The adoption of the Johnson Amendment in 1954 was the moment the Internal Revenue Service was given the power to dictate what could and could not be preached from American pulpits. With the threat of fines, or even losing tax exempt status for their parish, the Johnson Amendment threatened the very freedom of pastors to address biblical issues that stand at the core of what it means to be Christian. Many biblical issues revolving around marriage, the family, the poor, and sexuality, were politicized, and America’s pastors were informed that preaching on certain subjects could be interpreted by the IRS as infringements by religion into the area of the political.
The fear of being labeled “political” has sidelined many a pastor from injecting the Church’s biblical teachings into the life of the American scene. Sermons that were one day seen as simply preaching Gospel morality, are now seen as the injection of the Church into politics. A sermon preached on the issues of abortion or same-sex marriage, are now seen as an infringement into the realm of politics, and the unfair entrance of the Church into the affairs of the State. Pastors are now expected to remain on the sideline, keeping silent about basic moral issues that were, in the past, seen as their duty to address as religious leaders of this nation.
The truth is, it is not the Church that has become “political”, but rather the invasion of the State into the realm of the religion. The free exercise of religion requires freedom for the clergy to preach on moral issues that confront our modern society. The pastor must be free to address the care of the poor, national health, abortion, the position of the institution of marriage in our society, and issues that touch on the education of our youth.
The free exercise of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment, prohibits the government from dictating what can, or can not, be preached from the pulpit, and is one of the core activities of the free exercise of religion. The Johnson Amendment violates the free exercise of religion, for it directly interferes in the role of religious leaders to speak prophetical on issues that are specifically addressed in scripture.
Freedom of religion based only on the freedom to worship is not freedom of religion. The free exercise of religion can not be allowed to be reduced to freedom of worship, for our Christian faith is not about worship only, but entails the whole of biblical living. Pastors must preach the whole message of the Scriptures, even if they affront the sensitivities of some. The Church can not be silenced in her prophetic duty to preach the Gospel, for a forced silence will turn biblical Christianity into nothing more than an homogenized State religion.
The Church must reclaim her constitutional right to speak out without fear of reprisal, and boldly stand for her own First Amendment right to engage in the political life of this great nation, freely preaching the Gospel of Christ.
If you ever wondered who is responsible for the moral decay, corruption and lack of discrimination in our day, it belongs firmly – FIRMLY – to those who are called to preach. The preachers are wholly responsible for the moral decline in our society.
Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits.
If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree.
If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it.
If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it.
If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it.
If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it.
If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it.
If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.
Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.
The Lectern (from the Latin lectus, past participle of legere, “to read”) is a reading desk with a slanted top, usually placed on a stand or affixed to a some other form of support, on which documents or books are placed as support for reading aloud. To facilitate eye-contact and improve posture when facing an audience, lecterns may have adjustable height and slant. Lecterns are often eagle shaped to symbolize the Gospel according to St John the Apostle. Persons use lecterns while standing.
The lectern is usually the stand on which the Bible rests and from which the “lessons” (reading from Scripture) are read during the service. The lessons may be read or chanted by a priest, deacon, minister, or layperson, depending upon the liturgical traditions of the community. In protestant churches, the lectern became a central architectural feature, replacing the altar (in location and importance) and being exalted over the ‘communion table.’ In other words, the pulpit became the lectern and was often moved to the center. The lectern is normally set in front of the pews, so that the reader or speaker faces the congregation.
Lecterns are often made of wood, though brass, marble and other materials are more and more available. They may be either fixed in place or portable.
Portable Lecterns are often used in many parish Churches for the reading of the Gospel, and for the sermon afterward.
The Analogion (plural: analogia) is a lectern or slanted desk or stand on which icons or the Gospel Book are placed for veneration by the faithful in the Orthodox Church. Traditionally, the analogia were reading desks for the Epistle and Gospel, remained at the sides of the choir, as they are today and are chiefly used for reading or singing parts of the liturgy.
The analogion is normally slanted slightly, to make it easier for the one standing in front of it to see the icon or book laid on it. The analogion may have four legs or only one in the center. It is often covered with rich cloth (antipendia) which either partially or completely covers the analogion on all sides. Some analogia are made made so they fold for easy portability, some are intricately carved of fine wood, and some are simple framework intended to be completely covered with cloth. They are normally light enough to be moved without too much difficulty.
There is also a type of analogion which is used in the kliros by the chanters. This often has two or three sides and turns to allow the singers to more easily use the numerous liturgical texts required during the services.
There is an older Greek design for this type of analogion that is octagonal with a flat top instead of slanted. This style is still found in use on Mt. Athos and at other ancient monasteries throughout the world. Sometimes this type of analogion is intricately inlaid with mother of pearl or other semi-precious materials.
A similar piece of furniture is called the tetrapodion which is a table which can be set in the center of the church, usually covered with a cloth, and upon which objects are placed to be blessed.
Analogia are used for the veneration of icons, usually with a candlestand beside or behind it, or an oil lamp burning above it. The candlestand may hold one candle and be used to shine light on the icon, or it may have places for the faithful to offer candles as they venerate the icon.
On higher-ranking feasts of the church year, when the chanting of the Polyeleos is called for, an analogion is placed in the center of the temple (i.e., the nave of the church) with candles, and the icon of the feast being celebrated is placed thereon.
At the highpoint of the service, all of the lights in the church are lit and the clergy and people gather around the icon on the analogion in the center of the temple for the chanting of festive hymns and the reading of the Matins Gospel lesson.
When a priest or bishop hears Confession, he will do so standing beside an analogion on which has been placed a Gospel Book and a Cross. The penitent will venerate the Gospel and Cross and then kneel before the analogion, for the confession.
Where to get them?
After this series of articles, you may be wondering what it would actually take to install these in your parish. The answer is not so much as you might think. We’ve compiled a list (albeit incomplete) of vendors where the following can be purchased. Now, we have not received any compensation for offering these links (too bad!), and we are certainly interested in more. If you know of a vendor who supplies these items, let us know by clicking here.
Right now, classically designed ambones are, as far as I know, not being manufactured. However, if one desired to have one made, I would start with this vendor:
King Richard’s– this vendor’s ambones are small ambones, or unattached pulpits rather than the classic ambo, but they are marvelous in marble and wood, and would be my first choice should you wish to reconstruct a classic ambo, or simply add a magnificent small ambo to your church. I recommend you take some time to examine their offerings, and imagine the possibilities in your own parish.
With pulpits, as we define them, one has more choices!
Orama World– this vendor’s hand carved pulpit would match many an iconostasis already installed.
A Short History of the Liturgical Location for Preaching: The Ambo, the Pulpit and the Lectern.
The Exterior Pulpit
There is a wonderful history of outdoor, or exterior pulpits, attached to Churches. As stated previously, exterior pulpits were used for funeral orations in the churchyard, for the preaching of pilgrimages, or for the exhibition of relics, and were often built outside of the churches, and many cathedrals.
As you will see, there is a great variety in the design and placement of exterior pulpits, adding to their flexibility of use, ornamentation, and installation.
Examples in the United States
There are even examples of exterior pulpits right here in the United States. One excellent and humble example exists at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Shrine, in Starkenberg, Missouri, of the Diocese of Jefferson City. The shrine is located in rural Montgomery County, about 87 highway miles west of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri and is a beautiful example of just such a pulpit.
Others include the following (there are more than what I have included here);
From Around the World
There are a multitude of exterior pulpits around the world, and particularly in Europe, where preaching has always held a high priority.
Note the similarity in design of the above exterior pulpit to the classic ambo!
This is a particularly ornate exterior pulpit (above), from which St. John Capistrano preached against the Turkish invasion.
Why exterior pulpits?
Now, you may be saying to yourself
“Okay. So what? None of these are Orthodox Churches, so why should I care?”
Truth is, many Orthodox parishes do not just have fellowship halls, but rather have extensive facilities. As more and more is being scheduled at these facilities, and more programs (and, yes, festivals) take place at them, it is a far better opportunity for a preaching festival than having an “Orthodoxy” tent, which ends up being little more than a kind of Ripley’s Believe It or Not for non-members.
Why not bring in several accomplished preachers to give 10 minute sermons, along with seminarians who need to smooth the rough edges from their sermon presentations?
The addition of exterior pulpits to many of the existing churches would provide excellent and unique opportunities for parishes to memorably hear the preaching of deacons, seminary students, and of course, local clergy that the congregation almost never gets to hear (because they are busy at their own parishes).
It would allow festival visitors to hear Orthodox doctrine and theology is an non-threatening setting (i.e., easy to escape), sharpen the homiletic skills of our preachers, and sharpen the listening skills of our flock. There is no down side to the installation of exterior pulpits, and they would provide excellent reminders of the Churches mission to
“preach the Gospel to the whole Creation” (Mark 16:15).
Exterior pulpits comprise a laudable tradition which would make sense in modern Orthodox parishes. They demonstrated in the planning, building and funding of these pulpits that preaching the Gospel of Christ was a priority. Again, in the Orthodox Tradition, the preaching of the Word is the culmination of the entire first half of the Divine Liturgy. It is time for the pulpit to take its place, once again, in Orthodox Church planning, furnishing and architectural planning. The exterior pulpit would practically require more and better preaching from clergy, and may even spawn a new generation of active evangelism and hard-core apologetics among the laity.
Nothing is worse than an idle pulpit.
And there’s no hiding one that is visible on the outside the Church.
A Short History of the Liturgical Location for Preaching: The Ambo, the Pulpit and the Lectern.
The word pulpit comes from the Latin pulpitum, meaning a stage or scaffold. The most popular and consistent architectural ‘solution’ to a highly visible and clearly audible location in a Church has been the pulpit.
The pulpit is the direct descendant of the ambo, as is an elevated stand to preach on, attached to the Church building itself – often to a pillar. To elucidate the meaning of the word, we can refer to Solomon (2 Chronicles 6:13), who prayed from
“a brazen scaffold,”
and to Esdras (Nehemiah 8:4) who
“stood upon a step of wood”
and read the law of God. Their elevated position and public action suggest to some the symbolical meaning of the pulpit: the level of the perfect. It has been also called the analogium, from the preaching of the word of God.
Originally, the bishop often preached from his cathedra; a survival of this is retained in the French and German words for pulpit, chaire and predigtstuhl. The other German word kanzel recalls the position of the ambo at the choir-screen, or chancel screen (cancelli). The pulpit characterized as part of the church furniture by its independent position and use, found itself separated from the choir and pushed forward in the central part of the nave beyond the choir for singers.
According to Eusebius, Paul of Samosata (Eusebius, 7, 30) spoke to the people from a high canopied seat in the apse.
There can be no doubt that the pulpit, like the ambo, is a very Orthodox piece of liturgical architecture, and not just in the bygone past, but in today’s parish church as well.
Here is a sampling of pulpits from early Christian/Orthodox Churches – as I could find them.
Leading the way of our list of examples of Orthodox pulpits is this first one from the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George (Ecumenical Patriarchate). Note that it needs no sounding board over the top – it is placed so high on the pillar that it uses the ceiling for that purpose!
Where the Gospel of Christ is preached in the Orthodox Church, and no ambo is available, there should be a pulpit!
Pulpits became a central fixture in Churches in Europe as preaching took its proper place in the liturgical service. Pulpits, like Altars, iconostases, and rails, became more and more ornamented, and were often sponsored by wealthy merchants or royalty, and were appropriately adorned as the location where, again, the most important part of the service of the Word took place.
The stunningly beautiful pulpit in the cathedral at Aachen, Germany was, according to the inscription, a present from Emperor Henry II (d. 1024). The ground-plan consists of three unequal segments of a circle. The wooden core is covered with sheets of copper overlaid with gold. Of the fifteen flat surfaces formed by slightly sunken panels, six contain ivory carvings belonging to an earlier period, and the others, precious stones, cups of rock-crystal, and enamels. There is no explanation as to what this was intended to represent: with large generosity the emperor had given whatever he had that was costly for the house of God.
In many places the pulpit was made a part of the rood-loft, which was a gallery or loft of wood or stone, existing as early as the eleventh century and used, instead of the cancelli, to separate the choir from the nave; it was called the lectorium, or odeum, as the loft where the singers were, and doxale from the singing of the doxologies. Statues of the Savior and His Apostles, representing the Last Judgment and the Passion, frequently ornamented the rood-loft on the side towards the nave.
At Wechselburg in Saxony a Romanesque pulpit from the beginning of the thirteenth century is still in existence; it probably belonged, together with the celebrated altar cross, to the partially preserved rood-loft, which, with a few others of that period, is still to be found. It is ornamented with well-executed reliefs, and rests on arcades and columns. In the central oval panel, or mandorla, there is a relief of Christ as teacher, surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists; on either side are Mary and John trampling upon allegorical symbols of error. The other reliefs, viz., the sacrifices of Abel and Abraham and the Brazen Serpent, were chosen with reference to the cross and altar in the rood-loft, redemption by Christ’s sacrificial death being a main topic of preaching.
The pulpit at Pisa, completed by Niccola Pisano in 1260, is an unattached structure resting on seven columns, which opened the way to a new development for Italian sculpture. In addition to what is palpably borrowed from antiquity, e.g. the Virgin as Juno, there are figures taken entirely from the life of the time. Instead of the mosaic, six bas-reliefs surround the breastwork: the Annunciation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, Crucifixion, and the Last Judgment; they present the main contents of the doctrine of Salvation.
The first examples of Renaissance pulpits are those of Donatello (fifteenth century). Donatello inserted here into the original round form of the pulpit seven white marble panels, on which in his customary manner he represented in bas-relief little cherubs in an animated dance; the ornamentation of the bronze capital below the pulpit, which rests on a single support, is also purely decorative in character.
At an earlier era the platform of the pulpit was supported by an understructure or by a number of columns, and during the Renaissance pulpits projected from a pillar or wall, like balconies. Both bronze pulpits in San Lorenzo at Florence rest on four Ionic columns, and are decorated with representations of the Passion, over which there is a frieze of cherubs borrowed from the art of antiquity.
The magnificent pulpit made by Master Pilgram for the Cathedral of St. Stephen at Vienna (sixteenth century) is decorated with busts of the Fathers of the Church and figures of other saints.
The ornate decoration of the pulpit of the collegiate church at Aschaffenburg depicts the Church Fathers around the supporting pillar, busts of the same in the upper frieze, scenes from the Bible separated by spirited figures of the Evangelists, and angels in the place of consoles. In the Cathedral at Trier the ascent to the pulpit is covered by a magnificently ornamented archway with a high decoration at the top. On the string-piece of the steps are carved the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Judgment, and on the panels of the parapet the works of mercy are depicted.
The pulpit of Freiberg in Saxony is fantastically developed from the root of a plant and on it in a naturalistic manner the figures of men and animals are formed.
The most striking pulpits of the Baroque period are those of Belgium. The base, stairway, and sounding-board were artistically or fantastically covered according to the taste of the time with luxurious and ornate carving.
In St. Gudule’s at Brussels the banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise is carved underneath the pulpit, while, in contrast, the Mother of God is represented above the sounding-board as a mighty female warrior and slayer of the dragon.
Underneath the pulpit of the cathedral at Mechlin there is a representation of the Crucifixion on Calvary with the people at Christ’s feet, while below the rock Saul falls from his horse, overcome by the truth; above at the side are carvings of Adam and Eve with the Serpent. All these are rich in suggestions for the sermon.
At the base of the pulpit of the Church of St. Andrew at Antwerp there is a splendid carving of Christ, and the Apostles Peter and John in a little boat. Over the enormous sounding-board angels hold on high the St. Andrew’s cross, and beneath the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, sends rays in all directions. Note the resemblance in structure of the above pulpit with a classic ambo.
The whole structure of a pulpit in Krakow represents a ship, with sails, mast, and rigging, poised over sea monsters.
The ornamentation of the pulpit should never be excessive, but subordinate to that of the altar, whose view it should not obstruct. The latter difficulty is often removed by setting the pulpit slightly towards the side aisle, whereby a troublesome echo from the transept is avoided. Near which pillar of the nave the pulpit should be placed depends upon the acoustics of the church.
The sounding-board should, above all, make the voice of the preacher perfectly distinct; by giving it, the form of a shell the waves of sound are often sent in a definite direction. In order that the speaker may be readily understood, the pulpit should not stand too high. Its ornamentation should be appropriate: representations of the Evangelists or Church Fathers, scenes from the Bible, as the Sermon on the Mount, the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit on the underside of the sounding-board, and perhaps an angel over it. A simple pillar skillfully developed into the platform of the pulpit, is satisfactory, when its decoration and that of the stairway and string-piece is subordinate to that of the central main part. The lack of a vertical support makes an unpleasant impression; a reading-desk or crucifix is apt to produce an overloaded effect.
A well-arranged pulpit-cloth varied in color to suit the various feasts and periods of the year would not be improper.
Does the Pulpit have a place in Orthodoxy Today?
I think the answer to this is rather simple: Obviously yes, but only where preaching the Gospel is important. What is worse than an idle pulpit? That would be rather like having an idle altar – God forbid!
The glaring omission of pulpits in Orthodox Church architecture is not simply a reliance on the Eucharistic portion of the Liturgy, which is always primary in Orthodox architectural planning, but an abandonment of it as a necessary part of the Liturgy of the Word. Preaching in many places has atrophied to the point that sermons are no longer expected, and no longer given. Christian instruction, discipleship and education have been considered a private matter, not a parish one.
The reintroduction of the pulpit to contemporary Orthodox parish churches would be a small expense, and provide a serious challenge to the Church, a challenge to clergy in their sermon preparation and presentation, and a serious challenge to the laity who must, likewise, improve their listening skills in some places – which have atrophied as well.
At the end of this series of articles, I will offer some links to companies that offer ‘ambones’, pulpits, lecterns and analogia which are appropriate for Orthodox Churches.
A Short History of the Liturgical Location for Preaching: The Ambo, the Pulpit and the Lectern.
An Ambo (pl. Ambones) is a Greek word, supposed to signify a mountain or elevation.
This was understood in the west as well – and well after the Great Schism. Even Pope Innocent III of Rome so understood it, for in his work on the Liturgy (II.I. 33), after speaking of the deacon ascending the ambo to read the Gospel, he quotes the following from Isaiah (40:9):
“O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into a high mountain! O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God’”
(translation as quoted in Handel’s Messiah – a personal favorite)
And in the same connection he also alludes to Our Lord Jesus Christ preaching from a mountain:
“He went up into a mountain -and opening his mouth he taught them” (Matt. 5: 1, 2).
As an ambo is an elevated platform or pulpit from which, in the early churches and basilicas, the Gospel and Epistle were eventuallychanted or read from it, and all kinds of communications were made to the congregation, sometimes the bishop preached from it, as in the case of St. John Chrysostom, who, Socrates Scholasticus says, was accustomed to mount the ambo to address the people, in order to be more distinctly heard (Eccl. Hist., 6, 5). Sozomen (Church History 9.2) states the same, still characterizing the ambo as bema ton anagnoston. Chrysostom spoke from the ambo
“in order to be better understood”;
Originally there was only one ambo in a church, placed in the nave, and provided with two flights of steps; one from the east, the side towards the altar; and the other from the west.
From the eastern steps the subdeacon, with his face to the altar, read the Epistles; and from the western steps the deacon, facing the people, read the Gospels. The inconvenience of having one ambo soon became manifest, and in consequence in many churches two ambones were erected. When there were two, they were usually placed one on each side of the choir, which was separated from the nave and aisles by a low wall. Very often the Gospel ambo was provided with a permanent candlestick; the one attached to the ambo in St. Clement’s in Rome is a marble spiral column, richly decorated with mosaic, and terminated by a capital twelve feet from the floor.
In the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia it stood under the dome (Paul the Silentiary, P.G., 86, 2259), but was united with the choir
“like an island with the mainland.”
Similarly at Ravenna the ambo of Bishop Agnellus (sixth century) stood in the central aisle of the nave, on the inner side of the old chancel screen. Bishop Agnellus, builder of the ambo of the cathedral at Ravenna (sixth century), called it pyrgus, or tower-like structure. The exterior surface of the round middle part and the steps which come far forward on the sides have panels arranged like a chess-board in six parallel bands filled with symbolic animals: fish, ducks, doves, deer, peacocks, and lambs in regular succession.
Owing to the aversion of Byzantine art of that period to delineating the human figure, animals are here presented in symbolical dependence on the words:
“Preach the Gospel to every creature.”
In large churches, therefore, the bishops, e.g. Ambrose, Augustine, and Paulinus of Nola, preached from the ambo at a very early date.
The ambo of Salonica, traditionally called “Paul’s pulpit,” appears to be the oldest remaining monument of this kind (fourth to sixth century). It is circular in form, about four meters in circumference, with two stairways, for ascending and descending, and is ornamented with carvings of the three Magi set in niches representing a shell; two ornamental bands are carried around above the niches (“Archives des missions scientifiques,” III, 1876).
Ambones are believed by some to have taken their origin from the raised platform from which the Jewish rabbis read the Scriptures to the people, and they were first introduced into churches during the fourth century, were in universal use by the ninth, reaching their full development and artistic beauty in the twelfth, and then gradually fell out of use, until in the fourteenth century, after the fall of Constantinople, when they were largely superseded by pulpits. In the Ambrosian Rite, the Gospel is still read from the ambo. They were usually built of white marble, enriched with carvings, inlays of colored marbles, and glass mosaics.
The most celebrated ambo was the one erected by the Emperor Justinian in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, which is fully described by the contemporary poet, Paulus Silentiarius in his work peri ktismaton. He describes the body of the ambo as made of various precious metals, inlaid with ivory, overlaid with plates of silver, and further enriched with gildings and bronze. The ambo of Hagia Sophia was adorned with flowers and trees. The disappearance of this magnificent example of Christian art is involved in some obscurity. It was probably intact down to the time of the taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1203, when it was stripped of its beauty and wealth.
In St. Mark’s, at Venice, there is a very peculiar ambo, of two stories; from the lower one was read the Epistle, and from the upper one the Gospel. This form was copied at a later date in what are known as “double-decker” pulpits. Very interesting examples may be seen in many of the Italian basilicas; in Ravenna there are a number from the sixth century.
Just when it became customary to use the ambo mainly for the sermon, which gave it a new importance and affected its position, is not known.
Isidore of Seville first employed the word pulpit (Etym., XVI, iv), then “‘tribunal,” because from this the priest gave the “precepts for the conduct of life,” proclaiming law and justice.
Isidore also derives “analogium” from logos, as
“the addresses were given”
from it. Thus the ambo became the regular place for the preacher, and its situation was dependent on local conditions.
The Small Ambo
Due to the reduction in importance of preaching, the ambo eventually became smaller in size, and lower in stature, until it slowly began to turn into the pulpit (if attached to a pillar or some other part of the nave) or a large lectern (if unattached). A good example of this is the Ambo in Cluj, Romania. (below)
Ambones of this kind are not uncommon today, and can still be purchased for parish installation!
(See Part 5 of this series for vendors)
The Episcopal Ambo
In the contemporary celebration, the last public prayer of the Divine Liturgy is the “Prayer Before the Ambo”. Originally, it was a prayer of thanksgiving said as the clergy descended the ambo at the end of the service. In ancient times, there was a large collection of Prayers Before the Ambo, written for the different feast days of the church year and for those occasional services, such as weddings and funerals, that called for celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
There is also a low platform in the center of the nave called the episcopal ambo where the bishop is vested prior to the Divine Liturgy and where he is enthroned until the Little Entrance. If the bishop is serving in a simple parish church, an episcopal ambo is set temporarily in place. In parishes where this is permanent, when the bishop is not present, an analogion with an icon is usually placed upon it.
A Short History of the Liturgical Location for Preaching: The Ambo, the Pulpit and the Lectern
Throughout history, the place occupied by the preacher has changed based on liturgical and theological need.
Primarily of course, the purpose of changing the location was of necessity – to be seen and heard by those listening and looking. Our Lord Himself ascended a mountain for the “Sermon on the Mount” (hence the name) and often spoke where more to could hear and see Him more clearly.
This is a study, a very humble study, of how the Church liturgically and architecturally has provided a location to proclaim the message of salvation in Christ Jesus.
In most contemporary Orthodox Churches, the preacher usually delivers his homily from the ambo – the semicircular extension of the area in front of the Royal Doors. Without too much difficulty, it is done here so that most everyone in the Church can see and hear him.
From the earliest days of human history, those who speak publicly stood in a place where they could be both seen and heard better. Proclamation of the Gospel has fared likewise, and architecturally this has been born out in our Churches in different ways throughout history.
We see it even now in the mini-mega-Churches whose sanctuaries are bereft of any Christian imagery or symbolism, yet the pastor or speaker (or drama ministry team or praise band) is on a stage. Where everyone can see and hear them easily.
In Orthodox Christian architecture and liturgy, this has classically followed secular solutions to the problem and adjusted these based on liturgical need.
In all cases, the purpose was not to separate the speaker or preacher from the crowd of listeners, but to unite them, and bring them closer to each other, able to see and hear each other with greater acuity.
“Why bother with places to preach? The principle liturgical action of the Church is the Eucharist.”
The truth is, the liturgy is not all about the Eucharist.
It’s about the Gospel andthe Eucharist.
On every Orthodox Christian altar is the Gospel Book and it remains there. The Chalice is only brought forward and placed upon the altar during the Great Entrance, but the Gospel book remains.
The Liturgy of the Word comprises the first part of the liturgy, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Eucharistic Anaphora, the second part. It has been this way from the beginning, and this is because in the Christian service of worship there is one fact which underlies everything else:
The Gospel proclaims the Eucharist, and
the Eucharist proclaims the Gospel.
Either without the other leads to distortion of the Gospel message and vision of the Church. Together, they provide earth with a place where heaven has invaded the earth.
In Orthodox Churches for some time, preaching the Gospel of Christ has taken a serious backseat to the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist. (this is evident in the lack of homiletics preparation available, let alone mandatory, at contemporary Orthodox theological seminaries). However, in this context it is easily forgotten that the word is preached in a liturgical setting.
Secondly, some priests have taken it upon themselves to wander around the Church while preaching, or walking to and fro, up and down the aisles. Several blog articles by Roman Catholic authors have addressed this; here, here and here.
Among the comments was this, by “Fr. Z”‘
“I suppose the roving preacher in the Catholic Church comes from the imposition of the man’s own personal quirk on the people of God. This may be in imitation of Protestants, who almost by the very nature of much Protestant preaching need to impose their own personality on the sermon.
In my opinion and experience, the preacher who does this is a narcissist. He is drawing attention to himself. He imposes himself, overlays himself, for his own needs, on the rite, the Word of God, and the people. His needs first… every else? Forget it.
Are there exceptions? Of course. But not many.”
I could not agree more.
The reason we chant the Scriptures is to remove our own personality from the reading – to let the words of the Scriptures speak for themselves. Likewise, the imposition of our own personalities – drawing attention to ourselves during preaching – is a disaster, and not the Orthodox theological tradition.
We must return to a vibrant and dynamic liturgical setting for preaching. The Church has always made provision for this in the past, and this is the purpose of this article – to describe how the Church in history has provided, architecturally, for one of the two most important liturgical events in the life of the Christian. It was considered important enough to be a central fixture of any Cathedral, permanently installed, intricately and expensively adorned. It was not to be overlooked, ignored or accidentally ‘missed’ in the flurry of liturgical action.
Form is determined by function architecturally (I will, of course, cede any statements about architecture to architects, but none that I contacted wanted to write an article), and Church space is no exception. In the Orthodox tradition, Church architecture is significant and unique, being formed by Incarnational theology.
“In the beginning was the Word,”
– after all.
In this series of articles, though these terms are often used interchangeably, for clarity’s sake we will adhere to some specific definitions, and point out that there is a basic difference between an ambo, a pulpit, and a lectern.
An ambo is elevated, freestanding, and rectangular in shape, and is approached from the side or from behind by stairs.*
A pulpit is attached to part of the building (such as a pillar), is elevated, and surrounds the preacher except from behind where the stairs connect.
A lectern is a freestanding, portable device which is often placed on a freestanding podium.(A common faux-pas: a podium is not synonymous with a lectern, but is simply a portable box designed to elevate a lectern. That is, one stands on a podium but stands at a lectern.)
*The ambo of most Orthodox Churches has been reduced to the hemispheric projection of the bema or soleas which faces west in front of the Royal Doors. In contemporary usage, the bema itself is composed of the altar or sanctuary (the area behind the iconostas), the soleas (the pathway in front of the iconostas), and the ambo (the area in front of the Holy Doors which projects westward into the nave).
By these definitions, what are sometimes called pulpits are actually lecterns, and what are sometimes called pulpits are actually small ambones. These terms are often used interchangeably, and we simply want to set some particular definitions for the purposes of this article.
So, if you have a small ambo and it has always been called a pulpit, that is fine.
If you have a lectern, and it has always been called a pulpit, that is fine, too.
This article, posted on OrthodoxyToday.org in June of 2005 is a short, but powerful statement of why Christians, particularly Orthodox Christians, must not weasel out of their obligations to the country, society and culture they live in.
Inasmuch as Christ our Lord obliges all Christians to
“render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21),
I suppose that few of us seriously doubt our common moral duty to take part in the civic life of our nation, including its politics. Even those who fail to notice St. Paul’s contention that this obligation is imposed
“for conscience’ sake”(Romans 13:5)
probably live as good citizens, rendering
“taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Roman 13:7).
Inspired by the Epistle to Diognetus to think that
“Christians are in the world what the soul is in the body,”
most of us vote, pay taxes, serve on school boards, and organize and contribute to endeavors philanthropic. Some even run for and serve in elected public office. More significantly, the flag of this nation has draped the caskets of Christians slain in her patriotic service.
It is my own persuasion that active patriotism is not optional, and merely sentimental patriotism is no substitute.
I believe that we Christians must not separate our Christian faith from our moral responsibilities to this country.