Our thanks to Dr Ines Murzaku, Professor of Church History at Seton Hall Univerity, for sharing this article with us.
Moreover, the Divine Liturgy has a double unitive function: vertically with God, and horizontally with each other. Further, the Divine Liturgy is also a public service involving the whole community in an act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the one Body of Christ. In the East, celebrating the Divine Liturgy was saving. In fact, what enabled the Eastern Churches to survive the Communist persecution was the worship and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the local Church. In the East, a Eucharistic community “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) proved to be a surviving community. The understanding of Divine Liturgy in the East and the West are very similar, as my students observed after the abbot’s lecture, with some differences, the most visible and important being the normative use of ad orientem in worship in the East.
|Divine Liturgy in the Greco-Albanian church of the Most Holy Savior in Cosenza, Italy. (Photo by Alex Talarico)|
The Church of the first millennium in the East and in the West worshipped facing ad orientem. The first Christians, beginning in the second century, directed their prayers facing East, in the direction of the rising sun. While there is no explicit reference to ad orientem in the New Testament, the significance of the East in Matthew 24: 27 is remarkable: “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.” The Eastward liturgical orientation seems important to East and West. For St Cyril of Jerusalem, a fourth century saint venerated by the Eastern and Western Churches, the West was the region of sensible darkness. Instead, he advised “turning from West to East, the place of light.” His contemporary St Basil the Great wrote in De Spiritu Sancto that the unwritten tradition of the Church “has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer.” Christ is Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, so “the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship,” wrote St. John of Damascus in De fide Orthodoxa.
Blessed Jacopo de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa in the 13th century, specified that seeking and looking towards our ancient homeland and towards God, we worship facing East. Bishop Guillaume Durand (13th century), who wrote an indispensable guide for understanding the significance of medieval ecclesiastical art and worship, advised that the priest at the altar and in the Offices should pray towards the East. Consequently, churches were built with altars facing East, a direction which was standard and incredibly useful to the medieval pilgrim who wanted to avoid getting lost in the cities. Churches were natural landmarks to keep track of directions. Theologically, worship facing East was important: it united the local churches, East and West, to the universal Church. Worshiping ad orientem was standard for the united Church in the first millennium and until after Vatican II, praying facing East was the standard in the West, as well.
In the current ecumenical environment, Catholics and Orthodox are considering the practices of the first millennium, including papal primacy, for ways to find commonalities which will help East and West moving forward towards visible unity. If today, at the beginning of the third millennium, we are seeking to restore full communion, it is to the unity of the Church in the first millennium that we must look. The Catholic Church desires full communion to be established between East and West, and the first-millennium experience including facing ad orientem in the Divine Liturgy is inspiring. As a Byzantine Catholic and Church historian, I think that the progressive estrangement between East and West has contributed to abandoning ad orientem in the West.
|The ninth-century Cattolica di Stilo in Calabria.|