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I grew up being taught to pray with my hands this way:

Hands clapsed together

(hands clasped together)

Though I also often see Christians praying this way:

Folded hands, put together

(folded hands, put together)

What's the difference? When should we pray with either positions and does it even matter?

(hands clasped together)

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  • +1. Clasped hands has to be symbolic for the crucifixion of the flesh. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 3:53

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With prayer, what matters is the position of your heart rather than the position of your body, though historically many Christians have found that certain postures help them to enter into an attitude of humble submission before God. I've heard some people say that kneeling or bowing their head is helpful for them to guide their heart into prayer, but never the position of your hands.

Common core Christian teachings on prayer include:

  1. The person praying believes that God exists and rewards those who seek Him
  2. The person praying is praying to God in humble submission and not to show off or impress other people or twist God's arm into giving them what they want
  3. The person praying comes to God through Jesus Christ
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Should hands be folded or clasped together when praying? What's the difference and does it matter?

Nowadays, it is a personal preference. Many Christians will clasp their hands together; while others will put their hands together as such:

Praying Hands (Dürer)

Praying Hands

For Catholics, the above image is more a “liturgical gesture” and is often seen amongst altar servers and priests at mass. Even this is not an absolute norm anymore.

During Catholic liturgical ceremonies, the praying hands position is the most commonly seen tradition in liturgical usage. However, in private prayer is a totally different matter. I have never heard a single sermon of any denomination making a stance on one position or another.

A Czech altar server

A Czech altar server

Most commonly, we “fold” our hands during prayer. This term actually refers to two separate positions which are used fairly interchangeably. The position that interlaces the fingers suggests a more introspective posture, and possibly a more fervent frame of mind. When the palms are together and the fingers are straight, it suggests purity and evokes an act of homage. Indeed, an examination of medieval art will show this same gesture being used in an act of homage from a vassal to his lord. These can be used whether one is kneeling, sitting or standing. The organs pose, with arms outstretched and palms up, is a third gesture that really only works in the standing position.

Folding hands in prayer

With Folded Hands, An Introduction to Prayer Positions

If you want to know about ”thee” most “traditional and historical position” to pray in, then I believe that it is the orans posture.

Standing in itself is a very very ancient practice while praying. There are several biblical passages about singing in the Scriptures, but the physical position taken while singing is conspicuously missing. Seems God leaves that to us!

“Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

One commonly known position for praying dating back to antiquity is the Orans. Even in modern times Catholic priests sing the Our Father at Mass while in this standing position.

Orans, a loanword from Medieval Latin ōrāns translated as one who is praying or pleading, also orant or orante, is a posture or bodily attitude of prayer, usually standing, with the elbows close to the sides of the body and with the hands outstretched sideways, palms up. It was common in early Christianity and can frequently be seen in early Christian art. In modern times, the orans position is still preserved within parts of the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran liturgies, Pentecostal and charismatic worship, and the ascetical practices of some religious groups.

The orans posture was practiced by both pagans and Jews before it was adopted by the earliest Christians. Christians saw the position as representing the posture of Christ on the Cross; therefore, it was the favorite of early Christians. Until the ninth century, the posture was sometimes adopted by entire congregations while celebrating the Eucharist. By the twelfth century, however, the joining of hands began to replace the orans posture as the preferred position for prayer. It continued to be used at certain points in the liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In the Catholic Mass, it occurs at the orations, the Canon, and the Lord's Prayer.

In the twentieth century, the orans posture experienced a revival as a result of its widespread use within Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity. Often associated with contemporary worship, the orans posture is once again becoming a common gesture of worship among many Christian groups.

An early Christian painting of Noah in the gesture of orant

An early Christian painting of Noah in the gesture of orant.

Psalm 134 reinforces the orant position of praying while standing.

134 Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord.

2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.

3 The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion. - Psalm 134

Psalm 95:2 almost make it feel as if standing while we sing was most appropriate without actually saying it.

2 Let us come before him with a song of praise, joyfully sing out our psalms.

3 For the Lord is the great God, the great king over all gods,

4 Whose hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. - Psalm 92: 5

The orans posture is an ancient “prayer” posture. It is somewhat described, in an incident where Moses, prayed with arms outstretched, for the Israelites to defeat their enemies. His hands got so tired that his attendants had to hold his arms up. Because every time his arms drooped, the Israelites would begin to lose the battle. They eventually won.

Jesus died in the “orans” position on the Cross.

Moses was praying in the orans posture, centuries before Jesus and is considered a “foreshadowing” of Jesus’ posture on the Cross.

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    Orans originates with the battle against the Amalekites. Whenever Moses holds his arms in the orans position, the Hebrews have the advantage in the battle. Great answer!
    – jaredad7
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 15:20

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