St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Portsmouth NH

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Icons on the Altar Left to right is the Iconostasis (shown twice), the Platytera and then the Ascension


The iconostasis is a wall-like screen that is located between the Altar and the Solea with icons and doors on it.

The central doorway of the iconostasis is the "Royal Doors" which are located directly in front of the altar table. When there are no ongoing church services, the Royal Doors are closed. On the iconstasis on the left and right are "Deacons Doors" which feature icons of Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

When facing the iconostasis, the Orthodox Church portrays immediately right of the Royal Doors the icon of Christ, then the icon of St John the Baptist. On the left of the Royal Doors is the icon of the Theotokos with the Christ Child and to the left is the icon of the Patron Saint of the church or the Church Event or Feast Day for which the church is named. After these are the deacon doors.

There are often other icons on the iconostasis or on each side. At St. Nicholas Portsmouth church, the icons of St Peter and St Paul are on the immediate left and right of the iconostasis.


High in the sanctuary wall of most Orthodox Christian churches, looking outward at her spiritual children is the icon of the Mother of God, usually with the Christ child embossed on her breast. Her arms are extended wide apart from her body.

This icon is called Platytera, meaning: More Spacious Than the Heavens. What's implied is that her womb extends beyond any measurement. In bearing the long anticipated Messiah, she held in her womb the Son of God.

This is not meant as a spiritual riddle; it makes a doctrinal statement to confound Docetists and others who reject the truth that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and One of the Holy Trinity before the universe came into being. Her womb challenges our reason and imagination.

Mary, Christ's holy mother, puts a human face on the buildings blessed to contain the people called Christian.

It reminds us not just that God is Person, but that the Son of God is both divine and human; and in order to become like us the Father took one of us to be His Son's mother. We are invited to share the divinity which she knows, not as one of the Holy Trinity, but through the Spirit who came to her and to us as well.


The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, he appeared again in Jerusalem.

After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father's blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of light, a proof of His majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said:

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven" (Acts 1:11).

These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Word of God. Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the Mount of Olives is a Sabbath's day journey from Jerusalem, that is, the distance a Jew was permitted to walk on the day of the Sabbath. Ecumenius writes, "A Sabbath day's journey is one mile in length, as Clement says in his fifth Stromatis; it is two thousand cubits, as the Interpretation of the Acts states."

They draw this conclusion from the fact that, while they were in the wilderness, the Israelites of old kept within this distance from the Holy Tabernacle, whither they walked on the Sabbath day to worship God.

Text © Copyright Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA, used by permission. All rights reserved.