NOT TO PAINT KNEELING FIGURES
by Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky
Thus, in the Gospel according to Luke, we read, "...and Himself went away from them about a stone's throw and, bending the knee, prayed, saying..." (22:41), and in Matthew's Gospel, the same event is stated thus: "...and going away a little, He fell upon His face on the ground and prayed saying..." (26:39).
In those instances where mention is made of kneeling, in the western, Latin manner, the Gospel uses a different expression: "...and they stood on their knees...and mocked Him" (Mt.27:29), or: "...they kept kneeling in homage to Him" (Mk.15:19). Let us note, incidentally, that the Old Beliervers, in censuring the contemporary custom of standing on the knees, always cite this offensive similarity to the Roman soldier who had mocked the Saviour.
Bowing the head in repeated reverences from the waist, or the complete prostration of the body with the head on the floor, expresses in itself precisely such a disposition in one who is praying and yielding himself, as one who is culpable, wholly into obedience under the authority of God
The Western religious consciousness, on the contrary, does not separate itself from its inherent juridical tint, and has the character of a concordat with God, as is denoted in the Latin word "religion", i.e., bond. There the worshippers do not like to lower their heads to the ground, but willingly stand on the knees (kneel) as if lessening their stature before the mentally present Divinity: confessing Him to be pre-eminent before themselves, recognizing their weakeness (in a physical sense) in comparison with Him, but with the preservation of personal ambition. In connection with a similar character of religious self-consciousness, the West evolved understandings, quite absurd from a truly Christian point of view, such as: noble pride, noble self-love. Our Holy Fathers spoke only about demon pride.
Though brief, this historical and psychological summary, will explain why, on ikons (or pictures) from Scriptural or Church history, one must never portray a kneeling figure.