“All life is liturgy. All words are creeds. All times are
Sabbaths. All places are churches. But we all have attention deficit
disorder; we are forgetful. And unless we see God in special places and
times, we will forget to see Him in any place and time.”
Medieval churches often had “rood screens” (“rood” means “cross”) also known as chancel screens, separating
the Sanctuary and choir from the body of the nave. The rood screen had the rood
— the Crucifix — often flanked by images of the Virgin and St. John and by oil
lamps. This screen totally separated the sanctuary from the place the people
sat so that the sanctuary was truly treated as the Holy of Holies.
Catholic churches and in Orthodox churches, the sanctuary is separated from the
congregation by a lovely iconostasis — a screen or wall with at least two icons
(some are covered with them). An Iconostasis is below.
The iconostasis has three doors: the Door of the
Proskomide (preparation for Liturgy) on the left; the Royal Door in the middle
which leads directly to the altar; and the Deacon’s Door at the right (from the
parishioner’s point of view).
The precise origin of the screen and its connection with the rood is
somewhat obscure, and apparently varied in different churches. The
custom of screening off the altar is very ancient, and emphasizing, as
it did, the air of mystery surrounding the place of sacrifice, was
possibly a survival of Judaism; but the placing of a screen, more or
less solid, between the chancel and nave – i.e. between clergy and
people – must have originated from practical rather than from symbolic
reasons…“ –Catholic Encyclopedia 1908
Jewish scholars have found ancient evidence of the use of chancel screens. The medieval synagogue was divided into the superior “sanctity of the ark” from the “sanctity of the synagogue”. The use of chancel screens was related to the fence the surrounded the temple, past which gentiles were forbidden to enter. Below is a plan of the Jewish Temple.
the entrance into the temple was from
the East. Only Israelites were permitted to pass the eastern gate and enter the
court of Israel. On the West side of this court, and just before the entrance
into the Holy Place,
was the “altar of
burnt offering.” This was the altar on which animals were
sacrificed. Into the next compartment (the Holy Place) only the priests could
enter — they also entered from the East. And into the third room (the Holy of
Holies) only the High Priest could go on the Day of Atonement — again he could
only enter it from the East.
The rise of Renaissance architecture saw the disappearance of the choir
area, the bringing forward of the sanctuary, and the general disappearance of
the rood screens. The sanctuary was, instead, separated from the nave (as they
should be today if there is no rood screen or iconostasis) by altar rails at
which communicants must kneel to receive the Eucharist.
Aside from being the place of the Altar, the sanctuary is the place where
the Tabernacle, which holds the Blessed Sacrament, is kept and over which there
should always be burning a tabernacle light.
“…prayer is an encounter and a relationship, a relationship which is deep, and this relationship cannot be forced either on us or on God. The fact that God can make Himself present or can leave us with the sense of His absence is part of this live and real relationship. If we could mechanically draw Him into an encounter, force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen this moment to meet Him, there would be no relationship and no encounter. We can do that with an image, with the imagination, or with the various idols we can put in front of us instead of God; we can do nothing of the sort with the living God, any more than we can do it with a living person.
A relationship must begin and develop in mutual freedom. If you look at the relationship in terms of mutual relationship, you will see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer, ‘I am busy, I am sorry,’ or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.
The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us. God is merciful; He does not come in an untimely way. He gives us a chance to judge ourselves, to understand, and not to come into His
presence at a moment when it would mean condemnation.”
~from Beginning to Pray, by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom