One of the most important and most recognizable elements of the Orthodox church is the icon - the very window into the spiritual world, which allows us to focus more on prayer when addressing God. In the temple, icons form a special symphony, which we call the iconostasis.
The iconostasis received its main development precisely in the Russian Orthodox Church and this was due to the peculiarities of the national temple construction. Temples of the Eastern (and for us rather southern) patriarchates were mostly built of stone. Their interior decoration from the floor to the domes was painted with frescoes depicting the Lord, the Virgin, saints and various theological and historical subjects.
In Russian churches the situation was different. Stone cathedrals were, so to speak, "piece goods" for cities or large monasteries. Most of the churches were built of wood and, accordingly, did not sign inside. Therefore, in such temples, instead of frescoes, new icons were added to the altar barrier and it grew from this to several rows.
In the Temple of Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies from the sanctuary was separated by a huge veil that was ravaged in two after the Savior's death on the Cross, as a symbol of the end of the Old Testament and the entry of humanity into the New.
The New Testament Church was in the first three centuries of its existence in a position of persecution and was forced to hide in the catacombs. The sacrament of the Eucharist was performed directly on the graves of martyrs in hastily adapted cubical rooms (rooms), where only their own were gathered. Under such conditions, there was neither opportunity nor special need to shield the throne from those present.
The first mention of specially built temples for worship and about the altar barriers or parapets separating the most sacred part of the temple from its main space date back to the 4th century.
After the legalization of Christianity, the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine the Great, a large number of new believers came to the Church, the level of their churching was relatively low. Therefore, the throne and the altar were to be protected from a possible disrespectful attitude.
The first altar barriers looked either as a low fence, or as a series of columns, which often topped with a cross bar - the "architrave". They were low and did not completely cover the altar apses, and also allowed the prayers to observe what was happening in the altar. From above on the architrave was usually installed a cross.
The Bishop Eusebius Pamphil mentions such obstacles in his Church History, who, for example, wrote about the church of the Holy Sepulcher: "The semicircle of the apse was surrounded by as many columns as there were apostles".
Quite soon the cross on the architrave was replaced by a series of icons, and the images of the Savior (on the right side of the prayers) and the Virgin (on the left) began to be placed on the pillars on the sides of the royal doors, and after a while - to complement this series with icons of other saints and angels. Thus, the first single and double-tier iconostases appeared in the Eastern Churches.
The classical multi-tiered iconostasis first appeared and became widespread in the Russian Orthodox Church, so that it was associated with the architectural features of Russian churches, which have already been mentioned above.
The first temples built in Russia copied the Byzantine samples. The iconostases in them had 2-3 tiers.
It is not known exactly when they began to grow, but the documentary evidence of the appearance of the first four-level iconostasis dates back to the beginning of the fifteenth century. He was installed in the Assumption Cathedral of Vladimir, which was painted by the Monks Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny. By the end of the century such iconostasis had spread everywhere.
In the second half of the 16th century, the fifth row appeared in the iconostasis for the first time. In the XVII century, this arrangement becomes classical for most Russian churches, and in some of them you can find iconostasis in six or even seven rows. Next, the "storey" of the iconostasis grows longer.
The sixth and seventh tiers were usually dedicated to the Passion of Christ and, accordingly, to the passions of the apostles (their martyrdom). These stories came to Russia from Ukraine, where they were quite popular.
The five-tier iconostasis is today classical. Its lowest level is called "local". To the right and to the left of the royal gates always have the icons of the Savior and the Virgin, respectively. On the royal doors themselves - the images of the four evangelists and the plot of the Annunciation.
To the right of the icon of the Savior is usually placed the image of that saint or holiday, to which the temple in which you are located is dedicated, and to the left of the image of the Virgin - the icon of one of the saints most revered in this area.
Next come the southern (on the right hand of the prayers) and the northern (on the left) door. They are usually written icons of the archangels Michael and Gabriel or archdeacon Stefan and Lavrenty (although other variants are possible), and the rest of the local series is filled with several images of saints, also the most revered in this region.
The second level is called "festive". Here the center of the composition is the icon of the "Last Supper" over the royal gates, to the left and to the right of which you can see the plots of 12 most significant from the point of view of the Church of the Gospel events: Ascension, Meeting, Nativity of the Virgin, Her introduction to the temple, Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, to Jerusalem, the Transfiguration, etc.
The third level is called "deisis" - from the Greek. "Prayer". The central image of this series is the Lord Almighty, depicted in all his power and glory. He sits in gold robes on the royal throne against the background of a red diamond (invisible world), a green oval (spiritual world) and a red square with elongated edges (the earthly world), which together symbolize the fullness of the universe.
To the Savior in the poses of the prayerful coming are the figures of the prophet, the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord John (right), the Blessed Virgin (left) and other saints. The figures of the saints are depicted at the turn to the prayers to show that during the divine service the saints are co-predisposed to us before God, are before him somolitters in our needs, of which we ask them.
In the fourth row, the Old Testament prophets are depicted, and in the fifth - the forefathers who lived at the dawn of the origin of mankind. In the center of the "prophetic" row is placed the icon of the Virgin "The Sign", and in the center of the "patriotic" - the icon of the Holy Trinity.
The construction of the iconostasis, like other aspects of inner church life, is regulated by certain traditions. But this does not mean that all the iconostasis are exactly the same. When forming the iconostasis, they try to take into account the general architectural appearance of a particular temple.
If the building of the temple was converted from some other structure and its ceiling is low and flat, then the iconostasis may well make two or even one-level. If you want to show believers a beautiful painting of altar apses, choose the iconostasis in the Byzantine style to three rows in height. In other cases, try to establish a classic five-tiered.
The position and filling of the series is also not strictly regulated. "Deisisny" series can go after "local" and pre-emerge a "festive". The central icon in the "festive" tier may not be the Last Supper, but the icon of the Resurrection of Christ. Instead of a festive series in some churches you can see the icons of the Passion of Christ.
Also, the carved figure of a dove is often placed above the royal doors in the rays of radiance, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and the upper tier of the iconostasis is crowned by a cross or image of a crucifix.