Monday, October 17, 2005

light from light: more on facing east

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!"

Read the whole thing here. I like how in the Eastern rites the deacon issues all those commands and exhortations. "Let us attend!" "Pray!" "The doors!" Etc.

1 comment:

Thorpus said...

I did some work last year on the correlation between the altar and God's heavenly throne. In tracing this from Old Testament times up till today, I found that it has been the church's tradition until the reformation to express that correlation in the way we treat the altar. The Eastern churches still do this well, not allowing anyone who is not ordained up beyond the altar rail. Makes me think of St. Paul's 'hilastarion" comment: Christ is the mercy seat, the covering of the altar where God comes down to earth. And this same Christ is present on our altars in the Eucharist. Yes, they are tables as well, but the Eucharist is not only Lord's Supper but also Sacrifice.

Anyway, in the course of that study I realized that in post-1979 BCP Episcopalianism we don't do 'throne room' very well. Table manners we've got down -- but our Teacher and Friend who breaks bread with us is also Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We threw all that rich, traditional, and metahpysically/spiritually real throne room stuff out so that we could have our (narcissistic?) church in the round. Shows what happens when self-centered Baby Boomers start to rule the Liturgical Theology academic roost.

I believe there is, whether we acknowledge it or not, a very real connection between the places of sacrifice here on earth and God's throne in heaven, and that facing east is the way to express that, as well as using Rite I (some fine servant-monarch language there - very helpful for spirituality). If we fail to acknowledge God's presence among us as Lord and King, aren't we belying half our baptismal vows?

I think this is less a problem of church architecture and more one of liturgical choreography. As you mention, WB, a priest can face east even at a free-standing table. I would be happy to see a priest who celebrates at a free-standing table move from front to back to front again during the Euchrisitc prayer, emphasizing both aspects as table and altar. Perhaps the words of institution are best said facing west, while the epiclesis is best said facing east. Also as much bowing as possible is good.