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Persian king (centre) and courtiers (right) depicted in the conventional attitude of proskynesis
Persian king (centre) and courtiers (right) depicted in the conventional attitude of proskynesis
Different degrees of proskynesis, from a slight bow of the head to full prostration.
Different degrees of proskynesis, from a slight bow of the head to full prostration.
Moravian proskynesis in 1735.
Moravian proskynesis in 1735.

Proskynesis /ˌprɒskɪˈnsɪs/ or proscynesis /ˌprɒsɪˈnsɪs/, or proskinesis /ˌprɒskɪˈnsɪs/ (Greek προσκύνησις, proskýnēsis; Latin adoratio) an act of solemn expression of respect for the gods and people; among the Persian, it was that a man prostrated himself and kissed the earth, kissed the arms or legs of a respected person. Proskynesis (adoratio) was one of the religious rites of the Greeks and Romans.[1]

In the Byzantine ceremonial it is a common gesture of supplication or reverence. The physical act ranged from full prostration to a genuflection, a bow, or a simple greeting and concretized the relative positions of performer and beneficiary within a hierarchical order (taxis).[2]


The Greek word προσκύνησις is derived from the verb προσκυνέω, proskyneo, itself formed from the compound words πρός, pros (towards) and κυνέω, kyneo ([I] kiss).[3] It describes an attitude of humbling, submission, or worship adoration – particularly towards a sovereign ruler, God or the gods.[citation needed]


According to Herodotus in his Histories, a person of equal rank received a kiss on the lips, someone of a slightly lower rank gave a kiss on the cheek, and someone of a very inferior social standing had to completely bow down to the other person before them.[4] To the Greeks, giving proskynesis to a mortal seemed to be a barbaric and ludicrous practice.


This may have led some Greeks to believe that the Persians worshipped their king as a god, the only Persian that received proskynesis from everyone, and other misinterpretations caused cultural conflicts. Alexander the Great proposed this practice during his lifetime, in adapting to the customs of the Persian cities he conquered, but it failed to find acceptance amongst his Greek companions (an example can be found in the court historian, Callisthenes) - and in the end, he did not insist on the practice. Most of his men could cope with Alexander’s interest for having a Persian wardrobe, but honouring the king as if he was a god by performing proskynesis went a bit too far.[5] According to Arrian, Callisthenes explains the existence of separated ways of honouring a god or a human and that prostration is a way to explicitly honour gods. It is seen as a threat to the Greeks, ‘who are men most devoted to freedom’. According to Callisthenes, prostration is a foreign and degrading fashion.[5]

The emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) is usually thought to have introduced the practice to the Roman Empire, forming a break with the Republican institutions of the principate, which preserved the form, if not the intent, of republican government. However, there is some evidence that an informal form of proskynesis was already practiced at the court of Septimius Severus.[6] The political reason for this change was to elevate the role of the emperor from "first citizen" to an otherworldly ruler, remote from his subjects, thus reducing the likelihood of successful revolt, which had plagued the Empire during the preceding 50 years.

Certain forms of proskynesis, such as those which entailed kissing the emperor’s breast, hands, or feet, were reserved to specific categories of officials. Audience granted to native or foreign delegations included multiple series of proskynesis at points marked by porphyry disks (omphalia) set in the floor. Until the 10th century, at least, imperial ceremonial avoided proskynesis on Sundays out of reverence for the divinity. As a for of loyalty display, proskynesis had strong political overtones; it recurs in imperial iconography and its importance in imperial ceremonial could sometimes raise delicate diplomatic dilemmas when foreign potentates were involved.[7]

Similarly, the emperor was hailed no longer as "Imp(erator)" on coins, which meant "commander in chief" but as "D(ominus) N(oster)" - "Our Lord." With the conversion of Constantine I to Christianity, proskynesis became part of an elaborate ritual, whereby the emperor became God's vice-regent on earth.[8][full citation needed] Titular inflation also affected the other principal offices of the Empire. Justinian I and Theodora both insisted on an extreme form of proskynesis, even from members of the Roman Senate,[9] and they were attacked for it by Procopius in his Secret History.[10]

In Christianity

The verb προσκυνέω (proskyneo) is often used in the Septuagint and New Testament for worship pagan gods or for worship the God of Israel. In addition, this word for in some cases used to worship angels.[11]

The question of the admissibility of proskynesis in relation to icons (bowing and kissing to icons) was raised in the 8th century, during the period of iconoclasm. Opponents of proskynesis in relation to the icons referred to the second commandment of the Law of Moses. It specifically states the following:

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down (προσκυνήσεις) to them nor serve (λατρεύσῃς) them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God."[12][13]

One of the defenders of proskynesis in relation to the icons was John of Damascus. He wrote "Three Treatises on the Divine Images" in defense of the icons, in which he described several kinds of proskynesis. The first kind is the proskynesis of latreia (λατρεία), which people give to God, who alone is adorable by nature. John believed that only the first kind of proskynesis associated with latreia was forbidden by God. Other kinds of proskynesis: proskynesis performed in relation to saints and proskynesis performed in relation to images of saints (icons) are permitted by God.[14]

«Greetings and respected proskynesis» (Greek: «ἀσπασμόν καί τιμητικήν προσκύνησιν»; Latin: «osculum et honorariam adorationem») for icons was established by the Second Council of Nicaea (Seventh Ecumenical Council) in 787.[15]

Different authors translate the Greek word "προσκύνησις" from Christian texts into English differently: adoration[16], worship[17][18], veneration[19], bow, reverence.[20]

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Lübker 1860, p. 10.
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium : in 3 vol. / ed. by Dr. Alexander Kazhdan. — N. Y. ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1991. — 2232 p. — ISBN 0-19-504652-8. — Third volume, P. 1738
  3. ^ πρός,κυνέω,προσκυνέω,προσκύνησις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  4. ^ Herodotus. Histories. pp. I.134.
  5. ^ a b Alexander III and proskynesis: an affair
  6. ^ Frank Kolb, Herrscherideologie in der Spätantike. Archived 2011-06-05 at the Wayback Machine Review by Chris Epplett, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2002.07.02.
  7. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium : in 3 vol. / ed. by Dr. Alexander Kazhdan. — N. Y. ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1991. — 2232 p. — ISBN 0-19-504652-8. — T. 3, P. 1738
  8. ^ John Julius Norwich
  9. ^ Mitchell, Stephen. (2007) A History of the later Roman Empire AD 284-641: The Transformation of the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 228. ISBN 9781405108560
  10. ^ Procopius, Secret History 30, 21-30.
  11. ^ Lozano, Ray M. (2019). The Proskynesis of Jesus in the New Testament: A Study on the Significance of Jesus as an Object of "Proskuneo " in the New Testament Writings. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 21. ISBN 0-567-68814-3.
  12. ^ "Исх.20". (in Russian). Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  13. ^ Interlinear Greek English Septuagint Old Testament (LXX). Internet Archive. 2014.
  14. ^ PG 94. / col. 1237, ϛ; col. 1245, ιϛ
  15. ^ Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio. Tomus 13 col. 378
  16. ^ Allies, Mary (1898). St. John Damascene on holy images. London: Thomas Baker. p. 104.
  17. ^ „The Nicene Council nullified the decrees of the iconoclastic Synod of Constantinople, and solemnly sanctioned a limited worship (proskynesis) of images.” – Philip Schaff. «History of the christian church» / Volume III / FOURTH PERIOD: THE CHURCH AMONG THE BARBARIANS. From Gregory I. To Gregory VII. A. D. 590 – 1049 (1073). / CHAPTER X. WORSHIP AND CEREMONIES. / § 102. The Restoration of Image-Worship by the Seventh Oecumenical Council, 787.
  18. ^ Mendham 1850, p. 440.
  19. ^ Ware, Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) (1993). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books. p. 257. ISBN 0-14-014656-3.
  20. ^ «The Seven ecumenical councils of the undivided church : their canons and dogmatic decrees, together with the canons of all the local synods which have received ecumenical acceptance» / by Percival, Henry R, / 1900 / p. 550


External links

This page was last edited on 26 June 2020, at 21:21
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