Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Origen and Orientation

When I read the wonderful passage by Origen in the Office of Readings yesterday one of the things which struck me was Origen's emphasis on facing to the east. I was not the only person to be so struck - so were Fr Hunwicke and Fr Blake, whose linked post you can read here.

If you have not read Fr Michael Lang's Turning to the Lord about the eastward direction of prayer, well do so - there is still time to do so in Lent.

Here is the text from the Office (courtesy of Universalis)

From a homily on Leviticus by Origen

Christ the High Priest makes atonement for our sins

Once a year the high priest, leaving the people outside, entered that place where no one except the high priest might enter. In it was the mercy-seat, and above the mercy-seat the cherubim, as well as the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense.

Let me turn to my true high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. In our human nature he spent the whole year in the company of the people, the year that he spoke of when he said: He sent me to bring good news to the poor, to announce the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of forgiveness. Notice how once in that year, on the day of atonement, he enters into the holy of holies. Having fulfilled God’s plan, he passes through the heavens and enters into the presence of the Father to make him turn in mercy to the human race and to pray for all who believe in him.

John the apostle, knowing of the atonement that Christ makes to the Father for all men, says this: Little children, I say these things so that you may not sin. But if we have sinned we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just one. He is the atonement for our sins in his blood, through faith. We have then a day of atonement that remains until the world comes to an end.

God’s word tells us: The high priest shall put incense on the fire in the sight of the Lord. The smoke of the incense shall cover the mercy-seat above the tokens of the covenant, so that he may not die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull-calf and sprinkle it with his finger over the mercy-seat toward the east.

God taught the people of the old covenant how to celebrate the ritual offered to him in atonement for the sins of men. But you have come to Christ, the true high priest. Through his blood he has made God turn to you in mercy and has reconciled you with the Father. You must not think simply of ordinary blood but you must learn to recognise instead the blood of the Word. Listen to him as he tells you: This is my blood, which will be shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

There is a deeper meaning in the fact that the high priest sprinkles the blood toward the east. Atonement comes to you from the east. From the east comes the one whose name is Dayspring, he who is mediator between God and men. You are invited then to look always to the east: it is there that the sun of righteousness rises for you, it is there that the light is always being born for you. You are never to walk in darkness; the great and final day is not to enfold you in darkness. Do not let the night and mist of ignorance steal upon you. So that you may always enjoy the light of knowledge, keep always in the daylight of faith, hold fast always to the light of love and peace.


V. Jesus has entered heaven before us and on our behalf, a lamb without blemish: he has become high priest of the order of Melchizedek, for ever and ever.
R. He is the King of Righteousness, whose descendants will have no end. He has become high priest of the order of Melchizedek, for ever and ever.

Origen's passage links in with what the Pope says in the latest, second volume of Jesus of Nazareth . This is in his exploration of how Our Lord's Sacrifice replaces those of the Temple, and how at a very early stage that truth had impressed itself upon the nascent Christian community - he cites St Stephen and St Paul as well as the evidence from Acts as to how the Church met for prayer in the as yet undestroyed Temple, but that they "broke bread" in their houses, indicating that to them it was clear that this was the new sacrifice that made peace with God, not rituals of the Temple. In particular the Pope draws out the significance of links in what St Paul writes about Christ as our expiation and the rituals of the Temple - but don't rely on me - read the Holy Father's book.

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