Standing During Liturgy Could Lead To Better Worship


Orthodox Worship -- "We did know whether we were in heaven or on earth."  Source
“We did know whether we were in heaven or on earth.”   Source











Traditionally Christians stood to worship God.  This has been the historic practice of the Christian Church.  This began to change during the 1200s when backless stone benches appeared in English churches.  Then in the 1300s and 1400s they were replaced with wooden benches.

Churches were not commonly furnished with permanent pews prior to the Protestant Reformation.  With the rise of the sermon as the high point of the Sunday morning worship pews became a standard part of Protestant architecture.  What many Protestants and Evangelicals are not aware of is the fact that there was a time when pews were rented out to families, and that some church pews became inheritable family property!  That is how the Free Methodist church got their name.  In addition to being opposed to slavery, they were also in favor of free pews!

Another interesting fact to consider is that churches that claim to hew to the regulative principle of worship, e.g., Reformed churches, have pews in their sanctuaries despite the fact that there is no biblical warrant for pews in places of worship!

Pews are more than trivial adiaphora, they shape our worship significantly. Pews bolted to the floor in neat rows create a lecture hall atmosphere where the lecture is the principle activity.  The practice of having pulpits, often two pulpits, underscored the importance of the teaching aspects of worship.  Protestant worship is very concerned with facilitating information transfer and cognitive teaching.  One has to wonder if any of these churches ever attempted to go back to the more historic style of worship where people stood in the Liturgy.

Protestant worship is quite different from historic Christian worship where the Liturgy of the Word (the Scripture reading followed by the homily) was preparatory to the Eucharist.  In the Orthodox Church the priest reads the Gospel, not from the pulpit on the side, but at the entrance to the Altar area.  This symbolizes the New Law (Gospel) going forth from Mount Zion in the last days to all nations (Isaiah 2:2-5)  Following that, in the Eucharist the Christian goes up to commune with Christ, to receive His Body and His Blood “for the remission of sins and everlasting life.”

Converts to Orthodoxy often find themselves adjusting to a “new” style of worship, standing throughout the entire Liturgy.  This “new” style is actually the worship style of the ancient Church.  Some Orthodox jurisdictions allow for pews, while others prefer the more traditional practice of no pews with exceptions made for the infirm and elderly. When I first started attending the Orthodox Church on a regular basis I found that standing in the Liturgy made a lot of sense.  Standing for extended periods of time facilitated a state of attentiveness and inner stillness.  I also learned how to deal with the discomfort of standing for extended periods.

As a former Protestant I know that Protestants do not sit throughout the entire worship service.  Instead, there is a constant shifting from sitting to standing back to sitting.  This is not bad, but I found that it gave the worship service a certain kinetic quality.  I noticed this kinetic quality in both ‘traditional’ Protestant services and contemporary praise services.  Orthodox worship, on the other hand, inculcates an inner stillness that allows one to reflect on the words being sung or chanted.  This inner stillness also allows for the Holy Spirit to speak to my heart.

So when I read how recent article “Standing During Meetings Could Lead To Better Work” about how secular research found that standing during meetings can boost attentiveness and group productivity, I was reminded of the similar benefits of standing during the Divine Liturgy.  This makes sense in light of the fact that the word “Liturgy” comes from the Greek “leitourgeia” which means “work of the people.”

"Standing During Meetings Could Lead To Better Work " Source
“Standing During Meetings Could Lead To Better Work ” Source


Will there be pews in heaven?  Consider the passage from Revelation 7:9:

After this I looked and there before me was
a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language,
standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (NIV)


  1. A while ago, a doctor told me that standing up for long periods of time improves cholesterol levels and insulin levels. Maybe that’s why monastics often live long and healthy lives.

  2. ***Another interesting fact to consider is that churches that claim to hew to the regulative principle of worship, e.g., Reformed churches, have pews in their sanctuaries despite the fact that there is no biblical warrant for pews in places of worship!***

    There is the distinction between elements of worship and circumstances. The RPW doesn’t claim that the Bible is supposed to give us norms for circumstances. You might not like the distinction between elements and circumstances and might think it flawed, and that is your prerogative, but at least be aware of it.

  3. Bayou-Jacob is right. The reformed Regulative Principle does include
    a distinction between the Elements (essentials) of worship, and inci-
    dentals…like time of day. But Calvin was very meticulous about
    allowing little liberty to he young trained Pastors trained to go back to
    France or elsewhere. They were to follow his instruction (Tradition)
    without variation.

    This begs some questions, like what is essential and what is incidental
    — and who gets to decide? It human bodily posture incidental? (Is your
    body important…or only your brain?) Why did Holy Tradition, inherited
    from the Apostles (who were likely as careful to remember and be taught
    by the promised Holy Spirit as Calvin) make standing normative. Why
    were the Sacraments the center focus of the worship rather than the Sermon
    …that pews were introduced to accommodate? Remember, the Apostle were
    not neutral about their Tradition in Holy Scripture. They told their disciples
    (future Bishops of the early Church) to “Keep the Tradition” you have been

    It is natural for Protestantism to minimize and or ignore Holy Tradition
    and even Scripture when it is contrary to their own newly invented Trad-
    ition. But the serious inquirer should naturally wonder why the new
    Protestant Traditions…some a hodge-podge of older Traditions pieced to-
    gether, and others invented as recent as a few weeks or months ago —
    should be allowed to trump centuries of a Holy Tradition received with
    reverence from antiquity tracing back to the Apostles themselves.

    So the question is not “what’s in your wallet”…but: “Whose Tradition is most plausible and credible for you to be following? Why?

    1. I’m not saying the distinction is perfect, but an answer does hint itself. The concept of equity. Paul even acknowledged this in 1 Corinthians. A circumstance of worship is choosing whether to worship at 3 AM or 11 AM. Both could be pleasing to God, but equity–for most communities, anyway–facilitates the latter.

      And even some Scottish churches–especially during the Killing Times–worshiped standing up (since they were in the fields!). In fact, we can even see hints of a congregation sitting in 1 Corithians. When Paul admonishes their bad Eucharistic practices, he seems to suggest they are to be at something akin to a feast, which most people celebrate in a sitting or reclining position. In fact, if we are to go back to even the Institution of the Supper, all of the disciples–John anyway–were reclining.

      As to your latter two paragraphs, I simply dispute the assertion that your traditions today are the same ones that Paul mentioned in his letters.

  4. And “there is no biblical warrant” for air conditioning or central heat or running water or flush toilets or electric lights, etc. … etc.

    So I guess we should not have any of these in our churches either.

    1. Jim,

      It’s great to have you join the conversation. I think the running water and flush toilets have more to do with church architecture and are peripheral to our worship of God. The main issue here is our bodily posture during worship.


    2. I don’t think you understand the point of the article. Robert wasn’t endorsing the regulative principle (i. e., the Calvinist idea that nothing be permitted in worship unless it has “biblical warrant”), he was critiquing it, arguing that if the Calvinists were holding consistently to their own teachings they wouldn’t have pews.

      Incidentally, many old churches don’t really NEED air conditioning or central heating, because the way they are designed renders them essentially like caves (with a temperature that doesn’t fluctuate too much). Modern “green architects” who are trying to design more energy-efficient dwellings could learn a lot from that!

  5. I don’t believe it’s a sin or one will go to hell for sitting or standing during the worship. Therefore it shouldn’t matter and one should not be pressured or shamed to do one or the other. If one wants to really go back to how the early church worshiped, then we need to do away with worshiping in church buildings. The EARLY church met in houses, which I’m sure had some type of chairs.

    Sometimes, I feel, the Orthodox church seems to push tradition (little “t”) to the point of Doctrine, or present it in a way to make people feel they are sinning or jeopardizing their soul by not doing them.

    People can not focus on God and His worship if they are in pain. Most people have trouble standing for long periods of time. I do not believe it makes one a “better” Christian or their worship is more expectable just because they can endure more pain then some one else.

    In short, theres nothing wrong for churches to have “pews” in them. For those who want or need to sit, they can sit. For those who want to stand can stand. I don’t feel ANY should be judged by it.

    I am thankful the Orthodox church I attend now have pews. Although we stand during most of the service, it’s nice to have a place to sit for a min. when my feet and hips start to hurt. I get more out of the worship by being able to do this. I can stop the discomfort and focus of the Liturgy.

    Just my humble opinion. 🙂

    I love this web site! Keep up the good work!

    1. Please let me add. I am in no way implying the original article said “sitting during Liturgy was a sin”. I am just making a wide general observation on how I feel certain traditions are presented at times. My opinion is presented in love and respect and is just that, an opinion.

      1. Calvin,

        Thank you for your input. I agree that people can take things too far. And I agree with you that sitting down during the Liturgy is not a sin. But I would like to point out that our bodily posture does have an influence on our inner state. I think the best approach is to encourage people to stand during the Divine Liturgy but to make allowance for those not used to standing for long periods or are not able to do so, e.g., nursing mothers, ill, or elderly. There is the danger of becoming pharisaical in one’s attitude about pews looking down on those who prefer to sit. Then there is the opposite extreme as well. A young man who grew up in the Slavic tradition once visited an Orthodox church. The usher encouraged him to sit down but he told the usher: “Thank you. But I prefer to stand, you see, I’m a rather traditional Orthodox.” To which the usher responded, “Oh. You’re one of those!” I found the story funny but I was also reminded of the need for forbearance towards others.

        I would like to close noting that the Sunday Liturgy is Christ centered, not audience centered. We are gathered before Christ, the King of All (Pantocrator). It is expected that all will stand during certain parts of the Liturgy: during the Small Entrance when the priest carries out the Gospels, at the Gospel reading, during the Great Entrance when the priest carries out the bread and the wine that will be offered up in the Eucharist, and throughout Holy Communion. During these moments Christ is present among us in a very real way and we show him the proper respect by standing when he comes into our presence. Oftentimes after receiving Communion people will go back to their seats and sit down. An Orthodox priest I know had to correct the parishioners reminding them to remain standing until everyone had finished receiving the Eucharist and the priest had returned to the altar area. As I thought about it, it made sense because during Holy Communion it is Christ himself who feeds us. The Orthodox priest is an extension of Christ the Great High Priest. Knowing that I am in the presence of Christ the Pantocrator makes me all the more want to stand up during the Liturgy.


  6. Hey Calvin,

    Much of what you’ve said above, especially the spirit in which you say
    it, is easy to agree with. Of course not standing or sitting during the
    Divine Liturgy will not send anyone to hell. And even the most tra-
    ditional Orthodox Church have chairs or pews along the side for the
    elderly and those with health issues.

    Yet we must remind ourselves that Orthodox Tradition does not in
    any way spring from the mind of man or Zeus. It comes from either
    an adaption from prior Holy Spirit instructions for worship to the
    faithful of God’s people in the Old Covenant — OR from Holy Spirit
    instruction to the Apostles and Fathers after the sending of the Spirit
    to the Church. In Scripture we find what we do with out bodies and
    our bodily posture, especially in formal worship, is NOT a meaningless
    ‘comme ci, comme ça’ [italics] incidental. God had already told us that
    standing in His presence was important…and the Fathers picked up on
    it. This should be our attitude to all of worship and tradition…”there
    might be and likely IS a good reason we do things like this that I might
    not quiet like or fully understand just yet. But I defer to the Church and
    Father, and ask for a reason for it so I might understand better over time.”
    What I “get out of worship” might just be related to what I do and bring
    to worship, far more than I imagine! Hope this helps & hang in there.
    blessing to Brother,

  7. The problem with your argument is that there are ancient liturgical texts that refer to sitting. The Psalms, for example are called Kathism from to sit. The ancient Akathist Hymn means not sitting. If an ancient service of the Eastern Orthodox Church is called not sitting, that means that at times people sat. There are several places during the Divine Liturgy in which the Deacon instructs the people to stand up. If the people always stood, there would be no need for such instructions. Therefore from the evidence from our own liturgical texts is that people did sit during parts of the services.

  8. Justin Martyr described the weekly worship of Christians:

    “all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray,…”

    If they were already standing, how did they rise ? Is this a metaphor ? Were they kneeling when the the writings of the prophets were read ?

    Also, when they gathered on the first day of the week to break bread, Paul spoke for so long that Eutychus fell from a third story window, where he was sitting. So obviously some people sat while Paul preached or taught on the Lord’s Day.

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