Prostration Prayers (Sagda)

Hidden Treasures | Resurrection Series

In today’s episode of Hidden Treasures, we take a look at the Prostration Prayers (Sagda) which is prayed following the liturgy of the Feast of Pentecost. Feel free to read below this video to learn more. We hope you enjoy it and we’re praying for you all! Read more

Background & Introduction to the Prayers

It is the custom of the church to pray the Prostration (Sagda) prayers during the ninth hour of Pentecost Sunday even though the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on the third hour (Acts 2:15). The Church has arranged to pray the Prostration prayers at the ninth hour to point to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Passover, who breathed His last at this same time (Mt 27:50).

The Church fathers arranged these prayers into three parts based on the Holy Trinity. The first and second prostration prayers take in the nave of the church (where the congregation stands). The third prostration prayer is prayed in the first chorus section – close to the altar where the deacons stand. This third prayer is moved closer to the altar because when the believers use the Trisagion, they resemble the heavenly saying “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).

This manner of prayers is biblically based. When Jacob sought his brother Esau’s mercy as he was coming back from his uncle Laban, he prepared great gifts of goats, rams, camels and donkeys, and arranged his people into three groups to get the acceptance of Esau. “And he commanded the first one, saying, ‘When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going? Whose are these in front of you?’ “then you shall say, ‘They are your servant Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord Esau; and behold, he also is behind us.” So he commanded the second, the third, and all who followed the droves, saying, “In this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; “and also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present went on over before him, but he himself lodged that night in the camp” (Gen 32:17-21).

Thus, the Church has followed the path of Jacob in the repeated offerings of many prayers, litanies, and incense on behalf of her children; asking for His goodness and mercy in order to find favor before God.

There is a story from the early church regarding these prayers, during the time of Pope Makarious the Syrian. While the congregation prayed the prayer of prostration outdoors in the early Church, they were standing and a strong wind blew, causing the worshippers to bow down.  Then when the wind passed, they stood back up and continued praying.  Then the wind came again, causing them to bow down again.  This took place 3 times, coinciding with the 3 Prostration Prayers.

The Significance of Prostrations (Metanoias)

The aim of prostrations is either to offer thanks to the Lord for His great mercies, or for His help in a certain matter. These are known as thanksgiving prostrations.

Also, a person may devote some prostrations to those who have asked for prayers. He or she may be motivated to offer worship for them, through love for them, and because of awareness of their needs. One may also devote some prostrations to the Lord for the Church and its fathers, or for the safety of the world and its leaders, and so on.

There are also repentance prostrations. Among these, there are two types:

  • Offering prostrations to God, asking Him to have mercy on us, to give us the life of repentance and to forgive us our sins. These prostrations may be given as a task from our father of confession for the repentance of a certain sin, either for practice or as a corrective measure.
  • They can be offered as a showing humility and asking forgiveness from each other. Imagine approaching someone you had a fight within this spirit, how could there be anywhere to go but peace? As it is written in the Bible, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day and seven times a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). This is also the reason why our Fathers the Priests prostrate to the congregation in the liturgy.

There are also two types of prostrations of honor – Metanoias offered to the martyrs and saints, and those offered to the fathers of the church.

Metanoias offered before the bodies of the martyrs and saints to honor their bodies because they endured devotion, hunger, thirst, tears and suffering on account of their great love for our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through this they became a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We honor them according to the promise of our Lord, Who said, “For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who despise Me, shall be lightly esteemed” (1Sam.2:30).

With such prostrations we also honor God, who worked in them and led them to the shores of eternal peace.

By honoring the saints, we also ask for their prayers and intercessions, as they reflect the Light of Christ. As the saints are a mirror image of the Light of Christ, this Light is then transmitted to us. Power and blessing, working in favor of our salvation and spiritual well-being. In heaven, the saints fulfill the Lord’s will by caring and supplicating for us. Here on earth, we too fulfill God’s will by honoring their commemorations and glorifying their relics and icons. We also ask them to envelope us with their love and prayers of intercession. There are no barriers between heaven and earth, but instead, a strong communication between us and the saints, based on supplication and prayers.

Scriptural origins and Purpose of the rite of the Prostration Prayer

In the Old Testament, God had commanded His people to celebrate the Passover annually at sunset, the same time they had left Egypt (Deut 16:6). Also, fifty days after the Passover, on the feast of Pentecost, God gave Moses the Law.

Raising of Incense refers to what happened on the feast of Pentecost in the OT (Ex. 19:16-18) and it parallels what happened in the NT on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4.

Exodus 19:16-18 

16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thundering and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.

Acts 2:1-4 – Coming of the Holy Spirit 

 1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad. Let all the tribes of the orthodox believers rejoice.

For Christ the only-begotten God, ascended into the heavens.

Origin in our church

There was a religious tourist in the 4th century whose name was Egeria.  She went to Jerusalem and she attended the celebration of Pentecost in Jerusalem.  She documented how they celebrated the Feast of Pentecost – from which our Church put together the rites of our celebration.  After the Liturgy, the believers used to visit 3 places, and worship God in those 3 places. This was done as a sign of appreciation and Thanksgiving to God for fulfilling His Promise to us, through the Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and sending to us the Paraclete.  The 3 locations were as follows:

  1. They first visited Golgotha and the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, celebrating and worshipping God for the Crucifixion and Life-giving death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. Then they traveled to the mount of Olives where our Lord ascended to heaven, worshipping in gratefulness and appreciation for our redemption.
  3. Finally, they went to the upper room where the Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples, in Thanksgiving to God for sending us the Paraclete, and dwelling in us eternally.

That’s why the first Gospel of the first Prostration Prayer is from John 17, which is the passage of Our Lord’s prayer immediately before His Crucifixion.  It’s as if we are revisiting the events of Holy Week, but with a joyful tune.

The Gospel of the second Prostration Prayer is from Luke 24, which speaks about our Lord’s Ascension to Heaven. In the past, the Church used to fast from Ascension to Pentecost. 

The third Prostration Prayer is when we move to the first Chorus of the Church, which symbolizes the upper room, where the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples; it resembles God’s presence with us.  We move from the back of the Church to the front, to remind us of the first Church of the New Testament – the upper room. The Gospel of the third Prostration Prayer is from John 4, which is the conversation with the Samaritan Woman, where our Lord teaches us about the Living Water, and worshipping God in Spirit and Truth.

We see how in this Rite, the Church imitated what the believers used to practice in Jerusalem in the 4th century, by offering thanksgiving to God for fulfilling His Promise and sending us the Holy Spirit.

The Order and Rites of the Prostration Prayer

The holy fathers – the teachers of the Orthodox Church – have established the Book of Prostrations with the rites of the three Prostrations on the Day of Pentecost.

The first prayer (in the festive tune) and the second prayer (in the festive tune until the Gospel Response where we switch to the annual tune) are prayed in the second chorus, where the Pascha is prayed. The third Prostration is prayed in the first chorus in the annual tune and the curtain is opened – as in Vespers Prayers. The congregation attends the Church at the ninth hour (3:00 PM) and prays the Sixth, Ninth, Eleventh and twelfth hours from the Agpeya. We start with the Agpeya, because only the 3rd hour prayer is prayed during Liturgy.  Then we chant Psalm 116, with its known tune and pray the Fourth Hoos, and complete the rest of the praise as shown below:

The Order of the First Prostration (Prayed in Festive Tune in the Second Chorus)

  1. Praises:
    1. Ni-ethnos teroo (Psalm 116) and the Fourth Hoos.
    2. Special Psali Adam for Sagda.
    3. The Sunday Psali (Aikoti – I sought after You) and Leepon.
    4. The Full Sunday Theotokia.
    5. Conclusion of Theotokias.
  2. The Priest starts as usual with the Thanksgiving Prayer.
  3. Then the Verses of the Cymbals (Pentecost rite-festive) are chanted.
  4. Psalm 50 (51).
  5. The Prophecy (Deuteronomy 5: 23-33, 6: 1-3).
  6. Ten-osht and the Pauline Epistle (1 Corinthians 12:28-31, 13:1-12).
  7. The Trisagion, the Litany of the Gospel and the Gospel are prayed.
  8. Adam Exposition is said and the Gospel response.
  9. The Litanies of the Sick, the Travelers, the Waters; Plants; Fruits, and the Place are prayed.
  10. The people bow down and the Priest prays the First Prostration Litany.

The Order of the Second Prostration (prayed in the Festive tune then switches to the annual tune at the Gospel response. Prayed in the second chorus)

The Second Prostration starts the same way, without the agpeya prayers. Putting one handful of incense in the censer, the priest asks for the repose of those who departed.

  1. The Priest starts as usual with the Thanksgiving Prayer.
  2. The Verses of the Cymbals (Adam)
  3. Psalm 50 (51).
  4. The Prophecy (Deuteronomy 6: 17-25).
  5. Ten-osht and the Pauline Epistle (1 Corinthians 13:13, 14:1-17).
  6. The Trisagion, the Litany of the Gospel and the Gospel
  7. Watos Exposition is said and the Gospel response.
  8. The Litanies of the Leader (King), the Departed, the Oblations, and the Catechumens are prayed.
  9. Everyone prostrates and the priest prays inaudibly asking for the Holy Spirit to descend.

The Order of the Third Prostration (Prayed in Annual Tune in the First Chorus)

  1. The Priest starts as usual with the Thanksgiving Prayer.
  2. The Verses of the Cymbals (Watos) are said.
  3. Psalm 50 (51).
  4. The Prophecy (Deuteronomy 16: 1-18).
  5. Ten-osht and the Pauline Epistle (1 Corinthians 14:18-40 ).
  6. The Hymn of the Holy Spirit is chanted (Pi-epnevma)
  7. The Trisagion, the Litany of the Gospel and the Gospel
  8. Watos Exposition is said and the Gospel response
  9. The Litanies of the Peace, the Fathers, and of those who asked us
  10. Graciously O Lord and the Trisagion
  11. The introduction to the doxologies and the doxologies are chanted.
  12. The introduction to the Creed, the Creed, and Efnouti Nai Nan
  13. The people bow down and the Priest prays the Third Sagda Litany.
  14. “Our Father…” and the three absolutions are prayed.

The Concluding Canon is chanted, and the priest dismisses the people in peace


Below is an excerpt from the second Prostration Prayer:

“I ask you to open my lips, I the sinner.  Teach me how to supplicate to You for all our needs because You alone know the multitude of my sins.  But Your lovingkindness overcomes my unawareness.  For behold I stand in fear before the multitude of Your mercies and cast myself beneath them… Send the Spirit of Your wisdom upon my thoughts and give my ignorance understanding from Your Holy Spirit.  May your fearful Spirit overshadow my works.  May you renew Your upright Spirit within me.  May your mighty Spirit straighten my thoughts and prevent them from perversion.  May Your Good Spirit direct me to the right path that I may be worthy to do Your commandments and remember at all times Your coming to judge everyone according to their deeds…”

Sources and where to go to learn more:

  1. Cover page picture courtesy of
  2. HG Bishop Youssef.
  4. Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 769, 770. Translated from Arabic by Bishoy K. R. Dawood, edited by John Sedrak and Mariam Wanis. Retrieved from:
  5. Nadian, Fr. Jacob. The Book of Prostration.  Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church of Toronto. 2014.
  6. “An Hour on the Air: The Rites and Meaning of the Apostle’s Fast”. His Grace Bishop Benyamin. Uploaded on June 4, 2012. Retrieved from:
  7. HG Bishop Youssef. Vespers Homily June 18, 2016. Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church, La Vernge TN. Retrieved from:
  8. Fraser, Michael. Egeria and the Fourth Century Liturgy of Jerusalem. University of Durham Department of Theology, June 1994.  English Translation based on the text found in Louis Duschesme’s Christian Worship (London, 1923). Retrieved from: