Tuesday, June 19, 2012

East and West

In the Tabernacle the Holy of Holies with the Ark was in the western part of the building. The altar of sacrifice was outside the Holy of Holies in the eastern part of the courtyard. In the NT, our Churches have, as it were, moved the Holy of Holies to the East and enveloped the Altar. 

I don't know what to make of this. But I think there is more there than I'm picking up right way. Does anyone know of some patristic discussion of this?



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A Roman Catholic perspective:


    Margaret Barker's work might be interesting as well, though it seems off on some points.

  3. I am not aware of any patristic discussion regarding the eastward positioning of the altar in our churches, but liturgical texts might help to resolve this mystery. Early liturgical texts often included the instruction “look to the east” at the beginning of the consecration of the Sacrament.

    The altar of sacrifice was outside the Holy of Holies in the eastern part of the courtyard. In our churches the altar of sacrifice has become the Holy of Holies. The sacrifice of Our Lord upon the cross, and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, has us always looking eastward in anticipation of the dawning return of the Son of Righteousness.

  4. One might wish, also, to glance at the article "Eis anatolas blepsate: Orientation as a Liturgical Principle," by M. J. Moreton, published in *Studia Patristica Volume XVIII in Three Parts* (that is all the title), ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone (Pergamon Press, Oxford and New York, 1982), pp. 575-590.

  5. Heath,

    John of Damascus discusses this somewhat in De fide orthodoxa IV.12:

    Concerning Worship towards the East.

    It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.
    Since, therefore, God is spiritual light12, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring14, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed16: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradises, which clearly is the West. So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses18 had its veil and mercy seat towards the East. Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East20. Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven; as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth22 even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
    So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.

    1. So, it seems to me that Damascenus is citing the fact that the Sancta Sanctorum faced East toward the altar and the priest then sprinkled the blood on the on the east side of the mercy seat (Lev. 16.14).

      Having never thought about this before, I wonder if one could speculate that in the OT the Sancta Sanctorum looked forward to the One Sacrifice but now, in the NT, the One Sacrifice has been made and is now the Sancta Sanctorum being Christ Himself. Furthermore, the Church being the Body of Christ has entered this inner sanctum (Heb. 9) and now faces East for the parousia.

      This is very interesting to ponder indeed. I smell a paper from someone on this...

    2. In other words, rather than moving the Holy of Holies East to the envelop the Altar, the Sacrifice has come West into the Holy of Holies, which is precisely what Hebrews 9 says. The Holy of Holies is no longer facing East for the sacrifice which has been supplied but faces East for the Second Coming.

      This is, of course, just my late night speculation. Someone must be more knowledgeable than me.


Comments are moderated. Neither spam, vulgarity, comments that are insulting, slanderous or otherwise unbefitting of Christian dignity nor anonymous posts will be published.