Christian Life Skills

The Four Bows

Give the first fruits of your day to the Lord


October 6/19 20th Holy Apostle Thomas, 20th Monday after Pentecost


A long time ago( probably 1980), Matushka Marina and Priest Seraphim in college. This picture is in his bible which he carried around everywhere at that time. Our custom to this day is to have a heart shaped cake on Valentine's day like this. i-love-you-with-the-love-of-my-lord.jpg

I did not know much about life skills back then, but I got one right at least!

At college, about 1980, on Valentine’s Day. This picture is still in my bible from back then.


Lets us be perfectly honest with one-another; we do not pray enough. There are many reasons for this, with of course the primary reason being that we do not love God enough and our passions interfere with everything holy.


Okay, we know the problem, what is the solution?


Another life skill which I will eventually write about can be summed up: “Do what you can do, so that eventually you will be able to do what you cannot do”. When applied to prayer, this means we must pray now, as much as we can, even though we do not pray very well, or consistently.


Let’s start with what we CAN DO. We can be more consistent. It takes some planning and effort, but it is “doable” to be more consistent in prayer.


This is where the “four bows” come in. I have taught these to just about everybody for years now (the originals article that has been one the web for years is here ( and they have had a profound effect on those who have listened. They are a “little thing”, but like so many “little things” they lead to big things.


If we are honest with ourselves, we should lament our inattention to God, our weak and inconstant prayer, our false priorities, and the time we waste on things that are not effectual for our salvation. We are weak creatures, driven by habit, and many of these habits are sinful and destructive. So many of our activities are thieves - they steal time from prayer.


There is a superb article, from an old "Nicodemus" publication (which later became "Orthodox America") which provided the seed for this instruction. In the article, a bishop was instructing a group of children. I will try to reproduce the gist of his words here.


Our hearts are like coal, which is cold, but may be lit with persistent effort. Coal lights very slowly, and much care must be taken to tend it, even when it is burning. Our prayer is like blowing on the coal, which gradually becomes warmer, and eventually a hot fire, but only after much persistence on our part. The key is persistence, and not to lose heart. Even a small effort is rewarded by God, if we are persistent.


The bishop then went on to instruct the children to do three bows in the morning, IMMEDIATELY after they got out of bed. I added one more bow to the list, and have told almost everyone in confession or another time about this rule.


This rule follows, and I beg all of you to follow it with all your strength.


The Four Bows


Upon arising in the morning, before anything else, direct your heart and mind towards God, and face your icons, or face east and with compunction, and without haste, make four bows[1], or better, four prostrations[2].


Do this with hope in God, and the sure belief that He will receive your prayer, as He received the widow's two mites, and protect you during the day, even if you fall into inattention and these prayers are the last you will say for the entire day.


Making the sign of the cross, with a bow of prostration during each prayer say:


1. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.

2. Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

3. Holy Saint ______ (your patron saint), pray to God for me.

4. Holy Angel of God, my guardian, pray to God for me.


After these prayers, it is best to continue with your morning prayers, and then turn your attentions to the cares of the day. Even if the weakness of the flesh compels us to abandon our prayer and rush into our day, perhaps not to return to our morning prayer, at least we have begun the by giving our "first fruits" to God.


Let us do these "few things": four short prayers that take under a minute, so that in time, our heart will become aflame with the love of God, and our Lord will say to us:


“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Mat 25:21)



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] A Bow, also known as a “reverence” or “Poklon” is when the sign of the cross is made, while simultaneously bowing the head by bending at the waist. Some bow deeply and touch the ground with their right hand, and other make very shallow bows. It really does not matter as long as the movement is done with attention.  (taken from the Prayer of St Ephrem, (


[2] A Prostration is a full bow to the ground with the knees touching the ground, and the head touching or near the ground, then immediately standing back up. As the bow to the ground is begun, the sign of the cross is made. Some people touch their knees to the ground first and then bend their upper body down, and the more athletic or coordinated essentially “fall” forward to the ground  with their knees and hands touching at essentially the same time. This is very similar to the familiar gym class “burpee”. (from the same source as note 1)


Something NOT TO DO: No “waving at the air”. Some do prostrations and bows quickly or carelessly, and the sign of the cross they make looks like they are shooing away a fly. “Let all things be done in good order”.



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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas