Behind the Iconostasis: Who May Enter Beyond It, and How We Copts May Have Gotten It Wrong

Iconostasis St Mary Atlanta Coptic Church

I was really surprised recently about hearing of many Coptic church members who decided to stop attending a particular church because the priest does not allow anyone among the laity to go beyond the iconostasis, as we Copts are (unfortunately) accustomed to.

Another situation came up recently as well, whereby a particular rank of the minor orders (I presume a chanter) was very upset by a request of the deacons (and I use this term loosely, referring to the minor orders of our church), that none should leave their position in the choir section of the church and stand behind the iconostasis during the service, unless they are engaging in a liturgical purpose, or unless otherwise they have received permission. Again I was greatly saddened to be reminded of a fact I had known but didn’t want to dwell on: most in the Coptic Church have forgotten where we should stand (and shouldn’t stand) in the church, and why that is the case.

What are we to think of this? Is the priest correct? Does he have any basis for his rule? What about the deacon? Should several deacons be allowed to rest or stand during the service behind the iconostasis? Continue reading