The Great Worship Hall in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Location – Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Map Coordinates - 31.778460, 35.229556
The largest chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is called the Catholicon. This is the main prayer hall of the Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem.
The Omphalos Pedestal.
Toward the front of this chapel there is a short, rose-colored marble basin containing a circular stone marked with a cross. It’s called the Omphalos, a word that means navel. This Omphalos has been here for almost 1000 years.
What does it mean, and why was it put in this particular spot? It has always been a part of traditional Jewish thought that the entire city of Jerusalem is the center of the world. According to the Orthodox church, the location of both Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection is the center of the world. Positioned exactly equidistant between the place of His death and the place of His burial is this Omphalos – the center of the world – and more precisely, the center of the universe, at least from a spiritual perspective.
The Omphalos is exactly 21.8 meters (71.5 feet) from both the tomb of Jesus and the location of the cross.
The throne on the right.
This throne on the right side of the chapel is for the priest who controls the Greek Orthodox church in the Holy Land. He is called the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The Throne on the left.
The throne on the left of the chapel is dedicated to the Patriarch of Antioch, which is a city in Southern Turkey.
The Analogion (lectern).
The lecterns on each side of the chapel are called the Analogion. It is where the priest reads Scripture, and lead his congregation in song and holy liturgy during Orthodox worship services.
The Iconostasis (the icon wall).
The wall in the front of the church is called an iconostasis, or icon stand, and virtually every Greek Orthodox church in the world has one. The iconostasis symbolically separates the main worship hall, which represents all of us on earth, from the sanctuary and the main altar behind the wall, which represents heaven. What is behind this wall is the holiest place in any Orthodox church, and only the priests are allowed to go back there, just like the priests used to do in the Jewish Temple Sanctuary and in the Holy of Holies. The iconostasis, that is this wall, represents our current separation from heaven.
Filling up the iconostasis, are icons. Those are the pictures that you see. Virtually every Greek Orthodox church in the world has icons.
What is an icon? An icon is religious painting. But the Orthodox churches don’t consider icons to be artwork. An icon, in one sense, is like an icon on your computer screen. Literally speaking, an icon is something that stands in the place of something else. That’s what it is on your computer, and that’s what it is here. An icon in a church is generally a picture of a person or a Biblical scene, but the icon is not the person. It merely represents the person who is being pictured. It’s a touchpoint for faithful Orthodox worshippers.
In both Orthodox and Catholic traditions, Saints from the past who have died are in heaven, and thus they are in proximity closer to God than we are. Just like you would ask a friend on earth to pray for you, so Orthodox and Catholic believers ask departed saints to pray for them as well. Both you and the saint in heaven are praying for the same thing. The icon represents the departed saint of whom you can ask for their prayerful assistance regarding any issue.
All throughout the Church of the Holy Sepulcher you see a lot of artwork, much of it depicting the image of Christ. This isn't related specifically to the Catholicon, but because there is so much artwork in the Holy Sepulcher, I thought it would be a good time to bring this up.
I’ve discovered only around three graphic depictions of Jesus that were made before the legalization of Christianity in 313 AD.
A very early engraving of Jesus
However, after the fifth century we see an explosion of Christian art depicting Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, angels, a plethora of Biblical characters, and saints throughout history. There are several reasons for this upsurge of Christian art.
First, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, pagan craftsmen were converted to Christianity, and they just simply brought their skills over into the Church.
Secondly, the Church felt that it was free to use the talents of its members to draw images of Jesus, and that they were no longer bound to the Old Testament, legalistic prohibition against making images with a human likeness.
Third, the Church justified drawing images of Christ based on the fact that God was the One who first started the process of creating images when He Himself took on human form. Therefore, to draw a painting in the likeness of Jesus was essentially the same thing that Jesus Himself did when He became the image of God on earth.