Author Topic: Why the Iconostasis?  (Read 3748 times)

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Offline Algernon

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Why the Iconostasis?
« on: May 12, 2008, 03:18:54 PM »
I am considering a conversion to Orthodoxy and was wondering: What is the purpose of hiding the Altar behind the iconostasis? Didn't Christ come to remove all barriers between us and the Holy of Holies?

Thanks,
A

Offline scamandrius

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2008, 04:26:42 PM »
The history of the Iconostasis is long and arduous.  But in answer to your question, there is still a barrier between us and God--sin.  The Holy Doors are open at appropriate moments of Vespers, Orthros, the Hours and Divine Liturgy indicating God's coming to us and saving us through His incarnation, death and Resurrection but we are still separated by our sinfulness.  Nonetheless, there is hope.

Not to get off topic right away, but I don't know if the development of the iconostasis (which really came into its place around the 14th century) has ever been discussed though in terms of the Palamas distinction of energies vs. essence.  I'd be interested if it has been.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2008, 04:29:47 PM by scamandrius »
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Offline Anastasios

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2008, 04:29:49 PM »
I am considering a conversion to Orthodoxy and was wondering: What is the purpose of hiding the Altar behind the iconostasis? Didn't Christ come to remove all barriers between us and the Holy of Holies?

Thanks,
A

the simple answer is because it is cool ;)

the serious answer is that we are re-presenting the sacrifice. The sacrifice was always in the Holy of Holies. That was separated by a curtain.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2008, 04:31:14 PM by Deacon Anastasios »
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Offline Deacon Lance

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2008, 05:04:26 PM »
The historical answer is the original purpose was to keep people from crowding the altar so the priest and deacon had room to perform their functions.

The spiritual answer is Icons are not a barrier, they are windows into heaven, the theology of the church painted on wood equal to theology written on paper.

 
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Offline falafel333

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2008, 08:46:24 PM »
The iconostasis draws our attention to those who through their sanctity of life had access to the Holy of holies and who now also joining us in worship invite us too to have access to the heavenly Holy of holies through the imitation of their way of life, their intercessions and through the guidance and teachings that they have left to their posterity. It is the coming together of the heavenly and earthly in worship and adoration of the Lord as the church victorious and the church militant join in praise, the church militant being led by the church victorious in their constant spiritual struggle to also overcome as they did and have access to what is now only a shadow of things to come. 

Offline scamandrius

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2008, 09:18:11 PM »
the serious answer is that we are re-presenting the sacrifice. The sacrifice was always in the Holy of Holies. That was separated by a curtain.

Fr. Deacon Anastasios,

Sorry to get off topic, but could you please clarify what you mean by "re-presenting"?  One of the big tifs I get into with non-Orthodox is that they accuse us of doing what Roman Catholics do (or what they think Roman Catholics do) which is actually re-sacrifice Christ at the altar  and thus implying that Christ's death once and for all was not sufficient?  I am sure that that is not what you are representing, but you could clarify "re-present" because I know it's more than simply a Protestant memorial.

Thanks.
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Offline antiderivative

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2008, 01:01:52 AM »
In a biography I read on St. Basil the Great, it said he was the first to develop the iconostasis sometime in the 4th century.

Simply, St. Basil had a problem where altar boys were giving loving looks at ladies during the liturgy. Therefore he put up a screen (iconostasis) to prevent distraction.

Now I'm sure it's evolved over the past 1600 years, but that was the basic beginning of it. Many people make the mistake of thinking it's supposed to be a recreation of the Holy of Hollies in the Old Testament. If that were true I would have been stricken dead with a bolt of lightning years ago. It's use is more symbolic and complex, and as mentioned above, it isn't some sort of barrier.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2008, 01:06:44 AM by antiderivative »
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Offline Αριστοκλής

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2008, 01:27:27 AM »
Thanks for that, antiderivative.
Do you recall the title of that biography?
I had read of the emperor installing iconostases (what is the plural, anyway?) in churches at Constantinople in the fifth or sixth century, and would like to read about St. Basil in an earlier period.
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Offline antiderivative

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2008, 01:41:09 AM »
Thanks for that, antiderivative.
Do you recall the title of that biography?
I had read of the emperor installing iconostases (what is the plural, anyway?) in churches at Constantinople in the fifth or sixth century, and would like to read about St. Basil in an earlier period.

The book I have is about all of The Three Hierarchs, but the exact title is: The Lives of Three Hierarchs. Unfortunately what's very odd about the book is no author is mentioned, but it does mention the compilation and translation being Holy Apostles Convent.
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Offline buzuxi

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Re: Why the Iconostasis?
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2008, 01:55:38 AM »
I have never heard a definate answer  on the origins of the iconostasis. There is probably many factors as to how it developed. Some believe the iconostasis originated from the humble beginings, of when the laity would bring oil and bread and food and offerings to the edge of the altar where they would be blessed, this formed a border between the altar and the people hence a short wall was formed.
 Justinian added 12 coumns in front of the Altar of St Sophia in Constantinople  to represent the 12 disciples who laid the foundations of the Church. Other churches borrowed this architecture.

After the Iconoclastic Controversy painting icons became a central aspect of the Iconostasis. Icons being windows into heaven the iconostasis took on new symbolism, it was the represenation of the Church militant on one side, the nave being earth and we look towards the Church triumphant which is on the other side of the Iconostasis, the altar symbolic of heaven.  Some say the doors are opened in certain times to reveal heaven, I've heard others say that the opening and closing of the gates symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden.   Here is an article on the iconostasis:

 http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/buben_ikonostasis.htm
« Last Edit: June 05, 2008, 01:58:44 AM by buzuxi »