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Why is swaying and lifting up our hands (HillSong Style) in the mass wrong? If I’m glorifying God then what is wrong with it! Is there a verse or a saying of the fathers that says other wise?
Requested by Andyyy and Answered by Stbishoy on 18-Aug-2005 07:09 (1752 reads)
There is nothing wrong in praising or glorifying God, and of course, different people will do so in their different ways, since God made us all different. We must be a little bit careful not to criticise the sincerely held beliefs of others.

The Bible does in fact mention the lifting of hands as a part of prayer. Moses lifted his hands (with the rod) in prayer to support the Israelites in battle (Exodus 17:10,11). St Paul described prayer with hands uplifted (1 Timothy 2:8), as does Psalm 134:2

The Coptic Church has a tradition of lifting the hands up during both private and public prayer. For example, in the priest's silent prayer in the Evening Raising of Incense (Vespers, or 'asheya) he prays: "may ... the raising of our hands [be as] an evening sacrifice, for You are the true evening sacrifice..."

This leads us to the reasons why this is a good posture for prayer:
1. It is symbolic of the hands of our Lord nailed to the Cross. Thus, it is a reminder to us of His sacrifice, and it encourages us to say with St Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ..." (Galatians 2:20)
2. It reminds us of our need and total dependence upon God, for we lift our hands like beggars lifting their hands to ask for aid in their poverty.
3. It reminds us to think of the things that are 'above'. Not that heaven is physically above us, but symbolically, the heavenly things are spiritually superior than the earthly.
4. We open to God ('above') the most sensitive part of the hand, the palm. This reminds us that our hearts are exposed to God, and that we can trust Him with our deepest thoughts and feelings - He will not hurt us.

As for swaying or moving the body as a part of prayer, we know that David 'danced' for joy at the return of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:14). Actually, my Bible has a little footnote to the word 'danced' giving the alternate translation, 'whirled about', but that's another matter. This was a spontaneous expression of his unbridled joy at the return of the holy Ark to Israel, and it was accepted by God as coming from a simple and loving heart. The handwaving that happens every service is no longer just a spontaneous reaction - it becomes a conscious and deliberate action.

In the Coptic Church, public prayer is considered to be a time to show respect and awe for the greatness of God in whose presence we are. The conscious and deliberate actions we perform as part of our prayers are designed to reflect this respect. You can see that the Coptic prayer of the body differs a bit from the high hand waving of protestant churches. Thus, all the postures usually adopted during the liturgy reflect this - standing rather than sitting; bowing; crossing the arms across the chest (like the tax collector at the back, praying with head bowed, "God, I am a sinner, forgive me") or raising hands in supplication. The swaying thing may not quite fit in so well with this general tone of respect and humility before God. Keep in mind that protestant churches do not have the sacraments. For them, God is never physically present in Communion, as He is in an Orthodox service.

That said, I see nothing wrong with sitting around a campfire and swaying as we sing hymns together - it's a lovely atmosphere, and quite in keeping with the mood of the situation. Also, we do of course have Coptic churches in Africa where an awful lot of swaying (I've never seen the hand waving, though) goes on during the liturgy. But this is their nature and their culture. Stopping an African from swaying when they talk is like tying an Egyptian's hands when they talk - they just can't express themselves! However, I do not believe that this is the case in our current Australian-Egyptian culture, and as such, I think it would be a mistake to try to introduce it. Far better to just leave people to pray without distraction.

A final note: I do not believe this issue is a terribly crucial one. You wouldn't be cast into hell if you swayed and waved your hands during the liturgy! I think it is more an issue of what atmosphere you want to create for this most holy of experiences. A Hillsong service is not far removed from a rock concert, so it kind of fits to sway and hand wave in the midst of all the loud noise, the cacophony of musical instruments and the screams and whoops of your fellow worshippers. A Coptic liturgy, on the other hand, is a time first for humble self-examination and repentance, then a time for experiencing the unbounded love and forgiveness of the Lord and Master of all Creation. Yes, there is joy: deep, deep joy. But perhaps for us, being in the physical presence of the true Body and Blood of Christ is too deep a joy to waste on something as flippant as handwaving?

[b]Fr Antonios[/b]