“Orient” comes from oriens = The East. “Orientation” = “east-ing,” turning towards the east.
I am learning some very cool things about some very old ways.
One of them is this: Christians traditionally prayed facing east, and according to Pope Benedict XVI…still should whenever possible.*
You see Christianity came out of Judaism, and in every Jewish synagogue at the time of Christ, was placed a shrine containing the Torah (the scrolls of the first five books of Moses). This shrine represented the Lost Ark of the Covenant (in which was placed the Ten Commandments) formerly housed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The people as well as the rabbi would face it, but what they were actually doing was looking beyond the “shrine” and reaching towards the Temple, the holy place in Jerusalem that contained the True Presence of God, the Holy of Holies where God’s “Shekinah Glory” dwelt. (Remember Indiana Jones? :) They “oriented” themselves towards Jerusalem.
We as Christians no longer look toward Jerusalem, as the destroyed Temple (A.D.70) is no longer regarded by us as the place of God’s earthly presence. “The Temple built of stone has ceased to express the hope of Christians; its curtain is torn forever. Christians look toward the east, the rising sun. This is not the case of Christians worshipping the sun but of the cosmos speaking of Christ….Christ, represented by the sun, is the place of the Shekinah; the true throne of the living God.”*
Historians are not quite sure when this turn to the east took place but they are certain that it goes back to the most ancient of Christian times and was always regarded as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy (and indeed of private prayer).
So why “re-orient” yourself?
It is a simple expression of looking to Christ as the meeting place between God and man. (Romans 8:34: "Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us."
Praying towards the east means going out to meet the coming Christ. It is a statement of our hope that He will return again! (Matthew 24:27 "For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.")
Praying toward the east signifies that cosmos and history belong together—the entire cosmos is praying with us! How stupendous! (Psalm 19:2 "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.")
You say you can’t physically “do this”…no worries. Find your INTERIOR EAST. Yep—super cool. Quiet yourself and picture the cross with the sun gently rising behind it. The sun becomes so bright that you see nothing but Light. Ahhh. Sit with it. There He will come to meet you.
“…the sun…comes forth like a bridegroom from his canopy, and like a hero joyfully runs its course. From one end of the heavens it comes forth; its course runs through to the other…” Psalm 19:5-7.
Thank You for becoming physical and dwelling among us. And for being so cool that the entire cosmos declares your Glory and Praise. Help me to learn from the ancient so that You are forever new to me. Shine! Jesus Shine!
I ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Want to learn more? I am reading the most fascinating book I think I have ever read, and if you know me, that says something…I read a lot. The Spirit of the Liturgyby Cardinal Ratzinger—just can’t get enough of it.
** Like the looks of the photo…go experience this grace filled place for yourself.