The area behind the iconostasis is the sanctuary. As the narthex was historically the place of the penitent and catechumens, and the the nave is the place of the faithful, the sanctuary is the place of the clergy. In ancient Israel, the Holy of Holies was hidden by a veil, and no one was permitted to enter except the High Priest. St. Sophia’s similarly has a sanctuary veil.
In the sanctuary is the altar table, which is more often called the holy table or throne; the apse containing the high place at the center back with a throne for the bishop and the synthronos, or seats for the priests, on either side; the table of oblation on the north side where the offerings are prepared in the proskomedia before being brought to the altar table and the holy vessels are stored; and the deacon’s or vesting table on the south side where the objects needed for the liturgy are stored.

The Throne
The throne or prestil, which is also known by the names Holy Table or altar, is the place upon which the Holy Oblation is made. It is the throne of the Lord.
At the consecration of the church, the throne is literally constructed (with mallets, mastic, etc.), prepared, and blessed in a beautiful and elaborate rite. It is square (Ex. 27:1) and constructed of unhewn stones (Ex. 20:25) and wood (Ex. 27:8). Divine Services were historically celebrated at the tombs of martyrs who followed Christ by giving up their entire life to God and we recall this by placing relics of saints or martyrs within the throne.
After the throne is constructed, it is blessed with oil, wine and holy water. Then it is covered with two layers of cloth: a plain linen that is tied around it, representing the burial shroud within which Jesus was wound at death, and a rich and embroidered cloth that is placed over the top, representing the glory of the Resurrection.
The canonical tradition is quite strict about what may be placed on the throne. This includes:
  • The ark or kivot, a container where Holy Communion is reserved for the sick and dying
  • The antimins, a cloth icon of the Burial of Christ which contains relics and is signed by the eparch (bishop), denoting his presence and authorization to serve Divine Liturgy.
  • Two candles
  • The Gospel Book
  • A lention, a red cloth for ablutions and purifying the holy vessels. It is red-colored because we use red wine, symbolic of the Blood of Christ shed for our salvation.
  • A liturgical spoon for the distribution of Holy Communion
  • A liturgical knife (the spear which pierced Jesus’ side on Golgotha) used for cutting Holy Bread. It gets transferred from the table of oblation to the throne at the Great Entrance of Divine Liturgy.
  • A hand cross used by the priest for certain blessings

Immediately behind the throne is the seven-branched lampstand, derived from the Old Testament temple menorah (Exodus 25:31-32, 37, 40). “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand-three on one side and three on the other. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it…. See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
Immediately behind the menorah is the processional cross and two ripidia (liturgical fans).

The Table of Oblation
The table of oblation, which is also called the prothesis or proskomidynyk, is a small table located in the northeast corner of the sanctuary. It is here that the Proskomidia is served, where prayer requests are remembered and the bread and wine are prepared for Divine Liturgy.
In preparation for Divine Liturgy, the following items are placed on the table of oblation:
  • The diskos, a plate for the bread
  • The potirion, a cup for the wine
  • The asterix, a star-shaped frame or rack which is put over the holy bread on the diskos to keep the covering veils from disturbing the Holy Gifts
  • The holy veils, which are cross-shaped liturgical cloths used to cover and protect the Holy Gifts
  • The aer, a large liturgical cloth which represents the space in the cosmos
  • A cutting board
  • The holy spear, a knife used for cutting the prosphora
  • Carafes of wine and water
  • The thermos used for the zeon
  • Candles or oil lamps

The High Place and Synthronos
The high place is a special seat in the apse of the sanctuary which represents God the Father. Only the bishop sits in the high place. When the bishop is not present, a Gospel book will often be placed in the seat. Whenever one moves from one side of the altar to the other, a reverence is made toward the high place.
The synthronos (seats “by the throne”) are the benches or chairs on either side of the high place. These are the seats for the clergy and servers. At the hierarchical liturgy, one will find the ruling hierarch sitting here with his council of presbyters, that being the original function of priests.