The church is divided into three sections: the narthex, the nave, and the altar.
In previous times the narthex was the place where those who could not receive Holy Communion stood. Among them were penitents, and others called “hearers.” Penitents were Christian men and women who had confessed their sins but had not yet fulfilled their penance. The hearers were people who were not Christians, but had come out of curiosity, or respect, or to learn. After the Liturgy of the Word these groups would be dismissed from the church because only the faithful in good standing could be present for the Sacred Mysteries. At that time catechumens preparing for Baptism also had to leave the church. The nave is the main body of the church where the faithful gather to hear the Word of God and celebrate the Sacred Mysteries (the Eucharist).
The altar is the place where the sacrifice of Our Lord’s Body and Blood takes place. Only priests, deacons and other ministers are allowed to enter this area—and only for their official services. It corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem. Between the altar and the nave is a beautiful iconostasis. This is a wall displaying the icons of Christ, His Blessed Mother, St. John the Baptist and the patronal saint of the church. It is not seen as a “barrier” but as a revelation, by which Heaven is revealed to us and God is made accessible to us mystically in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Inside the altar (also called the “holy place”) there is the Holy Table on which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. It is covered in rich cloths. On it are candles or oil lamps, the Holy Tabernacle in which are kept the Body and Blood of Christ for distribution to the sick and home-bound, the book of the Gospels, and a special cloth called antimension which depicts the burial of Christ. In it are sewn relics of the holy martyrs. In the early Churches the Holy Sacrifice was most often celebrated over the tombs of the martyrs—those saints who gave their life in sacrifice rather than deny the true faith.
Outside of divine services the holy place is not visible: the doors of the iconostasis, and its veil are closed. The central doors are called the Holy Doors. On them are the icons of the four evangelists and of the Annunciation: when the Archangel Gabriel greeted the Virgin Mary, and she agreed to become the Mother of God. There are two other doors called “deacon doors.” These are used to enter and leave the holy place. On them are icons of deacon saints (St. Stephen the first martyr, and St. Philip).
Usually in front of the iconostasis, in the nave itself, there are stands on which icons are placed for the veneration of the faithful. The custom of veneration is to bow twice before the icon, making the sign of the cross, kiss the icon, and then bow a third time, making the sign of the cross again.
Towards the back of the church are icons especially venerated by the faithful. Near them are stands where they can light candles as an offering, and say private prayers for their loved ones. Among these icons are the ancient icon of St. George in its special shrine, an icon of the Crucifixion of Our Lord, one that portrays Our Lady as an “abbess” or monastic superior, and one of St. Joseph. Books containing the texts of the various divine services are usually available near the entrance. The services are celebrated in English, though some Arabic and/or Greek may also be used from time to time. Vespers is the evening prayer of the Church. It is celebrated on most evenings of the year and is considered the start of a new liturgical day. Vespers consists mainly of chanted psalms and hymns, an offering of incense, petitions for various needs, a blessing and a dismissal. During Lent special prayers are included during which the faithful make prostrations, i.e., kneel and bow their heads to the floor. Orthros is the morning prayer of the Church. On Sundays it is a celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. After the readings of psalms and canticles, the Gospel is read giving one of the accounts of the appearance of Our Lord after His Resurrection. The priest—representing the Angel at the tomb—announces the Gospel from inside the Holy Place. The faithful then come forward to kiss the Gospel. Psalm 50—a penitential psalm is then chanted, followed by the canticle of Our Lady (The Magnificat) which is taken directly from the Gospel of St. Luke, first chapter. The service concludes with the psalms of praise and a hymn called the Great Doxology. Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday and most weekdays. On Sundays it follows right after the Great Doxology of Orthros. Usually the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated. On certain days we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The structure of both Liturgies is the same, but the prayers of the priest are different.
During Great Lent—the time of penitence before Holy Week and Easter—the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays. Instead, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is offered. It is the usual Vespers service to which is added a procession with the Sacred Mysteries consecrated the previous Sunday, followed by distribution of Holy Communion. All visitors are welcome to worship with us, and all Catholic and Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion.