By The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
Many times you have probably looked at the Altar Table in our church and perhaps wondered why we have a Tabernacle on the Altar. Just what is the Tabernacle, and why do we need one in our church? In the Webster’s Dictionary the word "Tabernacle" is defined: "A tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus", or, "A dwelling place", or, "A receptacle for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, an ornamental box fixed to the middle of the Altar used for reserving the Host". It can also mean "A house of worship", or "A tent used for evangelic services".
Perhaps, you are thinking that the receptacle for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist would be the correct response, and you would be right, partially. Actually, in reality it is more of a "dwelling place" than just a receptacle for the consecrated Host elements. It is the "dwelling place" of the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It contains the Essence of God, just as the "Ark of the Covenant" contained the Essence of God.
In the Orthodox Christian Faith this is why we call the area of the church containing the Altar and the Tabernacle, the "Sanctuary". In Protestant Churches today, the Sanctuary is where the congregation gathers. This differs from our tradition because in many of the Protestant churches today, there are few, if any, Sacraments. In the Protestant Churches there is no consecration of the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore there is no need for a Tabernacle or receptacle to contain the Consecrated Host. In the Roman Catholic Church the Consecrated Host is contained in a Monstrance, which looks similar to a processional fan in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The Eastern Orthodox Christian Sanctuary replaced the Jewish "Holy of Holies" where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Royal Doors in front of the Altar symbolize the Entrance to Heaven, and the Sanctuary symbolizes the Kingdom of Heaven. The structure of the Eastern Orthodox Church makes perfect sense. First you have the Narthex; the Narthex relates to the beginning point in your life. The Orthodox Baptism Service begins in the Narthex of the Church. Next, you pass through the Narthex on the way into the next section of the church, which is called the Nave.
The Nave is a word meaning "Ship", literally it is the "Ship of Salvation", which will take you on your life journey to the reward awaiting you at the close of your physical life. The reward is the Kingdom of Heaven, represented in the Sanctuary. As you see, there is a logical progression forward in the basic design of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Everyone’s life has a beginning, middle, and at the close of your life, you have your reward.
Why must we maintain respect and discipline while we are in the nave of our Church? Because, just beyond the Royal Doors you will find the presence of Christ with us always. As long as the Tabernacle and the reserved, Consecrated Host is on the Altar Table, the presence of the Lord is with us in the church. To behave in an undignified manner in front of the Altar us to disgrace yourself before the Lord. Suppose you were called into the presence of a king. Would you approach him in a disrespectful manner, or perhaps even fail to acknowledge that he was in the room with you? Probably not, yet a lot of people do not realize that they are actually in the presence of the Most High God when they are in the Church.
Jesus Christ is a million times more important than any earthly authority or king, yet, He is often overlooked by His own people. A person must be first taught what is Holy and how to behave around Holy things; therefore, this is purpose of this sermon; to instruct you concerning the Holy teachings. This sermon calls your attention to a part of our Church that you might not know about. If you know about it, perhaps, you will learn even more about it, and much more importantly, you will learn the reason that we must maintain a respectful attitude in the Church.
Most Orthodox Christians never think about what a miracle the Consecrated Host actually is. Have you ever tried to leave a piece of bread that has been dipped in wine and water out for several days? What do you think would happen to this piece of bread? You might even want to try leaving a piece of bread out for several weeks to see what happens to it.
Normally, you will find that if insects do not gather and eat the bread, that mold will form on it, or it will corrupt in some way. The Consecrated Host in our church has been in the Tabernacle for about a year now, can you imagine what bread would look like after being left unattended for a year? Here’s where the miracle comes in. I periodically check the host in the Tabernacle, each time I observe it, it looks exactly the same as the day I put it in the Tabernacle. Even today, I can look at the Consecrated Host and see no deterioration, what-so-ever in the Host.
I believe this says a lot about the Holy Power of Christ, and His pure and omnipotent presence among us even to this day and time. Christ has always been incorruptible, and ever shall be incorruptible. That which manifests His presence among us will also fall under His power of incorruptibility.
There are definitely insects in any Church building; however, the Tabernacle always remains free of insects, and free of corruption. Why is it necessary to keep the reserved Sacrament in the Church at all times. The first and foremost reason is to maintain the Presence of the Lord in His Holy Temple on earth. The second reason is to provide a way to get Holy Communion to the sick and those who are receiving extreme Unction, or Last Rites. This way the Holy Communion can be administered quickly to those in dire need of it.
Since the Eastern Orthodox Christian Holy Communion is a Sacrament, the bread and wine must be consecrated during the Divine Liturgy in order to become the Body and Blood of Christ; therefore, in an emergency, a priest might not have time to do a liturgy to Consecrate the gifts. The reserved Sacrament gives the priest access to the Holy Communion in a moments notice.
We have a purpose for every item that we have represented in our Holy Orthodox Churches, and I will endeavor to teach you about the proper use and respect for each of them during the course of a year.
As an Orthodox Christian, you should never become complacent about Orthodoxy, you should always seek to learn as much as you can about your faith. Know it well, practice it constantly. Live by it here in earth so that you may live forever in the Kingdom of Heaven as a result of your life here on earth. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of the most important of the Sacraments. It is the Body and Blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, this is why I chose this topic. The more you know about your faith, the easier it will be for you to practice it in your daily lives.
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