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