House of God

You have seen this building before, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, with its beautiful golden domes. One day, as you walk by, you wonder if the church is open. It would be nice to see the interior.
As you pull on the handle, the door opens, inviting you in. Welcome! Please, enter in!
You’ve come to this church around noon on a Sunday. The service has ended and the congregation has gone next door (or downstairs) to the hall for a coffee social.

As you come in through the doors, you enter into an area which serves as a vestibule or atrium. This area is called the narthex. It represents the world, where evangelisation takes place.
In this particular church, there are several interestiong things located in the narthex:
• Bulletins – on a table, with printed information about the community, its clergy, services and events;
• Notices – notices are posted on a bulletin board;
• Pamphlets – with information about Christianity are available for free;
• Bookstore – religious books, icons and candles are available for sale;
• Baptismal font – a large vessel or pool for water, which is used for baptisms;
• Icons – of Christ, and of the feast or patron saint of the church. Catholic churches are named in honour of one or all the person of the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, one of the saints, or one of the feasts.
A few people are still standing around in the narthex, talking to each other. Smiling, they greet you as their guest and invite further in, through a second set of doors, to see the beauty of the church inside.

As you come in through the second set of doors, you feel like you are leaving the world behind. You enter into a large space called the holy place or nave. It feels holy. It represents the kingdom of God on earth. This is where the community of the faithful gather to pray.
There’s a sense of beauty and peace within the holy place. It’s a good place to be. You can smell the beeswax from the burning candles, and the scent of incense still lingering in the air.
Walk up to the centre of the holy place and look around. There’s alot to take in!

Religious Art
Much of the walls, even the ceiling, may be covered with icons, mosaics or paintings of people and events from the Bible and Church history. It may be initially overwhelming and bewildering to the eye, with so may stories and scenes going on all at once.
The icons reflect the “mind” of the Church, which continually meditates and ponders upon every word of God, remembering all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, the mind of each Christian should be filled with the life of Christ and His Church.

Look up to see the dome centred overhead. There may be an image of Jesus Christ, Pantocrator, painted within it, looking down from above. Pantocrator is a Greek word which means “the Almighty One,” or “He who sustains all things.” The dome gives a sense of God’s majesty, beauty and power. However, it also gives a sense of God’s loving Presence and embrace. You get impression that Jesus is gathering His people together, to bless them and to feed them.
When you look up to the front, you see a wooden, metal or marble screen, the iconostasis, which distinguishes the holy place from the holy altar.
The Greek word iconostasis simply means “icon stand.” Upon it are set a series of large, almost life-size icons.
In the very middle is an elaborate double door that opens to the altar area, called the holy or royal doors.
1. On the royal doors, you will see the icon of the angel Gabriel announcing the “Good News” of the incarnation to the Virgin Mary.
2. You will also find icons of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
3. To the left is the icon of the Virgin Mary embracing the Child Jesus.
4. To the right is an imposing icon of Christ. He is holding a Gospel book in one hand and blessing you with the other. His face, and particularly His eyes, are powerfully attractive and compelling.
5. On the north and south doors we often see angels, or holy deacons.
6. The icons on the far right and left side represent the holy patrons of the parish or the patronal feast.
7. Additional rows of icons may be present above the main icons. The first row is usually the row of feasts, with the icon of the Last Supper in the middle, above the royal doors.
8. The second row is usually the Deisis, which means “prayer, intercession.” At the centre is Christ the Judge. To His right is Mary, His Mother; to His left is John the Baptist. They intercede before Christ on behalf of all humanity. On either side, other saints act as intercessors.
9. At the very top of the iconostasis is the cross, which opened for us the doors to Paradise.

The solea is the elevated platform, raised one or two steps, directly in front of the iconostasis. There are a few things that you may see on the solea:
• Choir area – with chairs for cantors and choir members; on one side or on both sides;
• Bishop’s throne – on the right side.

The ambo is usually a semi-circular platform, which extends out from the solea into the holy place. However, it may also be an elevated platform with steps, in the middle of the nave or to the side, completely separate from the solea.
The ambo is the place from which the Gospel is proclaimed, and from where the bishop or priest delivers his sermon.

An analogion is stand, upon which icons are place for veneration. It mayalso be used as a lectern for the reading of the Gospel, or as stand for liturgical books.

Is a small table which is set in the middle of the nave, when needed. It is used for prayer services other than the celebration of the Eucharist. Often, icons are placed on the tetrapod for veneration.

As a symbol of their prayer and petitions, the faithful light candles and place them before Christ, the Virgin Mary, or other saints. They are place with faith and confidence that God will hear their prayers and answer them, through the intercession of His saints. The lit candles are also a symbol of personal love, devotion and thanksgiving for prayers answered.

The labarum is a church standard or banner. It consists of flag suspended from the crossbar of a cross. An icon of Christ, the Virgin Mary or a saint is portrayed on the flag. Labara are kept in the nave of the church and used for outdoor processions.
The area behind the iconostasis is also known as the holy altar, or the holy of holies.
The apse at the back wall of the holy altar is a semi-circular recess, with a semi-dome.
The icon painted in the apse is that of Christ as the High Priest. Jesus is the main celebrant of every Eucharist.
Traditionally, the icon depicted above is the Oranta – Mary praying with outstretched arms, symbolizing the entire Church at prayer.

Holy Table
Set in the centre of the holy altar, the holy table is where the Eucharist is celebrated. Traditionally, it is square in shape – a symbol of perfection. The Eucharist is a perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God
The following items are associated with the hoy table:
• Antimension – a rectangular piece of cloth, of either linen or silk, decorated with an image of the Entombment of Christ. A small relic of a martyr is sewn into it. The Eucharist cannot be celebrated without an antimension.
• Gospel Book – the four Gospel, bound into one book, and decorated with a gold, silver or cloth cover. The Gospel Book is considered to be an icon of Christ, and is venerated in the same manner as an icon. It rest on the holy table, over the antimension.
• Ηαndcross – rests on the holy table to the right of the Gospel Book.
• Artophorion – also known as the Tabernacle, rests in the very centre of the holy table. It is a container, usually made in the shape of a church, where the consecrated Eucharist (Holy Gifts) are reserved and venerated. Since Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, they believe Jesus is present in the Holy Gifts in a real and unique way.
• Cross – set vertically in the centre behind the holy table is the cross. It can be removed and used for processions.
• Repidia – the holy table is overshadowed by two fans bearing images of angels (cherubim). Set on either side of the cross, they may also be removed and used for processions.
• Lampstand – with seven branches and seven lamps.

Eternal Light
Suspended over the royal doors of the iconostasis is the eternal light – a lamp which is continually lit, as a reminder of God’s Presence in the Eucharist, reserved in the artophorion upon the holy table.

High Place
In every church, the high place is the location of the bishop’s central throne (cathedra), set in the apse behind the holy table. In most churches the high place is set on an elevated platform, with one or several steps. On both sides of the cathedras is the synthronos, a set of seats or benches reserved for priests.

Preparation Table
A table set along the wall on the left side of the holy altar. This table is used to prepare the bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Vesting Table
This table is set along the wall on the right side of the holy altar. It is used for vesting, or any liturgical needs.