Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
Iconostasis gives glory to God
Parish wants to display glory of God's Kingdom
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God parishioner Harvey Spak learned about the beauty of the kingdom of God, the beauty of God in the process of putting on a new iconostasis in their church.
"People who come into the church, who had never been here before, walk in and get blown away. It's stunning," Spak said in an interview.
Bishop Lawrence Huculak consecrated the new iconostasis, Feb. 2.
Parish priest, Father Peter Brezden, said, "Our old iconostasis looked like a little fence."
"We did this to beautify our church and for prayer," Brezden said.
An iconostasis consists of a partition running from side to side of the apse, which divides the sanctuary from the body of the church, and is built of solid materials such as stone, metal or wood.
It is the chief and most distinctive feature in all Eastern churches, whether Catholic or Orthodox.
It has three doors: the great royal door in the middle (so called because it leads directly to the altar upon which the king of kings is sacrificed), the deacon's door to the right, and the door of the proskomide (preparation for liturgy) on the left.
Father Damian Higgins, the iconographer, said, "For all the Eastern Christians the significance of the iconostasis reminds us of the mystery of God. God means for us an unknowable, incomprehensible, unattainable mystery."
What they celebrate in the iconostasis is the belief in the incarnation, that God has become human. "The iconostasis is communicates to us, what God has done for us," the priest explained.
Two pictures or icons must appear upon every iconostasis, no matter how humble: the picture of Jesus Christ on the right of the royal door, and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the left.
The icon of Jesus Christ varies depending on the text that is written on the Scripture that is opened before us on the icon, Higgins noted.
In the case of Dormition parish, Jesus is being revealed as the Eucharistic Christ, as the words "I am the bread of life," are written on the Scripture he is holding.
At the middle of the iconostasis is the royal door leading to the Holy of Holies, reminiscent of the Jewish temples.
On top of the door frame sits an icon cross, right below is the Last Supper and below it the icons of the four evangelists.
At the two door panes, Higgins painted the Annunciation scene, which is important for the Eastern Christian churches.
Higgins decided to enlarge it to emphasize the feast's significance.
"Because of the response of Mary, the doors of paradise opened. It is through this space (the doors) that the holy mysteries of the Church are communicated as a sacrament."
The priest brings Communion through this door.
"With the sense that in so far as we are accepted into God's grace, the doors of paradise, which were closed to us in Adam and Eve are now open."
Just above the royal door sit the images of the four evangelists. Then above them was the image of the Last Supper, to remind the people of what is taking place at the table, in the Holy of Holies.
At the crown of the iconostasis is a crucifixion icon with another icon of Mary on the right side and John, the beloved disciple on the left.
There are deacon doors on each side, through which the deacons and servers come in and out.
Ukrainian Catholics in North America, stopped using the iconostasis at a certain point to identify themselves as Catholics rather than Orthodox.
"The iconostasis kind of fell out of favour for many years. But in the last couple of decades, iconostasis are put back to reminds us that this really is our tradition," said Higgins who also painted the iconostasis at St. Nicholas Church.
On each side of the iconostasis crown are the festal icons, beginning with the nativity of the Mother of God.
The festal icons are movable so that when a certain feast is celebrated the people can venerate the icon.
It took almost a year for Higgins to finish the iconostasis. As he is based in Hawaii, he sent bits and pieces until the major pieces were installed.
While the project was in progress, parishioner Eugene Stefaniw, made the frame where the icons hang.
Brezden noted that, at $50,000, their iconostasis is far cheaper than what a church would ordinarily spend.