Church Design & Iconography
The church is divided into three parts: the Narthex, the Nave; and the Holy Altar.
The entrance of the church is the Narthex. This is where the Orthodox Christian prepares himself for worship by making his offering and lighting a candle as a symbol of prayer and confessing that Jesus is the Light of the world. The Light of Christ is to be reflected in the life of the believer and shared with others. We do not worship the holy pictures; we show honor and respect to the saint or saints depicted. We ask that they pray with us and for us.
On entering the Nave we gather in the area where the congregation participates in the services. The arched ceiling is symbolic of the truth that God is eternal. The ceiling in Orthodox churches serves to bring a little of heaven down to earth. The design, as well as, the traditional adornment of the interior of our church is based on this concept. The design of our church follows early Christian tradition. Many Orthodox Churches have a dome in which is a large icon of Jesus Christ the Panocrator. The icon depicts Christ as the Almighty watching over us from His heavenly throne. As our eyes descend from the ceiling we see on each side aisle Saints of the Church that remind us that when we worship, we do so in the Community of the Saints.
THE HOLY ALTAR
Separating the Holy Altar from the Nave is the Iconostas (icon Screen) which symbolized the curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem that separated the people from the Holy of Holies. The icons shown here exist to show our unity with Christ, His Mother, the Angels, and Saints.
There is a traditional order to the placement of the icons that adorn the Iconostas. Facing the Holy Altar, to the right of the Royal Entrance is the icon of Christ and next to it, that of St. John the Baptist. To the left of the Royal Entrance is the Icon of the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos) holding the Christ Child and next to it the icon to which our parish is dedicated. It is the practice that this icon may vary from one Orthodox church to another depending on the Saint or event in the Lord's life in whose honor the church has been named. On either side of these icons are doors with depictions of the Archangels Michael (left side) and Gabriel (rightside). These doors bear the icons of the Archangels who guard the entrance to the Holy Altar, symbolic of God's Kingdom, and are used by the acolytes (Altar servers) to exit and enter the Holy Altar. Only the ordained clergy, Bishops, Priests, or Deacons, to enter or exit the Holy Altar use the Royal Entrance, mentioned above. Over the Royal Entrance is the icon of the Last Supper, reminding us that our participation in the Divine Liturgy places us at that sacred event.
The holiest place in our church is located behind the lconostas. Throughthe Royal Entrance one sees the Holy Altar Table. It represents the Heavenly Banquet Table the Kingdom of God. Placed in the center is the Holy Tabernacle for the Reserved Sacrament of Holy Communion. In front of this is the Book of the Holy Gospels, a blessing cross. Directly behind the Holy Altar Table stand a seven-branched candleholder and the icon of the Holy Eucharist - Christ giving Holy Communion to his apostles. To the left of the Holy Altar Table is the Table of Oblation where the holy utensils (the communion chalice, paten, etc.) are kept, and where the bread and wine are prepared for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The icon above the table of oblation depicts the Nativity of Christ. To the right is the Table of Service. It is here that the priest will place items needed for various services. The icon behind the table depicts Jesus Christ Crucified.
Above the Holy Altar the icon of the Mother of God is located in the Apse. This icon of the Virgin Mary with her arms outstretched and Christ appearing within her is called the "Platytera." The Virgin Mary is the example for the entire assembly of believers who choose to live Christ-centered lives. The term "Platytea" is taken from one of the hymns of the Church which refers to the womb of Mary as "wider (platytera) than the heavens" because she gave birth to the Son and the Word of God, who is infinite and eternal, yet entered time and human history as a man (John 1: I- 14). Depicted also are the angels who worship in a we the mystery of the Divine Incarnation. To the side of the apse are two icons depicting Saints and Fathers of the Church, all of whom were bishops and shepherds who served in faithful imitation of Christ, the Great High Priest and Shepherd of the Church. The Icon of Pentecost covers the entire front wall denoting the guidance of the church by the Holy Spirit. At the top center is the Icon of the Mandelion (Face of Christ)
The area in front of the Iconostas is called the Solea. This area serves as the place where baptisms, weddings and other sacraments are performed. To the right of the Solea is the Chanter Stand where chanters and readers assist during the services.
The Orthodox Church calls for the elaborate use of symbolism and iconography in the interior decoration of the church building. The style of iconography follows typical Byzantine traditions. To the eye of Western Christians accustomed to the religious art of the Renaissance, Byzantine Art sometimes appears austere. For Orthodox Christians, however, there was a reason for developing this style. Icons are not simply portraits representing people, but graphic presentations of spiritual truths. They remain unmoved, formal, almost unreal, only a hint of emotion appearing on the face of figures. Icons are not intended to evoke emotional response as much as understanding and wisdom. Icons are symbols, not Idols. Icons are venerated, not worshiped. When we venerate icons the honor is directed to Christ or to the Saints depicted on the icons, not to the wood, paints, or colors of the icon.
In the Orthodox Church the icons bear witness to the reality of God's presence with us in the mystery of faith. The icons are not meant to be human pictures, but visual aids to contemplation and prayer. We are to look beyond the external and deep into the spiritual meaning of living the Christian life. Icons are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and so our own presence to the Kingdom of God in the Church. It is in the Orthodox Christian Faith that icons are not only permissible, but are spiritually necessary because, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1: 14). Christ is truly man and, as man, truly the "icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1: 15, 1 Cor. 11: 7, 2 Cor. 4: 4).
The power of icons is not mechanical or magical, but spiritual. It is a working of God's grace in the act of a personal statement of faith and through the intercessory prayers of the Saints who live in God's glory. Icons teach us about Christ and His ministry, as well as, about the Saints and their record of faith. As sacred art, icons are windows into heaven: they seek to symbolize the transfigured cosmos and the victory of redeemed creation by the glory of Christ. In the words of St. John of Damascus: "The icon is a song of triumph and a revelation, and an enduring witness to the victory of the Saints."