The Pinnacle Church

Altar of Gold

Our host parish in Tarpon Springs is a tourist stop for the city. People arrive every from other cities and states, even other countries, to see the historical Saint Nicholas Cathedral. From the Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers to the marble iconostasis from the 1939 World’s Fair to the stunning stained-glass windows, tourists and pilgrims stand open-mouthed with amazement at the beauty of the Cathedral.

I am blessed to experience this beauty every day, but I often wonder why so many tourists appreciate the beauty of our Cathedral yet refuse to decorate their own churches with the same splendor. I distinguish between tourists and pilgrims for this reason. Tourists arrive, take a few pictures, gawk at the beauty, and leave. They rarely pray. For them we are a museum. Pilgrims enter, light a candle, venerate the Holy Icons, and pray, paying little attention to the beauty that surrounds them.

Then there is the third type of visitor. This type enters with a sense of, “I wonder what all the fuss is about.” For this type of visitor, I believe God is calling them to His house. They pause, take a deep breath, and often comment, “I can feel God here.” This type of visitor sees the beauty as God reaching out to them. This type of visitor smells the lingering incense from the morning service as God’s invitation to sit and take it all in, to allow Him to speak to their heart. I don’t think it is by accident.

BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.

Hebrews 9.1-7

Ever since God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle, there has been a place on the earth where human beings could encounter the physical presence of God. God commanded His Tabernacle, and later His Temple, to build finished with only the best materials. The finest gold and the finest fabrics. This is the House of God, not just some meeting place.

This was the Temple established by God. When Christ became incarnate for our salvation, He didn’t change the Temple. He entered the Temple and glorified it. The first Christians didn’t abandon the Temple for some ‘house church’ because they were offended at the decoration. The first Christians were forced out of the Temple. Since the beginning of time God had been preparing His people for heaven.

Just as the ancient Temple stood for the people to encounter the physical presence of God, Orthodox Churches stand today. On the Holy Altar is the Body and Blood of Christ, surrounded by gold and marble and all sorts of earthly splendor. God continues to reach out to us. God continues to welcome us into His Temple. One thing has never changed. He still expects His Temple to be a place where we have a physical encounter of Him. The splendor is to remind us exactly Who’s House we are in.

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