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Orthodox church installs first iconostasis

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 2, 2012 at 2:02 a.m.
Updated July 3, 2012 at 2:03 a.m.

The Rev. Dimitri Cozby stands before the new iconostasis at All Saints Orthodox Mission. The artwork is an elaborate wood carving that depicts major figures of Orthodox Christianity, including Jesus, Mary and St. Herman of Alaska.

In the sanctuary of All Saints Orthodox Mission, the smell of fresh paint and alder wood perfume the dome-shaped space. With little more than a few small paintings and gray chairs lining the walls, the church's coiling, hand-carved iconostasis stands out among the minimalist room.

"I just thought, 'Wow,' when I saw it," said All Saints Rev. Dimitri Cozby, who oversaw the installation of the altar screen three weeks ago. "We were extremely pleased."

The intricately carved iconostasis was crafted especially for All Saints by the Rev. Jerome Sanderson, an Orthodox priest of a parish in rural Indiana who started the project last December.

The altar screen, made up of four icons and hand-painted on gold leaf paper, depicts significant Christian and Orthodox figures throughout history, punctuated with ornamental Greek and English lettering.

Among the figures are Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Herman of Alaska, the patron saint of the Eastern Orthodox church in the new world, and the All Saints icon, which depicts a myriad of historical Christian figures including Constantine, John the Baptist, and the 12 Apostles.

"Because of the intricacy and attention to detail on each icon, and not just a generic painting of holy people, each one of them speaks to me in a different way," he said.

The altar screen itself stands about 11 feet tall, separated by center royal doors and two deacons' doors. Passage through the doors, or venturing beyond the iconostasis is forbidden unless serving as a deacon, priest, bishop, or altar server.

"Originally, from the earliest days, churches had some separation from the altar ... to emphasize that this is holy ground," Cozby said. "No one goes into the altar area except those that have business there. I don't even go through them unless it's a focal point in service."

Behind the altar represents the kingdom of heaven, Cozby said.

"Our services are geared around that separation and opening up again - a reminder that we cut ourselves off from God and yet, in Christ, we have access to the kingdom," he said.

Orthodox churches throughout the world boast elaborate iconostases, yet since All Saints opened its doors in 2009, it operated with only a modest elevated altar and three wooden lecterns separating the church body from the stage.

Each element of the iconostasis emits a symbolic gesture of Orthodox tradition, representing the relationship of God and man.

"Everybody is very, very happy to have a proper" iconostasis. "It looks like a real Orthodox church now," he said. "We open up our world to God and he comes through it to us. The icon is to remind us of his incarnation and becoming man."



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