“Look to The East” (Divine Liturgy)
January 12, 2023
The word ‘East’ has religious meanings accord Holy Churches education. To begin with, Holy Mother Saint Mary and Holy Church is symbolized by east. “Originally altars were located at the east end of churches because it is there where the sun rises, symbolizing Christ as the “Sun of righteousness who sends His illuminating rays to light our souls.” (Dictionary of Church terms by Father Tadros Yacoub Malaty page 42)
Why do we face East?
There are many symbols and reasons why we face the East. Six reasons will be listed and their meanings meditated upon.
1. Lord Jesus Christ is our ‘East’: We see Christ as our East, in that the sun rises from the East. The sun is the source of our life and so Lord Christ is our salvation, the source of our life in the spirit. Without Him, we cannot see the light for our path to heaven. He is our heavenly direction to which we look upon for guidance and support. His light will lead us to everlasting life if we choose to abide by life through him. With this thought, we use the East to symbolize who we are talking to. In church, our prayers are focused to appeal to God our Savior so that he has mercy on us and dwells in our hearts to cleanse us from the impurities of this world and bring us to life with him.
2. Reminds us of the lost paradise: Saint Basil the Great says, “It is according to an unwritten tradition that we turn to the East to pray. But little do we know that we are thus seeking the ancient homeland, the Paradise that God planted in Eden, towards the East.” Looking towards the East, we are facing the garden of Eden which was the paradise we were thrown out of in order to live up to our sin which we committed against the Lord. By facing towards this Paradise, we look towards our destination, to be with God in his Paradise. We face and pray towards this paradise to symbolize our need for repentance and to seek the Kingdom of God in all its Glory.
3. Waiting for the Advent of Christ (Parousia): As Christians, our main goal is waiting and becoming prepared for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. His second coming marks the beginning of life with him to those who are watchful. In Matthew 24:27 the Lord says, “For as the lightening comes from the East and shines on the West, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be,” by this we understand that Christ in all his Glory will come to judge the world from the East. We anticipate this coming as the end of our journey in order to reach our final destination of being with him.
4. Symbol of Rebirth, Hope, and Light: Every time we stand up for prayers towards the East, we remember the beginning of our new life that we have obtained in baptism. And just as we pray in the Prime prayers: Let us enjoy a fresh start…..May the light of your face shine upon us, And enlighten us with the light of your divine knowledge Make us children of light, children of daytime… Enlighten our minds, hearts and our understanding, O Lord of all… With this prayer, our hopes are renewed with every sunrise.
5. Looking towards the Cross: One point brought about by St. Athanasius was that Christ was hung on the cross facing the West, and by us the sinners looking towards the East, we meet and speak with the Lord face to face, asking him to forgive us of our sins for which he died in order to save us.
6. Star leading the Wise Men: Just as the star coming from the East led the Wise Men to Christ, so also we face the East in order to allow our hearts to reach Christ, to be one with him as we anticipate the communion of His Holy Body and Blood, that through this spiritual direction we can come to him and worship at his feet, offering our hearts just as the wise men offered their precious gifts. The wise men traveled from far away lands, going through much toil and trouble to reach the Savior. Like these three kings, we also may go through many hardships and spiritual struggles to meet the Lord.
As we have read, the East symbolizes and represents our longing for the salvation. This heavenly direction helps to guide our hearts and our understandings. It not only maintains our traditions and discipline but is set to represent the many meanings through which we should live by to obtain eternal life with the Father. So the next time we are in the Divine Liturgy let us ponder on the many meanings of this simple rite of facing the East and allow it to teach us the true meaning of anticipating the mercy of Christ and looking on him as our refuge and support. We pray that His mercy be with us all and Glory be to God forever. Amen.
Saint Mary and Archangel Michael Church Orlando, Florida.