131 Icon of St. John the Baptist, made in Greece 1993 (Ellopos Photo Blog)

It attained its classical form in the fifteenth century. In the churches of early Christianity, there was a low screen or wall. Over time, more icons were added, resulting in a larger wall.132 While the first impression one has is that the Iconostasis is a wall, this is a misunderstanding. It is not a barrier but a series of windows. Its purpose is not to block but to bring light into. This is the idea of mystery “perceived not by human eyes”.133 In Russia, the iconostasis was merely a low wall in the 14th and 15th centuries but in the 16th century, “…attains spectacular dimensions.”134 Early Iconostasis were low. A man could lean on it and look in, making the sanctuary both visible but also inaccessible.135

Basically, the iconostasis tells the story of how we are able to directly approach the holy of holies. Though it appears as a barrier, the icons are meant to be windows to the truth, more than a wall separating us from this truth. It opens the door to the faithful.136 “The iconostasis therefore has more than merely a didactic meaning. It represents the ontological link between sacrament and image, and shows this glorious body of Christ, the same real body given in the Eucharist and represented on the icon.”137

In the center of the iconostasis we find the Holy (or Royal) Door. This represents the “beginning of our salvation”.138 Generally, an icon of Jesus is on one side and the Theotokos is on the other.139 This Royal Door is the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Only the clergy may enter and only at certain moments.140

132 Quenot, 1991, p. 47.
133 Ibid, p. 48.
134 Zibawi, 1993, p. 138.
135 Ouspensky and Lossky, 1983, p. 59.
136 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 278ff.
137 Ibid, p. 282.
138 Ibid, p. 278.
139 Ouspensky and Lossky, 1983, p. 60.
140 Ibid, p. 66.