What Happens When You Bring an Iconostasis Into Your Home

Orthodox Christian chapel iconostasis installed in a private home

Our home is a place of family love, drama, joys and tears; a place where we can gather to celebrate, mourn, dream and support each other.  It can be orderly or chaotic, restful or filled with music, dancing, singing, laughter, shouting or tears all the vicissitudes of life.  It is our shelter and refuge.

How fortunate for us that we have been able to build our prayer corner around the iconostasis from the chapel that housed our congregation for many years.  Built especially for the space by a seminary student who went on to holy orders, it is simple and dignified, rustic, carrying the style and character of a folk church in a country village.  It carries with it the prayers and petitions of generations of worshipers.  It retains the quiet, timeless quality that drew troubled hearts and restless spirits to a place of meditation, counsel, and  the holy.

The chapel that it was built for was part of a bigger seminary and has now been decommissioned and demolished to make way for the construction of modern facilities and luxury apartments.  A new, smaller chapel was built for our community and some original elements of the old space were brought in.  The chandelier lanterns were hung from the ceiling. The Jesus Pantocrator Icon was attached above the altar.  And the stained glass windows that were originally set into the walls of the old chapel are now anchored to the floor and equipped with rear lighting to infuse the new space with jewel-toned, radiant, suffused light.  Even the artwork was hung.

But there wasn’t room enough to include the iconostasis.  And mine was the only home that could accommodate its panels. So my family prayer corner has been enlarged and enhanced.  The uprights of the iconostasis frame the fireplace and the icons on the mantle are lit by the fire below and the iconostasis’ candlelight on either side.   

The iconostasis blesses us every day. Morning and evening prayers have a special place and throughout the day I am reminded and encouraged to feel the presence of God and the company of the saints.  The prayers of the community, the incense, hymns and holiness of past liturgies and blessings are contained in the living wood and sacred icons.  My eyes follow each icon heavenward.  The story of the Gospels is visible in the portrayals of John, Mary Magdalen, the Theotokos and her son, Gabriel and the angels.  When the challenges of life threaten to overwhelm me I know I can call on God and the community of saints, here and in the hereafter, to support and sustain me. Visitors to my home—-friends, family, neighbors, even people delivering packages or working on the endless repairs and renovations of an old and beloved house--stop to consider this special place in our house and sometimes share deep thoughts, memories or concerns.

One day a permanent chapel will be built in the new premises and the iconostasis will return to its proper liturgical space. Until then I am humbled and honored and blessed to provide a home for our iconostasis.

Lampman Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, NY NY, with Orthodox Christian iconostasis installed
Judith Scott

Judith Scott is the choir director of St Gregory the Theologian Mission Church in New York City, and an Axia Women board member. She is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Barnard College, Columbia University, and Bank Street. She is a retired teacher and principal of New York City Board of Education public high schools.