Orthodox CHURCH SYMBOLS
Virtually everything you see in an Orthodox Church symbolizes and calls to mind some aspect of our meeting with eternal Divinity
The Domes. The peaked Russian dome draws our yearning and aspiration upward toward God and the spiritual life. Like its ancestor the round Byzantine dome, the Russian dome celebrates in architecture what is accomplished by the Eucharistic Sacrament - the communion of heaven and earth. A single dome symbolizes the One Head of the Church, Jesus Christ; three domes stand for the Holy Trinity; five domes point to Christ and the Four Evangelists.
The Russian Orthodox Cross. On top of every dome, and throughout the church, you see the unique Russian three-bar cross. The top bar bears the sign "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," reminding us that Christ is the King of Glory. The footboard, which was used by Roman executioners in Christ's time, is slanted up on the right for the thief who repented and down on the left for the thief who railed at Christ.
An Open Church. There are no pews or chairs in most Orthodox Churches. Every one stand during worship services out of reverence and humility before God. The absence of rigid pews gives all the freedom to move about the Church and feel at home. Everebody are free to venerate icons and light candles, as well as to bow and do the prostrations necessary at times during worship.
Candles. Candles burn before the icons and on the altar, signifying the light of truth given by the Lord, illuminating the world with spiritual radiance. Candles also symbolize our soul's burning love of God and the spiritual joy and triumph of the Church.
The Sanctuary. Raised above the nave (body of the Church), the sanctuary is where the Church's consecrated clergy perform divine services. The altar in the center of the sanctuary is known as the Holy Throne because the Lord God Himself is present on it.
ICONS. On small stands, on the large iconstasis (icon stand) in front of the sanctuary, encircling the walls, and even up to the highest dome - holy pictures draw you into the spiritual fife of the Church like silent, ever-preaching sermons. Called icons, from the Greek word for image, the holy pictures of Christ, the saints, and martyrs have deep significance in Orthodox fife. Free from the subjective, sentimental, and fleshy quality of Western religious art, the true icon is part of the Church's Sacred Tradition. A true icon, painted through the power of the Holy Spirit, is in communion with the spiritual life of the Church back to its earliest days.
The screen (called iconostasis, or image stand) is not placed in front of the altar to hide it, but to emphasize the inner mystery of the sacraments.
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