Inside a Russian Orthodox Church.
The architectural style of a Russian Orthodox Church is very different to that of a Western Church. The first thing that you notice when looking at the building are the domes, which often are topped by a cupola. Western churches, on the other hand, has pointed steeples that points to the heaven. The dome becomes a symbol for an all-embracing God. Christ unites all things in Heaven and on earth.
My first visit to a Russian Orthodox church.
The first time I stepped into a Russian Orthodox Church was in 2008 when we visited Moscow. It was over Easter and we decided to attend a ceremony on Easter Sunday. Before we entered the church in Moscow, we had to go through a security check. Remember, it was over Easter and terrorist threats are worse over this period.
Security, especially in Moscow, are always tight during this time of the year. I also had to adhere to the dress code. In fact, I forgot to bring a scarf with me and we had to look for a shop where I could buy one before I could enter the church. Arms, legs, and head have to be covered.
Entering a Russian Orthodox Church and what to see inside.
At the entrance of the Church, you will always find Religious Icons. They are a reminder to the Orthodox Christian that Christ and His Saints are invisibly present inside the Church. People entering the Church makes the sign of the Cross and bend their knees three times. So often we demand and insist on our rights. It is different in the Russian Orthodox Church. Here they believe that everything that you receive is from God, even the right to enter the sacred area of the Church.
That is why people bend and cover themselves. You receive everything by the mercy of God.
The Church is divided into different parts or areas:
1. The first is the Narthex.I can best describe this as an open area where you will not find any chairs. People come and go in this area.
In ancient times it was a large, spacious place. The Catechumens received instruction while preparing for Baptism here. Penitents , excluded from Holy Communion stood here. So, the Narthex of the Church represents this world and mankind called to repentance.
2. The main body of the church is the Nave and separated from the Sanctuary or the Holy Place by an icon screen and doors.
The walls of the Nave, decorated with beautiful golden icons and murals, and hanging lit lamps (lampadas). The Nave is the place of the assembled Church, which includes both the living and the departed, the people of God.
3. The Sanctuary or Holy Place – designated to people who have a special place in the Church. The man from the street cannot enter this area. It is also here where you will find the Holy Altar.
The Holy Altar represents the Throne of God, with the Lord Himself invisibly present there. The Holy Altar is the point of meeting and union with God in His Kingdom.
Interesting facts about the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Built to represent the Universe;
- The ceiling represents Heaven;
- The Dome represents Christ. He is looking down at the people, hearing their prayers and reminding them of His presence in the whole universe;
- The floor represents the world;
- The Altar – uplifted by a number of steps and suspended.
Designated areas inside the Church.
Designated areas inside the Church allow to light a candle and say a prayer. This we have often done with Andrey’s Mom. Travelers often go inside churches to take photos. Believe me, I have been guilty too. I did this on our last trip when we visited a monastery in Slavsk, a little rural town. It was never my intention to offend anybody but I guess I did. Nobody said anything but it was clear I was intruding with my camera in a sacred place.
Can I take photos inside a Russian Orthodox Church?
Eventually, I put my camera down and enjoyed the atmosphere of the church. Often people say on forums that they took photos and nothing happened. Yes, and in many cases it is true. At some of the more touristy sites people ‘accept’ it. I am not going to tell you not to take photos. Look out for no photos signs and respect that.
If there is nothing point your camera to someone at the door and ask if you can take photos. If they shake their head, then the answer is no. No matter where in the world you are, when you visit a church or place of religion, have respect for the customs and culture of the people. Rather walk away without a photo than to offend someone.