Iconostasis

Screen separating the nave from the sanctuary in Eastern Orthodox churches / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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In Eastern Christianity, an iconostasis (Greek: εἰκονοστάσιον) is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church.[1] Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church. The iconostasis evolved from the Byzantine templon, a process complete by the 15th century.

Iconostasis_in_Moscow.jpg
Five-panel Deesis row (center), iconostasis in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow Kremlin by Theophanes the Greek, 1405

A direct comparison for the function of the main iconostasis can be made to the layout of the great Temple in Jerusalem. That Temple was designed with three parts. The holiest and inner-most portion was that where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. This portion, the Holy of Holies, was separated from the second larger part of the building's interior by a curtain, the "veil of the temple". Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. The third part was the entrance court.

This architectural tradition for the two main parts can be seen carried forward in Christian churches and is still most demonstratively present in Eastern Orthodox churches where the iconostasis divides the altar, the Holy of Holies where the Eucharist is performed – the manifestation of the New Covenant – from the larger portion of the church accessible to the faithful. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, usually only men can enter the altar portion behind the iconostasis. However, one will see women serving behind the iconostasis at female monasteries.

The word "iconostasis" comes from the Greek εἰκονοστάσι(-ον) (eikonostási(-on), still in common use in Greece and Cyprus), which means "icon stand".

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