|The Veil (το καταπέτασμα), the Sanctuary Doors (τα βημόθυρα) and the Beautiful Gate (Η Ωραία Πύλη)|
...continued from part one.
The Place and Position of the Holy Altar
It has become customary for this Liturgy to be performed not on an established and sanctified Holy Altar, but on a table placed in the middle of the church. This act is certainly contrary to our Sacred Tradition and the Sacred Canons of the Church. But it is the long-standing demand of certain "professors", clergy and laity who have been educated in the West (Fr. Vasilios Thermos,5 Fr. Demetrios Tzerpos,6 Mr. Peter Vasiliadis,7 etc.), who persistently seek the abolition of the icon screen and therefore the distinction of the Sacred Sanctuary.
Yet the 69th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod makes clear that the Holy Sanctuary is intended only for the clergy. Saint Nikodemos, also, in his first footnote to the above Canon, urges: "Hence let priests and confessors be induced to see to it that the unlawful custom prevailing in many places be cut out – the custom, I mean, of letting laymen come into the Holy Sanctuary, which, failing to distinguish between priests and laymen, causes the latter to incur the penalty which befell King Ahaz, who, though a layman, undertook to perform the functions of those in Holy Orders. For they too, in such a case, are in a way usurping the functions of priests by entering the place allotted to priests."8 If the entrance of laymen into the Holy Sanctuary abolishes the distinction of gifts of grace, how much more can one say that the complete disappearance of this distinction of the Sanctuary takes place, by equating the tripartite temple, which exists from the time of the Old Testament, and empowers all men, women and children to see from a short distance all that God has given priests to perform?
According to Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki: "The Holy Sanctuary of the Holy of Holies is an image of the highest heavens of the heavens; while the Holy Altar is the Throne of God and the Resurrection of Christ and the venerable Tomb."9 He continues: "When we do a sacred ceremony within the church and even the fearsome ceremony, then the Altar is a type of heaven, while the church signifies the earthly." The icon screen in its present form has existed in the Orthodox Church already since the fifth century, though long before this there existed a low screen. Its purpose is not merely to hide things, but it has a very deep theological function since it teaches the faithful that Christ is not being shown to us but rather is being partaken of, that the Divine Liturgy is not a spectacle but a reception.
It is extremely important to mention, to show how remote from Sacred Tradition and how atheological it is to eliminate the Sanctuary, that very early on not only did a screen exist, but also that after the Great Entrance they would shut the Sanctuary Doors, which is a tradition maintained till this day on Mount Athos, in all the monasteries, as well as in some parishes. It is also observed in all parishes during the ceremony of the Presanctified Divine Liturgy of Great Lent. According to the divine Chrysostom: "When you behold the curtains of the sanctuary drawn down, then imagine that the heavens are let down from above, and that the angels are descending."11 The faithful, therefore, prepare for the hour of the Apocalypse, the hour when Christ appears at the Gate and calls everyone to communion with Him.
Unfortunately, however, even if the Liturgy of Saint James is performed on a canonical Holy Altar, its position is not correct in the way it has been handed down, but it is reversed, so that the liturgizing priest looks towards the people, like it is done by Catholics. This act takes us back directly to the exorcism ceremony before the Mystery of Baptism, when the godparent, representing the infant to be baptized, renounces Satan and all his powers while turned towards the West, and is joined to Christ while facing East. The Church places the devil in the West. Unfortunately the innovative Liturgist also is turned towards the West during the Liturgy of Saint James, and not towards Christ. Christ, Who is the Sun of Justice, Who has come to bring light and warmth, is "placed" towards the East by the Church and this is an apostolic tradition, as we see in Basil the Great's "On the Holy Spirit", where he says: "Thus we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East."12 Of course, when we trample on centuries old traditions in order to "establish ourselves" in the eyes of the world, when all that concerns us is ourselves, then certainly we will face towards the West, because only the ruler whom the Church has placed in the West can meet these needs. Christ has made it clear: "If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you" (Jn.15:18,19).
|The canonical and traditional distinction between the Sanctuary and the rest of the church.|
5. See Τά Ἱερά Ἄμφια καί ἡ ἐξωτερική περιβολή τοῦ Ὀρθοδόξου κλήρου, Athens 2005, p. 134.
6. Periodical Ekklesia, May 2000, No. 5, p. 426.
7. Periodical Synaxis, issue 72, p. 38.
8. Pedalion [The Rudder], Rigopoulos edition, p. 281.
9. Complete Works of Symeon the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Rigopoulos edition, 1985, p. 123.
10. Ibid., p. 319.
11. P.G. 62, p. 69.
12. P.G. 138, pp. 839-841.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.