Welcome to the Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross. As you enter the body of the church, you will immediately note several prominent features.
In the center of the church, you will see a small table upon which is placed the icon, remembered on this particular day of the year, or alternately, the icon of the saint or feast to which the particular church is dedicated. In our church, you will most often, see the icon of the Holy Cross to which our community is consecrated. It is to this central image that upon entering the church, the faithful will come to venerate.
To either side of the central table you will see two more icon stands with candle stands. The icon stand to the right will present the image of Christ, while the one to the left holds the icon of the Theotokos, Mary, the birth-giver of God.
Upon entering an Orthodox church, it is customary for Orthodox Christians to venerate icons with a kiss and offer a prayer, either directly to God, or to the saint as an intercessory on their behalf to God.
In Orthodox churches, the burning of candles historically stems from the early days when the candles of the congregants contributed to the light of the service as well as serving as an
offering in the context of the celebration.
A unique feature of our church is the distinctive wooden church furniture and carved icon screen. All of these were hand made by one of our church founders, Alexander Leon.
As you look up onto the next level toward the alter, you will see the large carved wooden screen comprised of images and passage ways. This is known as the Iconostasis. It is the Iconostasis which distinguishes the area of the Altar and High Place from the rest of the space.
The screen itself, often consisting of more than one tier, filled as it is with the images of Christ, His Mother, the Theotokos ("she who bore God") as she is known in Orthodox theology, the prophets, apostles the saints and even the the very feasts by which the church celebrates the great events of our salvation history is less a wall of separation between celebrants and the people gathered, than a point of intersection, of confrontation between the heavenly and earthly realms. While in some sense reminding us of the division between the Divine and human realms, the screen unites these same two worlds into a whole where all separation is eventually overcome, and where reconciliation between God and man is achieved. It is here in the very face and lives of Christ, His Mother and the saints that we come to know God's holiness at work in our lives.
It is here we that join with them in gathering around the throne of God to offer our praises and our lives back to Him in thanksgiving and to bear our burdens to his mercy.
It is here, gathering as the faithful do at this boundary, that the images themselves reveal the many ways of this reconciliation. As you look around the interior of the church itself, you will see that we are in fact, surrounded by the images of the saints and the righteous with whom we gather in perpetual communion and community.
The central doors, known as the Royal Doors, are the place from which the celebrant blesses the congregation, and both accepts and distributes the eucharistic gifts. It is the central position from which the celebrant leads the prayers and liturgical dialogue. The Royal doors are flanked by the primary images of the Orthodox understanding of our salvation: Christ and Virgin Mary, His Mother and are surmounted by the image of the Apostles gathered around the Lord' supper.
The very doors themselves bear the images of the four streams of the Gospel, the Four Evangelists, and are united in the center with the image of the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, since it is this event which is understood as the prelude or the very beginning of our salvation. At the very apex of the iconostasis is placed the Holy Cross itself, upon which Christ was crucified, and through which joy has come into the world.
The two additional passages, known as the deacon's doors are used for the entry and exit of the additional celebrants and servers at the liturgy and bear the images of the sainted deacons or angels who minister at the heavenly altar as do the earthly deacons during the Divine services. Through the Royal Doors, you will notice the Central Altar in the Sanctuary, which faces the East. It is from this table that the celebrant leads the worship services. It is from this altar that both the word of God is brought out to the people, and the table of the Lord's supper is offered to the faithful.
Upon it rests the book of the Gospels, the Cross, a Tabernacle which houses the Eucharistic gifts held in reserve and a seven-branched candelabrum.
Behind the altar, in the area designated the 'high place,' stands the processional cross bearing the image of the crucified Christ. On either side of the cross, stand the processional images of the Cherubim and Seraphim which surround the throne of God. Traditionally, the rear wall of the apse would contain an image of the risen Christ, or Christ enthroned.
On either end of the icons screen you will notice two large images. On the left, the images of St. Herman and St. Innocent, cornerstones of the Orthodox church on this continent, and on the right, the Image of the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena, whose devotion and labors helped to unveil the location of the Holy Cross to which this parish is dedicated. You will see as well the images of John the Baptist who announced the call of imminence and repentance to the world, and of Mary Magdalene to whom was made the first proclamation of the Risen Christ.
Surrounding the space between this image and icon screen itself individually stand the images of Christ and His Mother. It is before this central table that the majority of the scriptural readings and common prayers of the faithful are read. The Gospel itself is read from the center of the Royal Doors, facing the people.
The Divine services celebrated to demark the day, and the week, and the cycle of the liturgical year itself combine psalms, hymns, structured prayers, creedal affirmations and proclamations, petitions and Scriptural readings in continuous discourse and dialogue between the chief celebrant, the additional celebrants, and the faithful. All prayers and responses, all utterances in these Divine services are sung rather than spoken, and offered in the image of " unceasing voice' raised to God.
The Orthodox Christian asks again and again in these services, that God make of our prayer a sacrament of His presence. In the Orthodox
Church, the coming to God in prayer and in solemn and joyous festival is in reality the ceaseless coming of God to us in power and glory. St. John of Damascus wrote: 'God descends to the soul in prayer and the spirit rises to God' This intimate and wondrous participation of God in our personal lives is crucial and decisive to our understanding of life in a Divinely-ordered universe. He does not come to give orders, but to issue an invitation.
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