AD ORIENTEM: Liturgy

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It has always been the practice for priest, servers, and congregation to face Liturgical East for the worship service.

Why the insistence on an Eastward-facing position for both priest and congregation? From early on, Christians adopted the Jewish practice of praying toward Eden, in the East (Gen. 2:8), the direction from which Ezekiel saw come “the glory of the God of Israel” (Ezek 43:2,4), the direction in which Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives and wherefrom He will return (Acts 1:11), and the direction whence the Angel of the Lord will come in the end time (Rev. 7:2). Tertullian informs us that Christian churches are “always” oriented “toward the light.”

Origen asserts that the direction of the rising sun obviously indicates that we ought to pray inclining in that direction, an act which symbolizes the soul looking toward the rising of the true light, the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.

Saint John Damascene says that, while waiting the coming of the Lord, “we adore Him facing East”, for that is the tradition passed down to us from the Apostles. Other Church Fathers who confirm this usage are Clement of Alexandria, Saint Basil and Saint Augustine. To this day, the ancient Coptic Rite of Egypt retains in its eucharistic liturgy (just before the Sursum corda) the age-old exhortation of the deacon: “Look towards the East!”