The Veil

The significance of the veil in Orthodox churches

I recently had a protestant Christian ask why we Orthodox still separated the faithful by closing and opening the veil that separates the Altar from the people. When I explained that we follow, as did the Ancient Church, the tradition of  showing great reverence to the Holy of Holies, by setting it apart, the person objected, saying that Christ, by His crucifixion, had destroyed the distance between man and God, and therefore, the veil was no longer needed. The visitor then quoted from Matthew 27:52: “Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”
I explained that the Holy of Holies was exposed, not because God desired to remove the symbol of the holiness of the place set aside, but that the Holy of Holies was exposed because the chosen people had shown they were incapable of recognizing Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. The God of Israel was revealed the very moment Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross.

It is important that we understand the significance of the veil. In the Old Testament temple, only the high priest was entitled to pass beyond the veil, shutting off the outside, fallen world, and entering into the place where God Himself dwelt. The veil used in our Orthodox temples closes off the sanctuary from the nave as a reminder of the holiness of the temple of Jerusalem, and when opened is the evidence that Christ is the Source of all holiness, being Himself the Son of God. The curtain is shut other than the time of sacraments/prayers so that it will be opened to only the committed faithful, the followers of Christ Jesus.

Because the architecture of Orthodox churches expresses heaven on earth, it becomes a model of the spiritual world—of the Heavenly Kingdom—which the Lord opened to us through the holy prophet Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then God commanded to build the Old Testament Tabernacle according to the precise pattern given by Him to Moses, down to the smallest detail. New Testament churches expressed the same arrangement as that of the Old Testament temple, but with the difference that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate and completed the work of the salvation of mankind. It is namely from this monumental event that there are changes to New Testament temples in relation to that of the Old Testament.

The Narthex in our churches symbolizes this world [Rev 11:2], and the Nave is the place set aside for the assembly of the people of God. The nave corresponds to the Old Testament sanctuary, where only the priestly caste could be found. But today, because the Lord with His most-pure blood cleansed us all and united us in His Mystery of Baptism, the Nave—the New Testament sanctuary—is open to all Orthodox Christians, because in Christ, we are all part of the priesthood of all believers.

The Holy Altar (the Holy of Holies) is a symbol of heaven or paradise. In heaven Jesus the Son of Man continues His priestly mediation in the midst of saints and angels along with the heavenly glory of light. It is within the Altar that the Holy Mysteries of our Lord are offered by the priest who is the sacramental presence of Christ, together with deacons and candle light.

The Holy Table, where the Eucharist is celebrated, indicates the holy Tomb of our Lord. The bread and wine offered upon it are transformed into the Mystical Body of the glorified Christ. The Holy Table recalls the worldly death of Jesus on the Cross and the burial of his earthly body in the tomb which resulted in the triumphant resurrection of His glorified body. The glimpses we get of the Altar during every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, is meant to motivate us to strive towards the heavenly, the core aspiration of every Orthodox Christian.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Saturday June 9, 2018 / May 27, 2018
2nd Week after Pentecost. Tone eight.
Apostles’ (Peter & Paul) Fast. Fish Allowed

Hieromartyr Therapon, bishop of Sardis (259).
Translation of the relics (1667) of Venerable Nilus of Stolben Island (1554).
Venerable Therapontes, abbot of Byelozersk (White Lake) (1426).
Translation of the relics (1472) of Sts. Cyprian (1406), Photius(1431), and Jonah (1461), metropolitans of Kiev.
Venerable Therapontes, abbot of Monza (1597).
St. John the Russian, whose relics are on the island of Euboea (1730).
Virgin-martyr Theodora and Martyr Didymus the Soldier of Alexandria (304).
Martyr Julius the Veteran at Dorostolum, Moesia (302) (Romania).
Venerable Bede the Venerable (735) (Celtic & British).
Venerable Michael of Parekhi (8th-9th c.) (Georgia).
St. Basil of Khakhuli, son of King Bagrat III (11th c.) (Georgia).
Martyr Eusebiotus (Greek).
Martyr Alypius (Greek).

The Scripture Readings

Matthew 11:27-30

27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Romans 3:19-26

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

God’s Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Matthew 7:1-8

Do Not Judge

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The Monastery is under the omophore of The Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.


  1. Father Bless, Jesus chose the disciples to spread the word to the world; they became the first bishops. Many others spread the word and ministered to Jesus and the disciples. Some were apostles of the 70, others were deacons. Some we know were woman. Why are woman not allowed to aid the priest as deacons and acolytes at this time? I understand they are allowed in necessity at least as altar servers. I have seen this in a monastery near me. It seems as if the altar represents heaven, then women are excluded, which I know is not the case. When and why did this change in later church times when biblically we see deaconesses in the church. God Bless, Sophia

  2. Father, bless.

    Thank you for this most excellent post! I have been an Orthodox Christian for almost ten years and did not know many of the details expressed in your article.

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