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11. The Church Building.


The church ("temple") is a special house consecrated to God ó "the House of God" in which the Divine Services are conducted. In the church there abides the special grace or mercy of God, which is given to us through those who conduct the Divine Services, namely, the clergy (bishops, priests and deacons).

The external appearance of the church differs from other buildings in that there is a dome which symbolizes Heaven rising over the church. At the top of the dome is its peak, where the Cross stands, to the glory of the Head, Jesus Christ. Over the entrance to the church there is usually built a bell tower where the bells are hung. The ringing of the bells serves to summon the faithful to prayer ó to the Divine Services, and to give notice of the most important parts of the service taking place in the church.

At the entrance to the church there is a porch (courtyard, or entrance way). The inside of the church is divided into three parts: 1) the narthex, 2) the church itself, or the nave, or middle part of the church, where the people stand, 3) the Altar, or Sanctuary, where the services are conducted by the clergy and where the most important part of the whole church is located ó the Holy Table (altar table), on which the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated.

The altar is separated from the central part of the church by the iconostasis, which consists of several rows of icons and has three doors. The central doors are called the Royal Doors, because through them the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the King of glory, passes invisibly in the Holy Gifts (in Holy Communion). Therefore, no one may pass through the Royal Doors except the clergy.

The reading and chanting of prayers that are served in the church by the clergy are called Divine Services.

The most important divine service is the Liturgy. It is conducted before noonday. During this service the entire earthly life of the Saviour is commemorated, and the Mystery of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), which Christ himself instituted at the Mystical Supper, is celebrated.

The Mystery of Holy Communion is the consecration of bread and wine by Godís Grace, when they become the true Body and true Blood of Christ. In appearance they remain bread and wine, but we receive the true Body and true Blood of the Saviour, under the appearance of bread and wine, in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, have eternal life and change ourselves.

Since the church is a very holy place, where God Himself is present invisibly by special mercy, we must enter it with prayer, and conduct ourselves quietly and reverently. During the Divine Services it is forbidden to talk, and even more so to laugh. It is forbidden to stand with your back to the Altar. Each person stands in his place and does not walk from one place to another. Only in case of sickness is it permitted to sit down and rest. It is wrong to leave the church before the end of the Divine Service.

We must approach Holy Communion calmly and without haste, with our arms crossed over our breast. After Communion we kiss the chalice without making the sign of the Cross, in order not to strike the chalice accidentally.

Questions: What is the church? What is its outside appearance like? How is the church divided inside? What is the iconostasis? Where are the Royal Doors? What is the Holy Table and what is celebrated on it? What is the most important Divine Service? What is commemorated at the Divine Liturgy? What is the Mystery of Holy Communion? Who instituted this Mystery? How should we conduct ourselves in church?

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