THE CONSECRATED HOLY ALTAR: “THE HOLY OF HOLIES”

My beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ God,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

THE CONSECRATED HOLY ALTAR: "THE HOLY OF HOLIES"

"Now the Lord spoke to Moses saying… You shall set up the tabernacle of testimony, 1 King2;2;
You shall put in it the ark of the testimony and cover the ark with the veil. You shall bring in the table and layout it’s offering, and bring in the lampstand and install its lamps. You shall also set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark, and put up the veil for the door of the tabernacle of testimony. Then you shall set the altar of the burnt offerings before the door of the tabernacle of testimony. You shall put a cover over the tabernacle and CONSECRATE EVERYTHING PERTAINING TO IT. You shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and everything in it, AND YOU SHALL CONSECRATE IT AND ALL ITS UTENSILS, AND IT SHALL BE HOLY…" (Exodus 10:1-8).

Those who have witnessed the Consecration of an Orthodox Church know that it is a long and complex service filled with much profound symbolism. Many biblical elements are taken from the Consecration of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40) and the Temple of Solomon 1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5-7 and are employed in the service.

As all of you know, only after all construction on the new church has been completed may it be Consecrated by the local bishop. During the Consecration, the holy relics (preferably of holy Martyrs) are placed in the Holy Table (Revelation 6:9). This is a continuation of the practice of the ancient Church, celebrating the Liturgy over the tombs of the holy Martyrs. It is also a reminder that the Church was built on the sacred blood of the holy Martyrs and their profound faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The bishop places the holy relics in a small box. He then pours Holy Chrism over the holy relics, symbolizing the UNION between our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Martyrs. With prayers and Scriptural reading of Psalm 145, the bishop then places the box containing the holy relics into a crypt (a cavity) in the center of the Altar Table where it is sealed in with a wax/mastic that contains fragrant spices, as were used by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to anoint our Lord’s body before His burial. In this, the Holy Altar represents Christ’s tomb. After placing the holy relics in the Altar Table,(disposition), the bishop proceeds to the washing and anointing of the Altar Table. For this purpose, the bishop is vested in a special white linen garment over his vestments, called a SAVANON (a white burial sheet or shroud). The baptizing of the Altar Table begins with the prayer of Consecration by the bishop, followed by petitions by the Deacon. The bishop then is given a basin of water and, with a blessing and prayer, pours the water over the table three times and washes it while Psalm 84 is read. Symbolizing baptism, the table is cleansed by washing and is made holy by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

After the table is dried, the bishop sprinkles rosewater on it and continues reading Psalm 51. There are also small holy icons of the four evangelists attached to the holy table on its four corners. Finally, the Consecrated Altar Table is vested with a beautiful altar table cloth.

The above narrative, of course, is a very brief explanation of the Consecration service, but my intent is to emphasize the sacredness of the Holy Altar. It is truly the "Holy of Holies," according to our Holy Tradition.

There are many similarities between the Temple of Solomon and an Orthodox church. According to the Hebrew tradition, the interior of the Temple is divided into three parts: THE VESTIBULE; THE NAVE; AND THE INNER SANCTUARY OR HOLY OF HOLIES. The Tabernacle contained the sacred Ark of the Law, Manna, and the Rod of Aaron.

An Orthodox church is divided into the Holy Altar or Holy of Holies, the Nave, and the Narthex. On the holy Altar Table sits the holy Tabernacle, which contains the Consecrated Host or Lamb, the sacred Antiminsion, and the holy book of Gospels.

It is most important that we respect and revere our Consecrated place of worship. It is extremely important, especially for those who have the blessing of the priest to enter the Holy of Holies with great reverence, knowing that one is entering the Holy of Holies and not some ordinary place.
Unfortunately, I have seen people entering the Holy Altar who have no blessing, are not dressed properly, walk through it without any regard, or even start talking and joking.

In other Christian traditions, the church building is NOT a Consecrated place as is in our Orthodox Tradition. Nevertheless, it is usually respected by the Christians that use it as their place of worship. We believe that every Orthodox Christian, no matter what age, must always treat this most sacred place with the utmost respect. Everything that we do reveals what each one believes. We are revealed in how we dress, our attitude, our behavior, our conduct, our very purpose for entering the church, and our ability to discern and know that we are in the presence of God. I am sure you will agree that we make the necessary distinction when visiting other places i.e., the White House, a palace, a theater, a Synagogue, a Mosque, a governor’s mansion, etc.

The church is God’s sacred dwelling place and, therefore, must be shown the appropriate respect and dignity. One has every opportunity to be as casual and informal throughout the day in different places, but we cannot treat the church the same way. The clothes one wears do not have to be expensive, but clean and proper for worship. I was informed recently by an older man how he was offended by the dress of a young woman who wore a very mini dress to church services. His question to me was, "Doesn’t she have any common sense?" Orthodox Christians always knew how to dress for church and, for a long time, men and women were separated during worship, so as not to be scandalized or distracted by one another during worship.

Saint Nicholas Cavasilas reminds all of us about another very personal and important place where God dwells. He says, "When Christ dwells IN US what else is needed or what benefit escapes us? When we dwell in Christ, what else would we desire? He dwells in us, and He is our dwelling place. How blessed are we by reason of this dwelling place, how blessed are we that we have become a dwelling place for such as one as He? What good thing is lacking for those who are in such a state? What have they to do with wickedness who have entered into such brightness? What evil can withstand so great an abundance of good? What evil thing can continue to be present or enter from without when Christ is so evidently with us and completely penetrates and surround us?" (The Life in Christ, IV. 2)

______________________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

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