Orthodox temples have kept to the same form and function since ancient times. Using the Old Testament Temple model, Orthodox churches are divided into several courts or spaces peculiar to their function. The Holy Table, upon which is celebrated the Eucharist, is situated at the east end of the building behind the Iconostasis (icon screen). This is a continuation of and corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the ancient Israelite temple in Jerusalem.
The whole area behind the iconostasis is called the altar, and is considered the most sacred part of the temple. The Eucharistic table is commonly known as the Holy Table. While great respect must be shown throughout the Church, the altar is very special. It is here that the Holy Spirit descends upon the offering of bread and wine , changing them into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Only those who receive the specific blessing of the bishop or the priest may enter, since no one has the right to go behind the iconostasis. The Church allows only those who have a particular reason, specific task, or function, to enter. A blessing must be received each and every time, even if a person serves regularly behind the iconostasis. No one should ever simply wander into the altar without a blessing.
The Holy Table, the Proskomedia Table (Table of Preparation), and the discos and chalice, should never be touched by anyone other than a bishop, priest or deacon. The sacredness of these items, set apart for divine worship, is such because they have all been blessed and consecrated by the Church for the worship of God.
We approach our God with fear and awe, bowing down in worship before His Throne in wonder. We worship the Holy Trinity with the same reverence as did the ancients. The very God Who created us, and Who condescended to join His Divinity with our humanity, is worshiped in temples just as beautiful as that which He commanded to be built in the Holy City, because He has invited us into communion with Him. The worship we offer on this earth is an image of that which is taking place before the Throne in Heaven.
With love in Christ,
Sunday January 19, 2020 / January 6, 2020
31st Sunday after Pentecost. Tone six.
The Holy Theophany of Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ (Baptism of the Lord).
Repose of St. Theophan the Recluse, bishop of Tambov (1894).
Hieromartyr Romanus, monk of Lacedemonia, beheaded by the Turks (1695) (Greek).
New Hieromartyr Archpriest Andrew Zimin, his wife Lydia, his mother-in-law Domnica, his two daughters and his servant Maria, of Ussurisk (1919).
St. John (1942).
Venerable Laurence of Chernigov (1950).
The Scripture Readings
John Baptizes Jesus
9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Trained by Saving Grace
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
John Baptizes Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”