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
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 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
- 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
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
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
- 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
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
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:
- Thuribles and Incense
- the Ewer and Basin for the ritual hand washing before and after Liturgy.