iconostas, the most distinctive feature in all Byzantine rite churches
Catholic and Orthodox, is situated between the sanctuary and the
nave. This icon screen or wall with three doors bears images of
Christ, the Mother of God and the saints. The iconostas expresses
the unity of God and man through Jesus Christ, who is both God and
man. His icon stands on the right side of the central or royal doors,
so called because Jesus, with His teachings ("I am the way")
and his sacrifice, reopened for us the gates of the Kingdom of heaven.
the left of the royal doors, as we face the iconostas, is placed
the icon of the Mother of God. Before it, during the preparation
for the Divine Liturgy, the priest and the deacon pray: "The
gate of mercy open to us, O blessed Mother of God...Manifest your
power as ever, for we set our hope on you and hail you aloud, as
one did Gabriel, commander of the angelic hosts." The scene
of the Annunciation and the icon of the four Evangelists are shown
on the same royal doors. Over them is a representation of the Last
to the icons of Jesus and Mary are the deacons' doors, called also
north and south doors because traditionally the sanctuary of the
church is orientated toward the East, whence came our salvation.
On these two side doors, used mostly by the deacon, are placed the
icons of St. Stephen, the first martyr, and St. Roman the Melode.
Beyond the deacons' doors are the icons of St. John the Baptist
and St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the Wonderworker,
very much venerated both in the East and West (his relics are kept
in Bari, Italy).
from being a sign of separation, the iconostas unites the heavenly
and eternal world with the earthly and temporal man, the glorious
and triumphant Church, expressed by the divinized faces of the icons
of the saints, with the suffering and militant Church, represented
by members of the congregation.
understand the importance of the icons, we must go back to the times
of the iconoclast persecutions (8th - 9th Centuries), which instead
of dividing, united the Christians of the East and the West (7th
Ecumenical Council, 787). St. Theodore the Studite appealed to Pope
Paschal I and wrote:
novelty is brought into the Church by those who wander from the
truth must certainly be referred to Peter or his successor...Save
us, Chief pastor of the Church under West (7th Ecumenical Council,
787). St. Theodore the Studite appealed to Pope Paschal I and
that a decision be received from old Rome as the custom has been
handed down from the beginning by the tradition of our fathers."
Pope received the monks sent by St. Theodore and gave the monastery
of St. Praxedes to them and others who had fled from the persecution
in the East. On February 19, 842, the First Sunday of Lent, the
icons were brought back to the churches in solemn procession. Today,
the First Sunday of Lent is still observed by Orthodox and Catholics
of the Byzantine rite as the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of
the refugees from the East, especially the monks, brought to entire
regions of the West, including Rome (some Greek and Syrian monks
became Popes around that time), the riches of the Byzantine rite,
so, in more recent times, the Ukrainians and others persecuted Christians
from Eastern Europe brought to America the same ancient art and
spirituality. Entering into their churches, the visitor is greeted
by the angels and saints of the iconostas, and led into the awesome
atmosphere of the divine presence.