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The Church Building and Its Servers

The Altar and Its Furnishings

    The Altar which lies beyond the Iconostasis, is set aside for those who perform the Divine services, and normally persons not consecrated to the service of the Church are not permitted to enter. Occupying the central place in the Altar is the Holy Table (Russian Prestol), which represents the Throne of God, with the Lord Himself invisibly present there. It also represents the Tomb of Christ, since His Body (the Holy Gifts) is placed there. The Holy Table is square in shape and is covered by two coverings. The first, inner covering, is of white linen, representing the winding-sheet in which the Body of the Lord was wrapped. The outer cloth is made of rich and bright material, representing the glory of God's Throne. Both cloths cover the Holy Table to the ground.


    In the first centuries of Christianity, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on the tombs of the Martyrs and this was celebrated by the Bishop. Later, as the Church expanded and the size of a typical Diocese with it, the Bishops of the early Church began to ordain Priests as their representatives to the growing number of Christian communities. Only with the Bishop's permission could a community and its Priest serve the Liturgy and the same holds true today. One of the vehicles by which these important ancient practices are effected today is a simple piece of cloth, folded within another, and resting always on the Holy Table of every Orthodox church the Antimension.

    The Antimension is a rectangular piece of cloth, gold in color, measuring about 18 by 24 inches, and while on the Holy Table it is folded within another cloth, red in color, called the Iliton, which represents the swaddling clothes and the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Depicted on the top of the Antimension is an Icon of the Burial of Christ, along with Icons of the four Evangelists, as well as Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, for whom the usual Divine Liturgies are named. Sewn into every Antimension is an incorruptible relic of a Saint, making real the early liturgical connection with the Martyrs who died rather than renounce Christ, and whose blood, after the Blood of Christ, formed the very foundation of the Church.

    Printed on every Antimension are the words: By the grace of the All-Holy, Life-giving Spirit, this Antimension, the Holy Table, is consecrated for the Offering on it of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Divine Liturgy. Each one is signed by the ruling Bishop of the Diocese and placed on the Holy Table, constituting his permission for the community to exist as an Orthodox parish and to celebrate the Liturgy. This is so, since true Christianity has always held that without the Bishop there is no Church and through the Bishop comes our unity of Faith and Communion which is Orthodoxy.

The word Antimension is a combination of Greek and Latin which means in place of the table. While Holy Tables were always to have been consecrated and relics placed inside of them, it was not always possible for the Bishop to visit each community to do so. For that reason, Bishops consecrated cloths or boards and sent them to each community to be used in place of the consecrated Holy Table. This also allowed for portable Holy Tables for travelers. The use of the Antimension is mandatory, even on Holy Tables which have been consecrated, and a Priest is not permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy without it. Military Chaplains and Missionaries also use it instead of the table when serving in remote areas.

    Also placed on the Holy Table are two indispensable items: the Cross and the Book of the Gospels. The Cross is placed there both as a sign of Christ's victory over the Devil and of our deliverance. Since the Lamb of God was slain on the Cross for our salvation, it is especially appropriate that it be placed upon the Holy Table where the Bloodless Sacrifice is offered on behalf of all and for all. As it is the Word of God, the Book of the Holy Gospels is placed on the Holy Table, signifying that God is mystically present. It is usually richly-adorned and as it is the Book of Life, its Governing may not be of the skins of dead animals (i.e., leather), but is usually made of precious metals adorned with jewels. At the center of the cover is usually represented Christ, with the four Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at the four corners.

As the Holy Table represents the sepulcher of the Lord, upon it, at the rear, is placed the Ark (or Tabernacle), so-called because of its general shape, within which are placed the Holy Gifts (Reserved Sacrament) used for the Communion of the sick. Candlesticks are also placed on the Holy Table, signifying the Light of Christ which illumines the world.

    In addition to the above, a natural (not artificial) Sponge is usually placed beside the Antimension with which to brush off the particles from the Paten into the Chalice. Also found is a vessel containing the Holy Chrism used for Chrismation, and also a Sick-Call Kit (the Ciborium) within which are to be found a small chest for the Holy Gifts, a small Chalice and Spoon, a small vessel for wine and a sponge to clean the Chalice with. In addition, a small chest, called the Artophorion is placed on the Holy Table during Great Lent, within which is placed the consecrated Lamb (s) used for the Presanctified Liturgy (if the same is not placed in the Tabernacle). Often a canopy is suspended over the Holy Table, representing the heavens over the earth, from which is suspended a dove with outstretched wings (the Fix), representing the Holy Spirit. (In many places, the pre-sanctified Lamb was placed in the Fix during Great Lent.)

    Behind the Holy Table a seven-branched Candlestick is usually placed (seven being the sacred number), and sometimes a large Processional Cross. Behind this, at the extreme East end of the Altar is a raised place, called the High Place (or Bema), upon which is placed the Cathedra (Bishop's Throne), with seats for the Priests on either side. During the Liturgy, the Priests (representing the Holy Apostles) sit at either side of the Bishop (representing the King of Glory). [In modern times, the Cathedra is usually found only in Cathedrals and large Monasteries.]

On either side of the Bishop's Throne are placed ceremonial Fans, with which, in ancient times, the Holy Gifts were fanned to keep away insects. Now they are carried in solemn processions, signifying the six-winged Seraphim who minister at the Divine services, and who are represented iconographically upon them. Above the High Place is an Icon of the Savior and on both sides Icons of the Holy Apostles or (more often) Holy Bishops. Before the Icon of the Savior is suspended a lampada, called the High Light.

The Altar and Its Furnishings
The Bells

The Bells

    A striking component of Orthodox worship is the ringing of bells. Every daily cycle of public divine services starts with the ringing of bells and no one who has witnessed the procession around the church at Holy Pascha can forget the almost continuous ringing of all the church bells. In Pre-Revolutionary Moscow, for example, travelers invariably commented on the stirring clamor of the more than 1600 bells of the city ringing simultaneously at the Pascha of Our Lord. Usually a separate structure, the Bell Tower, was constructed to contain the bells, but more often in modern times a belfry is erected over the entrance to the church building, within which the bells are placed.

    The purpose of ringing the bells is to call the faithful to services, to inform those absent from divine services of the various important liturgical moments of the services, as well as calling the worshippers to concentrated attention at these same moments. It is also used to signal the arrival of the Archpastor at the church or monastery. There are four basic types of bell-ringing in the Russian Church: The Announcement (Blagovest announcing); the Peal (Trezvon three bells); Chain-ringing (Perezvon across (or linked) bells); and the Toll (Perebor broken (or interrupted).

The Announcement (Blagovest')

    This is a slow rhythmic, unhurried striking of one bell, which is usually rung for the announcing of the beginning of services: Before the All-Night Vigil (also accompanied by the Trezvon); before each group of services of the daily cycle (9th Hour Vespers Compline; Nocturns Matins 1st Hour; 3rd Hour 6th Hour Liturgy or Typical Psalms); and before Great Compline). The Announcement is also employed at other important moments of the services. For example, there are Twelve strikes for the twelve parts of the Creed and also before It is truly meet... of the Divine Liturgy; before the Molieben (if there be) following the Liturgy.

    During Great Lent on weekdays, the Announcement Bell is rung at the 3rd, 6th, and 9th Hours, as well as at Great Compline three strikes for the 3rd Hour, six for the 6th Hour, nine for the 9th Hour, and twelve for Great Compline. During Passion Week, the Announcement Bell is rung at the beginning of each Passion Gospel (Holy Friday Matins), according to the number of the Gospel one strike for the first, two for the second, etc. (At the conclusion of the reading of the Passion Gospels, the Trezvon is rung.) At the Royal Hours of Holy Friday, the Bell is rung three strikes for the 3rd Hour, six for the 6th and nine for the 9th.

    Before the Divine Liturgy, the Announcement Bell is rung until the Hours begin (usually accompanied by twelve recitations of Psalm 51 for twelve strikes of the Bell or the recitation of Psalm 119), usually about one-half hour before the Liturgy.

The Peal (Trezvon)

    This is the ringing of bells in three modes, three times repeating a musical measure with a definite harmony of many selected bells. The Peal is used at the beginning of major services: Combined with the Announcement, the Peal is rung at the beginning of the All-Night Vigil, at Matins, before the Six Psalms, the Gospel, and at the end of the Vigil. At the Liturgy the Peal is rung after the 6th Hour and before the actual start of the Liturgy and after the conclusion of the Liturgy. If there be a Molieben on the church or monastery Feast Day, the Peal is rung before and after it. It is also rung at the end of the reading of the Twelve Passion Gospels of Holy Friday Matins, as well as after the Gospel reading during the Liturgy of the first day of Holy Pascha.

Chain-Ringing (Perezvon)

    This is a successive ringing of all the bells from the largest (lowest pitch) to the smallest (highest pitch), with the striking of each bell a number of times before the next bell is struck, and repeating this method several times. It is used before the Blessing of Waters, before the carrying-out of the Holy Cross on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14) and the Third Sunday of Great Lent, as well as at the Hours before the Consecration of a Bishop. It is also rung, together with a short ringing of the Peal at the immersing of the Holy Cross during the Great Blessing of Waters and after the carrying-out of the Holy Cross to the center of the church.

    This mode of ringing is also used during the Vespers of Holy Friday when the Plaschanitsa is taken from the Altar to the center of the church, and also at the Great Doxology of the Matins of Holy Saturday when the Plaschanitsa is carried out around the church. (When the procession re-enters the church, the Peal follows.) Chain-Ringing is also used at the burial of Priests and Bishops.

The Toll (Perebor)

    This is the slow tolling of each bell, beginning with the largest to the smallest and ending with a striking of all the bells at once. It is used at the carrying-out of the deceased from the church for burial and is known as the funeral toll. There is no Peal after the Toll.

    At the Hierarchical Liturgy, the Announcement is rung at the appointed time; then the Peal is rung at the arrival of the Bishop. The Announcement then continues to ring up to the time of the vesting of the Bishop. The Peal is rung again at the 6th Hour.

The Candles and Their Symbolism

    Lit candles and Icon lamps (lampadas) have a special symbolic meaning in the Christian Church, and no Christian service can be held without them. In the Old Testament, when the first temple of God was built on earth the Tabernacle services were held in it with lamps as the Lord Himself had ordained (Ex. 40:5, 25). Following the example of the Old Testament Church, the lighting of candles and of lampadas was without fail included in the New Testament Church's services.

    The Acts of the Apostles mentions the lighting of lamps during the services in the time of the Apostles. Thus, in Troas, where Christ's followers used to gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) to break bread, that is, to celebrate the Eucharist, there were many lights in the upper chamber (Acts 20:8). This reference to the large number of lamps signifies that they were not used simply for lighting, but for their spiritual significance.

    The early Christian ritual of carrying a lamp into the evening service led to the present-day order of Vespers with its entry and the singing of the ancient hymn, O Jesus Christ, the Joyful Light..., which expresses the Christian teaching of spiritual light that illumines man of Christ the Source of the grace-bestowing light. The order of the morning service of Matins is also linked to the idea of the Uncreated Light of Christ, manifested in His Incarnation and Resurrection.

    The Fathers of the Church also witnessed to the spiritual significance of candles. In the 2nd Century, Tertullian wrote: We never hold a service without candles, yet we use them not just to dispel night's gloom we also hold our services in daylight but in order to represent by this Christ, the Uncreated Light, without Worn we would in broad daylight wander as if lost in darkness [ Works, 3rd ed., Kiev, 1915, p.76]. The Blessed Jerome wrote in the 4th Century that In all the Eastern Churches, candles are lit even in the daytime when one is to read the Gospels, in truth not to dispel the darkness, but as a sign of order under that factual light to feel that Light of which we read in the Psalms (119:105): Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path [Works, part IV, 2nd ed., Kiev, 1900, pp.301-302].

    St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote in the 7th Century: Lampadas and candles represent the Eternal Light, and also the light which shines from the righteous [Writings of the Holy Fathers..., St. Petersburg, 1855, Vol. I, p.270]. The Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council decreed that in the Orthodox Church, the holy Icons and relics, the Cross of Christ, and the Holy gospel were to be honored by censing and the lighting of candles; and the Blessed Simeon of Thessalonica (15th Century) wrote that candles are also lit before the Icons of the Saints, for the sake of their good deeds that shine in this world [Works, Moscow, 1916, p. 108].

    Orthodox faithful light candles before the Icons as a sign of their faith and hope in God's help that is always sent to all who turn to Him and His Saints with faith and prayers. The candle is also a symbol of our burning and grateful love for God. During the reading of the Twelve Passion Gospel at Holy Friday Matins, the faithful hold candles, re-living our Lord's sufferings and burning with love for Him. It is an ancient custom of Russian Orthodox Christians to take home a lit candle from this Service and to make the Sign of the Cross with it on their doors in remembrance of Our Lord's sufferings and as protection against evil.

    At Vespers on Holy Friday, when the Plashchanitsa (Epitaphion) is borne out of the Altar and also during the Lamentation Matins of Holy Saturday, the faithful stand holding lit candles as a sign of love for Christ Crucified and Dead, showing their faith in His radiant Resurrection. On Pascha itself, from the moment of the procession around the church, in memory of the Myrrh-bearers who proceeded with burning lamps to the sepulcher of the Lord, the faithful hold lit candles in their hands until the end of the Paschal Service, expressing their great joy and spiritual triumph.

    Since ancient times, at hierarchical services special candle-holders have been used. The faithful reverently bow their heads when blessed by the Bishop with the dikeri, representing the two natures of Christ His Divinity and His humanity, and the trikeri, representing the Holy Trinity. Candles are also lit during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

    Holy Baptism is celebrated with the Priest fully vested and all the candles lit. Three candles are lit before the baptismal font as a sign that the Baptism is accomplished in the Name of the Holy Trinity; and the person to be baptized (if an adult) and the sponsors hold lit candles in their hands during the procession around the font as an expression of joy at the entry of a new member into the Church of Christ.

    At the betrothal ceremony, the Priest hands the bride and bridegroom lit candles before they enter the church to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony, throughout which they hold the lit candles as a symbol of their profound love for each other and of their desire to live with the blessing of the Church. At the Sacrament of Holy Unction, seven candles are lit around the vessel of Holy Oil as a sign of the grace-bestowing action of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. And when the body of a deceased person is brought in the church, four candles are placed about the coffin to form a cross to show that the deceased was a Christian. During the Funeral service, as well as Memorial services, the faithful stand with lit candles as a sign that the deceased's soul has left this world and entered the Kingdom of Heaven the Unwaning Light of God.

    During the Vespers portion of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Priest blesses the congregation with a lit candle and censer, proclaiming, The Light of Christ illumines all! On the Eve of the Nativity of Christ and the Theophany, a lit candle is placed before the festal Icon in the middle of the church to remind us of the birth and appearance on earth of Christ Our Savior, the Giver of Light. At all Divine Liturgies, lit candles are carried in procession at various parts of the service.

    Thus candles and lampadas are lit at all Church services, all with a wide variety of spiritual and symbolic meanings; for it is God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, [and] Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (1 Cor. 4:6). So too, lit candles in the church are also an expression of the worshippers' adoration and love for God, their sacrifices to Him, and at the same time of their joy and of the spiritual triumph of the Church. The candles, by their burning, remind one of the Unwaning Light which in the Kingdom of Heaven makes glad the souls of the righteous who have pleased God.

The Candles and Their Symbolism

The Church Building

External Arrangement

    Orthodox churches generally take one of several shapes that have a particular mystical significance. The most common shape is an oblong or rectangular shape, imitating the form of a ship. As a ship, under the guidance of a master helmsman conveys men through the stormy seas to a calm harbor, so the Church, guided by Christ, carries men unharmed across the stormy seas of sin and strife to the peaceful haven of the Kingdom of Heaven. Churches are also frequently built in the form of a Cross to proclaim that we are saved through faith in the Crucified Christ, for Whom Christians are prepared to suffer all things. Less frequently churches are built in the shape of a circle, signifying that the Church of Christ shall exist for all eternity (the circle being one of the symbols of eternity) or in the shape of an octagon, signifying a star, for the Church, like a star, guides a man through the darkness of sin which encompasses him. Because of the difficulties of internal arrangement, however, the latter two shapes are not often used.

    Almost always Orthodox churches are oriented East West, with the main entrance of the building at the West end. This symbolizes the entrance of the worshipper from the darkness of sin (the West) into the light of Truth (the East). This rule is violated only if the building had been previously constructed for another purpose, or if services are conducted in a private home, for example, when the entrance and main portion have been arranged according to convenience.

    On the roof of Orthodox churches are usually found one or more cupolas (towers with rounded or pointed roofs), called crests or summits. One cupola signifies Christ, the sole head of the Christian community; three cupolas symbolize the Most-Holy Trinity; five cupolas represent Christ and the four Evangelists; seven cupolas symbolize the Seven Ecumenical Councils which formulated the basic dogmas of the Orthodox Church, as well as the general use in the Church of the sacred number seven; nine cupolas represent the traditional nine ranks of Angels; and thirteen cupolas signify Christ and the Twelve Apostles.

    A peculiar feature of Russian Orthodox churches is the presence of onion-shaped domes on top of the cupolas. In the early history of the Russian Church, especially in Kiev, the first capital, the domes of the churches followed the typical Byzantine rounded style, but later, especially after the Mongol Period, Russian churches tended toward the onion domes, which, in many places, became quite stylized. Historians are not in agreement as to the origin of this particular style, but some point to the possible influence of Persia on this peculiar feature of Russian church architecture, while others argue that since this style was more popular in the far North of Russia, it had a practical application, in that the shape was particularly suited to shed the large amounts of snow common in the region.

    Every cupola, or where there is none, the roof, is crowned by a Cross, the instrument of our salvation. The Cross may take one of many different shapes, generally according to the national tradition of a particular local Church. In the Russian Church, the most common form is the so-called three-bar Cross, consisting of the usual crossbeam, a shorter crossbeam above that and another, slanted, crossbeam below. Symbolically, the three bars represent, from the top, the signboard on which was written, in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews (John 19:19); the main crossbeam, to which the hands of Jesus were nailed; the lower portion, to which His precious feet were nailed.

    The three-bar representation existed in Christian art from very early times in Byzantium, although usually without the bottom bar slanted, which is particularly Russian. The origin of this slanted footboard is not known, but in the symbolism of the Russian Church, the most common explanation is that it is the pointing upward to Paradise for the Good Thief on Jesus' right and downward to Hell for the Thief on His left (Luke 23). Sometimes the bottoms of the Crosses found on Russian churches will be adorned with a crescent. In 1486, Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible) conquered the city of Kazan which had been under the rule of Moslem Tatars, and in remembrance of this, he decreed that from henceforth the Islamic crescent be placed at the bottom of the Crosses to signify the victory of the Cross (Christianity) over the Crescent (Islam).

Internal Arrangement

    The interior of an Orthodox church is divided into several parts. One enters the church through the Porch where, in ancient times, the Weepers (Penitents forbidden to enter the church proper) stood. From the Porch one entered the Vestibule (Narthex; Lity Greek; Pritvor Russian), in ancient times a large, spacious place, wherein the Catechumens received instruction while preparing for Baptism, and also where Penitents excluded from Holy Communion stood. Here was found the Baptismal Font and it is here that the Church Typikon specifies that penitential services (such as Compline, Nocturns and the Hours) be served. In modern times, except for certain monasteries, the Vestibule has fallen into disuse with the decline of the Catechumenate, and has virtually disappeared in church architecture.

    The main body of the church is the Nave, separated from the Sanctuary (Altar) by an Icon screen with doors, called the Iconostasis (Icon stand). The walls of the Nave are usually decorated with Icons and frescoes or paintings, before many of which are hanging lit lamps (lampadas). On each side, near the front, are usually found portable Icons called Banners which are fastened to staffs. These are carried in triumphant processions in like manner to the ancient military banners of victory, which they imitate. Especially noticeable in traditional Orthodox churches is the absence of any seating (except perhaps for benches placed along the walls and at the rear). The Holy Fathers deemed it disrespectful for anyone to sit during the Divine services (except at certain explicit moments of instruction or Psalm reading) and the open spaces were seen to be especially conducive to the many bows and prostrations typical of Orthodox worship.

At the extreme Eastern end of the church is found the Altar (or Sanctuary), with two small rooms the Sacristy and the Vestry at either side, separated from the Nave by the Iconostasis. The Iconostasis is placed near the edge of the platform upon which stands the Altar and the part of the platform which projects out into the Nave is called the Soleas (an elevated place) where the Communicants stand to receive Holy Communion and where the Celebrants come out for public prayers, sermons, etc. At either side of the Soleas are places for two Choirs, called the Kleros (meaning lots, since in ancient times Readers and Singers were chosen by lots). At the front of the Soleas, before the Holy Doors, is an extension of the Soleas, called the Ambo (ascent) which is the specific spot where the faithful receive Communion and where sermons are given. In many Greek churches, there is a separate place to the side of the Soleas for the delivery of sermons the Pulpit.

    Sometimes placed in the center of the Nave is a raised platform called the Cathedra. Here the Bishop stands when he is vested and it is from here that parts of the services are performed by him. In some churches a special throne is set at the side of the Nave for the Bishop's use.

    An Orthodox Church of the Most Usual Type. (Interior Plan).

The Altar.

0. The Iconostasis

1. The Holy Table

2. The Table of Preparation

3. The High Place

4. The Vestry

5. The Holy Doors

6. The South Door

7. The North Door

8. The Ambo

9. The Kleros (Choirs)

10. The Soleas

11. The Nave

12. The Vestibule

13. The Bell-Tower

14. The Porches

The Church Building
The Clergy

The Clergy

    In the Orthodox Church there are three Major Orders Bishop, Priest and Deacon and two Minor Orders Subdeacon and Reader. All of these have specific functions in the Church and all have distinctive vestments relative to these functions. [For a further study of these Holy Orders, please see the section of this book entitled The Sacraments.]


    The universal garment worn by all classes of ordained persons is the Stikharion (or Dalmatic), a long garment with sleeves, reaching to the ground. Except for a short garment barely covering the shoulders when he is set apart by the Bishop (Reader's Phelonion symbolizing his dedication to the service of God), the Reader's basic ecclesiastical garment is the Stikharion. This garment (for Readers, Sub-Deacons and Deacons with wide sleeves; Priests and Bishops with narrow sleeves) is called the robe of salvation and the garment of joy, symbolizing a pure and peaceful conscience, a spotless life, and the spiritual joy in the Lord which flows in him who wears it.


    In addition to the Stikharion, a Sub-Deacon wears, crossed upon the breast and back, a long, wide band of material, called an Orarion (or stole), typifying the wings of angels who serve at the Throne of God, just as do the Sub-Deacons, Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Sometimes the words, Holy, Holy, Holy are embroidered upon the Orarion.


    Whereas the Sub-Deacon always wears his Orarion crossed, the Deacon, for the most part, wears his on his left shoulder, only crossing them at the time of the Communion of the clergy and the faithful. The Orarion is the Deacon's principal vestment, without which he cannot serve at any service whatever. In ancient times Deacons used to wipe the lips of communicants after they had partaken of the Holy Gifts.

    In addition to the Orarion, the Deacon also wears the Cuffs (as do the Priests and Bishops) for convenience during services and also to remind him that he must not put his trust in his own strength alone, but in the right hand of the Almighty God.


    In addition to the Stikharion (called a Cassock (or Podriznik), in this case) with narrow sleeves, the Epitrachelion (what is worn around the neck an Orarion worn around the neck so that both ends hang down the front, being buttoned or sewn together for convenience), and the Cuffs (which for the Priest also symbolizes the bonds with which Christ's hands were bound), the Priest also wears a Belt (Zone) around his Cassock and Epitrachelion, for convenience in serving at the Altar. It symbolizes that the Celebrant must place his hope, not in his own strength, but in the help of God.

    If so awarded, the Priest may also wear the Nabedrennik and the Palitsa (thighshields), which are worn at the hip and are either rectangular (Nabedrennik or Epigonation) or lozenge-shaped (Palitsa). The Nabedrennik is worn on the right hip, but if the Palitsa is awarded, it is worn on the right hip, and the Nabedrennik on the left. These symbolize the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

    Over the Cassock and Epitrachelion, the Priest wears a long garment, sleeveless, with a hole for the head, called a Phelonion (Chasuble). [In the Russian tradition, the Phelonion is shorter in the front than in the back, with the back part extending up behind the neck.] This signifies that the Priests are invested with truth, and are ministers of the truth.

As tokens of honor, a Priest also may be awarded a pointed hat (the Skufia) or a tall flat-brimmed hat (the Kamilavka), such as Monks wear, except that they are of purple color. [If the Priest be a Monk, he wears the Kamilavka with the veil the Klobuk.] In addition, at ordination to the Priesthood, the Priest is given a Pectoral Cross, symbolizing that he must confess the Cross of Christ before all men as a Preacher of the faith. As further distinctions of honor, a Priest may also be awarded a Gold Cross or a Jeweled one. A Priest may also be awarded the right to wear a Mitre (a headpiece decorated with precious stones and Icons, similar to that worn by the Bishop).


    The Bishop wears all the vestments of the Priest, except the Phelonion and the Nabedrennik. Originally the Phelonion was part of the Bishop's vestments, but in Byzantine Imperial times, this was replaced by a garment, similar to the Deacon's Stikharion, called a Saccos (sackcloth garment), symbolizing that the Bishop must rise to holiness of life, wearing this garment of humility. As Christ's robe was without seam, so too, the Bishop (as an Icon of Christ) wears the Saccos, either sewn or buttoned at the sides.

    Draped over the Saccos, the Bishop wears a wide Orarion, called the Omophorion (shoulder-covering), which, in ancient times, was made of sheepskin. This hangs down in front and back, and symbolizes the wandering sheep which Christ took upon His shoulders as the Good Shepherd, which the Bishop also must be. At other moments of the Divine services, the Bishop may wear a shorter Omophorion (with both ends hanging down the front), usually called the Small Omophorion.

    Upon his head, the Bishop wears a richly embroidered headgear, called a Mitre (headband), dating from Byzantine times and now symbolizing, as does a crown, the power bestowed upon a minister of the Church. [The Mitre is sometimes awarded to Archimandrites, Abbots, and certain Archpriests.]

    Upon his breast, in addition to the Pectoral Cross, the Bishop also wears a small, circular Icon of the Savior or of the Mother of God, called the Panagia (All-Holy), reminding him that he must always bear in his heart Our Lord and His Holy Mother, and thus his own heart must be pure, and his spirit upright.

    As a symbol of his pastoral service, the Bishop bears a Staff (Crozier), as a reminder of the Shepherd's Crook and that he is a shepherd of Christ's flock. The Episcopal Staff has a double crook at the top, and above that a Cross. [Sometimes this double crook is in the shape of serpent's heads, symbolizing the brazen serpent lifted up by Moses in the Wilderness, which symbolizes Christ lifted up on the Cross, and whose Icon the Bishop is.] The Staff is also given to some Archimandrites and Abbots as a token of their spiritual authority over the monastery which they rule.

    In addition, at certain times the Bishop wears a monastic garment, the Mantiya, which covers his whole body except his head. Its flowing lines symbolize the wings of angels, for which reason it is often called the angelic vestment. It has no sleeves (nor do any monastic Mantiyas), symbolizing for all Monks (of whom the Bishop is one) that the fleshly members are dead to the world. Unlike the typical monastic Mantiya, however, which is black, that of the Bishop is some other color, usually red (blue in the case of Russian Metropolitans) and upon it are sewn the Tables of the Law (square patches at the neck and feet), typifying the Old and New Covenants from which the ministers of God receive their doctrines. In addition, strips of cloth (called fountains) are sewn horizontally around the Mantiya, representing the streams of teachings which flow from the Bishop's mouth.

    During Divine services, the Bishop stands on a small round or oval rug, upon which is represented an eagle hovering over a city. The view of the city symbolizes his rule over a city and the eagle (for which reason this rug is called an Orlets (eaglet)) reminds the Bishop that by his teaching and life he must rise above his flock and be to them an example of one aspiring to the things of heaven.

    At various times during the Divine services, the Bishop blesses the faithful with two candlesticks one with two candles (dikiri) and the other with three (trikiri). The one symbolizes the two natures of Christ, while the other symbolizes the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

The Iconostasis

The Iconostasis

    The most prominent feature of an Orthodox church is the Iconostasis, consisting of one or more rows of Icons and broken by a set of doors in the center (the Holy Doors) and a door at each side (the Deacon's Doors). In ancient times, the Iconostasis was probably a screen placed at the extreme Eastern end of the church (a tradition still preserved by Russian Old-Believers), but quite early it was moved out from the wall as a sort of barrier between the Nave and the Altar, with the opening and closing of curtains making the Altar both visible and inaccessible.

    The Holy Fathers envisioned the church building as consisting of three mystical parts. According to Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, a Confessor of Orthodoxy during the iconoclastic controversies (7th-8th Centuries), the church is the earthly heaven where God, Who is above heaven, dwells and abides, and it is more glorious than the [Old Testament] tabernacle of witness. It is foreshadowed in the Patriarchs, is based on the Apostles..., it is foretold by the Prophets, adorned by the Hierarchs, sanctified by the Martyrs, and its high Altar stands firmly founded on their holy remains.... Thus, according to St. Simeon the New Theologian, the [Vestibule] corresponds to earth, the [Nave] to heaven, and the holy [Altar] to what is above heaven [Book on the House of God, Ch. 12].

    Following these interpretations, the Iconostasis also has a symbolic meaning. It is seen as the boundary between two worlds: the Divine and the human, the permanent and the transitory. The Holy Icons denote that the Savior, His Mother and the Saints, whom they represent, abide both in Heaven and among men. Thus the Iconostasis both divides the Divine world from the human world, but also unites these same two worlds into one whole a place where all separation is overcome and where reconciliation between God and man is achieved. Standing on the boundary between the Divine and the human, the Iconostasis reveals, by means of its Icons, the ways to this reconciliation.

    A typical Iconostasis consists of one or more tiers (rows) of Icons. At the center of the first, or lowest, tier, are the Holy Doors, on which are placed Icons of the four Evangelists who announced to the world the Good News the Gospel of the Savior. At the center of the Holy Doors is an Icon of the Annunciation to the Most-Holy Theotokos, since this event was the prelude or beginning of our salvation. Over the Holy Doors is placed an Icon of the Last Supper since, in the Altar beyond, the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated in remembrance of the Savior Who instituted the Sacrament at the Last Supper.

    At either side of the Holy Doors are always placed an Icon of the Savior (to the right) and of the Most-Holy Theotokos (to the left). In addition, next to the Icon of the Savior is placed that of the church, i.e., an Icon of the Saint or Event in whose honor the church has been named and dedicated. Other Icons of particular local significance are also placed in this first row, for which reason the lower tier is often called the Local Icons. On either side of the Holy Doors, beyond the Icons of the Lord and His Mother, are two doors Deacon's Doors upon which are depicted either sainted Deacons or Angels who minister always at the heavenly Altar, just as do the earthly Deacons during the Divine services.

    Ascending above the Local Icons are several more rows (or tiers) of Icons. The tier immediately above are those representing the principal Feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos. The next tier above that contains Icons of those Saints closest to the Savior, usually the Holy Apostles. Just above the Icon of the Last Supper is placed an Icon of the Savior in royal garments, flanked by His Mother and St. John the Baptist, called the Deisis (prayer), since the Theotokos and the Forerunner are turned to Him in supplication. As these Icons (Apostles, Theotokos, and Forerunner) are arranged in order on either side of the Savior the tier is usually called the Tchin (or rank). Often this tier was to be found just above the Local Icons and below the Feast Day Icons.

    The next row usually contains the Old Testament Saints Prophets, Kings, etc. in the midst of which is the Birthgiver of God with the Divine Infant Who is from everlasting and Who was their hope, their consolation, and the subject of their prophecies. If there are more tiers, Icons of the Martyrs and Holy Bishops would be placed above the Old Testament Saints. At the very top of the Iconostasis is placed the Holy Cross, upon which the Lord was crucified, effecting thereby our salvation.

    As pointed out, the central place of the Iconostasis is occupied by the Holy Doors, because the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist celebrated within the Altar, is brought forth through them to the faithful. They are also called the Royal Gates (or Doors), since the King of Glory passes through them in the Holy Eucharist. Behind the doors is placed a curtain which is opened or closed, depending on the solemnity or penitential aspect of a particular moment of the Divine services.

The Sacristy and Vestry

The Sacristy and Vestry

The Sacristy

    At the North end of the Altar (in ancient times a separate room, called the Sacristy or Chapel of the Oblation (sometimes Chapel of Preparation in Russian, Zhertvinnik) is placed the Table of Oblation (offering or Prothesis) where the offerings are prepared during the Proskomedia or Liturgy of Preparation. Like the Holy Table, the Table of Oblation is covered with rich coverings and the wall around it is decorated with Icons. Upon it are placed the sacred vessels used in the preparation of Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Paten (Diskos)

    This is a round vessel with a foot, upon which are placed the Lamb and the particles taken out from the breads (prosphora) in memory of the Theotokos, the Forerunner, the Saints, the Living and the Dead.

Star-Cover (Asterisk)

    This consists of two bands of metal joined by a screw which, when put together, form the shape of a Cross. This is placed over the Paten after the Lamb and particles have been placed thereon, to support the veil above the Paten and also to keep the particles in order.


    This is a lance-shaped knife, representing the spear with which the Savior's Body was pierced, used to take particles out of the breads.


    This is a cup with a foot into which the wine, mixed with water is poured during the preparation of the Sacrament. To the Chalice also belongs a small Ladle (Zeon) with which the mixed wine and water are poured into the Cup, and also used for the warm water (hence the name Zeon hot water) poured into the Chalice at the Communion of the Clergy.


    This is used to administer the Sacrament at the Communion of the Faithful.


    There are two Sponges (cut from natural sponges) one used at the Holy Table and one used at the Table of Oblation. That used at the Holy Table to wipe the particles from the Paten into the Chalice, is usually kept in a fold of the Antimension and thus is called the Antimension Sponge. The other is kept on the Table of Oblation to wipe the Chalice after it has been washed at the end of the Liturgy and thus is called the Cleansing Sponge.


    Three Veils are used: two smaller ones to cover the Paten and Chalice, protecting the Lamb and particles from dust and insects, and a larger Veil, with which the Paten and Chalice and their respective Veils are together covered. This is usually called the Aer since it covers the Holy Vessels even as air covers the earth.


    This is a cup-shaped vessel with a cover held by three chains uniting into one handle, within which are placed a piece of burning charcoal and incense. This is swung at many places during the Divine services, representing the prayers of the faithful ascending to Heaven. At the Liturgy of Preparation, the Censer, with the incense, represents the gifts offered by the Magi to the Infant Christ gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Vestry

    At the right (South) side of the Altar is a space reserved for the sacred vessels, books and vestments, called the Vestry (or Diakonnikon, since the Deacons are usually in charge of these items). In ancient times this was a separate room and here the faithful would bring all sorts of edible gifts (cheese, eggs, boiled rice or wheat, etc.) for the clergy.


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