How to make a prostration
The approach of Great Lent is a good time to make sure that we know how to make a full prostration properly. On most Sundays we make the Sign of the Cross and touch the ground – this is known as a 'small prostration'. A full prostration involves lowering our whole body to the ground so that our head almost touches the floor as demonstrated in the video below:
We make full prostrations (both in church and in our private prayers) when the Prayer of Saint Ephraim is read during Great Lent; we also make them on the Sunday of the Cross (the Third Sunday of Great Lent).
Making a full prostration is not physically that hard, but often people make it more difficult than it needs to be. There is no need to 'take a knee' when making a prostration. Going down in two stages by kneeling on one knee followed by the other actually makes a prostration more difficult.
Those of us who wear long garments in church need to push our bottom up quickly when rising from the prostration to avoid standing on the back of our skirt or cassock. This action becomes automatic after a few hundred prostrations!
When venerating icons we always make the Sign of the Cross before the prostration. However, there are important instances when we make prostrations in church without making the Sign of the Cross. Basically, when we are being 'blessed' we do not make the Sign of the Cross but just prostrate. For example, when the Cross is brought out of the altar on the Sunday of the Cross, we don't make the Sign of the Cross but simply prostrate. Likewise, on weekday Liturgies when the chalice appears before Holy Communion we just prostrate without the Sign of the Cross.
We also make prostrations without the Sign of the Cross when we ask forgiveness. Next Sunday is the Sunday of Forgiveness and during the rite of the forgiveness in Vespers we just prostrate ourselves before our fellow Christians and ask their forgiveness without signing ourselves with the Cross. When a person prostrates to ask forgiveness they say 'Forgive me [Name]'; the other person then prostrates too and says 'Forgive me [Name]'.
This rite of forgiveness is very important for Orthodox families and should be performed all the year round and not just in Great Lent. We should make a full prostration to ask forgiveness of our parents, spouses or siblings whenever we have been disobedient or hurt them by our sinful actions.