A Tour and Explanation of the Church Interior

In the Orthodox tradition, the church building is referred to as the "Temple" ("Храм-Khram" in Ukrainian). Jesus Christ is our Temple - the locus of our sacrifice of Praise and Atonement.

Our Church buildings are symbols of the Christ - since they are the places where we gather to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and Divine Services.The very word "church" comes from the Greek"Kyriakon"--the Lord's House (Greek). Thus our Temples are architectural proclamations of the Salvation and Love of the Messiah God, who is Himself the Prototype and referent of the Old Testament Temple and the Mosaic Tabernacle. 

Architecturally and theologically, you will find many parallels between the Church building and the Old Testment Temple-Tabernacle, cf. I Kings 6:1ff. 

In the Orthodox tradition, the church building is referred to as the "Temple" ("Храм-Khram" in Ukrainian). Jesus Christ is our Temple - the locus of our sacrifice of Praise and Atonement.

Our Church buildings are symbols of the Christ - since they are the places where we gather to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and Divine Services.The very word "church" comes from the Greek"Kyriakon"--the Lord's House (Greek). Thus our Temples are architectural proclamations of the Salvation and Love of the Messiah God, who is Himself the Prototype and referent of the Old Testament Temple and the Mosaic Tabernacle. 

Architecturally and theologically, you will find many parallels between the Church building and the Old Testment Temple-Tabernacle, cf. I Kings 6:1ff. 

So, given that we pray facing East, the front entrance is at the Western end of the building. On the lintels of the front doors of our Temple are inscribed,in Church Slavonic, the words of Psalm 5:7 - the same used in the introductory prayers of the clergy as they enter into the Altar: "I will enter Thy House, I will worship toward Thy holy Temple in fear of Thee."

The front door of the Church are properly called the "Royal Doors", since our Churches, following the Orthodox Tradition, are modeled on Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. 

The main front doors there are called the Royal Doors since those were the Doors by which the Emperor entered the Temple. Today, the "Royal Doors" are often conflated with the Holy Doors of the Iconostas. 


The first Room in the Temple is the Vestibule. It is actually not part of the Church proper. It corresponds to the Outer Court or Court of the Gentiles in the Old Testament Temple. Here you will find such as: Books for the Divine Services, other Church literature, the Candles, and the Prosphora. 


It is beautiful devotion of Orthodox worship to light candles in Church. They represent our prayers and are a wonderful way to express our prayers to God.They also represent us, given that Jesus said, "You are the light of the world" (Matt 5:14). And of course they recall us to the Christ who is the True and everlasting Light (John 1:9). 

In our parish, we don't use electric lights, but only candle light. It allows the icons to shine and glow in the way they were meant to - allowing us to glimpse the glory of God and and the beauty of the Gospel of Truth. 


Entering the Doors into the Church proper, we come to the Narthex. The Narthex parallels the Inner Courtyard in the Temple, otherwise known as "The Court of Israel". 

Byzantine Church architecture is a Microcosm. Thus the Church building itself because a symbol of our world and teaches us salvation history. The Narthex represents the Fallen World (e.g. the Litiya is served here - the Narthex becoming symbolic of Golgotha where the Christ was crucified.) 

Also the pre-Baptismal Exorcisms and Baptism takes place in the Narthex. Only after the person is Baptized and Chrismated do they enter the Sanctuary. 

Historically, it was in the Narthex that those who were Penitents had their place.


The central section of the Temple is called the Sanctuary. (It is the equivalent of the "nave" in Latin Churches.) It is called the Sanctuary because it corresponds to the "Hekhal" of the Old Testament Temple, the "Holy Place". It represents the world redeemed by Christ Jesus. 

It is here that the Faithful gather to pray. It is here that the Bishop is vested in the midst of the Faithful. It is from the Bema that the Gospel is proclaimed. 

Historically the Ambo was a kind of stage that arose in the midst of the Sanctuary. And deacons ascended it to proclaim the Gospel and intone the litanies. Historically the Solea was a walkway that lead from the Altar to the Ambo.

Architecturally and theologically, you will find many parallels between the Church building and the Old Testment Temple-Tabernacle, cf. I Kings 6:1ff.


In the north transept there is the place for the Mystery of Forgiveness (Confession). For the Holy Mystery of Forgiveness a Gospel book and a Cross is placed on a stand. An icon lit with a lamp hangs on the wall in front. Before these symbols, the penitent makes his confession to God - accompanied by the Priest as the representative of the Church, the Body of Christ. 

In the south transept of St. Elias Temple, we place the Plaschenytsia, the Icon of the Burial of the Jesus. The Plaschenytsia is often placed on a stand which resembles a bier. 

In our parish, above the Plaschenytsia hangs an icon of the Crucifixion. If needed, the south chancel can also be set up as a place for the Mystery of Forgiveness. 


In the centre of the Sanctuary is an area called the "Kathedra". On Feasts, icons are set out in the Kathedra for veneration. Likewise here, the Gospel is brought out to the Kathedra for veneration during Matins. At Hierarchical Divine Services, it is at the Kathedra where the Bishop will preside and be vested - hence the name. 


In the Byzantine tradition, Churches do not have pews. Pews are a Protestant worship style - where sitting and listening to a lengthy sermon is the central component of the Service. Orthodox worship, in contrast, requires much more freedom for the human body. Freedom to pray. Prayer in the Byzantine tradition is not done sitting. We pray standing. We often make "reverences" - the Sign of the Cross accompanied by a profound bow. During the various Fast Seasons, we make many Prostrations or Poklony (i.e. "Full Reverences). 

In addition there are various Services and rituals which require that people move about, e.g.: veneration of the Gospel book at Liturgy and Matins, Veneration of Icons, Myrovannya at Vigil, etc. Even the simplest of these ways to pray and worship would be seriously hampered if not altogether impeded altogether by making people sit in pews. 

As Fr. Andriy Chirovsky, Ph.D. (Director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies) says in his article"Anathema 'Sit': Some Reflections on Pews in Eastern Christian Churches and their Effects on Worshippers":

(Diakonia, Vol.XV, No.2, 1980 at 173): "Pews are basically unsuited to the fundamental liturgical postures. I defy anyone but a contortionist to make a prostration in the middle of a pew. We make frequent prostrations in the Eastern Churches, not because it is required, but because our bodies have something to say to God, to neighbour, and to our very selves, just as our minds and our speech do. And yet our bodies - half our earthly selves - are sentenced to silence in a church with pews." In other words, our prayer and worship requires a freedom and space that pews do not allow.

The absence of pews also has great benefits for our children who are free to play quietly with toys, colouring books, or even each other. They can roam about a little if they get restless, knowing some helpful adult will watch out for them. They are free to kiss icons and help light and blow out candles, wandering up and geting close to "the action" of any ceremony. They learn by watching and doing...something that is more difficult if all they have to look at is the back of a pew.

Of course for the elderly and infirm (or those who are just tired), there are benches along the wall, and people are quite welcome to sit if they need.


The "Iconostas" is literally the "Stand of Icons" that rise up at the front of the Sanctuary. It has 3 sets of doors:

  1. The Holy Doors; 
  2. Deacon Door (north/on left)
  3. Deacon Door (south/on right)

The "Holy Doors" are the central set of doors. The Holy Doors are used only in specific and solemn liturgical functions.

The "Deacon Doors" are on 2 doors one toward the northern end of the Iconostas and one toward the south end. These are used to facilitiate the Clergy have to enter or exit the Altar. 

On the Holy Doors are usually icons of the 4 Evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. In our parish, the Holy Doors depict St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. These are the Saints whose Liturgies we serve most commonly.

At top of the Holy Doors is the Icon of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), depicting on the left side the Archangel Gabriel bring the Good News to Mary depicted on the right side. 

Above the Holy Doors is customarily the Icon of the Lord's Supper, which we call "The Mystical Supper". (NB: The terms "mystical" and "mystery" in Orthodoxy theology refer to what Latin Christians would call "sacramental" and "sacrament", these being the Latin translations of the original Greek words: "mystikos" and "mysterion"

On the Deacon Doors are usually icons of Deacons. In our Temple, they are St. Ephrem of Syria (a noted theologian) and St. Roman the Melodist (the celebrated hymnographer). Sometimes Angel icons are written on the Deacon Doors. 

The principal icons of the Iconostas are: Christ the Teacher (on the right of the Holy Doors) and, on the left, Mary the holy Godbearer with Jesus in her arms. The icon on the south end (i.e. the far right) of the Iconostas is usual the patron saint of the parish. In our case: the St. Elias (the Byzantine form of the Prophet Elijah the Tishbite). On the north end is St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. (St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea and struggled against the Arian heresy. He is noted for his care for the poor and orphans.)

An Iconostas may have many levels or tiersof icons. The second tier is always the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, e.g. Pascha, Pentecost, Theophany, Transfiguration, Palm Sunday, Dormition, Exaltation of the Holy Cross, etc. On the Feast days, the Icon of the Feast is taken down from the Iconostas and Processed out for Veneration at Matins and put on an analoy on the Bema.

On the uppermost level of our Iconostas is a Deisis (the Messiah enthroned) and worshipped by the heavenly court. On the north side (from Christ enthroned going left) are: the Holy Theotokos, Archangel Michael, the Apostle Peter, St. Vladimir the Great, Enlightener of Rus', St. Boris the Passion-bearer, St. Anthony of the Pecherska Lavra, and Blessed Nikolai Charnestky (one of the new Martyrs of Ukraine). 

On the south sidewe see St. John the Forerunner, Archangel Gabriel, the Apostle Paul, St. Olga Equal-to-the-Apostles, St. Hlib the Passion-bearer, St. Theodosius of the Pecherska Lavra, and the Confessor Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. 

The entire Iconostas is topped by the icon of the Crucifixion(the Golgotha) where the holy Theotokos and St. John the Theologian are shown faithfully keeping vigil at the foot of the Cross (Jn. 19:25-27).

In front of the Iconostas runs a small stage or platform called the Solea. The Solea facilitates such as processions, incensations of the Iconostas, etc. As note earlier, the Solea used to be a platform that connected the Altar to the Ambo - the Ambo which used to be a platform in the centre of the Sanctuary (the area we now call the "Bema"). The Ambo has now been reduced to a small semi-circular extension of the Solea located in front of the Holy Doors. 

In front of the Solea are often placed a series of "veneration icons". These match those on the Iconostas. They are placed here for the convenience of the Faithful, so that they may venerate the Icons of the Iconostas without actually ascending to the solea and becoming somewhat conspicuous en processus and perhaps getting in the way of some rite or ceremonial.


On the ceiling over the Sanctuary are painted a series of icons. At the highest point is the "Pantokrator": icon of Christ "Ruler of the All" - an icon of consolation proclaiming the ultimate victory of love.

On the next level are icons of Angels - "See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven." (Matt 18:10). These include the Archangels: Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel and thes Cherubim and Six-winged Seraphim. 

On this level of the angels are also icons of St. John the Baptist and the holy Godbearer, the Virgin Mary. St. John the Baptism, who is depicted with angel's wings because St. John is the Messenger of God sent to prepared for the Messiah. And "messenger" in Greek is "angelos". According to the Gospel of St. Mark 1:1-2: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it has been written int he Prophets, 'Behold, I send my Messenger ["angel"] befored Your face, who will prepare Your way before You; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." ' "

The Holy Theotokos is shown "Orans" praying to the Messiah God. She is depicted in the classical "Orans" prayer pose, hands lifted up toward heaven. Byzantine Christians now pray standing with hands at their sides - though the Orans position of prayer is still retained by the clergy for certain central prayers. (Coptic Christians still customarily pray in the Orans position). Psalm 28:2 "Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You for help, When I lift up my hands toward the innermost place of Your sanctuary."

The 3d level of icons in the cupola hovering over the Faithful in the Sanctuary depict the Prophets and Ancestors: Samuel, Daniel, Habbakuk, Isaiah, David, Moses, Baruch, Jacob, Malachi, Hosea, Jeremiah, Micah; Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and Ansenath, Judah and Tamara, Ruth and Boaz, Elizabeth and Zachary, Joachim and Anna.


The "Altar" refers not to the Holy Table but the entire area behind the Iconostas (which includes the Holy Table). Latin Christians will call it the "sanctuary" or "chancel". Greek Orthodox will now call it the "Bema". Nevertheless, here in this website, we use "Bema" in its original meaning - as the central liturgical area of the Church. 

Located in the Altar are: the Holy Table, the High Place and Synthronos, the Prothesis or Proskomidinyk, the Vesting Table. The Vesting Table, located on the southeast corner. Here vestments are laid out for vesting. 


The High Place and Synthronos: The "High Place" is a special seat in the Apse of the Altar. It represents God the Father. Only the Bishop sits in the High Place. Priests never sit there. When the Bishop is not present, often a Gospel Book will be placed there. Whenever one moves from one side of the Altar to the other, a Reverence is made toward the High Place.

The Synthronos are the benches on either side of the High Place (cf. "syn-thronos" - seats 'by the throne'). These are the seats for the Presbyters. 

Thus at the Hierarchical Liturgy one will find the ruling hierarch sitting here with his council of Presbyters - the original function of Priests. 

The Prothesis

The Prothesis or Proskomidynyk is a small Table located in the northwest corner. Here the Proskomidia (Offertory Service) is done: the Bread and Wine are prepared for Divine Liturgy and Prayer requests are remembered. 

In the Slavic recension, the custom is to bake and seal 5 Prosphora (loaves) for the Proskomidia. One large Prosphoron is prepared and used as the "Lamb" for Holy Communion. The other 4 loaves are used for "ex-officio" commemorations. Particular and special prayer requests are commemorated by way the parishioners bringing a prosphora with a chit detailing the prayer request. The clergy make the commemoration for the prayer request at the appointed time during the Proskomidia, cf. Prayer Requested/Intentions Particles. 

On the Prothesis, in preparation for Divine Liturgy will be placed the following items: 

  • The Diskos: plate for the Bread, which will be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Holy Communion) 
  • The Potirion: Cup for the Wine, which will be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Holy Communion) 
  • The Asterix: a "Star" frame or rack put over the Holy Bread on the Diskos to keep the Covering Veils from disturbing the Holy Gifts). 
  • The Holy Veils: Cross shaped Liturgical cloths used to Cover and Protect the Holy Gifts - one for the Diskos and one for the Potirion. And over both is put the Aer (larger cloth representing Space in the Cosmos. 
  • A cutting board 
  • The Holy Spear (knife) used for cutting Prosphora (usually kept on the Holy Table). 
  • Carafes of Wine and Water. 
  • The thermos used in the rite of Teplota (or Zeon.) Before Divine Liturgy water is boiled and kept in a thermos usually (unless one has a device to boil the water quietly during the Liturgy). Then, just before Holy Communion, boiling water is added to the Holy Mysteries. For the Lord's Body and Blood even in death is not conquered by the Grave but retains the warm of life and the tendency toward Resurrection - (following a Johannine-esque spirituality). 
  • Candles or Oil lamps. 
  • On the wall above the Prothesis, an icon hangs: usually either of "the Nativity" or "the Extreme Humility" of the Crucifixion. 
  • The Holy Table

The Holy Table (or "Prestil" - Throne) is the Holy Table upon which the Holy Oblation is made. (Latin Christians will call this the "altar".) 

At the Consecration of the Church, the Holy Table is literally constructed (with mallets, mastic, etc.), prepared, and blessed in an beautiful and elaborate rite. The Holy Table is square as per Scriptural examples (Ex. 27:1). It is constructed of unhewn stones (Ex. 20:25) and wood (Ex. 27:8). Relics of Saints or Martyrs are placed within. (Historically Divine Services were celebrated at the Tombs of Martyrs - who followed Christ by giving up their life entire to God.)

After the Holy Table is constructed (the Bishop(s) done a special smock-like vestment to protect their vestments in the process), it is blessed with oil and wine and holy water. Then it is covered with 2 layers ofCloths:

a plain linen is tied around it - representing the Burial Shroud within which Jesus was wound in at death. 
over top a rich and embroidered cloth - representing the glory of the Resurrection. 

On the Holy Table is placed: 

  • The Ark (or "Kivot" ), a container where Holy Communion is reserved for the Sick and Dying. 
  • The Antimins: a cloth Icon of the Burial of the Christ, containing relics and signed by the Eparch, denoting his presence and authorization to serve Divine Liturgy. 
  • 2 Candles 
  • The Gospel Book 
  • A Lention (a red cloth for ablutions and purifying the holy Vessels...red coloured because we use red wine, symbolic of the Blood of Christ shed for our Salvation.) 
  • A Liturgical Spoon for the distribution of Holy Communion 
  • A Liturgical Knife (the "Spear" which pierced Jesus' side on Golgotha) used for cutting Holy Bread - cf. the "Spear" used in the Proskomedia. It gets transfered from the Prothesis to the Holy Table at the Great Entrance of Divine Liturgy) 
  • a Hand Cross used by the priest for certain blessings.
  • (The canonical tradition is quite strict about what may be placed on the Holy Table. Item such as Liturgical books etc. should not be put on the Holy Table.) 

Immediately behind the Holy Table is the 7 Branched Lampstand - derived from the Old Testament Temple Minorah. (Exodus 25:31-32, 37. 40: 

"Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand-three on one side and three on the other. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it.... See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.")

Immediately behind the Minorah is the Processional Cross and 2 Ripidia (Liturgical Fans). 

Connected to the Altar there will be a Sacristy and a Vestry:

The sacristy is the room where vessels and other items used for Divine Services are stored. The vestry is the room where the vestments of the clergy are kept. In the Altar or the Sacristy, you will also find such things as:

  • Processional Candles
  • Thuribles and Incense 
  • the Ewer and Basin for the ritual hand washing before and after Liturgy.