A Tour of our Sanctuary
Welcome to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church!
Nothing about the architecture of an Orthodox house of worship is accidental. Everything is intended to remind us that God is ever present in our lives, and that our ultimate destination is the Kingdom of Heaven. An Old Russian story tells us that Prince Vladimir of Kiev could not decide which faith to adopt for himself and his people until his envoys reported back to him from Constantinople as to the services that they had attended there, at the church of Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). They told the Prince that during the services they could not tell whether they were in heaven or on earth, because they had never seen such splendor or such beauty. It was indescribable; all they could say was, 'We know only that God dwells there among humans.'
The church building was not built originally to house an Orthodox Parish, so its architecture is atypical. But we like to think that the Western exoskeleton of our building (for example, the vaulted ceilings, clock tower, even the use of stained glass) combined with the Eastern adornments and appointments (the traditional icons and icon screen, for example) is the perfect architectural metaphor for our Parish: the blending of East and West, ancient and cutting-edge, in an Orthodox Christian context.
As is typical for an Orthodox church, the church building is divided into three sections: the Narthex, the Nave, and the Sanctuary.
The Narthex is the entryway into the church. Before participating in worship services, we take time in the Narthex to light candles, reverence icons, and offer prayers for both the living and the dead, ourselves included. It is a place of transition, in which we shed our worldly concerns, and prepare to participate in the worship services.
In ancient times, the Narthex would be filled with catechumens (candidates for baptism), who were not allowed full access to the services before their baptism, and penitents, who were not allowed back into the full communion with the rest of the Parish while they did their penance. Often, the poor would be present asking for alms.
During the years of Turkish occupation in Greece and the years of Communist rule throughout Eastern Europe, the Narthex was used for another purpose. Christian children would gather at night to learn of their faith from the priest and, in some cases, to read and write in their native tongues, which had been forbidden.
Please feel free to help yourself to any of the catechetical resources if you wish to learn more about our faith (i.e., pamphlets, icons, our Weekly Bulletins, and our most recent Parish Newsletter). The poor, who in ancient times would gather to ask for alms, no longer gather in the Narthex, but they are still in need. So we collect donations that we use for some of our numerous outreach ministries, as well as the operations of the Parish. We appreciate any donations that you are able to make.
When you enter the Narthex, the door directly in front of you leads into the Nave. To the left of that door there are several icons, most notably, an icon of the Annunciation, the event after which our Parish is named. On the other side of the door to the Nave, we find an icon of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and icons of various Saints.
To your far left is the Pangari, or Candle Stand, where you may make an offering, purchase various types of candles to light, or speak to a Parish Council member. To your right is our guest book; please feel free to sign it if you would like to be added to our contact list.
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8: 12) For us, Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the midst of this world of darkness. Every candle that we light presents us with the opportunity for a time of prayer in which we reflect upon the salvation that the Lord has worked for us. It also gives us a time to recommit, so that as children of God, we "let our light so shine before [all humans], that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in Heaven." (Matthew 5: 16)
As you walk into an Orthodox church such as ours, you will immediately notice the elaborate art, which we call 'icons'. Icons date from early Christianity - long before Microsoft! - and long before the average person could read. Along with our hymns, originally they were created to convey what we believe to people who couldn't read.
Orthodox Christians do not 'worship' icons; worship is reserved for God alone, in accordance with God's law, going back all the way to the Ten Commandments. We 'venerate' icons by standing or bowing before them, making the sign of the cross, and kissing them, gestures of pious respect and love. We have icons of Jesus Christ and of His mother, Mary, whom we call the Theotokos, from the Greek for 'God Bearer', or 'One who gives birth to God'. The individuals depicted in icons are saints; they are prototypes for Orthodox Christians. They were actual human beings who struggled (as we all do) with human weaknesses, but were able, through prayer and ascetic practices, humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit, to achieve great feats on behalf of God and in accordance with His will. When we venerate the icons, we may ask the Saint depicted to intercede for us with God, or to assist us in our lives, in accordance with His will. Since human beings are made in the image and according to the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) - we are icons, too! Icons may also remind us of a significant event or miracle, most often in the life of Jesus Christ or of the Theotokos.
The Nave is the largest section of the house of worship. It is filled with pews where the laity gather for worship services. The term 'Nave' is believed to have derived from the Latin word 'navis', for ship. At one point in our history, the bishop's throne was set in the center of the Nave, amidst the people, as he was considered to be the 'captain' of the ship. From here the bishop would instruct the faithful and guide them toward their eternal port, the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is common to find icons depicted on the walls in the Nave, as many of the Saints were faithful men and women of God who came forth from the laity. We, the living, are reminded of the mystical presence of the saints by the physical presence of their icons. Together, the living and the dead, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, worship God.
The Sanctuary is the third section in the Orthodox house of worship. As the Narthex was historically the place of the penitent and the catechumens, and the Nave was and is the place of the faithful, the Sanctuary was and remains the place of the clergy.
Traditionally, the Sanctuary is built on the eastern side of the church structure. The church is designed in this manner as we have been taught to pray facing toward Jerusalem. For practical reasons, however, some churches, like ours, are not built in this manner.
Regardless of the direction in which the church faces, the Sanctuary remains a place of great awe. No one may enter the Sanctuary unworthily or without the blessing of the priest, given for a specific task. Just as was the case "in the Old Testament, clergy alone are meant to enter into the Sanctuary, and only after they have spiritually prepared to serve among, and glorify God with, the angels, who are ever present in the Holy of Holies.
We may find ourselves physically occupying different places in the church structure. Nevertheless, it is together, with one voice and in one spirit, that the clergy, the laity, the saints, and the hosts of angels, worship the Lord in His Holy House. These sections are not meant to divide, but to distinguish, each of us, for our unique ministry to our Lord.
In the front of the church you notice a large icon screen, called the Iconostasis in Greek. It stands between the Nave and the Sanctuary and contains icons of the principal persons of our faith. The doors in the center, called the Royal Doors, include round icons of six of the Old Testament Prophets. Only clerics may pass through these doors. The Icon of Christ the Lord always appears in the first panel to the right as you face the Iconostasis. The Icon of the Theotokos always appears in the first panel to the left as you face the Iconostasis. She is honored first among the saints by Orthodox as the mother of our Savior. She holds the child Jesus in her lap. This icon emphasizes the incarnation: God became a human through a woman and the Holy Spirit. The icon does not invite us 'to extol the Theotokos alone. She is celebrated because she consented to become the connecting link between God and humans, between heaven and earth.
The icon to the left of the Theotokos is always the Icon of the Patron Saint or Feast of the Church; in our church, we see the Icon of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. Always immediately to the right of Jesus we find the Icon of John the Baptist, whom Jesus described as the greatest of all the prophets (Matthew 11:11). On the two doors on the north and south sides of the iconostasis, the 'Deacon Doors', we see the icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Altar servers will exit and enter the Sanctuary from these doors during services, as will clerics during processions.
Above these icons placed at eye level on the Iconostasis is a series of smaller icons. These portray events in the life of Christ and Major Feast Days of our Church: the Annunciation, His Nativity, His Presentation in the Temple, His Baptism, His Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Last Supper, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, His Ascension, Pentecost, and the Koimoisis (Dormition) of the Theotokos.
In its architecture, the entire building represents the theology of our Church. The Sanctuary represents The Church Triumphant (Heaven). The Nave represents The Church Militant (Earth). Heaven is linked to Earth by the Iconostasis, which is the successor to the curtain that delineated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, as described in the Old Testament. If you look closely at many Icons of the Annunciation, you will see that the
Theotokos holds some wool in her hand; she is making a new curtain for the Holy of Holies as one of her assigned tasks in the Temple. Little did she know that someday she herself would become the bridge between the human and the divine!
There are many, many icons in the Nave. As you face the Altar, on the left, up in the arch near the ceiling, is a large Icon of the Annunciation, which is celebrated on March 25th. On this day we celebrate an almost incomprehensible occasion. According to the tradition, about six months after the conception of St. John the Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to speak to a teenager named Mary, who had spent her early years serving in the Temple. She had been betrothed to a man named Joseph, but was not yet married. The Archangel told her that she had been chosen to give birth to the son of God. Imagine the turmoil and fear she would have experienced! After questioning the Archangel, and assuring herself that this was God's will, she consented to this miraculous undertaking, answering the Archangel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word." And at this, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the Son of God, Who existed before the ages, was conceived past speech and understanding, and became flesh in her immaculate body (Luke 1:26-38). The icon is a depiction of their conversation, which altered the history of humankind.
On the north side of that same wall is a large icon of the Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple, which we celebrate on February 2; Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians call this Feast the Purification of the Holy Virgin, or sometimes Candlemas. The story of the Presentation is told in Luke 2:22-29. In accordance with Jewish law, Mary and Joseph took Jesus, their first-born son, to the Temple forty days after His birth and dedicated Him to God. Orthodox Christians today continue this practice.
In the large stained glass mural on the high wall behind the altar, there appears an icon of Jesus Christ on the Road to Emmaus, where he appears to the Apostle Luke and Cleopas, as described in Luke 24:13-35, and confirms to them His Resurrection.
On the north wall of the building is a stained glass icon of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, celebrated on August 6. The icon reminds us of the transfiguration (in Greek, 'metamorphosis') of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor when He appeared in His divine glory before the Apostles Peter, James, and John. The event is recorded in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 17: 1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. While they were on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured: "His face shone like the sun, and His garments became glistening white."
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, talking to Him. Peter declared how good it was for them to be there, and expressed the desire to build three 'booths' for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Scholars construe this reference to the booths to imply that this event occurred during the time of the Feast. of Tabernacles, during which time pious Jews would camp• out in the fields for the grape harvest.
Elijah and Moses stand to the left and right of Christ. Saint John Chrysostom explains the presence of these two fathers of the faith from the Old Testament in three ways. He states that they represent the Law and the Prophets (Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet); they both experienced visions of God (Moses on Mount Sinai, and Elijah on Mount Carmel); and they represent the living and the dead (Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven alive by a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death). Below Jesus are the three Apostles, who by their posture and their disarrayed garments demonstrate the dramatic impact the vision has had on them.
The icon of the Feast directs our attention toward the event of the Transfiguration, and specifically to the glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah are there to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. This event came at a critical point in the ministry of Jesus, just as He was setting out on His journey to Jerusalem. He would soon experience the humiliation, suffering, and death on the Cross. However, the glorious light of the Resurrection was revealed on Mount Tabor, so as to strengthen His disciples for the trials that they would soon experience. The icon also reminds us of the great and glorious Second Coming of our Lord and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with His light.
To your right in front of the iconostasis is the Chanter's Stand. Each Orthodox Parish has a Chanter, or cantor, who leads the responses during services. The hymns in Orthodox services are antiphonal: the priest and those who chant respond to one another. In this way, we are reminded that our relationship with God is not passive; we build it together by being active participants in that relationship.
Just a bit in front of the Chanter's stand, a throne is set aside for use whenever a Bishop or other hierarch visits the Parish, as a sign of his pastoral leadership and authority. Often, the icon of Christ the High Priest is positioned on the back of the throne, as the bishop is understood to be His representative on earth.
In order to get a more personal understanding of our Orthodox faith and worship, we invite you to come to the Divine Liturgy on any Sunday at 10:00 A.M.
May God bless you, and grant you peace.