The Setting of the Liturgy and Other Services

Since the Middle Ages, the typical Byzantine church has been a centrally planned building with an attached sanctuary at the east end. Entrance should be through a narthex, a space large enough for some services to be held there. The central space, the nave, may be largely devoid of seating, as people normally stand.

Greek churches usually provide lecterns for the cantors, either side of the east end of the nave. A throne is often provided for the bishop by the choir on the right hand side. Russian churches have a platform, the solea, in front of the sanctuary, the central part of which, jutting out into the nave, is the place of preaching and receiving communion, and is called the 'ambo', a word reserved by the Greeks for a pulpit in the nave from which the Gospel is read when a deacon serves. Russian churches often have a raised platform for the bishop in the centre of the nave which may also serve as a place for the deacon to read the gospel.

The sanctuary or bema is screened by the templon or iconostasis, a barrier covered with icons and with three doors. The central or holy doors are used by bishops, priests or deacons during the more important services. Others use the side doors. Secondary sanctuaries are common in Russia. All sanctuaries contain a cuboid altar or holy table, placed so as to allow processions to pass easily around its east side. On the left side of the sanctuary, or in a separate chamber, is the table of preparation or prothesis. On the right side may be the diaconicon, where vestments are kept. In the apse there should be a central throne for the bishop and seats for the priests around it. These last are now often absent from Greek churches.

Outside the time of the eucharistic liturgy, nothing is placed on the altar except those things that normally remain there. These are the antimension, a consecrated cloth without which no celebration may take place, the Gospel book placed on top of it, a hand cross, and cloths for wiping the mouths of the communicants, and nowadays, a container for the reserved holy gifts (they were once kept on the table of preparation). Candles are often placed around rather than on the altar, and in Russian practice a seven-branch lamp stand is placed at the rear of the altar.

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