Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Orthodox Faith – The Church Building (2)

Orthodox Churches, as well as many others, are divided into three sections: the vestibule, the nave and the sanctuary. The vestibule is near the entrance of the church. It symbolizes the world. It is the place where “church business” is conducted. People buy candles here, or prosphora. They fill out commemoration slips., There may be icons or crosses on sale here. The nave is where the worshippers stand. Traditionally Orthodox churches do not have pews, so people stand for services. There may be benches on the sides where the elderly or sick can sit. In practice there are many churches that do have pews or chairs for people to sit. It is where the believers gather to worship. In a sense it is where people come together as a church. The world church ecclesia in Greek, does not refer to a building, but to the people who worship together as a church.

The sanctuary is where the clergy and altar servers lead the worship. It will have an altar, a holy table. Christ is present on the holy table in the Gospel book which lies on the altar and in the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood. But the sanctuary is more than just a place to lead the service. The Fathers of the church tell us that angels and saints are present at every Divine Liturgy. Usually of course, they are invisible. But over the course of centuries many saints have seen the angels around the Holy Table participating in the Liturgy. As St. Paul tells us we are “…no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”

The sanctuary is the Holy Place. However, we should not think that those worshippers in the nave are somehow “worldly” or non-sanctified. The word for lay people in some languages means the “worldly”, the non-sacred. But our English world “laity” or “layperson” comes from the Greek expression “laos tou theo”. This means the people of God.  All Christians become members of the people of God though the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation. In a very real sense, when a man is ordained to a sacred ministry he does not cease being a  member of the “laos tou theo.” He is a member of the people of who has been set apart for a particular reason. We have to be very careful to not divide the different members of the people of God. All are holy, all are sacred, all participate in the Liturgy of the Church. At the very least, we should all strive for this. The sanctuary, nave and even the vestibule are all in a very real sense, a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Church Building (1)

The writer of these articles once read a book that said if you ask a Christian to point to where God is he will point upward, but if you ask a Hindu he will point to his heart. The idea here is that for Christians God is up far away in heaven while for Hindus God is best found within. The implied criticism is that God is distant for Christians, where for a Hindu god is close. But this is a rather naive way to think because God is not bound by space. God is above, God is below and ultimate is “everywhere present and fillest all things” as the prayer says. For the Christian God is quite clearly in our hearts. As a matter of fact, the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) is also called the Prayer of the Heart. The idea is that God far away in space that contradicts the fundamental belief of Christianity and that God is within us in the person of the Son of God who became a human for our sake. When the angel appeared to St. Joseph telling him that the Theotokos was going to give birth to the Son of God, the angel said “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Mt 1:23). As it says, Jesus is Emmanuel which means that God is with us.

This is seen in the traditional Orthodox Church building. We know that in the Christian west the traditional Gothic church has the pillars pointing up to heaven, the traditional Orthodox Church building emphasizes that God is with us. In the dome in the traditional Church we see Jesus Christ in the dome which shows us that the space of the church including the people, are part of and filled with the presence of God. God is near us, he embraces us. As St. Paul writes, Christ “as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10) and we are “to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph 3:19)

The church does not try to reproduce the scene of the Last Supper not is it a simple gathering space. The real model for an Orthodox Church is found I the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

“After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever,  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God” (Rev 4:1-11)

So in the Orthodox Church we are experiencing some of the goory of heaven. Pointing to this passage is a good way to help Christians who say that churches devoid of vestments or incense or Liturgy are really not following the Bible. So we must remember that while God is aloe, he is also around us and within us.

Fr. John