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Question 304

My question is more to do with church order and the correct way to place icons in a church. Specifically my question relates to the sanctuary. I have been a priest for about 3 months now and so part of my job is to slowly try and re-order our church and de-clutter it. In our sanctuary, icons are everywhere. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the female saints depicted in the icons which we have in our sanctuary, would never have entered the sanctuary in their lives on earth and that it was possibly (probably) incorrect to have them in the sanctuary. From experience, the iconography I have seen in the iero is typically of the liturgists of the church and various other hierarchs - i.e. all men. To my knowledge, the only woman who is consistently placed inside the sanctuary is the Mother of God, and we know that in her life on earth she actually entered the holy of holies. I asked my spiritual father this same question and he understood exactly where I was coming from but wasn't sure what the answer was. The saints are after all alive in Christ. We know from St Paul that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female but all are one in Christ - yet on earth and in the Church, the maleness of Christ is an intergral part of the incarnation. Male and female still exist. So I suppose my direct question is, if panagia is the only woman who has a place in the sanctuary, is it incorrect to have icons of female saints in the sanctuary?  


Answer to Question 304


Until reading your question I had never giving it a thought, but then in both churches that I serve we have never had a problem with where to place icons. Before we are accused of being misogynists, not only women saints, but also martyrs and ascetics have no place in the sanctuary.


Traditionally icons in the sanctuary are limited to saints who in their lives participated in the sanctuary during the Divine Liturgy. This would include, Hierarchs, priests, deacons and angels. Also in the Sanctuary behind the Altar there is a large apse which is often painted with the Icon of the Mother of God as “She who is wider than the heavens”. The Icon reveals the Blessed Virgin as the throne of God and the temple of the Godhead. She is more spacious and wider than the heavens, for whereas the great expanse of the heavens cannot circumscribe the Lord; He is now circumscribed by the Virgin’s womb. It is from this expression that the Icon derives its name of ‘Platytera ton Ouranon’ [She who is wider than the heavens]. It is not by mere chance that The Icon of the Mother of God is portrayed in this apse. The apse in the Sanctuary is between heaven and earth with the top of the apse touching the ceiling and the lower part touching the ground. This teaches us that the Mother of God is, as we hear in the Akathist hymn, “The Heavenly Ladder by which God descended to earth. In other words, She is the ladder that joins heaven with earth.


As you are in the process of de-cluttering the sanctuary then it is best to follow tradition . The problem with too many icons is where to place them. They can’t all be placed on the walls so if you have a room that can be used as a storeroom then store them in this room making sure you store them face to face so as not to damage them and in order of date or alphabetically so that you can find them easily when needed. 


I have this image that your sanctuary is cluttered with icons all leaning against a wall because there is no more room on the walls. If possible remove all the icons leaving only those icons that can be placed on the walls in a neat display and all the same height from the floor. The sanctuary should be clean and orderly at all times with no vestments hanging around or books all over the place. A tidy sanctuary reflects what kind of priest you are. If you are laid back and show no interest in the state of the sanctuary and church as a whole then that if how you will be with your flock. But if you like cleanliness and order then you will be a good and active priest caring for the needs of your congregation. 


Same member


Dear Fr. Thank you for the detailed response. I am unsurprised that there is a tradition to the placement of iconography in the sanctuary. We currently have around 70 veneration icons in the church, 40-50 'home' icons that we have received in donations over the years and 8-10 huge icons that are in several places around the church. I have commissioned an icon cabinet to be made which will store most of the veneration icons until they are needed, I would like to give away most of the 'home' icons that the church has accumulated over the years and also give away some of the huge icons. I agree with your point about order in the church. I aim to do my best.



One more added detail that distinguishes a good dedicated priest from a laid back and un-dedicated one is the state of the antimension. If there are too many pearls left on the antimension it shows that the priest is in such a hurry to finish and get out of the church. All it takes is another minute or so to carefully search the antimension. Also if it is old and stained, invest in a new one and if possible get an extra one as a reserve to use when the bishop comes to celebrate. You will be surprized how many bishops look at such details.


Same member

By pearls you mean pieces of Christ's body?



of course they are priceless like the pearl in the Gospel


Same member

I thought that's what you meant but wasn't sure. We have an old antimension which is full of stains and a huge new one which we received when our church was consecrated in December. I had it set into a red cloth as it was fraying at the edges.