Iconic protection

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The Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Beit Jala, Palestine, is as beautiful inside as it is outside. Wooden seats and benches orient the worshipper toward the icon wall or iconostasis. It is ornate and functions to separate the altar area--hidden behind the wall--from the sanctuary (where I'm standing). Such separation is common is Orthodox churches and plays a specific and symbolic role. It models the biblical temple that distinguished three levels of holy space: the courtyard, the sanctuary, and the holy of holies.

This particular icon wall is multi-tiered and is an excellent example of a 19th century liturgical style popular in Greece and Russia. 

Several ecumenical councils held between AD 325 and 787 are represented on canvas and presented inside the church. The purpose of these councils was to weed out heresy and underline the importance of Orthodox theology. Their presence here in Beit Jala may be to discourage members from wandering away from the Orthodox fold and joining nearby Catholic or Lutheran communities.*

Sheesh. Those Lutherans!

*See Dan Koski's excellent paper, "Roum Orthodox Traditions of Beit Jala" from the Conference on Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Between Current Challenges and Prospects, held on December 14th, 2013.

Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.