Worshiping Towards the East

Cor-Bishop Dr. Father George Toma

Praying is not only a responsibility of a clergy; lay people are responsible to pray as well. A priest prays on behalf of the people, for the people and with the people. By the virtue of his apostolic rank of priesthood, he “the priest” is a mediator between the community of believers and God.

According to the liturgy of the Church of the East a clergy and lay people face the east during the celebration of the Eucharist and all other spiritual services. This is the reason the church tries to build all the church buildings facing towards the East.

1. Worshiping towards the East is an Apostolic Tradition:

Worshiping towards the East is an apostolic tradition. The Holy Apostles believed the second coming of the Lord will be from the East. The Lord said:

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27)

An angle repeated the same words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Holy Apostles who were witnessing the glorious Ascension of the risen Lord into heaven. It is written:

“They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

The Holy Church based on the above mentioned Biblical references believes and teaches that the glorious Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven took place on the Mount of Olives, and He will come again from heaven on a cloud from the East. Therefore, we worship God towards the East looking forward for His second coming.

Since we do not know when the second coming of the Lord is going to be, we worship watchfully towards the East expecting His coming in any moment. It is written:

““But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-37)

Mar Odisho Metropolitan of Sowa and Armenia of the Church of the East in his book of the pearl part V chapter 1 on worshiping towards the East page 64 says:

“It is necessary, therefore, that we should ever be on the watch, with our faces turned towards the promise of His shining forth.”

2. The appearance of the Angle Gabriel to the blessed Mary on the day of annunciation:

Fathers of the Church of the East believed, the angel Gabriel, on the day he announced to the blessed Mary the conception and the birth of the Son of God appeared to her from the East. It is written:

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

Mar Odisho writes in His book of the Pearls, says:

“And according to the tradition of Mar Aprim, he says in his commentaries, that the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin from the East and that when he said unto her: “peace be unto you, O! full of Grace” She worshiped at his salutation towards the East.” (Book of the pearl page 65)

3. The coming of the Magi:

We learn from the Sacred Scriptures that once the magi sow a sign of the birth of the King of Kings, came from the East, presented gifts to the Lord and worshiped Him as God, King and Savior. It is written:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

4. The appearance of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven:

The Holy Church teaches that our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven facing the west, prefiguring the nature of His second coming. The Holy Apostles who were watching Him ascending into heaven fell on their knees and worshiped Him towards the East. Mar Odisho in His book of the Pearls says:

“And when our Lord ascended up to heaven, His face was turned toward the west, significant of His coming at the Resurrection, and the disciples who were before Him, and looking at Him ascending , worshiped Him towards the East,” (Book of the pearl page 65)

5. The angels worshiped God facing the East.

The fathers of the Holy Church believed and taught that the Angels in the very beginning did not know who their creator was. When they heard a voice saying: “let there be light” they determined that the one who will create the light necessarily is their own creator as well. The Bible says and there was light. Thus as soon as the angels so the light, they fell down and worshiped towards that light which means towards the East. It is written Mar Odisho in His book of the Pearls says:

“And the early commentators have added that on the first day the seven essences were created in silence, and afterwards the voice went forth, “Let there be light”. The angels, who knew not that they had a creator, when they heard the voice, concluded that if an effect followed it, the speaker must be their Creator, and the Creator of all. “And there was light,” immediately then all of them worshiped towards the part from whence the light shone forth, which was the East; and this is what Job the blessed says: “When I created the morning star, all my angels glorified Me.” (Book of the pearl page 65-66)

6. References of worshipping towards the Eat from the Old Testament:

Prophet Ezekiel while facing the East saw the glory of the Lord entering the Holy Temple through the gate facing the East. It is written:

“The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing the east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (Ezekiel 43:4-5)

7. The Jews worship God towards the East:

Traditionally the Jews faced towards the East during their worship services. It is written:

“When the prince provides a freewill offering to the Lord whether a burnt offering or fellowship offerings the gate facing the east is to be opened for him. He shall offer his burnt offering or his fellowship offerings as he does on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he has gone out, the gate will be shut.” (Ezekiel 46:12)

8. The Spiritual advantage of the canon of worshiping towards the East:

Mar Odisho Metropolitan of the Church of the East regarding the Spiritual advantage of the canon of worshiping towards the East says:

“This rule is, therefore, profitable in two ways: first, because it stirs up the remembrance of the end, and of the Judgment to come, and which checks us from doing evil things; and, secondly, so that we may remember our old home, from which we were driven out on account of our sins, namely, Paradise, which is situated in the East, and thereby we are to take refuge in repentance.” (Book of the pearl page 65)

The Garden of Eden from which we were expelled because of the breaking of the Commandment of God is located in the East. This Garden of Eden is our first home and we anxiously look forward to go back to it. It is written:

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8)

“So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24)

Cor-Bishop Dr. Father George Toma
Saint Andrew’s Parish Priest, Glenview, Illinois – USA
The Great Fast of 2016