The Basic Phases of an Orthodox Template – Almoutran

The Basic Phases of an Orthodox Template

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I. Establish a “Spiritual purpose and function Team”.

a. This committee shall establish the spiritual tone of this endeavor by setting forth the spiritual goals and needs of the Church building project.

b. As you represent the Church — a Spiritual Family which transcends all earthly matters — even this project must be part of your healing and salvation.

i. The right Glorification of God, participation in the Holy Sacraments, spiritual education and maturity, the exercise of spiritual gifts, growing ever more in love with God and each other, promoting the Orthodox Christian Faith, promoting spiritual healing – these must always be the focus of every parish activity.

c. Thus, this group will develop the Mission Statement under which the project will proceed from beginning to end. As the Spiritual Father of the parish the priest shall be the team leader of this group. Once this Team is in place, and has established the Spiritual Tone, then you move on to the next applicable[1] phase:

II. Establish “Parish Requirement Teams:”

a. “Parish Temple Requirements Team.”

i. This Team, staying within established traditional Orthodox Architectural Traditions, will establish the basic Temple structural needs in a written format. This written report will become the guideline for the design of the Temple structure, as well as the Temple’s budget.

1. This Team’s task would be to establish the parameters in which the eventual Building Implementation Team would function as to the construction of the Temple.

2. You do not need to “reinvent the wheel” at this phase. You have already undertaken much of this work. However, the work will definitely need to be refined. Or perhaps it may be necessary to scrap the previous findings altogether. The Team will have a better idea once it starts.

ii. Task orientated objectives and considerations:

1. Altar area and adjacent areas: Many confuse the Altar area with its adjacent areas. The Altar proper is where the Altar table sits, around which the Priest prays and consecrates the Holy Gifts. In the Altar area is found the Altar[2], the table of preparation[3] or oblation (Proskomede), a place for relics and holy items, as well as processional items. This is a very specially defined space.

a. Adjacent areas: The Adjacent areas are those which the priest and those who serve with him use for purposes of the Divine Services. These are not as specifically defined as the Altar areas and should correspond to the needs of the clergy and servers (vestment storage, holy implement storage, office space for clergy, confessional space, restroom facilities for the clergy and servers, etc…)

b. These areas include, but are not limited to:

i. The Clergy’s vesting area on the south side of

the Altar, and the Altar Server’s vesting area on the north side of the Altar (each should have a separate entrance from the Nave, which can be either the Deacon’s doors or entirely separate entrances);

ii. the Iconostasis[4],

iii. the Ambo and Solea[5] (the area directly in front of the Iconostasis),

iv. the Bishop’s throne,

v. the Chanters’ stand, and,

vi. usually (although not traditionally[6]) a baptismal font.

c. All these areas are separate and distinct areas from the Altar, although dependent upon the Altar.

d. These are the prime areas which needs the direction and expertise of the Clergy.

2. Nave: The Team must establish the parish capacity requirements.

a. Considerations:

i. What is the parish’s present membership?

ii. What is the parish’s immediate potential membership (studies show that most new projects increase membership by 25% relatively quickly)?

iii. What is a realistic potential membership in the next 5 to 10 years?

iv. To what extent, if any, should the Nave be overbuilt to accommodate future growth (beyond 10 years)?

3. “Cry” Room: The Team must establish the parish’s need for such a room, which would be adjacent to the Nave and Narthex.

a. Considerations:

i. Number of infants and young Children among the current parish membership and those potential members (in this regard use the same considerations enumerated in the considerations of the Nave);

ii. Number of weddings and funerals (this room can double as a wedding dressings room, a counseling room, grief room, confessional, among other things)

4. The Choir Area: The Team must establish the parish’s need for such an area.[7]

a. Considerations:

i. What is the parish’s present Choir composition?

ii. Does the Choir rely upon musical instruments such as an organ or keyboard?[8]

iii. Where should the Choir area be located; in a loft, on the main floor, etc.

iv. To what extent, if any, should the Choir area be overbuilt to accommodate future growth (beyond 10 years)?

5. Narthex:[9] The questions of particular use and functional need will need to be decided.

a. Will the Temple be built separately from the other portions of the Building project?

i. If so, then the Narthex would probably need to contain, or be in close proximity to:

1. Restrooms;

2. Coat Storage;

3. Janitorial and others such ancillary spaces.

b. Will the Baptismal area be in the Narthex, or in the Nave?

c. What is the minimum space needed for a Narthex?

iii. Sub-teams could be established for each portion of the project; i.e., one Team for the Altar; one for the Nave; one for the Narthex; etc… In this manner a very strong cross-section of the membership can be involved.

b. Establish a “Parish Class Room Requirements Team.”

i. Class Rooms:

1. Establish guidelines for numbers of classrooms, flexibility of classrooms and location relative to the Temple and Social hall.

2. Have there been any discussions about providing Day Care, possibly through sub-leasing to another agency?

c. Establish a “Parish Social Hall & Kitchen Requirements Team.”

i. Social/Fellowship Hall & Kitchen Area:

1. Similar issues as the sanctuary plus the discussions about having enough capacity to be able to lease this area out.

2. What is the market for such leasing and is it financially justifiable? Again the concern for what you can afford and what is desirable need to be addressed.

3. In addition to the fellowship hall, the function and capacity of the kitchen area needs to be addressed. This will help determine the choice of type and quantity of kitchen equipment that can eventually be used in the area.

ii. Sub-teams could be established for each portion of the project; i.e., one Team for the Kitchen area; one for the Hall; In this manner a very strong cross-section of the membership can be involved.

d. Establish a “Parish Ancillary Space Requirements Team.”

i. Ancillary Space:

1. Priest office, business office, reception & other Church offices, book store, library, storage rooms, utility areas, etc.

ii. Basement:

1. Has there been any discussion about a lower level (basement) location?

a. Is this an acceptable solution to space requirements?

i. Accessibility and safety issues will need to be addressed.

iii. Sub-teams could be established for each portion of the project; i.e., one Team for the Offices; one for the Basement; etc… In this manner a very strong cross-section of the membership can be involved.

e. Establish a “Parish Project Financial Requirements Team.”

i. Financial:

1. How much do you have in a building fund?

2. How much can you raise through the selling of your current buildings and land (if any)?

3. How much can you raise from individual contributions?

4. How much can you afford to finance?

5. What will be your upkeep and utility cost for the larger Facility?

f. Issues to be resolved by attorneys and/or architect:

i. Zoning Issues:

1. You will need to address the limitations on your building site by local zoning ordinances and codes, such as setbacks, parking, and visual barriers to the residential areas.

ii. Utilities:

1. What utilities are available, what storm drainage issues might exist?

g. What these Teams need to do is to address these and associated issues. From this overall realistic vision, you will produce a written program that will be the guideline for executing the entire project.

III. Parish Approval:

a. This written program should then be presented to the parish for their acceptance and support.

i. Without this, you will spend years going back and forth trying to satisfy individual desires and whims.

IV. Develop Schematic design:

a. At this stage the size and character of the project is defined.

i. This is represented in plans and illustrations.

V. Actual Design Development:

a. At this stage the details of the individual spaces are defined, and building materials are selected.

b. Also system parameters are established for the type of structural framing system, mechanical systems, acoustical and amplification system, etc.

VI. Preparation of Construction documents:

a. At this stage the Architect prepares legal documents necessary to execute the project.

VII. Bidding and/or Negotiating:

a. The process of selecting contractors, etc.

b. Obtaining necessary permits for construction.

VIII. Construction administration:

a. This stage encompasses the actual construction of the project.




[1] The parish must decide the extent of the Parish Building Project. For instance, is the parish going to undertake a complete project consisting of the Temple, Class Rooms, the Social/Fellowship Hall, Offices, and all ancillary spaces? Or will the Project proceed as several separate projects over a longer period of time? For instance, and by way of example only, build the Temple in year one; then build Class Rooms in year three; then the Social/Fellowship Hall in year five; etc… If the project is made up of several projects then other considerations come into play; such as zoning considerations (depending upon the State); restroom and other ancillary space placement for the initial phase; parking considerations; etc.


[2] The Altar area, or sanctuary, is the holiest part of the church, containing the altar itself and the table of oblation. The altar is a specially consecrated square table, on which the Sacrament of Holy Communion is celebrated. The main altar, towards which the faithful direct their gaze, is located on the eastern side of the church. Since Apostolic times it has been customary to pray facing the east, which symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who enlightens every man that comes into the world. It stands in the middle of the sanctuary and is covered by sacred vestments. On it are found the cross, the book of the Gospels, the Antiminsion, the tabernacle and the pyx. The tabernacle is the ark or chest in which the reserved Sacrament is kept. The pyx is a small box in which the priest carries Holy Communion to the sick in their homes. The Antiminsion is a silk cloth upon which are depicted the placing of Christ’s Body in the tomb and the instruments of His Passion: the crown of thorns, the spear, the sponge, the column at which He was scourged, the nails, etc. The Antiminsion bears an inscription, noting when it was consecrated, by which bishop and for which church. On the reverse of the Antiminsion there is sewn a little bag which contains relics, in keeping with the tradition of the first centuries of Christianity, when the faithful used to celebrate the Holy Communion on the tombs of the martyrs. Without a consecrated Antiminsion the Liturgy may not be celebrated. To protect the Antiminsion it is enfolded in another cloth.


[3] The Table of Preparation or Oblation is another table, also covered by sacred vestments. Upon it the Proskomede is performed, the rite of preparing the bread and wine for the celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion. This table stands in the northeastern corner of the sanctuary and holds the sacred vessels. First among them are the chalice (cup), into which the church wine is poured, and the diskos, a small round plate on a stand. The diskos usually bears a depiction of the Infant Jesus lying in the manger. It is used to hold the Lamb, a piece of bread, cut out of the center of a little loaf (prosphora), which will be consecrated at the Liturgy, as well as particles of bread cut from other prosphora. Along with the chalice and diskos are found the following items: the asterisk, composed of two bent metal arcs, joined together in the form of a cross, which is placed on the diskos so that the veil will not touch the pieces of bread cut from the prosphora; the lance or spear, a knife which is used to cut out the Lamb and portions of other prosphora; the spoon with which Holy Communion is administered to the faithful; and the sponge used to wipe the chalice.


[4] The iconostasis has three doors in it, leading into the sanctuary. The central doors are called “royal” or “holy”; through them the Lord Himself, the King of heaven, invisibly passes in the Holy Gifts or Holy Communion. To the right of the royal doors is the southern door, and to the left, the northern. The icons on the royal doors depict the Annunciation to the Mother of God and the four Evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The side doors, also known as the deacon doors, usually have icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. To the right of the royal doors there is always an icon of our Saviour, and to the left an icon of the Mother of God. To the right of the icon of the Saviour is the icon of St. John the Baptist; and to the left of the Theotokos is the Patronal icon, representing the event or the saint to which the church is dedicated. The lower level of the iconostasis also contains icons of saints who are especially venerated, such as St Nicholas the Wonderworker and others. Over the royal doors there is always an icon of the Mystical Supper (the Last Supper), reminding the faithful of the greatest sacrament offered in the church, Holy Communion. The iconostasis usually has several rows or tiers. The second tier holds icons of the major feast days; the third, the Apostles; and the fourth, the Prophets. The top of the iconostasis is crowned with a cross.


[5] The iconostasis is usually situated on an elevated area called the Solea. This area is reserved for those who perform the church services. The middle of this section, in front of the royal doors, is called the ambo. Here the priest performs sacred functions, preaches, reads the Gospel, and the faithful come up here to receive Holy Communion. To the sides of the Solea are the areas called the kliros, or chanter’s/singers’ area, where the readers and chanters stand. In front of the chanters may be placed the banners, consisting of icons affixed to cloth and attached to long poles, so as to resemble flags hung vertically. These banners are carried during church processions, as the standards of the church.


[6] Traditionally, the Baptismal area was separate from the Nave, being either in another area outside the Temple, or of more recent times, in the Narthex.


[7] It should be noted that many parishes are moving toward the more traditional form of congregational singing, in which the entire congregation sings usually being led by the Chanters and Readers.


[8] It is not traditional, nor recommended, to have musical instruments in an Orthodox Church. The introduction of the organ within the Orthodox Church took place in imitation of the Roman Catholics and Protestants, and constitutes an innovation which the Holy Fathers explicitly prohibited and which is contrary to the ordinances of the first Christians. Attentive study of the New Testament absolutely convinces us that the Apostolic Church did not use musical instruments. The Fathers, faithful guardians and unfailing interpreters of Tradition, explicitly excluded the use of musical instruments in the execution of ecclesiastical hymns, and also the accompaniment of hymnody with instruments, as incompatible with the sober, hieratic, spiritual character of the Christian religion, because they bring to mind the fallen world and the things of the world-parties, dances, laughter, disorderly shouting, and the like. Consistent with the example and the spirit of the God-man and the Apostles, the Orthodox never used musical instruments in their churches until the middle of the last century, when the first-among the Orthodox-despisers of the sacred tradition of purely vocal music appeared.

We praise God with the instruments He Himself has made – rather than those made by humans, however beautiful they may be. The human voice is truly extraordinarily lovely, is it not? And this tradition has given rise to a rich treasury of choral music in the Eastern Churches. St. John Chrysostom writes: “Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; below men form choirs in the churches and imitate them by singing the same doxology. Above, the seraphim cry out in the thrice-holy hymn; below, the human throng sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together in a common assembly; there is one thanksgiving, one shout of delight, one joyful chorus.” [Homily I in Oziam seu de Seraphinis I; PG 1vi, 97.] Byzantine mystical thought developed the idea of the angelic transmission of the chant itself. In the sixth century Pseudo-Dionysios articulated the concept of the divinely inspired “prototype”; the idea of an “intuitive divine inspiration… in which the hymns and chants are echoes of the heavenly song of angels, which the prophets gave to the people through a sense of spiritual hearing.” [Vladyshevskaia, Tatiana, “On the Links Between Music and Icon Painting in Medieval Rus” in Christianity and the Arts in Russia, edited by William C. Brumfield, and Milos M. Velimirovic (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991), 18.] “Divine beauty is transmitted to all that exists, and it is the cause of harmony and splendor in all that exists; like light, it emits its penetrating rays onto all objects, and it is as if it called to it everything that exists and assembles everything within it.”[ Pseudo-Dionysious, The Divine Names (Mahwah NY, Paulist Press, 1987) 76. This translation in Vladyshevskaia, op. cit., 18.] The task, then, of the church artist or musician is not self-expression, not creation that reflects individual, personal feelings, attitudes, and principles, but “the comprehension and reproduction of heavenly songs, the re-creation of divine images that were transmitted by means of ancient religious archetypes.” [Vlaldyshevskaia op. Cit., 18.] These songs are not his, they do not belong to him. They have been revealed to him and he transmits this revelation to the collective body of the church. This explains why the names of the composers during the early Byzantine and Slavic periods remain anonymous; their works are not their self-creations which they personally own, but are the inspired revelations which they transmit to all of humanity. The artist submits his will to the will of God in order to be able to receive and to transmit the divine revelation.


[9] The rear of the church (customarily the western side) surrounds the main entrance and is called the narthex. In the ancient church, this section was set aside for the catechumens (those preparing to be baptized) and the penitents (those who were excluded from Communion on account of grave sins). The narthex was usually quite large; sometimes it included a pool for the baptism of adults. At the present time, the narthex is usually rather small. It is here that candles and prosphora are sold.