Upon entering an Orthodox church, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by its unearthly glory. This is not only seen in the unique and rich beauty of the decoration and the forms of worship, but it may be felt in the heart, especially during the church services. Below is a brief discussion of some aspects or the Church which, it is hoped, will aid in a greater understanding and appreciation of what is seen, heard and felt in an Orthodox church.
before Christ, God commanded Moses to construct a Tabernacle,
a movable place of worship consisting or three parts:
the court with the altar of sacrifice,. the
sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the
Holy of Holies where the most sacred of holy things- the Ark of the Covenant-was
kept. The Ark contained the two tablets of the Law, a vessel manna and Aaron's
rod. God ordained that all this was to be-fabricated by skilled craftsmen out of
beautiful and costly materials such as gold, silver, fine colored linens, onyx
stone, etc. (Ex. 2:5-Ex. 3:10). On various feasts and important occasions the
priests would offer on this Altar sacrifices to God by the burning of freshly
slain animals. Solomon later built a magnificent temple to house the Ark of the
.Covenant. This replaced the movable Tabernacle and was the prototype for the
New Testament Church as a place of worship, sacrifice and thanksgiving
primary significance of the Church, however, is not as a building for the
gathering of the faithful. It is above all, the mystical Body of Christ to which
all members are joined each in their own unique capacity (I Cor. 12:12-17; Rom.
-12:4), just as a leg, an arm, an eye, are all unique members of a single body.
How this occurs is a mystery known only. to God, but this mystical union is
revealed to us in several ways.
Holy Communion we partake of Christ's Body and Blood, thereby uniting ourselves
to Christ as He said: He that eateth My
flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (John4:56.).
Because Christ has only one Body, we are also united one with another
the Head of His Body-the Church, Christ instructs and feeds us not only by means
of the Sacraments., but also through all Scripture and Doctrine which is given
for our enlightenment by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Those who are separated
from Christ's Body, however, cannot receive Grace, just as an arm separated from
a human body cannot receive the nourishment of blood and nutrients necessary for
when we as Orthodox come together, either in church or elsewhere, we feel a
certain indescribable affinity towards one another. This affinity differs from
the bonds of friendship we may experience in the secular
world. It testifies to us of the presence of the Holy Spirit mystically uniting
us all in Christ's Body. No longer. are we just friends, but brothers and
sisters in Christ (Matt. 12:50) with one heart, one mind, and one soul as the
Holy Church sings in her Divine Services.
Church, however, is not only a mystical body of believers, as some would
erroneously believe. It also has a very definite material existence. just as God
by His creation, for He "saw that it was
good", so too it is pleasing to the Lord that we should use all that we can
from this world in glorifying Him Who created it. Christ Himself used the
material objects of creation to procure the salvation of our souls: water is
used to wash away sins through the Mystery.- of Baptism; bread and wine are
transformed in the Mystery of the Eucharist to become life-giving food for the
soul; the cross, once an instrument of torture and death, is now a sign unto
salvation.. There is likewise a spiritual significance in the use of icons,
resplendent vestments, candles, incense, melodious singing... All act upun our
senses to help us lift up our hearts unto the Lord.
the external aspects encountered in the Orthodox Church are usually found the
is the place where the clergy attend to prayer and the preparation of the
Eucharist. The Sanctuary faces east, being the direction from which the sun
rises illuminating all men with light-just as Christ illumines and gives eternal
life to alt
The Altar table is the main feature in the Sanctuary. It is square according to
God's commandment (Ex. 27:1), thus signifying that Christ's doctrine and
Sacraments are offered to -all the faithful in the four corners of the world
(Matt. 28:19). The Altar represents the actual throne of God Who is always
present, as He promised, when two or more people are gathered to pray in His
Name (Matt. 18:20). It is also Christ's tomb, because here on the altar at each
Liturgy Christ gives us his sacrificed Body to eat and His shed Blood to drink.
Icon's are pictorial representations of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Mother- the
Most Holy Theotokos, Saints, Prophets., Martyrs, various significant. events'
from Scripture and/or a combination of some or all of these. Not only do icons
remind and teach the faithful of the event or person depicted; they also testify
that God took upon Himself the form of a man, revealing unto us His physical,
human likeness in the person of Jesus Christ. Icons also help us to pray for
they are reminders that we are standing in the presence of God and His saints,
even though our sinful nature prevents us from seeing them with our physical
is the large screen dividing the lay people (in the nave)from the clergy (in the
sanctuary). The iconostas has large double doors-in the center called the royal
Gates, through which the priest, as God's representative, brings to the faithful
Christ's Gospel and feeds them with Christ's Body and Blood. On either side of
the Royal Gates are smaller doors known as the northern and
"southern" doors. Traditionally, the Royal Gates are adorned with
icons of the Annunciation and the four Evangelists. On either side of the Royal
Gates are icons of Christ (to the right) and the Most holy Theotokos (to the
left). On the southern and northern doors are depicted the Archangels. To the
side is usually found the icon or the feast of the saint to whom the church is
dedicated. If the church has a particularly high iconostas, it may have several
tiers: the second having icons of the Church Feasts; the third tier-the
Apostles; the fourth tier- the Old Testament Prophets and Patriarchs; the fifth
tier-the holy Martyrs, Church Fathers, Bishops, etc.
are portable icons fastened to long poles and carried in church processions. The
banners signify that Christians are warriors in a constant state bf battle with
the evil powers of this world.
various times of the church services lights are repeatedly lit and extinguished.
Scripture teaches that Christ is the Light of the world Who enlightens every man
(John 1:9). The presence of lights in the church indicate to us the very
presence of Christ, guiding us, feeding us, teaching us. When the lights are
extinguished, this reminds us that before the coming of Christ the world lay in
darkness, just as also our souls are darkened by sin. The prayers that the
Church offers at these darkened times are generally penitential and solemn. When
the lights are illuminated, the hymns likewise become joyful and glorious thus
indicating the Saviours presence, lights. usually take the form of candles or
oil lamps. Candles remind us of the burning warmth we should have in our hearts
toward God, and also serve as an offering of prayer to God; their beeswax is a
pure and fragrant fruit of God's creation. The oil lamps hanging before the
icons have the same significance as the church lights and candle flames,
Furthermore, oil has been associated since ancient times with healing and mercy
(in Greek). Our attendance in church should likewise be for the healing of our
souls and for the beseeching of God's mercy.
clergy often cense the various parts of the church during the services. This
sacred tradition was ordered by God from earliest times (Lev.. 16:12; Ezek.
8:11) and is a rite which even angels perform (Rev. 8:3). King David writes in
the Psalms of offering prayers as incense before God. It is also a reminder of
the gift of the Magi.
Singing There is no doubt that the singing heard in an Orthodox church is the
full expression of men, using the natural gifts that God has given them, to
praise and glorify their Creator. If we glorify and pray to God through song
with our whole hearts and minds (Eph.5:19), then we will approach those angelic
hosts who formed a choir to glorify God's appearance on earth (Luke 2:13,14)and
who continually cry out:
holy, holy is
the Lord God Almighty (Rev.
Through the beauty and harmony of the church and its services, we are made more aware of the state of creation before the Fall and the future state of blessedness to which we are called and which, even now, is open to those who have eyes to see.[_private/oabot.htm]