Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here
The world and your Catholic life, all in one place.
Subscribe to Aleteia's free newsletter!

Not Prepared to Donate?

Here are 5 ways you can still help Aleteia:

  1. Pray for our team and the success of our mission
  2. Talk about Aleteia in your parish
  3. Share Aleteia content with friends and family
  4. Turn off your ad blockers when you visit
  5. Subscribe to our free newsletter and read us daily
Thank you!
Team Aleteia

Subscribe

Aleteia

In what posture did the early Christians pray?

ORANS
Share

The answer is found in the ancient Roman catacombs.

When studying early Christian art and iconography, a common posture is found in various representations of Christians or even directly connected to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The figure being depicted often has his or her arms outstretched with palms facing upward.

Public Domain

Why is that? What are they doing?

The posture is often referred to as the orans position, which is Latin for “one who is praying.” This was a common way of praying in the ancient world, not reserved to Christianity. In fact, most pagans prayed in the same way and pagan deities were visually represented standing or sitting in the orans position.

Colin B. Donovan gives an excellent explanation of how this posture became associated with prayer.

Consider what we do when we plead with someone. We might put our arms out in front of us as if reaching for the person and say “I beg you, help me.” This seems to be a natural human gesture coming from deep within us — like kneeling to adore or to express sorrow. Now, turn that reach heavenwards and you have the orans position.

With the advent of Christianity, the orans position received additional symbolism, connecting it to the crucifixion. Therefore when Christians prayed, they were offering up their supplication to God, imitating Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross.

In addition to this posture of prayer, Christians also prayed while kneeling and laying down on the ground.

Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.
Aleteia offers you this space to comment on articles. This space should always reflect Aleteia values.
[See Comment Policy]
Readers like you contribute to Aleteia's Mission.

Since our inception in 2012, Aleteia’s readership has grown rapidly worldwide. Our team is committed to a mission of providing articles that enrich, inspire and inform a Catholic life. That's why we want our articles to be freely accessible to everyone, but we need your help to do that. Quality journalism has a cost (more than selling ads on Aleteia can cover). That's why readers like you make a major difference by donating as little as $3 a month.