The Holy Altar and Altar Step

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

The Holy Altar

The Altar is the most important symbol and structure in the Holy Sanctuary of the Church Building. It is generally about 3.5 to 4 ft. high, 6 ft. long and 3.5 to 4 ft. wide (sizes vary in Churches). It is built of wood or concrete and is placed in the eastern most part of the sanctuary, in a way so as to admit a passage between it and the east wall of the sanctuary. It’s positioning in the east enables the priest and congregation to worship facing the East.

The Altar is the Lord’s Table, God’s Table or Thronos as it is called in the eastern liturgy. Thronos (Greek) means throne or seat of the King of Kings. It represents the throne of the Lord, which was seen in the visions of Isaiah (Is. 6: 1) and of St. John (Rev. 4: 2, 10 -11). It symbolizes the Heavenly Throne or Throne of the Heavenly Father, where Christ the High Priest, sitting at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven is offering himself as sacrifice and is making intercession for us (Heb.1: 3; 3: 1; 8: 1). It is a place to offer up sacrifices and gifts to God. It is also the place from which the Eucharist is celebrated, thus the Throne of the Incarnate Word, which symbolizes the table used during the Last Supper. It is the mystical presence of the heavenly throne and table of the Kingdom of God (Lk. 13: 29), the table of Christ the Word, the Lamb, and the King of the ever-lasting life of God’s glorified dominion over all of creation.

The Holy altar is the Table of Sacrifice, as Holy Qurbana, which is a sacrifice, is offered on it. It is the Table of Life, as we place the bread of life on it. It is also called the Throne of the Lord, as bread and wine placed on it is transformed into the Holy Body and Holy Blood of our Resurrected Lord, in the manner in which the earthly body of our Lord was transformed into the glorious body at the time of resurrection in the tomb. It also symbolizes the Israel, manger of Bethlehem, Mt. Calvary (Golgotha), Tomb of our Lord (Holy Sepulcher) and Mt. Olives; as the birth, death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord are celebrated on it. Only one Holy Qurbana can be offered on one altar, on the same day. 

We can see the building of altar from Noah’s time. Immediately after leaving the ark Noah erected an altar, Abraham erected altars at different places and offered sacrifices, Jacob built an altar, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David etc. built altars. There must be a cross at the altar, preferably a wooden cross, and 13 candles symbolic to the twelve disciples and Jesus.


This is the step at foot of the altar, on which the priest or bishop stands for arranging offerings and for celebration of the Holy Qurbana. This signifies that Jesus ascended to the upper room to celebrate the Last Supper (Mk. 14: 1). This step called Dargo, is the ladder to heaven. The Eucharist is held where ranking angels ascend and descend. Even full deacon is allowed to step on this, if needed.  This also signifies the Sehion Mansion, where the Old Testament paved the way to the New Testament. No one is allowed to sit on it. Above it stood the six-winged Seraphim, who cried unto one another and said Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts (Is 6: 2).


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