Інтер’єр | Tour of the Church
Three Exterior Mosiacs
Sts. Constantine and Helen
This mosaic icon, depicting St. Constantine and St. Helen on either side of a huge cross, is found above the main entrance leading into our church. These two persons are closely identified with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which occurred after the Edict of Milan in the year 313 when Constantine the Great announced freedom for the Christmas. Constantine the Great was very generous to his mother Helen and gave her money to help the poor and to build churches. When she went to the Holy Land she influenced him to search for the cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ had been crucified. Having been found, along with two other crosses, it was lifted up by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and his assisting clergy, and a blessing was imparted to the four corners of the world. To this day, we observe the day marking the finding of the true cross as a holy day called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and our church is dedicated to this event.
St. Basil the Great
This mosaic icon of St. Basil the Great is found above the door to the left of the main entrance to our church. St. Basil is a saint and doctor of the Eastern Church. He founded Eastern monasticism and the Order of St. Basil the Great. He did much good as a monk, a scholar, educator, preacher, and writer. He even worked on church services and, to this day, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil is used several times during the year on Sundays and holy days. Our church and the Basilian Fathers, who serve this parish, have a close affinity with this great saint.
This mosaic icon of St. Josaphat is found above the door to the right of the main entrance to our church. St. Josaphat is our only canonized saint who was martyred for his stand on church unity. Being the son of Ukrainian parents, and a member of the Basilian Order, St. Josaphat is our special holy mediator.
The Church Interior Divisions
Although churches differ externally, they are basically the same in their interiors. This church, like all churches of the Ukrainian Rite, is separated into three divisions: the vestibule or narthex, the nave or church proper, and the sanctuary.
This is the first division of the church or that area which is entered from the outside through the main doors. During the first centuries of Christianity this area was assigned to the catechumens or those who were undergoing instructions preparatory to baptism and admission into the Church. The catechumens were taught their catechism in the vestibule and were not allowed to enter the church proper which was reserved for the faithful. The baptismal font was kept in the vestibule where the sacrament of Baptism was administered, and, even today, the ritual of the sacrament Baptism begins in the vestibule where the godparents wait with the child to be baptized. Certain parts of services are held in the vestibule, i.e. the Litia during vespers. Two ancient trident decorations are depicted in our vestibule. The Trident (Tryzub) is the Ukrainian national emblem with which the parishioners of Holy Cross are closely identified. Three memorial plaques are mounted on the vestibule walls to commemorate the sacrificial donations of all who contributed to the Church Building Fund, Memorial Fund, and the Decoration and Painting Fund.
Church Proper of Nave
This is the second division of the church which was formerly reserved for the baptized faithful. The Tetrapod stands in the center front of the nave and is furnished with candles, a cross and icon which is kissed by the faithful. The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Matrimony as well as parastases, panachydas and other rituals of consecration and blessing are performed there. Beyond the tetrapod is the Pulpit Stand and raised platform from which the priest reads the gospel and preaches. Most of our Ukrainian Catholic churches in Canada and the United States have choir lofts over the vestibule which are used by the church choirs and cantors.
This is the third and most important division of the church. In the center of the sanctuary stands the Main Altar where the divine liturgy is celebrated. The Tabernacle, which contains the Holy Eucharist, rests upon this altar as well as the Holy Gospel, candelabra and a cross. To the left of the altar is the Proskomedinyk where the priest reads the offering before the divine liturgy and where he prepares the holy gifts. Above the proskomedinyk is a mosaic depicting Christ on Mount Olive. It was here that our Lord Jesus Christ began His bloody sacrifice. Jesus was sad and sorely troubled, having a divine knowledge of His suffering and crucifixion to come. Sweating drops of blood in His agony, He fell prostrate in prayer: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I." (Mt. 26:39) To the right of the main altar is the Naryznyk which is used mainly for vesting during solemn ceremonies. Above the Naryznyk is a mosaic depicting the Offering of King Melchizedek. When Abram returned from his victory over his enemies, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand." (Gen. 14:18-20) This is the first mention in Holy Scriptures of bread and wine symbolizing the unbloody sacrifice in the new testament. In the sanctuary the priest consecrates the bread and wine which becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Sanctuary Chairs and benches are located in back of the main altar. The center chair (Cathedra), elevated on a platform, is the official seat of the Bishop during the reading of the Epistle. behind the main altar we view the large mosaic depicting the Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. At His feet stand His beloved mother and St. John. Jesus sad to His Mother: "Woman, behold my son!" Then He said to the young disciple St. John: "Behold thy mother!" (St. John 19:25) From that hour Mary became our mother and we her children. Looking above the main altar we see the beautiful painting of the Pantocrator, a Greek word meaning almighty. The central figure in an Eastern Rite Church is normally Christ as the Lord Almighty, and, therefore, this icon is placed in the main dome of the church.
The Sanctuary of the church is divided from the body of the church by a wall called the Iconostasis which is covered with pictures (icons). It has three doors which permit one to enter or leave the sanctuary. The central opening is provided with Royal Doors (or Gates) which are used only by the priest during certain ceremonies. To the left and right of the royal doors are the Deacons' Doors, called thus because they are used by the deacons when they wish to enter or leave the sanctuary. There are many icons on the iconostasis representing the old and new testaments. Through these icons the iconostasis presents the history and glory of the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Royal Doors
St. Matthew is symbolized by the man, because he begins his Gospel with the earthly ancestry of Our Lord.
St. Mark is represented by the lion, because he starts his Gospel with the account of St. John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the desert."
St. Luke is typified by the ox, because he opens his gospel with the story of Zachary offering sacrifice in the temple.
St. John is signified by the eagle, because from very beginning of his Gospel he dwells upon the divinity and divine nature of Jesus.
Below the icons of the four evangelists are the icons of the of the Archangel Gabriel and Blessed Virgin Mary which depict the Annunciation.
Above the royal doors is the icon of the Last Supper at which Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. His words "Do this in commemoration of me" and his unbloody sacrifice are perpetuated at the altar according to the new testament. The Holy Eucharist (body and blood of Jesus Christ) are kept in the Tabernacle on the main altar. Therefore, the sanctuary is a holy place and only those who serve, or assist at services, may enter. Anyone passing in front of the Iconostasis should acknowledge the presence of Our Lord therein and make a profound bow. The same applies upon entering or passing by any Catholic Church
To the right of the Royal Doors are the icons of
Jesus Christ our Divine Teacher and Lover of Mankind.
St. Stephen, Protomartyr who was the first of seven deacons that helped the apostles in their apostolic missions. Stephen accomplished great wonders among the people. Few could resist the power of his eloquence. He was stoned to death.
Sts. Constantine and Helen who where closely connected to the event of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, from whence our church derives its name. This space is usually reserved for the patron saint of each church. We know that St. Helen, mother of Constantine the Great, gave the impetus for the recovery of the true cross of our Savior. Having been found along with two other crosses, the Patriarch of Jerusalem and assisting clergy lifted up this precious relic and blessed the four corners of the world.
To the left of the Royal Doors are the icons of
Mother of God and our spiritual mother.
St. Michael the Archangel who is often pictured holding a sword in his hand to show that he fights against evil and for truth. He is also depicted wearing armor to show that he has the strength to protect us from danger. The name Michael means "who is like God." We know that some angels are messengers of God; others are guardians of people; still others continually sing God's praises in Heaven: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!" (Is. 6:3)
St. Nicholas is a very popular saint in the Eastern Church. He was a monk, priest, then archbishop and lived a life of great holiness. He inherited great wealth upon the death of his parents and gave it all away to the poor and needy. He especially liked to do his good deeds in secret and people called him "the wonderworker".
The upper left icons on the Iconostasis depict important events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Nativity of the B.V.M shows Sts. Joachim and Anna (Mary's parents) being visited by three youths (according to Jewish tradition) and the infant
Mary being held in the arms of a servant.
Presentation of Our Lady is pictured with Sts. Joachim and Anna bringing little Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem and presenting her to God's service as they promised.
Presentation of Our Lord depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph bringing the Infant Jesus to the Temple 40 days after His birth. Also present was Simeon who longed for the coming of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he should not die until he had seen the Savior.
Assumption of the B.V.M. is portrayed with Mary's body lying in state, while her soul in the form of a little child is being held in the hands of Jesus Christ.
Continuing to the right of the Last Supper are icons depicting important events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ is shown with the Infant Jesus, Blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of God, St. Joseph, angels, the magi, and some animals.
Baptism of Christ is portrayed as the event of Epiphany. At that time God revealed himself to all present in the Blessed Trinity. The voice of God was heard saying: "This is my beloved son, listen to him!" The second divine person Jesus Christ was in the Jordan River, and the third divine person, the Holy Spirit, appeared above him in the form of a dove.
Resurrection is depicted with an open sepulchre, the Risen Christ, and the guards who had been struck with terror and fallen to the ground.
Ascension which took place 40 days after the Resurrection is pictured with Jesus Christ rising up to heaven while blessing his mother Mary and the apostles who were standing below.
The late artist Jaroslaw Baransky painted all of the icons on the Iconostasis
in his own imagination and artistry.
Mosaics over Side Alters
On either side of the Iconostasis we see two great mosaics situated over the side altars. To the left is the B.V.M. Protectress and to the right is Christ the Savior
Painted Symbols on the Ceiling
Entering our church and looking up at the ceiling, one sees four beautiful paintings, each of which contains a cross. Since our church is dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we have chosen the cross as our time. The following four symbols represent the main truth of the Holy Writ in relation to the cross
The Mounted Serpent
Was taken from the Holy Writing of the Old Testament. St. John quoting it, says: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in him." (Jn. 3:14-15) St. John stresses that Christ had to be crucified, and that through his death all people might be saved.
We read in the Book of Numbers of the Old Testament about the Israelities in the desert: "From Mount Hor they set out on the Red Sea road, to by-pass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, 'Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food (manna)!'
In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us.' So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.' Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered." (Nm. 21:4-9)
The Instruments of Christ's Crucification
Are depicted in the second symbol - the cross, nails, lance, sponge on a pole, linen, wreath of thorns, and the tablet with the inscription INRI (Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews).
We see a skull under the cross which signifies the death of Adam and our own death. Adam was our own death. Adam was spiritually dead before Chist's redemption; Christ restored life to Adam and to all the people. The name "Golgotha" means skull place in Hebrew, and this was the site where our Lord was crucified. Through Christ's death we have all been redeemed and have a chance for eternal life!
Lamb of God
As depicted in the third symbol represents the Risen Christ. St. John, in his book of Revelations, refers to Christ as a lamb. The lamb is one of the great characteristic ideas of the Revelation in which Jesus Christ is so-called no fewer than twenty-nine times. The word he uses for lamb - "arnion" - is not used of Jesus Christ anywhere else in the New Testament.
John the Baptist pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. "The next day, when John caught sight of Jesus coming toward him, he exclaimed: 'Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! It is he of whom I said: 'After me is to come a man who ranks ahead of me, because he was before me.' I confess I did not recognize him, though the very reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.' John gave this testimony also: 'I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky, and it came to rest on him. But I did not recognized him. The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is he who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.' Now I have seen for myself and have testified, 'This is God's Chosen One.' ' The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. As he watched Jesus walk by he said, 'Look! There is the lamb of God!' " (Jn. 1:29-36)
Peter speaks of the precious blood of Christ as a lamb without blemish and without stain. "... but by Christ's blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb." (l Pt. 1:19) in Isaiah (53:7) in the chapter so dear to Jesus and the early church, we read of the lamb brought to slaughter. In these cases the word is "amnos", whereas the word used in the Revelation is "arnion", which means lamb glorified and triumphant. Artists portray the Risen Christ as a lamb and a banner (on which is a cross) on a white background. The blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts of the homes of the Hebrews the night of their escape from Egypt, so that the angel of the Lord sent to kill the first-born would spare the homes so marked. The blood of the first-born of the Hebrews; the blood of Christ poured out in sacrifice saved us. During our Divine Liturgy we refer to Christ as a lamb; especially when the priest prepares the bread and wine for the sacrifice, he calls the square piece of bread a lamb.
Alpha and Omega
The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are depicted on the fourth symbol - A (alpha) and (omega) on an open book with a cross. God, in turn, is our beginning and our end. "The Lord God says, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty!' " (Rev. 1:8)
The cross with the book and the two Greek letters represent Christ, our Lord and our Teacher, and is the book of life. Christ told us: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." (Jn. 14:6) We can be spiritually alive and attain our final destination, so long as we will be with Christ, and through him, that is His Mystical Body, the Church.
Christ is the way of our goal, the truth of our faith and life, which will be culminated forever in heaven.
Stained Glass Windows
We direct our attention to the lower tier stained glass windows on the right side of the church proper, beginning from the Sanctuary:
God the Father is symbolized by an eye in a triangle. It reminds us that God is Omni-percipient and that there is one God in three divine persons.
God the Son is symbolized by the sign of a cross. It reminds us of the second divine person of God, Jesus Christ, who for our sake was made incarnate and died on the cross for our salvation.
God the Holy Spirit is symbolized by a dove. It reminds us of the third divine person of God. As we know from the Epiphany, when St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, Almighty God revealed himself to human beings in the three divine persons - God's voice was heard from heaven and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove over the head of Jesus who was standing in the river.
Ten Commandments are symbolized by two tablets which remind us of the Old Testament. Inscribed on the first tablet are three of God's Commandments which refer directly to God. Inscribed on the second tablet are seven of God's Commandments which refer to our neighbors, beginning with our parents.
Jesus Christ is symbolized by two Greek letters X P meaning Christ, and remind us of the New Testament. A new era was begun with birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the center and source of all humanity. No one was able to go to heaven before the birth of Christ. No one can go to heaven now after His birth, unless because of Christ, through His holy Church, and all that she possesses.
Holy Gospel is the Holy Writ inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by human beings. They wrote God's eternal truths according to their own mentality, style, and other human characteristics.
Trident and Cross symbolize the Ukrainian Church. The trident is the national emblem of Ukraine, and since Ukrainians accepted the Christian faith in the year of 988 during the reign of St. Wolodymyr the Great, we, descendants of this nation, inherited our Christianity and Rite from our ancestors.
Papal Insignia symbolizes the Universal Catholic Church, the symbol of authority. Christ gave Peter "The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven" and made him the visible head of His Church.
Episcopal Insignia symbolizes the Ukrainian Rite of the Catholic Church and are the symbols of authority of the Eastern Bishops.
Pillar of Fire - Basilian Insignia consists of a fiery post with the letters I X C (Jesus Christ) above, and with olive and oak branches at its sides. This symbol reminds us that the Basilian Fathers spread the word of Jesus Christ which is eternal and life giving. Also, Holy Cross Parish is administered by the Basilian Fathers.
We continue the description of the lower tier stained glass windows on the left side of church proper, beginning form the Sanctuary:
Baptism is symbolized by a water fountain, above which is a dove. On the water fountain we see two Greek letter X P - Jesus Christ. To the question posed by Nicodemus as to what shall one do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ replied that one must be reborn! Nicodemus could not grasp these words and retorted: "How can an man be reborn again once he is old?" Jesus replied: "I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and spirit. Flesh begets flesh, spirit begets spirit." (John 3:5-6) Thus, the symbols of the water fountain and dove remind us of this rebirth. Through the sacrament of Baptism we are reborn to a new spiritual life and are united with Christ and His Church.
Confirmation is symbolized by the seal of the Holy Spirit (dove) because this sacrament leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Once a Christian receives Confirmation he is dedicated to Christ in a special way. The priest confirming the individual says the following words: " The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" and then he anoints the senses. Likewise, the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Orders leave indelible marks upon the souls. Every priest shall be called upon to give an account of his style of life. Therefore, there are three sacraments which forever seal our bond with God. In addition to the dove (Holy Spirit) we also see two doves at the sides of a chalice with a lamb above which reminds us of Christ. (The two doves are rather given for artistic symmetry.) We also see a hand above the lamb which reminds us of God the Father. So, even though we place emphasis here on the third divine person, namely the Holy Spirit, our artist stressed the Blessed Trinity.
Holy Eucharist is symbolized by chalice with a lamb above which reminds us of Jesus Christ, who offered himself as a sacrificial lamb. We know that the blood of a lamb saved the Jewish first-born during the Egyptian in memory of Passover from Egyptian bondage. St. John the Baptist, pointing to Jesus Christ, said that he was a lamb of God who took upon himself our sins. The four Greek letters on the bread (lamb) mean: Jesus Christ Conquers (Hiesos Christos Nika). Bread, wine, and a chalice are used in the unbloody sacrifice, from which we receive Holy Communion, the Eucharistic Christ.
Penance is symbolized by an instrument of scourging and reminds us of punishment. We know that some monks lived a very strict life, wore hairshirts, and often scourged themselves. We also know that our St. Josaphat often inflicted bloody scourging upon himself for the union of our Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ was scourged for our sins.
Anointing of the Sick is symbolized by an oil vessel upon which are two letters meaning "Holy Oil". The priest uses this oil to annoint the sick, elderly and infirm persons.
Holy Orders is symbolized by a chalice with a lamb above, two keys at the side and a Gospel Book. A priest has the power and , at the same time, command given by Christ to offer the unbloody sacrifice. Every priest is supposed to sanctify people by celebrating Mass and giving absolution for their sins. The priest also has the authority to teach and lead, as did the Apostles. Jesus Christ used to teach, lead and sanctify people. The Church continues this triple function through her bishops and their assisting priests.
Holy Matrimony is the last of the seven Sacraments. It is symbolized by the clasping of two hands indicating promise and its acceptance by the couple - marriage vows. We also see a stole and crown. Usually, a marriage is conducted in a church in the presence of bishop, pastor, or a delegated priest, in the presence of two witnesses. The stole is the symbol of priestly authority. The couple place their hands on the Gospel Book, the priest covers them with his stole, and then the couple pronounce their vows. The crown symbolizes the smallest kingdom on earth - the family. The family is the most important unit of a society.
Thus far, the seven windows we have viewed represent the seven Sacraments. The following three remind us of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love:
Faith is symbolized by a fish with five Greek letters I X O Y C which mean: Jesus Christ son of God Savior (Hiesos Christos They Hios Soter). During the persecution of the early Christians, they used to draw a fish or other symbols to let Christ's followers know where they were gathered.
Hope is symbolized by and anchor with a cross above, the anchor being symbolic of safety and security. The sailor throws the anchor into the water in order to stabilize his boat. Christian hope gives us certainty. We hope in God's help to be good on earth and obtain our final goal.
Love is symbolized by a heart with a cross above. The heart is symbolic of love. The heart with a cross reminds us of supernatural love. We love God above all, everyone and everything, for the sake of God.
In the upper area of the main body of the church we have ten large stained windows. Five windows on the right side depict icons of great saints of the Catholic Church, beginning from the Sanctuary:
St. Peter - Christ's Vicar on earth and the visible head of Christ's Church.
St. Paul - Apostle of the gentiles. Although he wasn't one of the original twelve apostles, he laboured the hardest for Christ's Church.
St. Basil the Great - a famous teacher of the Church and founder of the Monastic life, especially in the East.
St. John Chrysostom - a famous teacher of the Catholic Church and the composer of the text for the Divine Liturgy which we use to this day, almost every day of the year.
St. Josaphat - Our only canonized saint who was martyred for unity of the Catholic Church.
The five windows on the left side depict icons of saints closely associated with our Ukrainian Catholic Church. From the Sanctuary we see:
St. Andrew - the first follower called to be an apostle. Legend has it that he preached in the mountains of Kyiv, the center of Christianity in Ukraine, from whence it spread to the Muscovites.
St. Wolodymyr the Great - a Ukrainian Prince who officially introduced Christianity to the Russ-Ukraine in 988.
St. Olga - the first Ukrainian saint and ruler of Ukraine; the grandmother of St. Wolodymyr the Great.
St. Methodius and St. Cyril - were Greek brothers from Thesalonica who spread Christianity among the Slavs and, thus, became the Apostles for the Slavs. They translated the Holy Scriptures into the Slavonic language. The alphabet that Ukrainians and other Slavic nations use today is called Cyrillic, named after St. Cyril.
The five stained glass windows which grace the choir loft were executed in an abstract design.
Mosaics of the Stations of the Cross
Fourteen mosaic tablets depicting the Stations of the Cross are hung on the walls between the lower tier of stained glass windows, seven on each side of the Nave. They remind us of the greater suffering endured by our Lord Jesus Christ at every step on the way to His Crucifixion. The sacred images were painted by the late artist Jaroslaw Baransky, and the mosaics, like all of the others, were produced in Rome. After his brother's untimely death on June 11, 1976, Wolodymyr Baransky secured the tablets from Rome and had them installed in our church.
I - Jesus is condemned to death
II - Jesus carries His Cross
III - Jesus falls the first time
IV - Jesus meets His Blessed Mother
V - Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His Cross
VI - Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
VII - Jesus falls the second time
VIII - Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
IX - Jesus falls the third time
X - Jesus is stripped of His garments
XI - Jesus is nailed to the Cross
XII - Jesus dies on the Cross
XIII - The body of Jesus is taken down from the Cross
XIV - Jesus is laid in the tomb
Ten ornate golden chandeliers imported from Athens, Greece decorate and enhance the beauty of our parish church. The four-tiered chandelier with fifty-five lights blends its antique gold Byzantine style with the handsomely decorated church interior.
Eastern churches have either Byzantine or Russian style chandeliers. The Byzantine style chandeliers are metallic, richly embellished with gold-platting or antique gold. The Russian style chandeliers are normally crystal glass. These Byzantine style chandeliers in our church blend and preserve our Ukrainian contribution along with the Byzantine culture.
Six Winged and Many-Eyed Angels
Are painted on the upper side walls of our church, between the large stained glass windows, four on each side.
Angels are pure spirits that do not have bodies. They are usually depicted in the image of a human being, especially that of a young male having wings. This is done to stress their mobility and their service rendered to human beings. Why, might you ask, do we have angels portrayed with six wings and many eyes? This theme is taken from Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.
Angels do exist and they are numerous. We know that there are nine choirs of angels: Cherubium, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, and Angels. They see and praise God in heaven. They accompany Christ. They are our guardians. They are sent by God to help us and to protect us. They are present in our churches and amongst us to offer our prayers to God. In our church, we have images of angels with faces of human beings, six wings, and many eyes in order to stress their mobility, intelligence, and strength.
In his Book of Revelations, St. John writes about four living creatures. They stand for everything that is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in nature. They appear frequently in heavenly scenes and are always found near the throne and the Lamb. (4:6, 5:6, 14:4) They are constantly engaged in praising and worshipping God. (4:8, 5:9,14, 7:11, 19:4) One of these creatures has a man's face. "Day and night, without pause, they sing: 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, He who was, and who is, and who is to come!' " (4:8)
We know that the prophet Ezekial writes about four such creatures in his book and he identifies them with Cherubim. Cherubim are angels who are assigned to a special worship of God. They were part of the decoration in Solomon's Temple, in the place of prayer and the walls. ( 1 Kgs. 6:23-30; 2Chrs. 3:7) They were represented on the hanging veil which shut off the Holy of the Holiest from the Holy Places. (Ex. 26:31) There were two Cherubim on the Ark.
Our Divine Liturgy mentions various angels, and among them, the six-winged and many-eyed. For instance, in the preface we read: "We thank you also for this sacrifice, which you have willed to accept from our hands, even though there stands before you thousands of archangels, tens of thousands of angels, cherubim and seraphim, six-winged and many-eyed, soaring aloft on their wings." There are angels in our church! Angels, that are invisible to our eyes who serve the Eucharistic Christ, and, angels, painted on our walls who remind us of our obligation to worship God.
The Writing on the Wall
The decorative painting and ornamentation of Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church of Astoria reflects the origin and religious wealth of our spiritual heritage.
The mosaics, stained glass windows, icons, symbols, iconostasis, and sanctuary appointments, all reflect our Ukrainian Rite.
In keeping with the ancient rite of our church, we have also included two passages from Holy Scripture. They are ornately inscribed on the choir balcony and, to preserve our ties with the past, the lettering of the excerpts of the Psalms are in the ancient language of Church Slavonic - the original and only liturgical language of our Church until Vatican Council II.
A brief explanation of the significance of the passages that were selected will indicate the reason that these verses were chosen.
Pillar of Fire - Basilian Symbol
Is painted on the choir balcony above the main doors to our church. It is the emblem of the Order of St. Basil the Great, the Basilian Fathers who administer our church, and is comprised of the following parts:
The fiery pillar that stretches, as if, from earth towards heaven reminds us of St. Basil's love towards God and should inspire us to love Him as well.
Above the fiery pillar a sun is portrayed encircling the three letters IXC - namely, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Jesus Christ was an illuminating source for St. Basil's life. Christ called himself the light, truth, and way. He is also our source of light, knowledge, and direction.
Above the name of Jesus Christ (IXC) we see a small cross (+) which reminds us of Christ's calling: "If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps." (Mt. 16:24)
The entire emblem is encircled with a wreath comprised of two branches: The oak branch symbolizes strength and endurance; the olive branch reminds us of one's reward and glory. St. Basil's character was strong and unrelenting and we should follow his example in the conduct of our earthly pursuit to be worthy to receive our future wreath of glory.
"HAPPILY THEY WHO DWELL IN YOUR HOUSE CONTINUALLY THEY PRAISE YOU." (Ps. 84:5)
The verse on the left hand side as you leave the church is taken from David's 84th Psalm. It belongs to the group described as the "Pilgrim Songs" sung on the journeys of the Jews to the temple in Jerusalem for the annual feasts. The psalmist describes his ardent desire to visit the house of the Lord, describing the happiness of those who dwell there at all times of who at least have the privilege of going there as piligrims.
In our liturgical cycle of feast days, the words of the psalmist are also found in the prayers of Matins (Utrenia) in the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. We celebrate this feast on January 14th. Again the appropriateness is reflected when the child Jesus is brought to the temple, and recalls the happiness of dwelling in the house of God.
Thus the Scriptures as well as our liturgical prayers enhance the reverence and love of all faithful to dwell in the house of the Lord. And the house of the Lord is the church which we frequent and offer our prayers.
"LIFT UP YOUR HANDS TOWARD THE SANCTUARY AND BLESS THE LORD." (Ps. 134:2)
As we leave the church, the verse of the psalmist directing our attention to the sanctuary is inscribed on the right hand side of the balcony. David wrote this song as an exhortation to the priests and Levites who were on duty during the night to bless the Lord. The sanctuary in the temple was the Holy of the Holies where the most sacred religious possessions of the Jewish people were stored in the tabernacle. These items were the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the rod of Aaron, and the heavenly manna. The Holy of Holies was entered once annually by the High Priest and was treated with utmost reverence. Thus the continued urging of David to look towards the sanctuary of the Holy of the Holies and bless and praise the Lord.
The Divine Liturgy contains the words of the psalmist in the silent prayer the priest offers at the Great Entrance. Again, as the celebrant enters through the holy doors of the iconostasis bearing the bread and wine that will be consecrated into the Body and Blood of Christ, his prayers accent awareness of the Holy of Holies where the living Christ will soon preside as celebrant and victim. All this to make us mindful that we are in a holy place and our actions must be filled with reverence and love.
As we leave the church, the writing on the wall reminds us once more of the holiness of the house of God, our opportunity to linger for a moment longer, and our intention to return as quickly as we can to praise and bless the Lord.