Question: We normally don’t see what is done behind the Icon Screen like the vesting of the priest, the preparation of the Holy Gifts, etc. Since we are down in the Social Hall for church, is it alright for us to see this, or it is something that we are not suppose to view?

Answer: As to your question, "Yes and no..." (chuckle, chuckle). Actually, the Icon screen is supposed to limit our view of the Sanctuary and altar. That area represents heaven; we can neither see heaven, nor can we yet enter heaven. So even though we can catch a glimpse of what is happening now and then, our full view and ability to enter the Sanctuary freely is restricted to remind us that we have to continue "working out our salvation with fear and trembling..." And, the preparation of the gifts for communion is intentionally hidden from view as this also represents the early years of Christ's life which are hidden from us. That is the normal and usual way things happen...

However, that does not mean we are prevented from seeing these things, including the vesting of the priest. In fact, at Summer Camp and weekend retreats, it is common for us to make these services public so that the children & staff have an opportunity to see and learn what is done behind the Icon Screen. That is the exception...

Holding the services in the Social Hall is the exception to our normal routine. If we were to hold a Divine Liturgy outside - maybe we would be having a parish picnic at the local picnic grounds on Sunday, for instance - it would not be uncommon to take everything necessary to celebrate a Divine Liturgy, after which we would have a community picnic. We probably would not take out the large processional fans and cross - just candles for the acolytes to hold, and a censer. The "altar" would also seem very plain - not even everything I have down in the hall - just the essentials...

The primary and essential component to hold a Divine Liturgy is the cloth called the Antiminsion (“in the place of a table”) which is kept under the Altar Gospel, wrapped in a large red protective cloth. This special cloth is presented to the parish by the presiding hierarch and has his name written on it. It has been used to wipe down the altar of a newly-consecrated church and is thus also consecrated. Sometimes portions of relics of the saints are sewn or placed in pockets attached to the consecrated cloth. In our Orthodox practice today, a Divine Liturgy must be celebrated on the Antiminsion, whether or not the altar has been consecrated. The Antiminsion is one of the elements we brought downstairs to the Social Hall. Generally it is not seen by the congregation as the Altar is usually elevated above the congregation’s view, and the Antiminsion is covered with the Chalice & Paten.

Since we will be downstairs for a few more weeks, we have brought down more than just the essentials to give a feeling more like church. It seems to be working well. The children have been very attentive, many parishioners have commented how "cozy" and warm it feels to be so close to everything (except the incense... cough, cough), and those who usually sit way in the back can now hear the service!!! Go figure...

If anyone would like to see the prayers of preparation for the priest to enter the Sanctuary, the vesting of the priest or the preparation of the Holy Gifts while we are holding services in the Social Hall, you are welcome to join me around 8:15 a.m. on these Sunday mornings.