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A direct comparison for the function of the main iconostasis can be made to the layout of the great Temple in Jerusalem. That Temple was designed with three parts. The holiest and inner-most portion was that where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. This portion, the Holy of Holies, was separated from the second larger part of the building's interior by a curtain, the "veil of the temple". Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. The third part was the entrance court. This architectural tradition for the two main parts can be seen carried forward in Christian churches and is still most demonstratively present in Eastern Orthodox churches where the iconostasis divides the altar, the Holy of Holies containing the consecrated Eucharist – the manifestation of the New Covenant – from the larger portion of the church accessible to the faithful. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition only men can enter the altar portion behind the iconostasis.
The word comes from the
The iconostasis, though often tall, rarely touches the ceiling.
The iconostasis typically has three openings or sets of doors: the
The North and South Doors are often called Deacons' Doors because the
There are some exceptions where both the side doors depict Archangel Michael. The most notable exception is of the church of Saint George (Aghios Georgios) inside the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (in today's Istanbul).