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History of Ad Orientem Worship

ad orientem worship

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#1 Ryan A.

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 06:09 AM

Hello, everyone!

 

I am an infrequent poster and mostly a lurker but decided to jump into the fray today.

 

Recently, I have been discussing liturgical development with a friend, and he has stated that ad orientem worship has an 8th century innovation and that the ancient practice (whether facing literal East, facing the altar/tabernacle, or however you define it) has always been to face towards the "Body of Christ" (the congregants). I am no expert in early Church liturgy but have always understood that ad orientem worship has, by and large, been the Christian norm throughout the centuries.

 

While I would appreciate input as commentary, I would be particularly interested to look at any historical references, studies, or similar material that anyone might be able to provide.

 

Thank you for your assistance.

 

Ryan A.



#2 Phoebe K.

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Posted 17 December 2013 - 12:31 PM

Hi,

 

The practice as to which way the Priest (or when he is their the Bishop) faces varies within the service, dictated by the rubrics (instructions) within the Liturgy.  The Liturgy itself is as we practice it comes from before the 8th Century. The Liturgys of St John Cryisostam and St Basel tell the Priest what to do at given points in the liturgy.  

 

The general practice is that the Priest faces the holy table (the table within the altar on which the Liturgy is celebrated) when praying for the people or with them, turning to face the congregation when he blesses us.  The Priest being the the member of the congregation chosen by the congregation ( in the most ainchant tradition which is still maintained) to enter the altar and represent the people before God, becoming the image of Christ for the people when he stands in the place of Christ presiding at the Liturgy or blessing the people (also any other of the mystery of the Church).

 

The texts of the Liturgy show it but the best way to understand it is to come to an orthodox liturgy and experience the worship which has not changed over the centuries, but is rather practiced in the same way as it has been since the time of the Apostles.

 

Phoebe



#3 Kosta

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Posted 20 December 2013 - 01:58 AM

Dear Ryan,

Most things in liturgy tend to be a development. For example before the council of Ephesus its unlikely there were references to the Virgn Mary as "Theotokos".  Signing ourselves with the cross with three fingers placed together and two folded back developed after the 5th century most likely in response to monophysitism. 

Of course facing East and standing while worship is one of the most ancient practices of the Church and predates the Liturgy of St Basi. In fact it is St Basil himself who claims its a practice from time immemorable. St Basil writes:

For this reason we all look to the East during our prayers…because we seek our ancient fatherland, paradise, which God planted towards the East. It is standing upright that we make our prayers on the first day of the week…It is not only because risen together with Christ, we ought to seek the things above, and through our standing up for prayer on the day of the resurrection call to mind the grace given to us, but because it is a kind of image of the age to come…And this one day is also the eighth, pointing to that really unique and truly eighth day…the condition that follows our time, the day that will never end, without evening or tomorrow, the imperishable age that will never grow old…
 
Secondly the assertion that the priest would face the congregation is false and defeats his own argument. It would assume that the early Church viewed the priest as something superior to the laity and on par with Christ. The priest is no different that the laity from which he has been drawn from, thus we all face East, he is one of us. If the priest faced the laity then he is simply an actor in a theatrical production and the laity are the spectators. That's why clapping is also shunned in the Orthodox Church, the solea is not a stage and the priest is not a broadway star. He is the spokesperson on our behalf and has no right to turn his back on the altar.


Edited by Olga, 20 December 2013 - 03:05 AM.
corrected font formatting


#4 Richard A. Downing

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Posted 22 December 2013 - 08:44 AM

I would just add that even the servers within the Altar face towards the 'High Place' which is where the Bishop sits, or where he would sit if he were present.  The Bishop is the head of God's Household in that place (A Roman Episcopos was the head slave of a household), and is His visible presence.

 

As a server, when I pass behind the Holy Table I always bow towards the High Place, not towards the Table even when the Sanctified Gifts are there.  This was taught to me by my Archbishop, and reinforced by several other priests and deacons.

 

In our mental or spiritual picture of how things are arranged, the High Place is where we think of God the King to 'be', the Holy Table represents the Altar that is in front of the Throne of God in Heaven (The Revelation describes this).  The usual alignment of a Church with the High Place in the east is for the reasons Kosta wrote.

 

I don't have historical evidence for this, but the Bishop sitting the in the 'High Place' is certainly very much earlier than 8C, ancient even when the Cappadocian Fathers wrote.

 

A blessed Nativity,

Richard.



#5 Christophoros

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Posted 25 December 2013 - 02:44 PM

Hello, everyone!

 

I am an infrequent poster and mostly a lurker but decided to jump into the fray today.

 

Recently, I have been discussing liturgical development with a friend, and he has stated that ad orientem worship has an 8th century innovation and that the ancient practice (whether facing literal East, facing the altar/tabernacle, or however you define it) has always been to face towards the "Body of Christ" (the congregants). I am no expert in early Church liturgy but have always understood that ad orientem worship has, by and large, been the Christian norm throughout the centuries.

 

While I would appreciate input as commentary, I would be particularly interested to look at any historical references, studies, or similar material that anyone might be able to provide.

 

Thank you for your assistance.

 

Ryan A.

 

The whole argument of the ancient liturgy being celebrated "facing the people" is something contrived by contemporary modernist Roman liturgical "scholars." To counter their erroneous beliefs, here is an excerpt from chapter 7 of "Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI", by Rev. Anthony Cekada, published by Philothea Press in 2010:

 

"After Vatican II, those souls unsettled by the priest's sudden change of direction often received the bland assurance that Mass 'facing the people' was really quite traditional and was the Church's primitive practice. On the surface it sounded like a reasonable argument. After all, a number of ancient Roman basilicas always had freestanding altars; the priest stood on one side and the congregation on the other. Surely, the argument went, this showed that the present practice of Mass facing the people was but a return to a more ancient tradition.

 
"The argument turned out to be completely fraudulent. In ancient times, what determined the direction the priest faced as Mass was not where the people where was where the *east* was.
 
"Time and again the Fathers of the Church emphasized the symbolic importance of facing east for prayer. Tertullian (160-220) speaks of Christians turning to the east for prayer, and says that their churches are always 'in high and open places, facing the light'. Origen (185-254) says it should be obvious  that we should prayer facing east where the sun rises, since it is "an act which symbolizes the soul looking towards where the true light [i.e., Christ] arises." St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) says we turn east to pray because 'our first homeland is in the East; I mean our sojourn in paradise from which we have fallen, for God planted a paradise in Eden towards the East.' St. Augustine (354-430) states: 'When we rise for prayer we turn toward the east, from which heaven arises... that the spirit might be reminded to turn itself to a higher nature, namely to God.' " ...
 
"Archaeological studies have refuted the modern misconception (or misrepresentation) that Mass facing the people was universal until the Middle Ages. A German Jesuit, Father J. Braun, studied 150 altars in churches north of the Alps. Each altar dated from the first millenium [sic] of Christianity and each was still in its original position. His conclusion: only two of them could have been used for Mass facing the people. But what of the position of the priest behind the altar in the ancient Roman churches? Braun thinks this position was chosen only if there was some special reason for it: for example, if the altar was linked to a martyr's grave, the side facing the people had to be open to give them access to it.
 
"Even the writings of Bouyer and Jungmann demonstrated that the antiquity argument for Mass facing the people was a fraud.
 
"In a 1967 work, probably written when he was in another 'Tertullian' mood, Louis Bouyer says:
 
'The description of the late Roman use of an altar "facing the people" is purely modern. The phrase was never used in Christian antiquity and it is equally unknown in the Middle Ages. It makes its first appearance in the rubrics of the Roman Missal printed in the XVIth century. Then, the priest, being ordered to turn ["towards the people"] to say "Dominus vobiscum," is cautioned that, if the disposition of the altar is such that he is in that situation already, at least concerning a notable part of the congregation, he need not turn. Never, and nowhere, before that have we any indication that any importance, or even attention, was given to whether the priest celebrated with the people before him or behind him."
 
"Note how absolute his terms are: never, nowhere, before the sixteenth century, did the Church give any attention to the matter.
 
"In a 1959 work, Jungmann says that the Oriental rites have never tolerated celebrating Mass facing the people, and added: 'This is worthy of note because these rites have generally preserved the primitive, traditional, practices of the Church most faithfully.'
 
"While altars in many churches built since the Middle Ages did not really face east, the priest and people prayer facing the same direction; this was at least a symbolic 'orientation', which brought home very powerfully the role of the priest. Jungmann describes it thus:
 
'Now the priest is standing at the altar, generally built of stone, as the leader of his people; the people look up to him and at the altar was the same time, and together with the priest they face towards the east. Now the whole congregation is like a huge procession, being led by the priest and moving east towards the sun, towards Christ the Lord.'
 
"There was, moreover, a tendency to hide the sacred rites, precisely because they were sacred, set apart and stirred up awe in the believer. Hence, the iconostatis [sic] (icon screen) in the East, and the altar curtains, the rood screens, and in Spain, even walls, that separated and obscured the place where the sacred action took place."





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