from Pascha until Pentecost. Following the canon of the first Nicene council, we also don’t kneel on Sundays. So Vespers on the evening of Pentecost is the first time since Pascha that we kneel.
- These prayers are only read once each year in this service.
- These prayers signify a transition from the joy and celebration of the Resurrected Christ to the “normal” mode of discipleship with its ascetic struggle, repentance, and crucifying of the passions.
Since this service only takes place once a year, it isn’t easy to absorb these prayers’ beauty, gravity, and power. Therefore, I wanted to reflect on them further. I thought you might enjoy that as well. So I am posting the text of the Kneeling Prayers below.
Ideas for Using These Prayers
Here are a few ideas for using the Kneeling Prayers at home.
Of course, the obvious is to pray them. However, since they are quite long and rich, here are some other things you can do.
- Use one prayer each day in your devotion time.
- Read one prayer a day aloud with your family or others and discuss what impacts each person the most.
- Do a scripture study where you try to find Biblical passages that support each idea in each prayer.
First Kneeling Prayer
Second Kneeling Prayer
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who hast given Thy peace to men and, being present still in this life, dost ever grant the gift of the All-holy Spirit to the faithful, as an inheritance that cannot be taken away, Thou didst send down today in a manner most clear, this grace upon Thy holy disciples and apostles, and didst open their lips with tongues of fire. Through them every race of man hath received, through the hearing of the ear, the knowledge of God in our own languages. We have been enlightened by the light of the Spirit, and we have been freed from delusion as from darkness, and through the distribution of the perceptible tongues of fire and the wondrous operation of the same, we have been taught the faith that is in Thee, and we have been illumined so as to praise Thee with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in one Godhead and Power and Authority.
For Thou art the Brightness of the Father, the express Image, inalterable and immovable, of His essence and nature, the Fountain of wisdom and of grace. Open Thou also the lips of me, the sinner, and teach me how I ought and for what I must pray. For Thou knows the multitude of my sins, but Thy compassion shall overcome the enormity thereof. For lo, in fear I stand before Thee; into the sea of Thy mercy have I cast the desperation of my soul. Govern my life, Thou that governs all creation with Thy word and with the unutterable power of Thy wisdom, O tranquil Haven of the storm-tossed, and make known to me the way wherein I should walk. Grant to my reasoning the Spirit of Thy wisdom, and give the Spirit of understanding to my foolishness. Overshadow my deeds with the Spirit of Thy fear, and renew a right Spirit within me. And with Thy governing Spirit, establish my faltering mind that, being guided every day by Thy good Spirit toward what is useful, I may be vouchsafed to keep Thy commandments and always to remember Thy glorious coming-again, which shall search out our deeds. Despise me not, lest I be deceived by the corrupting pleasures of the world, but enable me to yearn for the enjoyment of the treasures of that to come. For Thou hast said, O Master, that whatsoever may be asked in Thy Name shall be freely received from Thy co-eternal God and Father.
I, the sinner, therefore, at the descent of Thy Holy Spirit, do supplicate Thy goodness: Do thou render unto me whatsoever I have asked unto salvation. Yea, O Lord, the good and abundant Giver of every benefit, for Thou art He that grants most abundantly that which we ask. Thou art He that sinlessly became the compassionate, merciful partaker of our flesh and, to those that bend their knees before Thee, dost Thou graciously bend down and become the propitiation of our sins. Grant then, O Lord, Thy compassions to Thy people. Hearken to us from Thy holy heaven. Sanctify them by the power of Thy saving right hand. Shelter them with the shelter of Thy wings. Despise not the works of Thy hands. Against Thee only do we sin, but Thee alone do we also adore. We know not how to worship a strange god, nor how to stretch forth our hands to any other god, O Master. Forgive us our offenses, and accept our prayers with the bending of our knees; extend to us all the hand of Thine aid, and receive the prayer of all as an acceptable incense, rising before Thy most-good kingdom.
O Lord, Lord, Who delivers us from every arrow that flies by day, deliver us also from everything that walks in darkness. Receive the lifting up of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Vouchsafe us also to pass without reproach the course of the night untempted of evil things, and redeem us from every disturbance and dread that cometh to us from the devil. Grant unto our souls contrition and unto our thoughts care concerning the trial of Thy fearful and righteous judgment. Nail our flesh to the fear of Thee, and mortify our earthly members, that, even in the quietness of sleep, we may be illumined by the contemplation of Thy judgments. Withdraw from us every unseemly fantasy and injurious desire. Raise us up at the time of prayer confirmed in the faith and progressing in thy commandments.