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Author Topic: Altar  (Read 914 times) Average Rating: 0
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Dan-Romania
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« on: July 02, 2009, 05:31:02 AM »

I`m interested deeply in the meaning of the Altar and esspecially Altar Table , what their symbols are.I`m interested if you can point me to writings of the Church Fathers upon the Church structure or any other source upon the symbolistic of Church arhitecture.While being online i hit upon some things and explanations regarding the altar and altar table:

The interior of the Orthodox Church building is particularly styled to give the experience of the unity of all things in God. It is not constructed to reproduce the upper room of the Last Supper, nor to be simply a meeting hall for people whose life exists solely within the bounds of this earth. The church building is patterned after the image of God's Kingdom in the Book of Revelation. Before us is the altar table on which Christ is enthroned, both as the Word of God in the Gospels and as the Lamb of God in the eucharistic sacrifice. Around the table are the angels and saints, the servants of the Word and the Lamb who glorify him - and through him, God the Father - in perpetual adoration inspired by the Holy Spirit. The faithful Christians on earth who already belong to that holy assembly enter into the eternal worship of God's Kingdom in the Church. Thus, in Orthodox Practice, the Narthex orVestibule symbolizes this world. The nave is the place of the Church understood as the assembly and people of God. The altar area, called the sanctuary or the holy place, stands for the Kingdom of God.

In the Orthodox Church the icons bear witness to the reality of God's presence with us in the mystery of faith. The icons are not just human pictures or visual aids to comtemplation and prayer. They are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and also of our own presence in the Kingdom of God in the Church.

The iconostasis or icon screen in the Orthodox Church exists to show our unity with Christ, his mother and all the angels and saints. It exists to show our unity with God. The altar table is placed behind the so-called royal gates, between the icons of the Theotokos and Child and the glorified Christ, showing that everything which happens to us in the Church happens in history between Christ's coming as the Savior born of Mary, and his coming at the end of the age as the King and the Judge.

We have mentioned that the entire church building is centered around the altar table. The altar table does not merely symbolize the table of the last supper. It is the symbolic and mystical presence of the heavenly throne and table of the Kingdom of God.

The Book of the Gospels is perpetually enthroned on the altar table. It is on the altar table that we offer the "bloodless sacrifice" of Christ to the Father. And from the altar table we receive the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of the Lord's Passover Supper. This table is the "table of God's Kingdom." (Luke 28:30)

In Orthodox Tradition the altar table is often carved in wood or stone. It is usually vested with material to show its divine and heavenly character. On the altar table one always finds the antimension. This is the cloth depicting Christ in the tomb which contains the signature of the local presiding bishop and is the permission for the local community to gather as the Church.

The Altar table also contains relics of three saints which show that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs and the lives of God's holy people. This custom comes from the early Church practice of gathering and celebrating the Eucharist on the graves of those who have lived and died for the Christian faith. The relics of Saint Panteleimon, Saint Boniface and Saint Kyrikos were embedded in the altar table here at Saint Barbara on October 9, 1994 when the Church was consecrated.

Also found on the altar table is a tabernacle, in the shape of a church building, which is a repository for the gifts of holy communion that are reserved for the sick and the dying. There is also a small hand cross used for blessing and for veneration by the faithful. The sign of the cross is used throughout the church building: on the holy vessels, stands, tables, and vestments.

The cross is the central symbol for Christians, not only as the instrument of the world's salvation by the crucified Christ, but also as the constant witness to the fact that men cannot be Christians unless they live with the cross as the very content of their lives in this world. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).
http://www.saintbarbara.org/faith/worship/architecture.cfm

I`m interested in a more profound insistation about the symbols from the Altar esppecially the Altar Table.I`m waiting for people who know more about this to tell me or to give me pointers on a more deeply insistation about this subject.
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« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2009, 09:29:55 AM »

There are many different allegorical interpretations of Orthodox architecture, including the symbolic meaning of the Holy Table (as it is called in the rubrics -- not the altar).

Probably the earliest source that speaks about such things in an allegorical way is St. Germanus of Constantinople, Patriarch of that See in the early 8th century. He wrote a work that explains the Divine Liturgy -- content, actions, liturgical space. I'm sure it's available in Romanian, so check it out for more info.
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Dan-Romania
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« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2009, 02:38:45 PM »

So would you say that the Holy Table represents the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church who sanctifies the gifts and the Liturghy?Can the Holy Table be seen as Theotokos?
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2009, 04:28:26 PM »

In the Early Church many of the Christians commemorated the anniversary of the deaths of the faithfull with celebration of the Divine Liturgy over the graves, the tombs, of the deceased, especially martyrs.  The Holy Table represents that practice.  That is the basis of the tradition of the bishop sealing the relics of the patron saint or of other saints in the Holy Table when a church is consecrated.

You may wish to search this topic on this forum.  Sometime ago, there was a more detailed thread on the meaning of the symbolism of Orthodox Church architecture.
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