We see in Matthew 2:1-2 (NKJV) how the Wise Men from the East came to visit Infant Jesus, saying that they had seen his star in the east. But, there is a small issue here: if the Wise men had seen the star in the east and followed it, they would have gone further eastward. If Bethlehem is treated as a base, and if the Wise men came from the East, they had moved westward!

Now, some versions of Matthew 2:2 quote the Wise Men as saying that they had seen Jesus' star 'in the rising' that is, not specifying the direction east. One is, therefore, inclined to doubt if the term 'east' has wider connotations, other than just indicating the direction of sunrise, in the scriptures.

It has been the tradition of the Church to build a place of worship facing the east. The Ad Orientem method of liturgy literally means 'towards the east'. Many orthodox churches as well as some Catholic Liturgical rites use Ad Orientem in their worship. But in congested cities where new churches get limited space for construction, the orientation of the structure to the east has become an exception rather than a rule. And those of the clergy and the faithful who chose to hold fast to the tradition, find things difficult. But then, do we not need to adapt ourselves to the constraints of modern life, in so far as worship is concerned?

In other words, is there a special merit if one faces east while making a prayer? Inputs from scholars of any denomination are welcome.

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    In Ezekiel 8:16–17, we see what God says: "… their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. … they commit the abominations …". In the Greek scriptures, the wise men happen to be from the east (to the west is the Mediterranean) and all other mention of "east" is simply common use, often paired with "west". Other than Sun worship (even with a different name and rationalized purpose), there really isn't any Biblical justification for this practice. Perhaps facing the holy land (as Muslims face Mecca) is acceptable, but the East is associated only with the Sun. Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 13:42
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    – Ken Graham
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 11:28
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    I think this is a good question - but mainly for personal reasons. In my current scouting outfit the Troops of St. George one of the things we do is face East while praying, I'd very much like to know what the reasoning behind that is. I think if you limited it to Catholic theology and not scholars of any denominations you'd have a concrete question, as is, I don't feel comfortable reopening it without other community votes
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 15:52
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    @RayButterworth the rising of the sun is associated with the rising of Christ. We don't worship the sun, obviously, but facing East for this reason is acceptable. It's an ancient Church practice.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 13:37
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    @jaredad7 says "the rising of the sun is associated with the rising of Christ", despite his having risen before the sun rose. — "It's an ancient Church practice.", for some denominations; but others consider associating a physical object with spiritual objects or events to be a form of idolatry. — "It's an ancient Church practice.", as is praying through a statue of Mary, but most non-Catholic denominations consider that to be idolatry. Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. - Matthew 6:5-8

It's hard to imagine that this instruction includes facing east while in the closet. Also, in the many instances where Jesus is described as going off to pray there is no specification of directional orientation. However, each time Jesus' eyes are mentioned when He is praying, they are open and He is gazing heavenward (Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 11:41).

There are plenty of folks who "feel" more earnest in prayer while kneeling, or lying prostrate, or with hands raised, or head bowed. There are plenty of people who "feel" more reverent in prayer using lots of words, certain words, or rote repetition. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these things or with facing any particular direction. The danger lies in believing that such things add, as OP says, 'merit' to the prayer.

The only thing meritorious about any prayer is the blood of Christ which has opened up access for us to the Father (Hebrews 9). The veil separating us from God is torn and the child of God has full and constant access in the name of Jesus. Any prayer to God which relies less than fully upon the shed blood of Christ for merit is less than fully meritorious.

Therefore, facing East while praying may actually reduce 'merit' to the degree that directional orientation is relied upon to impart 'merit'. 

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