Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Images in the Chancel ! (Part 2)

July 31st, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie
Previously: Part 1

"Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit", Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY

This is a local Greek Orthodox Church that is actually a renovated Baptist Church. The Eastern Churches (Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic) are serious when it comes to the use of images in the chancel -or bema– area. As I have mentioned before, the Eastern Churches have a canon of liturgical decoration that is nearly always followed. We Roman (or Latin Rite) Catholics do not have any such canon.

Let’s start our survey of appropriate images for use in the chancel area with this Greek Orthodox example. This gives us a peek at the basic canon used by the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.

The iconostasis screen is the wall of icons  that symbolizes the point at which heaven and earth meet; a boundary of sorts between heaven and earth. The central doors are called the Royal Doors (or Holy Doors or Beautiful Gates). The Annunciation is usually depicted on them but sometimes it is the four evangelists, or both. The first icon to the right of the doors is always a representation of Christ. It is in front of this icon that confessions are heard. The icon to the left of the doors is always of the Theotokos. Filling out the iconostasis to the right and left are St. John the Baptist next, after Christ, and then patron saints or other saints important to the local Church.  There are two other doors in the screen, one on each side, called deacon doors (or the north and south doors). Deacon Saints Stephen and Lawrence or Archangels Michael and Gabriel are usually depicted on those doors.

Above the central door is displayed the Mystical Supper icon and above that an icon (the Deesis) with Christ in the center, Mary on the left and St. John the Baptist on the right. Both point to Christ. To either side of the Mystical Supper are depicted the twelve Feasts of the Liturgical year.

If the doors are open you will see an icon of the crucifixion (in some churches) on the wall to the far side of the altar (all Eastern Rite Churches utilize free-standing square/cubic altars). Finally, high on the back wall, or in the half dome ceiling if there is an apse, you can usually see a large image of the Virgin of the Sign (or Virgin Platytera); this image calls to mind the Incarnation and Mary’s role as intercessor. Sometimes the image is of Christ Pantokrator (Almighty Ruler of the Universe or Christ in Majesty as it is depicted in Eastern Rite Catholic churches).

If there are other tiers on the screen they will depict the patriarchs, prophets and apostles.

That is a very basic description of the distribution of images in the Eastern canon of Liturgical imagery. Why those images are situated where there are is, of course, very important and quite interesting but, alas, there is no room here to get into all that. Maybe we can do that in the future in separate short posts. I just wanted to give anyone not familiar with the Eastern canon a quick look at who, and what, goes where.

Some Local Websites:

Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester. Greek Fest 2010 is August 26 – 28 at the church location. They have tours and explanations of the church during the festival days.

St. Josaphat’s Ukranian Catholic Church , Ridge Road, Irondequoit. This site has a ton of pictures of parish life. Among them are many pictures of the interior of the church showing the chancel or bema area during Liturgical celebrations. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture any of them to show you here. They will have tours of the church during the Ukranian Festival 2010 August 12 – 15.

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4 Responses to “Images in the Chancel ! (Part 2)”

  1. praedicator says:

    Great post! Excited for the rest of the series.

    I was just wondering the other day, though, where is the tabernacle situated in Eastern churches?

  2. Bernie says:

    The Tabernacle (Ark) in the Orthodox or Eastern Rite Catholic Churches is kept on the Altar (Holy Table) at all times, never anywhere else –to my knowledge. Latin or Western tabernacles, as you know, can be located off the main altar. The Eastern style of Tabernacle is often rather small compared to the Latin or Western tabernacles and usually looks like a small model of a church. There are variations. Maybe I should put a post together on Eastern “Arks.”

  3. Nerina says:

    “Maybe I should put a post together on Eastern “Arks.”” – Bernie


  4. Anonymous says:

    Please include pictures of another beautiful local Orthodox church:
    All of these icons were painted by *monks.* It is very comforting to see these images each week. How sad that, as an orthodox (small “o”) Catholic said to me “Bishop Clark hates beautiful churches.” So many immigrants sacrificed so much to build glorious RC churches, only to have them closed, sold, and “rennovated.” I admire the efforts of this blog to present some resistance to the unchristian activities that have taken root in Rochester.

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