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In the renovation of our chapel at St. Michael's Mission one of the key questions was: what style of iconostasis should we use?

I have always been impressed by the New Skete style of iconostasis which is based on the early Christian templon [en.wikipedia.org] which was used in Hagia Sophia.

[Linked Image]

We constructed our iconostasis - on a far less grand scale and style - in our mission chapel.
[Linked Image]

(At this point is is still rather plain. We intend to add gold designs on the pillars and walls in the near future...)

I was also pleased to find out that one of my favorite saints - and I must say a patron - St. John of Kronstadt also constructed a more open iconostasis for his congregation. This was very much at odds with the Russian practice of the floor to ceiling iconostasis, which is beautiful in its own right.

I'm curious about people's thoughts (and preferences) in this regard?

One point that I will make is that this style of iconostasis does allow one to make the North Door and South Door actually FACE north and south making the whole altar in the shape of a cross. The conventional set-up has the North and South Doors facing the nave. It has been very interesting to serve as a deacon using these liturgical doors according to what I believe is their original pattern.

God bless,

Fr. Deacon Daniel

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I'm not going to surprise anyone, I think, by expressing my preference for a wall pierced by three openings in the front with doors on all three and curtains behind the beautiful gates ("royal doors"). I think that the shape of the Liturgy as we have it only makes sense with this type of veiling of the Mysteries. Places like New Skete are correct in their intuition that changes in architecture and changes in the Liturgy itself go hand in hand.

Fr David Straut


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One reason the iconostasis became closed was the need and desire of the people for larger, more elaborate icons. Over time, I think you will find people in your parish would like to have life-size or near life-size icons at least in the Deisis Row and on the doors. That is what happened first at Hagia Sophia and then elsewhere--the space between the pillars of the Templon were filled by icons donated by patrons of the Church (i.e., the Emperors and Empresses, whose gifts you don't turn down).

Later elaborations, like the saints row and the festal row, were not universally adopted but were widely accepted, and had the effect of raising the height of the iconostasis, so that in many churches it rose from floor to ceiling.

I have to say that, at present, your church looks a little bit naked, and the idea of continuing with small icon panels perched on the rail is a rather minimalist approach to the use of icons in liturgy. It is certainly acceptable if financial considerations are a limit, but I would certainly get proportional icons as soon as possible. Even if mounted on latticework, the effect would be in keeping with the overall theology of the worship space in the Byzantine rite--particularly the tri-fold division of the temple into the world (Narthex), the Church as Ark of Salvation (Naos or nave), and the Holy of Holies (Altar or sanctuary).

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From a practical perspective, the Altar is a busy place in the Byzantine liturgy, and I think the opaque iconostasis serves a useful pastoral purpose in preventing people from being distracted by the preparations that go on "behind the scenes".

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I agree with several of the comments so far. I just posted a response (awaiting approval) to the Administrator in the picture gallery below. It may explain the use of the icons we have currently:

Quote
John,

Thanks for your questions.

I started a discussion on this topic here, since I am curious about the opinion of people in this regard:
The "Open" Iconostasis

You are correct, as far as the fact that it was designed in such a way to allow for larger or smaller icons. The icons that are there currently were the ones that were on the small, bi-fold closet doors which used to serve as our iconostasis:
Bi-Fold Closet Door Iconostasis [saintmichaelschapel.org]

Part of the reason we have the smaller icons is financial. My preference would be to install larger ones - perhaps tall, full figured ones which reach the top of the iconostasis and ideally ones next to the North and South doors as well - but we do not have the funding for that at present. For now, we have framed the former icons and attached them with L-brackets to the iconostasis.

At the same time, I would not want to block the view entirely of the altar area. This I believe is in keeping with earlier Byzantine practice. It was a later development to block the altar entirely from the view of the nave. The curtain serves the purpose of respecting the Mystery present in the Church after the Divine Liturgy.

Also, just to mention it, our mission has only been in existence since September of '08 and in our new space since January '09. It is starting in a somewhat "barebones" manner, but we hope to enhance the sanctuary as we go.

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Gordo,

Just a reminder, that the post for the photo gallery is being approved, but cross-posting is not permitted on the forum. Either keep the posts in one section or the other. Posts in another section may be linked only.

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+
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Everyone baptized into Christ should pass progressively through all the stages of Christ's own life, for in baptism he receives the power so to progress, and through the commandments he can discover and learn how to accomplish such progression. - Saint Gregory of Sinai
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Sorry, Father. Thanks for the reminder.

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Originally Posted by StuartK
Even if mounted on latticework, the effect would be in keeping with the overall theology of the worship space in the Byzantine rite--particularly the tri-fold division of the temple into the world (Narthex), the Church as Ark of Salvation (Naos or nave), and the Holy of Holies (Altar or sanctuary).

I am in full agreement on the typological pattern of the Christian Temple, while at the same time understanding that the Old Covenant Temple veil has been torn in two. Somehow there must be a balance in considering these two factors. I am NOT saying we have achieved that quite yet in our young mission, but we are working towards it.

We did discuss having gold lattice work especially on the sides by the North and South doors. At this point we have not installed doors yet either, but only have an opening in place where the doors will be.

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I will second what Father David has posted above. I always recommend sticking close to the received tradition in its fullness. It is good. It makes sense. And it is what people expect and find attractive. I recently quoted Father Taft in which he noted that "most people are not especially creative in any other aspect of their existence, and there is no reason to think that they will be when it comes to liturgy. They can, however, be drawn to participate in a common heritage far nobler and richer than the creation of anyone of us individually. What we need is not further to reinvent the wheel, not to reshape our liturgy every time we read a new article, but just to take what we have and use it very well. That's not a put down of anyone. It is just an acknowledgment that received tradition has been tried and tested and has tested true. Individual people certainly mean well, but almost always their own ideas fall short of the beauty of the fullness of the received tradition.

It seems to me that that the only adjustments of the received tradition here should be for size and the fact that this is a mission (limited resources). This mission is not somewhere I will worship (since I don't live there), so I know I don't get a vote. But if I were consulted I would eventually (as resources permit) fill the open area above the rail with some sort of grill work, and then eventually install larger icons to fill the vertical space. When the mission outgrows this space I would prepare a new icon screen that is more traditional.

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John,

I do agree with Father Taft's comments here. Our intent was not to be "creative" here so much as to construct - according to our own limitations at present both in the size of our space and otherwise - an iconostasis which is in accord with the Byzantine tradition. To me it seemed to make sense that the North and South deacon doors should face North and South thus respecting the original cruciform shape of the altar.

I do like the idea of the gold lattice work on the sides by the deacon doors and am inclined to install them on the front as well, once we commission the taller, full figured icons. I just did not want to create a "solid" wall. Lattice is certainly conducive to creating an open yet veiled appearance to the iconostasis.

God bless!

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I agree also with the good Admin. There is indeed something that deserves respect in the centuries-long development of practice, usage and the accompanying orthopraxis. In this case the fuller iconostasis, with its three entrances, is indeed now quite emblematic of the Constantinopolitan tradition in many places. Even the simplest village church in the Carpathians will often have a beautiful wooden iconostas all the way to the ceiling.

There is a much more acute sense of mystery in the fuller iconostasis enclosing the Holy of Holies, as certainly "less" can be seen behind it. I would also posit this greatly complements and enhances the Entrances, or for that matter everytime the doors are opened, enhancing the sensual experiences of the encounter with the Logos. The opening of heaven into earth, of the timeless into time, seems to have a more profound manifestation in this setting, at least for me.

On an even more ontological level, one enters the Church and sees the ranks of saints, angels, the feasts, Christ, His Mother, the Holy Trinity, etc. extending to the ceiling, reaching to heaven as it were in the fuller iconostas, or descending from heaven to be manifest unto us, as the case may be, the two sometimes indistinguishable.

The lack of seeing everything also can lead to faith - we simply do not need to see everything in order to realize the profundity of the Mysteries taking place. Just as everything does not need to be audible to be heard in spirit, as has been mentioned on numerous occasions dealing with the Liturgy. And, of course, there are the practical considerations that StuartK mentioned earlier.

There can be sometimes a temptation of relying on anachronisms, which themselves may be historically documentable and laudible in the context in which the usage occurred, but one has to also realize that these may be no longer closely connected to the received tradition and the spiritual, liturgical, and cultural millieu that accompany that received tradition.


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Father Deacon,

I understand. And yet, when one does a "To me it seemed to make sense that the North and South deacon doors should face North and South" is already a departure from the received tradition. So really you reject what Father Taft has said. That's OK. You're not accountable to anyone but your bishop and I am sure he approved of these plans prior to the building so you need to follow his directives (although I'd be inclined to ask him why he did not direct something more traditional).

I'd put the gold lattice up quickly (front and sides), and then center the icons you have vertically in the space. Eventually when you can commission icons (or get good quality prints) you can replace them. Proper deacon doors would be too much re-work so I would not go there.

John

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Diak,

I think you and John make some excellent points here, and this is precisely the reason why I posted this thread.

I believe, in keeping with much of what I have read by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, that the principal role of the iconostasis should be first and foremost to serve as the stand for the placement of the icons for the faithful, not to "divide" the altar from the nave. Yes, I understand and agree with the incarnational symbolism of the iconostasis that developed later which saw it as uniting, rather than dividing "heaven and earth." I cannot help but think, however, that what has developed architecturally at times has come to signify a division, rather than a point of unity. Again, what we are striving for in our own poor efforts is to balance the concern for preserving the sense of the Mystery while affording some visual access to it.

Our icons at present are what we have, and I certainly grant that they are insufficient. They appear with our iconostasis like two geological strata representing two distinct stages of the development of our mission! (An analogy I think you will appreciate! wink ) If anyone knows where larger full figured prints of icons can be acquired, I would be very interested!

That said, you will note in the design that there are still three entrances to the altar, it is just that two of them are not within the direct view of the faithful. Now it would not take much work to construct two additional doors adjacent to the North and South corners of the iconostasis with icons of deacons on them. That way there would still be the cruciform altar (with the pillars where one can exit the altar area) and the traditional icon doors of the deacons facing the people in the nave.

It is difficult to see from the picture, but the blue and white wall is actually part of a free-standing L-shaped wall that forms the backdrop to the altar area. (The white wall to the north is actually part of the building.) This creates two corridors on either side leading outward to the nave (the north side also goes back to the sacristy, closets and in the far right a restroom). The shape of the space we had made this design a necessity.

Again, I am grateful for the comments - and constructive criticism - here as we develop our mission's liturgical life. Please remember us in your prayers!

God bless,

Fr. Deacon Daniel (Gordo)

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Originally Posted by Administrator
Proper deacon doors would be too much re-work so I would not go there.

John,

Actually, it might not be too much to install proper deacon doors on the front, as I note above:

Quote
That said, you will note in the design that there are still three entrances to the altar, it is just that two of them are not within the direct view of the faithful. Now it would not take much work to construct two additional doors adjacent to the North and South corners of the iconostasis with icons of deacons on them. That way there would still be the cruciform altar (with the pillars where one can exit the altar area) and the traditional icon doors of the deacons facing the people in the nave.

It may be that we are able to combine these two forms. Again, thank you for the comments. It has given me several ideas for Phase 3 of our renovation!

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Alternatively, the North Door and South Door could be replaced with curtains.

Fr. Serge

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