Sunday, April 05, 2009

Easter Geography 2009: The Orthodox/Eastern Rite Spatiality of Heaven on Earth

And the Lord Saideth, "More Icons"


The story goes that when Vladimir of Rus was looking for a religion for his pagan kingdom he sent emissaries out to the Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The ones that traveled to Constantinople reported they attended the Divine Liturgy in Haga Sophia. They further stated that during the service they could not tell if they were in on Earth or in Heaven. The emissaries witness the cosmographic design of the Divine Liturgy whose purpose is to bring a taste of heaven unto the Earth.
The Divine Liturgy is how Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics conduct worship services. In Western rite churches the services is the equivalent to a mass. Unlike modern Western church masses that focus on recreating the feel of the Last Supper, Eastern services combine the Lord's Supper with bringing the feeling of Heaven unto the Earth. A microgeography is used to create this feeling.


A well laid plan

Attendees of the Divine Liturgy enter through the narthex or lobby. The narthex serves a part in the liturgy unlike Western churches that tend just to have a lobby to separate the church proper and the outside It is here where confessions are heard. Eastern churches continually stress that confessions need to be the last part of preparation before one can fully take part in the service by taking communion. Prayer and fasting are the first two steps. Once these preparations are complete then one can enter the church proper. I have been told that the narthex should become smaller and smaller as one approaches its end. This represents the narrow path to Heaven.
People gather and witness the Divine Liturgy in the nave or church proper. The older or more traditional the church the more likely the nave will be completely covered icons. Also, chairs tend to be hard to come by depending on the priest's preference. During service most of the lights are to be turned off in the nave. Candelas are traditionally used to give a glow of faith/love/grace in the darkness.
The people in the nave are witnesses with their ears and eyes to what goes on behind the icon screen. Behind this obstruction the priest conducts most of the service with the deacon. Depending on what denomination, the icon screen can be fully obstructing or only partially. This represents the division between man and God. At other points in the service a choir will sing behind the screen too.

It is behind the icon where the alter, the holy of holies, is located. This represents the closest heaven ever comes to Earth. Access to the holy of holies is strictly regulated. Once the Eucharist is blessed the priest takes it out of the alter into the nave and dispenses it to the people. This represents the priest's role as intermediate between God/Heaven and the people/Earth.

While there is still a bit more service to go after communion the micrography of the church reaches its climax here. The design of the church has successfully brought Heaven to Earth for the faithful.

1 comment:

Dustin said...

This building seems to be well plainly laid out. Seeing the outline map of the area, it was carefully drawn, and calibrated in the right areas, so that the shapes could fit in well with it. Also I like how they try to incorporate many different ideas into the building as well such as the Last Dinner.