Iconostand in Russian Orthodox Church: Meaning, Organizing and Placements of Icons
The Russian Iconographers of the 16th century created the now present Five Tiered Iconostand
The placement of the Iconostand and each icon
placed on it holds incredible symbolic intent
The Russian Iconographers intended for the Iconostand to represent more than a mere functioning wall
Sometimes the most beautiful light can be that of a lone flame dancing atop a candle. It is amazing how a pitch black room can suddenly become illuminated by one tiny flickering flame. Imagine those dancing flames lighting the sacred Iconostand.The reverence and serenity of the moment can represent the glorification of Christ beyond measure.
The Russian influence on the Iconostand (also known as Iconostasis), is without saying, significant. When the Byzantine Empire imported Orthodox Theology into Russia the Iconostand varied in form. It was typically a wall that was chest high. Some Orthodox Churches opted to have a wooden framework with a curtain attached. This curtain would then be opened and closed during various parts of the service.
It wasn't until the 16th century did it evolve into the now present Five Tiered form. To fully understand the significance of the Russian influence on the Iconostand, one needs to understand the importance of the Iconostand in Orthodox Theology. The Iconostand separates the sanctuary and the alter from the nave. Dr. Hugh Nibley, noted scholar of Temple Studies has documented that "the Iconostasis does not really "separate" the nave from the Holy of Holies; rather, it brings them together. The Iconostasis is the link between Heaven (the Holy of Holies) and the nave (The Holy Place). Therefore everything is symbolic upon the Iconostasis. Icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and various saints and feasts are there because these figures lead us and guide us into the Holy of Holies." Icons are not thought to be religious paintings, but sacred objects. There is viewed to be a mysterious link with the depicted figure and the viewer.
The bottom Tier is known as the "Sovereign." On the right side of the Royal Doors is the Icon of Christ which is to symbolize the Second Coming. On the left side is the icon
of Theotokos, which is Mary, and symbolizes Christ's incarnation. The underline meaning is that all things occur between Christ's First and Second Coming. Other Icons that are typically on this tier is the Patron Saint, or Feast Day to which the church is dedicated, St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas, and one more of the Four Evangelists.
Directly above the Sovereign Tier are two tiers that are allowed to be interchangeable; the Deisis and the Twelve Great Feasts. On the Deisis, in the center is a large icon
of Christ Enthroned. To the left and right are icons
of St. John the Baptist and the Theotokos. Directly next to these are icons of the Archangels; Michael and Gabriel. At the end of the tier are St. Peter and Paul, and then lastly any important Church Fathers. The Twelve Great Feasts Tier contains icons of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Liturgical year.
The following two tiers are also allowed to be interchangeable. They are the Old Testament
Prophets and the Patriarchs. The Old Testament Prophets Tier is a majority of Old Testament Profits with open scrolls to symbolize the prophecy of Christ's coming. Located in the center is the Virgin of the Sign icon. The last tier is often that of The Patriarchs. On this tier are the icons
of the Saints from Abraham to Moses. These are typically flanked with the Old Testament Trinity
With this understanding, again imagine the Iconostand, lit with the dancing flames from candles and oil lamps. This is the connection to the Holy of Holies and these figures are there to aid with spiritual awareness. This is the emotion of reverence one is meant to have as they stand before the Iconostand. Russian Iconographers yearned to share their faith more than becoming renowned as artists. They truly created the Iconostand to both glorify God and Christ, but more importantly to enable that faith to be accessible with whoever so gazes upon it.
Kies, Lisa (1996) Russian Material. Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009
From Lisa Kies's Homepage
Nibley, Dr. Hugh. (2008). Temple Studies. Retrieved on May 22nd , 2009
From Temple Study
"Iconostasis." (2009) Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009