2. The prophets foretold the coming of Jesus as the Messiah in symbolic and figurative language. The New Testament writers interpreted these prophecies as having been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. For example the prophecy of Malachi. ” But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” ( 4: 2). So looking to the East stands for our earnest waiting for the coming of Christ, the healer and saviour of the world.
3. Jesus said: ” I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” ( St. John 8:12) Light is the source of life. On our planet earth, all life depends on the light of the sun. But the physical sun in our solar system sustains only biological life in plants, animals, and human beings. This life will eventually die. The sun as a star will ultimately die as well. In the spiritual realm, Jesus is the eternal sun. He is the source and sustainer of all life, both biological and spiritual. He is ” the true light that enlightens every human being” ( St. John, 1:9 ).
Therefore we symbolically turn to the direction of the rising sun to receive the light of the risen Christ. Christ is also called ” the bright morning star” ( Rev. 22:16) He inaugurated the new age of the Kingdom of God. As the dawn breaks, the eastern horizon brightens up with beautiful colours. We turn to the beauty and brilliance of God’s light as we praise the triune God facing east.
4. A popular Christian belief developed in the course of time that in the Second Coming, Christ would come from the East. The basis of this tradition is the Gospel reference ( Matt. 24:27) that the coming of the Son of Man would be like lightening that shines from the east to the west.
So, turning to the east stands for our final preparation to receive Christ when he comes for the last Judgment of the world. Thus the east symbolizes our spiritual wakefulness, our readiness to give account of our life and our hope in the transfiguration of all creation in Christ our Lord.
This biblical, Christ centered tradition of the church of turning to the east in prayer is part of the rich heritage of the Orthodox church. We build our churches in the east-west direction. The whole congregation together with the priest turns to east in remembrance of all that God grants us from the time of our creation in Paradise to the fulfillment of all in the Second coming of Christ. The bodies of our beloved departed faithful are laid to rest facing the east with the hope of resurrection and meeting Jesus face to face.
Turning to the East, of course is a symbolic act. We know that East and West, South and North have no physical and geographical significance in the age of space travel in a Tran terrestrial cosmic frame. Yet it is a deeply spiritual symbol and a most beautiful one in the whole of Christian tradition. In special situations when the place or building where we worship happens to be inconvenient for the traditional orientation of the community, we are free to turn to any suitable direction. The sense of the east gives the right ” orientation” ( from the world Orient + East ) for our earthly life in the midst of suffering, doubt, and spiritual disorientation. In any case, it is only wise to keep this ancient tradition in its right spirit.