Church Building – Its Significance and Structure

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

Significance of Church Edifice.

The Church building is an edifice or structural building, specially consecrated and set apart for worship. God is omnipresent and He dwells everywhere, but Church building is a symbol of heavenly abode and presence of the Triune God’s. Christ refers to  it as a Temple of God or Prayer House of God. Its structure and compartmental divisions are in conformity with the Jerusalem Temple.    

Church edifice, signifies the

  • Garden of Eden (Gen. 2: 8; 3: 24),
  • Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19: 1-25),
  • Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22: 1-18),
  • Bethel (Gen. 28: 10-20),
  • The Tabernacle (Ex. 25-40),
  • Noah’s Ark (Gen. 6: 13-8: 22, 1 Peter 3:20-21),
  • Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11)
  • Mt. Tabor (Matt.17: 1-8; 2 Pet. 1: 17-18),
  • Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 9:1-3)
  • Heavenly Jerusalem (1 Kings 6: 1-38, 7: 13-15, Jn. 4: 20),
  • Synagogue (Ezekiel 11:16; Matthew 4:23; Luke 4:16-23; Acts 13:5; 14:1);
  • Upper Room  (Matthew 26: 1–29, Mark 14: 12–25, Luke 22: 7–20, and John 13: 1–38.

The basic concept of a Church building is biblical and originates from the traditional Jewish worship. It is referred to as Temple of the LORD (1 Kings 8: 10), House of the LORD (Ex. 23: 19) and Prayer House of God (Matt. 21: 13). It is considered a heaven on earth or an island of the kingdom of Heaven, the dwelling place of God with man. It is an edifice for service of Orthodox worship of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle with invaluable materials (Ex. 25: 8). Noah, Abraham, Moses, built altars to offer sacrifices to God, even though they had dwelling places to live in. We read in the Holy Bible, how God’s glory filled the temple, when King Solomon finished the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple (2 Chron. 7: 1). We also read how the temple was hallowed by God, Whose eyes and heart and His Name should be there forever (1 Kings 9: 3). Jesus Christ was indignant, when the Jerusalem Temple, His house of Prayer was misused and defiled by people (Matt. 21: 12-13). He cited the words of the Prophet Isaiah, Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” drove from the temple those that conducted themselves in an unworthy manner (Isaiah 56:7; Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:16-17; John 2:13-20). He demanded that the Jews respect and revere the Temple.  Jesus and His followers went to Jerusalem Temple regularly for worship and teaching (Matt. 24: 1; Lk. 21: 37). Even after the Ascension of Jesus Christ, His disciples met in the Jerusalem temple courts for prayer and teaching (Acts 2: 46; 3: 1; 5: 26, 42).

During the first three centuries of Christianity, because of the relentless persecutions, Christian church buildings were rare. Only after the proclamation of religious freedom by Emperor Constantine the Great in 313 did Churches begin to appear everywhere. St. Thomas, an apostle of Christ also built seven Churches in India. All these proofs present Church as a consecrated place for use as a house of worship, to be revered and treated as a temple of God, symbolizing God’s presence. The Church is the center place of our spiritual life, where we are spiritually reborn and transformed, we receive the Holy Bread and Blood of Christ. which gives us eternal life. In it we receive God’s blessing upon married life and in it we are also sent off on our journey to everlasting life. In the Church there is a special awareness of God’s grace. When a believer has prayed in Church, he goes forth cleansed, comforted and spiritually strengthened.

Structure of Church Edifice.

The Orthodox Church is always built in East-West direction, with the altar at the eastern most part, so that the Celebrant can celebrate facing east and all believers can also stand behind him for worship, facing east. We believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will be from the East (Matt. 24: 27; Mal. 4: 2). God planted the Garden of Eden in the East (Gen. 2: 8). Man, who lost paradise due to their sins has to pray facing east to recollect the regain of the lost paradise. East is also the place of the rising sun and is regarded as a more important and higher place than other directions according to traditions. St. Clement, St. Origen, St. Baselius, Tertulian… all such early defenders of faith instructed for such a practice. The shape of the Church building has taken different shapes and architecture over the centuries, with each country and each era acquiring its own inimitable style. 

A Church building has four parts 1. Sanctuary.  2. Chancel.  3. Nave. 4. Porch.

  1. Sanctuary
    It is an elevated place on the eastern end of the building. It is called as the Holy of the holies, Sanctum Sanctorum or Madbaha. The word Madbaha is derived for the word ‘Dbah’ which means sacrifice, thus Madbaha is a place of sacrifice. Madbaha is the symbol of heaven and the centre of worship, where believers are drawn to a heavenly experience. It is a worldly sanctuary (Ex. 25: 8; Heb. 9: 1-5), with the presence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, along with innumerable company of angels. It signifies heaven, where Christ the high priest is continuing His priestly intercession (Heb. 9: 12). It also signifies Gologtha, Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19: 16, 25), Paradise and the Tree of Life (Rev. 2: 7).  Only Bishops, priests, deacons and those called apart, by laying on of hands by the bishops and priests, serve here. 
  2. Chancel:
    This is the part of the Church, just below the Madbaha and inside the rails. It is a holy place, a prolongation of the Sanctuary. This place is used for general prayers during sacraments, wedding, baptismal ceremonies and similar services. It is used by members of the choir and those who render assistance to the chief celebrant. An unfaithful should avoid entering this area. Only those lay faithful, who has undergone the sacrament of Holy Confession, should enter this area. It is called Azhiaagam. Namaskara Mesha, a wooden table, kept in the centre of the chancel
  3. Nave:  This is the longest part or the main hall, from where all the faithful worship. It is called Hykala or Praakaram.  The faithful both men and woman occupy this place. This main hall is separated by a Red Carpet, laid throughout the length of the hall. Men stand on the left and women on the right side of it for worship. This path of red carpet has been separated by the Church Fathers, as the place where the faithful departed occupy during our worship.
  4. Portico: The portion behind the main hall, called Poomookhum or vestibule, is an appendix to the main building. This was a place used by catechumens during the early Church period and to stage cultural programmes in the olden days. It is not necessarily found these days. It is also called Northex.
  5. Vestry: The room on the northern side of the Madbaha is called Vestry or Bethgazo room.  This room is for keeping essential things for the Eucharist and for vesting. The room on the south is called baptismal room. If there is no baptismal room, then the baptismal font is fixed within the Chancel or Nave.  

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