by Yurie Klitsenko


February 24, 2003 ( — Modern Biblical scholars have found a connection between the text of the first chapter of Genesis, the description of the making of the tabernacle (Exodus, ch.25-31, ch.40), and the symbols of Divine Services in the Temple in chapters 24 and 50 in the Book of Joshua the Son of Sirach (P.J. Kearney, "Creation and Liturgy: The P Redaction of Ex 25-40", Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89, 1977; C.H.T. Fletcher-Louis, "The Temple Cosmology of P and Theological Anthropology in the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira", ed. C. A. Evans, Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity, vol. 8; M. Barker, "Time and Eternity. The World of the Temple", The Month, 1, 2001).

The conformity of the sequence of the making of the tabernacle with seven days of the creation of the world is apparent. In Genesis each of seven God's commands begins with the words: "And God said" (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26). In Exodus, chapters 25-31, each of seven speeches of God devoted to the making of the tabernacle, begins with the words: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying," (Exo 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12). In Exodus chapter 40 seven stages of the making of the tabernacle are divided by the words: as the LORD commanded to Moses (Exo 40:19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32).

The article offered here to the readers of "Pravoslavie.RU" is an attempt to mark some parallels between the above Bible verses and the Orthodox rites of church consecration. I also tried to emphasize again the truth that the Orthodox Divine services are the best introduction to the Holy Scripture.

The following sacred rites performed by the bishop during church consecration correspond to the seven stages of the world creation:


  1. laying of the corner stone in the foundation of the church;
  2. assembly of the altar;
  3. sprinkling of the altar with water and wine;
  4. anointing with Holy Myrrh and clothing of the altar;
  5. censing;
  6. deposition of holy relics under the altar and in the antimension;
  7. Divine Liturgy.


This order of rites is established in ancient eastern and western liturgical texts (John Wilkinson, New Beginnings and Church Dedications, "Creation and Liturgy. In Honor of H. Boone Porter", ed. Ralph N. McMichael, Jr., The Pastoral Press, Washington, 1993). It should be pointed out that the rite of church consecration in modern Greek euchologia does not comply with the ancient liturgical practice. The Russian Orthodox Church preserved the Byzantine tradition testified by medieval pontificals of bishop's ministry and liturgical commentaries of the Church Fathers (St. Nicholas Cabasilas "Seven homilies on the life in Christ", Homily 5; St. Symeon of Thessalonica "A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments" and "A book on the church").

1) On the first day God lays "the cornerstone of the Universe", creates the spiritual heaven and visible matter and the light too. In the book of Job God says about the first day of creation: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7).

We find a parallel to this text in the description of laying of the Jerusalem Temple in the 1st book of Ezra: And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because He is good, for His mercy endureth forever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. (Ezr. 3:10-11).

The symbolism of the cornerstone is mentioned in the New Testament: And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mat 16:18-19). Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).

In Exodus, in the first, the longest speech to Moses the Lord says about the construction of the tabernacle, making of service utensils and vestments of the priests (Exo 25:1-30:10).

The rite of lighting a lamp reminds of the creation of light and the establishment of day and night: And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the vail, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the LORD (Exo 27:20-21; 30:7-8).

According to the Orthodox rite of church foundation the bishop and the architect mark the outline of the future building. For this purpose trenches and a pit on the place of the future Holy Table are dug. The bishop places the cornerstone and lights an oil lamp. We have an evidence of an ancient liturgical practice given by St. Symeon, archbishop of Thessalonica (the 15th century): "The bishop takes stones with his hands, descends to the foundation and places them in the form of a cross, blessing them as a symbol of placing an unshakable stone — Christ — in the foundation of the church. Then he takes an oil lamp, fills it with oil, lights it and places with blessing in the space between the stones, which means heavenly enlightenment from the true Light and the sole true light — the one of Christ" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch.69).

Upon the consecration of the cornerstone the proper construction works and making the church utensils begin. The Orthodox Church preserved the holy Biblical principles and plans of temple building revealed by God to prophets Moses (Exo ch. 25-31, 40), David (1 Chr. 28:11-19), Ezekiel (Ezek. Ch.40-48) and St. Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian (Revelation of St. John the Theologian). The Orthodox Divine Services unite together heaven and earth, the Old and the New Testaments, the past, the present and the future. According to the teaching of the Church Fathers, a church is a symbol of the Universe created by God: "A church is a symbol of this inhabited earthly world and the visible sky for when we send up prayers standing before the church and venerate it as the heaven and the Eden garden. And the most solemn rite of church consecration presents it to us as a mysterious heaven and the church of the first born, and when we perform the most awesome of all the sacraments in the church — the sacred rite of Liturgy — then the altar becomes heaven, the church signifies earth: all stream to it and form prayer glorification? The beauty of the church means the beauty of the creation, the candles burning on the main chandelier mean radiant stars, and its dome — the firmament of heaven" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, Book on the church, 17-18).

2) In the second speech about the making of the tabernacle the Lord says about the offerings required for its maintenance: This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation (Exo 30:13-16).

St. Symeon of Thessalonica teaches: "The one who intends to erect God's church should come to the bishop and ask for his permission? so that after starting the erection of the church the builder does not leave it unaccomplished, or the built and consecrated church is not abandoned and does not stand unused due to lack of necessary things, therefore the one who intends to erect a church gets this permission only after a careful study and after he gives a pledge to build it to the end and prepare everything necessary" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch.69).

The second day of the creation of the world is the division of upper and lower waters and the creation of the firmament called in the Holy Scripture God's throne (Isa 66:1; Ps.11:4).

About the second stage of the making of the tabernacle it is said: "and put the atonement cover (the mercy seat) above upon the ark" (Exo 40:20).

In the beginning of the rite of the great consecration of a newly built church the bishop sprinkles with holy water the pillars of the Holy Table, pours wax mastic (a special composition made of marble crumbs, aromatic substances and natural honey) on them and sets a refectory board on the Holy Table. The following prayer is read: "Inoriginate and ever existing God, Who brought everything non-existent into existence, Who lives in the inaccessible light, heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool." The bishop kneels and addresses God, Who gave Moses the fashion for the tabernacle, and Solomon the breadth of the heart to build the Temple, and St. Apostles the grace of a new ministry in the spirit and truth, and through them spread His churches over the Universe.

3) On the third day of creation God separates waters from dry land and creates seas (Hebrew word "jammim"). God commands to the makers of the tabernacle to make a "brass sea" (Hebrew word "hajjam"): Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein (Exo 30:18).

The bishop who consecrates the church washes refectory board with water. Singing Psalm 84 the bishop and those who serve with him wipe the refectory board with four cloths.

Then like Moses who sprinkled the Old Testament altar with blood (Exo 29:12), the bishop sprinkles the Holy Table and antimensia with a mixture of wine and rose water "as a sign that on this altar the wine fragrant with grace and a life-giving one will be offered according to the example of Melchisedech" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch.78). Wine and water symbolize sacrificial blood of Christ "since on the consecrated Holy Table the Cavalry sacrifice shall be renewed, and the Calvary is washed with blood and water that flew out of the Savior's rib" (Handbook of a priest, v. 4, Moscow, 1983).

Wine may also signify plants that God created on the third day.

4) On the fourth day God created lights - sun, moon and stars.God commands Moses to prepare holy oil and anoint the tabernacle with it: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot. And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy. And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office (Exo 30:22-30).

Performing the fourth command of God Moses also put the candlestick in the tent of the congregation, over against the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward. And he lighted the lamps before the LORD (Exo 40:24-25).

The Psalmist prophesied: I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him? and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven ( Ps 89:20, 36-37).

The Old Testament apocrypha point out a mystical connection between the anointment with myrrh and light: "And anointed me with wonderful oil, looking more white than purest snow, more radiant that a sun ray" (M.I. Sokolov, Slav book of righteous Enoch, Moscow, 1910).

The bishop who is consecrating the church proceeds to the anointment of the altar table and antimensia with Holy Myrrh. Chorus sings: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."

Like after the Baptism and Chrismation a person puts on white clothes, so after washing and anointing with holy Myrrh the Holy Table gets clothed too. The clothes symbolize spiritual light for God covers Himself with light as with a garment (Ps.104:2). "Refectophor (inditia) serves as a sign of God's glory, it means also clothes of the Savior, shining with light? Then a lamp, a candlestick and light are brought to light up the holy oil. On the one hand, the Church is Christ's candlestick and a lamp under the law was her image; on the other hand, the holy oil symbolizes granting of Divine grace, and the emblazed light — Divine enlightenment" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch. 80-81). According to the early Byzantine and Armenian pontificals of bishop's ministry the lamps are lighted upon clothing of the Holy Table.

Church lamps symbolize planets and stars created by God on the fourth day: "In the church like in the visible world lamps are hanged like stars. The circle of lamps represents the firmament and circles of planets" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch.108).

5) On the fifth day God created every living creature of reptiles living in water, as well as fowls.

In the fifth speech the Lord teaches Moses to compose incense for burning: Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy (Exo 30:34-36).

In the Old Testament worship there was a connection between incense burning and living creatures brought forth by water (Gen 1:21). To make one of ingredients of the Old Testament incense — "onycha" — sea shellfishes were used: "Under "onycha" they mean either an excrescence on the shell, or the shell itself, of a race of snails living in waters of India or Red Sea" (Explanatory Bible ed. A.P.Lopukhin, v.1).

In the contemporary Russian Orthodox tradition of church consecration like in other ancient Byzantine rites mentioned by St. Symeon of Thessalonica, after clothing the Holy Table censing is performed. The bishop who consecrates the church is given a censer and he burns incense around the Holy Table, the offeratory, the altar and the whole church. After the censing bishop the clergy follow one of whom sprinkles walls of the church with holy water and another anoints in the form of cross four walls of the church with Holy Myrrh starting with High Place in the altar and further over the Western, Southern and Northern gates.

6) On the sixth day the Lord creates man in His image, after His likeness to dress and keep the garden of Eden - God's temple (Gen 2:15). "And the LORD God formed man ? and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7).

God shows Moses the makers and keepers of the tabernacle who were filled with the Spirit, prefigurators of the builders of Christ's Church. According to the interpretation of St. Cyrill of Alexandria, the craftsmen filled with God's Spirit, who worked on the making of the tabernacle, prerepresented the Apostles and Saints, "for they were labourers together with God, working and using the skill in establishing churches. All sensible in the heart brought of their diligence and favor for the making of the tabernacle serving as images of teachers to come with time who have diligence and care to do God's works and everything for the good of Christ's Church" (St. Cyrill of Alexandria, On the worship and ministry in the spirit and truth, book 9). Saints represent God's image and likeness lost by forefathers Adam and Eve.

The sacrificial blood poured by Moses beside the bottom of the altar (Exo 29:12) pointed to the souls of saints: I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held (Rev. 6:9).

In conclusion of the rite of the great consecration of an orthodox church holy relics of saint ascetics are deposited under the Holy Table and in the antimension.

According to the testimony of St. Symeon of Thessalonica, in Byzantium only the clergy could be present in the church during the consecration of the altar. The laymen were allowed into the church only together with the procession with the cross carrying holy relics: "In the beginning of the consecration all those who do not bear the seal of ordination are driven out of the church. For during the church consecration only the heavenly shall be present, and no other should see the rite" (St. Symeon of Thessalonica, A conversation on the sacred rites and church sacraments, ch.72-73).

7) The seventh stage of creation of the world and making of the tabernacle is Sabbath. In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed (Exo 31:17) — these are the words closing the Divine revelation about making of the tabernacle given to Moses upon mount Sinai.

Consecration of the church is concluded by Divine Liturgy and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the newly consecrated church services are held seven days in a row.

February 22, 2003