The Orthodox Iconostas

Reading and the Iconography of Ancient Hebrew

The Lord has done marvelous things for us sinners and revealed a something beautiful concerning the Orthodox Church Iconostas. But first, realizing this author’s own deep unworthiness to convey something so beautiful, consider the prayer of penitent Manasseh:

O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable; for thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repents of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee: and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of my iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with my iniquities. Be not angry with me forever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me thou will show all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy. Therefore, I will praise thee forever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.[1]

During the Divine Liturgy of Pascha 2022, this the first of sinners received a beautiful revelation concerning the Orthodox Iconostas, the second Pascha he could attend following his return to Orthodoxy as Pascha 2020 was closed to most of us, himself included. And this revelation occurred when our Priest read the Holy Gospel and said, “In the beginning was the Word…”

Iconostas, Pascha Morning 2022, Saint Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church

“In the Beginning”, One Word in Paleo Hebrew

“In the Beginning” is one word in the Hebrew as previously covered. The Aleph, or Oxen Yoke is the Iconostas pictured here with the deacon doors[2] and great entrance opened[3]. The oxen yoke is the bar above the panels below. The Church is itself the tent of the Real Presence of the Lord.

One can picture an Oxen entering the Southern deacon door on the right side of the picture, with another leaving the Northern deacon door on the left. And if we think of these as Oxen yoked to the bar above, the center great entrance where the Priest descends to provide the finest wheat which is milled in the entrance center. This is both in the milling of wheat for the bread we will eat.

Within the tent of the presence that is the Church, the Beth, we have the Icon of the Prince on His throne, Resh, to the right of the great entrance. And to the left we have Mary who is embodiment of the Holy Church who reveals with the Son, Beth Resh, or Bar on her lap in the Icon to the Left. And the Iconostas itself is the Aleph and this is all in Creation, Beth, Resh, Aleph the Creator. The doors, not pictured as they are open, are the Shin, the teeth.

And the entire dance, the chiral movement of the liturgy itself with the movements of the altar boys, deacons and Priests, follow the structure pattern dictated by the doors that act as gates for gating the variety of liturgical act. This is like the chiral polymers of the Body, or the Chirality found in Elohim when one studies the other NAME of God in the Bible in Hebrew, we have the rolling and unrolling of the scroll, the little book we all eat in Holy Communion, and this is Yod, the little scroll, for we eat God.

And our eating from the entrance, from the Royal Doors and the grinding is in teeth, the Shin. So the entrance itself, the doors form the letter Shin. Thus in the Iconostas itself we have “In the Beginning” and in the presentation of Christ in the Holy Gospels and in the Holy Communion, we have manifest the Incarnate Son who we receive into the gate of our bodies.

Our mouth represented by Pei in Hebrew receives the pure body through the Royal Doors shaped as Shin. So let us consider again briefly the phrase western Roman Catholics love to quote with respect to authority:

And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also to thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [4]

The sign given to the Jews is therefore the sign of Jonah, namely, through repentance Christ enters the Leviathan of the mouth He made on the fifth day to sport therein[5]. For our mouth is the gate of hell in our bodies, Jesus soon calling Peter Satan; “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savors not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” For Peter is sent here on his prodigal journey having taken Christ himself as the inheritance. 

And this was not revealed by flesh and blood but by the Father. If it is received by the Father, the truth Peter received must have proceeded from the Father by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. Jesus did not reveal Himself to Simon Son of Jonah through the Body and Blood of the Holy Eucharist yet, but by the revelation of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father as Jesus says in John. 

Finally, “In the Beginning” is Tav, the Cross which appears both on top of the Iconostas, beneath the eternal lamp, and also behind the altar.  We enter Christ who is the eternal Logos through picking up our own crosses and following Christ. In this way we enter “In the Beginning”, and we open wide our mouth to receive the Lord who creates us new through the Cross. When we Orthodox pull back our heads to receive, on the top of the Iconostas is the Cross, so through “In the Beginning” we receive the Divine Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

The gates of hell in ourselves, our own Pei, our own mouth, does not prevail against the power of Christ. How privileged and wonderful that the Eastern Orthodox, once briefly Iconoclast, have received so great a blessing in Iconography. However, this blessing was received because our western Catholic Popes kept the Orthodox Faith intact.

[1] Prayer of Manasseh, who sawed his grandfather Isaiah in two but who is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.

[2] The Iconostas runs North to South, and is viewed head to the East of the faithful praying to the East. It is elevated as it is on the Holy Mountain of God, where we look for our help.

[3] The great entrance is where there are royal doors that are opened during the Liturgy to reveal the altar with the candles representing the Seven Spirits on the candle stand on the altar, not pictured here.

[4] Matthew 16:17-18

[5] Recall in Luke 24:42 after the resurrection the broiled fish, the great fish, the leviathan is broiled.

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