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In the long history of the Orthodox Church a definite style of church architecture has developed. This style is characterized by the attempt to reveal the fundamental experience of Orthodox Christianity: God is with us.
The fact that Christ the Immanuel (which translated means “God with us”) has come, determines the form of the Orthodox church building. God is with man in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The dwelling place of God is with man. “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands,” says St Stephen quoting the Old Testament prophets. St Paul says that men are the temples of God:
Christ Jesus himself (is) the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
The words of St Peter are very much the same.
Come to him (Christ) to that living stone…and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house…to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (I Peter :4-5)
“We are the temple of the living God…” (II Corinthians 6:16). And it is exactly this conviction and experience that Orthodox Church architecture wishes to convey.
Orthodox Church architecture reveals that God is with men, dwelling in them and living in them through Christ and the Spirit. It does so by using the dome or the vaulted ceiling to crown the Christian church building, the house of the Church which is the People of God. Unlike the pointed arches which point to God far up in the heavens, the dome or the spacious all-embracing ceiling gives the impression that in the Kingdom of God, and in the Church, Christ “unites all things in himself, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Ephesians 1:10) and that in Him we are all “filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)
The interior of the Orthodox Church building is particularly styled to give the experience of the unity of all things in God. It is not constructed to reproduce the upper room of the Last Supper, nor to be simply a meeting hall for men whose life exists solely within the bounds of this earth. The church building is patterned after the image of God’s Kingdom in the Book of Revelation. Before us is the altar table on which Christ is enthroned, both as the Word of God in the Gospels and as the Lamb of God in the eucharistic sacrifice. Around the table are the angels and saints, the servants of the Word and the Lamb who glorify him – and through him, God the Father – in the perpetual adoration inspired by the Holy Spirit. The faithful Christians on earth who already belong to that holy assembly â??”…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2:19) â??enter into the eternal worship of God’s Kingdom in the Church. Thus, in Orthodox practice the vestibule symbolizes this world. The nave is the place of the Church understood as the assembly and people of God. The altar area, called the sanctuary or the holy place, stands for the Kingdom of God.
The Divine Liturgy. Official translation of the Orthodox Church in America, New York, 1967.
The Festal Menaion. Translated from the original Greek by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, Faber and Faber, London, 1969.
Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church. Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood, Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, New York, 1956.
Cabasilas, Nicholas, A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, Translated by J. M. Hussey and P. A. McNulty, with an introduction by R. M. French, London, SPCK, 1960.
Danielou, Jean, The Bible and the Liturgy, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1956.
Meyendorff, John, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, 2nd Edition St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1975.
Ouspensky, L. and Lossky, V., The Meaning of Icons, Olten, 1952.
Schmemann, A., Introduction to Liturgical Theology, Translated by A. Moorhouse, The Faith Press, London, 1966.
For the Life of the World; Sacraments and Orthodoxy, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1973.
Great Lent, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1969.
Of Water and the Spirit, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 1975.
Liturgy and Life, Department of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America, New York, 1975.
BOOKLETS ON WORSHIP published by The Department of Religious Education of The Orthodox Church in America
The Great Blessing of Water. Translation by Bishop Dmitri. Introduction by Father Thomas Hopko.
Forgiveness Sunday Vespers. Introduction by Father Alexander Schmemann.
Great Lent. Father Alexander Schmemann.
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Introduction by Father Thomas Hopko.
Holy. Week. Father Alexander Schmemann.
The Passion Gospels. Introduction by Father Paul Lazor.
Great and Holy Friday Vespers. Introduction by Father Paul Lazor.
The Praises. Introduction by Father John Meyendorff.
Great and Holy Saturday. Vespers and Liturgy.
The Vespers of Pentecost. Translated by Bishop Dmitri.
Baptism. Introduction by Father Paul Lazor.
Holy Matrimony. Introduction by Father John Meyendorff.
We Return to God. Child’s preparation for confession by Constance Tarasar.
We Praise God. The Divine Liturgy in pictures for children.
The Divine Liturgy. Students’ Edition.
If We Confess Our Sins. Adult’s preparation for confession by Father Thomas Hopko.
Orthodox Tracts, Sets 1, II and IV (Numbers 1-20; 31-40) also deal exclusively with themes of worship.