Bows and Prostrations
When people are moved in other Christian traditions, they might sing, “Halleluiah,” or shout “Amen,” or drop to their knees in worship, or raise their hands in praise. In the same way, we use movement to express our praise, submission, and awe of God so that our bodies, minds, and souls are acting in unison. We call these physical acts of prayer reverences or prostrations.

There are certain times in our prayers that express submission, so it is customary to make a reverence at those points. (Some groups hold to the traditions of the when and how of reverences much more strictly than others.) There are other times when an individual feels moved and makes a reverence out of personal devotion, uniting himself more closely to a petition or prayer.
It is our custom to make a reverence at the beginning and the end of our services and also when the Trinity is invoked, making the Sign of the Cross and bowing from the waist. Outside of the divine services, we generally make a reverence when we begin a prayer, when entering and leaving a church, and when venerating icons and other sacred objects.
There are three main types of reverences: bowing from the waist, touching our heads to the ground, and prostrating ourselves on our stomachs. There are three other variations of these that might also be encountered, so we’ll cover all six.
1. Head-Only Bow. There are times in our service when the deacon says, “Bow your heads to the Lord.” We also stand with our heads bowed in this position during the reading of the Gospels and you might see some people doing this when the name of Jesus is mentioned. This type of bow does not have its own assigned usage so there aren’t customs about making the Sign of the Cross with a head-only bow, but it can be used instead of a belt-low bow in some situations, such as when one cannot make a lower bow since there are too many people in the church, or due to back problems.
2. Belt-Low Bow. This bow from the waist can also be called an ordinary bow since it’s the most widespread type of bow. It is a custom that we don’t “break the cross” by making the Sign of the Cross while we bow. Instead, we attentively make the Sign of the Cross first then we bow. Some traditions swap the order, bowing first then making the Sign of the Cross upon rising.
3. Belt-low Bow with Touching Earth by a Hand. This type of a bow could be treated in two ways: sometimes it’s only the very thoroughly done belt-low bow. Sometimes, on the other hand, it’s a lightened version of an earth-low bow. It is usually done where one only touches the earth with one’s right hand (usually the back side of the hand) and then one makes the Sign of the Cross upon rising.
4. Metania. This is a lightened version of an earth-low bow that is used in some places. The word metania can also be more generically used to mean any prostration, reverence, or bow.
5. Full Earth-Low Bow (zemnoy poklon). This is a special type of bow seen most frequently during Lenten services of the Presanctified Gifts.
6. Full Prostration. This is used only during the service of imposition of holy orders.