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Comparative Theology, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III
71- Facing the East
Our churches are built facing eastwards. We pray facing toward the East because the East has become a symbol to us since it directs our hearts to many precious contemplation. It also has an important place in God's thought. Since God gives importance to the East then let us also give it importance.
(1) Before God created man, He created the East as a source of light for him, and God saw that the light was good. God created the sun on the fourth day and man on the sixth (Gen. 1).
The rising of the sun is a symbol of Christ and His light. The Lord is called the ‘Sun of Righteousness’, and it is written: “...the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings” (Mal.4: 2).
(2) Before God created man, He planted the Garden of Eden in the East for him and then placed him there. He also planted the tree of life in the Garden where man first lived before sin. The Garden of Eden symbolises Paradise to which we aspire (Gen.2: 8). Man's facing eastward has become a symbol of his aspiration to Paradise of which he was deprived and a symbol of his aspiration to the tree of life.
(3) The Lord Jesus Christ was born in an eastern Country. The Magi saw His star in the East (Matt.2: 2). The star was a symbol of Divine guidance. When the Magi followed it, it led them to the Lord. This is a beautiful contemplation!
(5) Salvation came to the world from the East. Christ was crucified in an eastern Country where His blood was shed for the remission of sins of the whole world.
(6) Christianity and the Church began in the East. Jerusalem is in the East. It is the Country of the Great King where the first Church in the whole world was established. The Gospel spread from the East to the whole world. In the East the blood of the first Christian martyr was shed.
(7) The Holy Bible mentions several times that the glory of God is in the East. It is written in the Book of Isaiah: “Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord” (Is.24: 15). In the Book of Ezekiel, there is a prophecy about the coming of Christ in His glory from the East. It is written: “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shine with His glory” (Ez.43: 2).
(8) Therefore most theologians say that the Second Coming will be from the East. In the same manner He went into heaven He will come back (Acts 1: 11). In Zechariah's prophecy, it is written: “And in that day ; His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech.14: 4).
(9) The East is an appealing subject and evokes splendid memories. In the Book of Ezekiel, the Prophet writes about rivers of life in the East (Ez.47: 1-9), and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. And in the Second Book of Kings, it is written that the East is the “arrow of the Lord's deliverance” (2Kin.13: 17). Also, in the Book of Isaiah, it is written: “Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord” (Is.24: 15).
(10) The remembrance of the East has a great effect on the heart; it has a spiritual effect on the soul. I admire Daniel the Prophet when he defied pagan worship: He went into the upper room, opened the window which faced Jerusalem, and knelt down to pray. It is true that God is everywhere, but facing Jerusalem in the East has a profound meaning and a strong effect on the heart. The remembrance of certain places awakens sacred emotions in the heart.
(11) Our worship is not worship with the intellect only. The senses also act; they are affected and they affect the feelings of the soul. An example to illustrate this: When we pray we look up although God is everywhere. But looking upwards evokes in our hearts spiritual feelings which give more depth to our prayer. The same applies to facing the East.
The Lord Himself, on more than one occasion, looked up, although the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. But looking upwards has a certain significance.
(12) When we face the East, we are in fact facing the altar which lies eastward because the Sacrifice has Its spiritual place in our hearts and Christ our Passover was a Sacrifice in the East.
(13) In the Baptismal Service, in a symbolic way, the baptised and his godparent face westward to renounce Satan and then eastward to recite the Creed. Thus the baptised feels in Baptism that he is transferred from west to east, that is, from darkness to light.
(14) We ask: Why do our brethren the Protestants fight against facing toward the East although it carries spiritual meanings, sacred contemplation and memories textproved from the Holy Bible and involves no dogmatic error to stir the sacred zeal?
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