Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is call the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all side with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer ten, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. Hebrews 9: 1-7
Good morning Prayer Team!
One of the hallmarks of Lenten services, specifically the Great Compline and the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, is that the Royal Doors are closed for part of the service. Some churches have a door or a curtain that, when closed, completely obscures the altar from view. It is customary at the Lenten services that we only hear scriptures readings from the Old Testament. Our church even takes on the look of the Old Testament temple with the curtain closed and the Holy of Holies, the Holy Altar obscured from view. Today’s Bible quote is from the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews, but in it, St. Paul describes the setup of the Old Testament Temple, including the curtain covering the Holy of Holies. He also tells us that only the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, and even he could only enter once a year.
It is interesting to note that the Orthodox Church is set up a lot like the Jewish Temple of the Old Testament. There is a wall separating the Holy of Holies from the people, similar to the wall of separation in the Jewish Temple. We call this an Icon Screen or Iconostasion. The Church added icons to the wall that we see in our churches today. We have a Holy space, the altar, and in the center of the altar is the Altar Table, which is sometimes called “The Holy Table.” On the altar table, we have the tabernacle, which contains in it the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist. This takes the place of the jar of manna, described above. The “Cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat” are still present today, the form of round discs, held by the altar boys that have the image of the Cherubim on them.
In Mark 15: 37-39, we read that at the crucifixion, Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that He thus breathed His last, he said “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” For the first time, people now had visual access to the Holy of Holies. What went on behind the veil was no longer a secret to everyone. This is why, generally, when we have a service, the curtain, or door of the altar, is opened, allowing people to see the Holy Table, and the priest standing in front of it.
The Old Testament was a time of “expectation.” People were waiting for the promised Messiah. We, also, now live in a period of expectation. In the long term, we are waiting for Christ to return. In the short term, we are waiting for the arrival of Holy Week and Pascha and our annual commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. So, the church properly takes us back to the time of the Old Testament, which we are reminded of in the closing of the curtain over the Royal Doors.
This liturgical ritual of closing the doors reminds us both of where we have come from and where we are going. It reminds us of our history—It reminds us of the history of God’s people before the coming of Christ and how they practiced their faith. It reminds us of the saving work of Christ, whose death on the cross destroyed the curtain of the temple. It reminds us of what Christ did for us on Good Friday. And it reminds us that because we live in an age of expectation of the return of Christ, that we are supposed to be prepared for the Kingdom to come at any time. This doesn’t mean sell all your property and give away all of your possessions, as it seems some sect or cultish group is doing periodically. It does, however, mean that we are to be prepared to meet the Lord at any time, should He come for all of us, or even one of us, today. The veil is a covering, and when I think of this covering, I think of it in a personal way—to lift the veil from my eyes to see God more clearly; to lift the veil of my ego to put God first, and to lift the veil of my heart to love others as God loves me.
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.
I was pushed hard so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank Thee that Thou hast answered me and hast become my salvation.
Save us, we beseech Thee, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech Thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and He has given us light. Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to Thee; Thou art my God, I will extol Thee. Psalm 118: 1, 5, 13-14, 19-21, 25-28
Plan to attend Pre-Sanctified Liturgy tonight!
Photo Credit: Preachers Institute
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