The Iconostasis

A dominant feature of an established Orthodox church is the Iconostasis or Icon wall. This is a wall of icons that separates the nave (where the people participate in worship) and the sanctuary (only accessible by the priest). The term iconostasis simply means a partition covered with icons.

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