JT and Ben are my two eldest sons (well, developmentally anyway) and the two most enamored with Orthodoxy because they are at a great age to be able to make some serious observations and draw their own conclusions. I've had many a delightful conversation with them regarding our exodus from the CEC and entry into Eastern Orthodoxy. Yesterday we were discussing the altar arrangement. Ben commented that he feels like the altar is a much more personal and accessible place than it ever was for him in the CEC. I noted that this was an interesting observation since many on the outside would think the opposite to which he replied, "Yes, I know, because of the iconostasis. I know that it doesn't make sense because the people can't really even see what goes on but somehow it just seems a lot more personal to me." At that point we teased him a bit because he does serve on the altar now so he gets "good seats...er...standing spot".
I agree with Ben and expecially cherish all the times the priest comes into our midst during the processions. In fact, I've noticed the 5 year old, John Michael, practically sitting on his hands when the priest comes by to avoid reaching out and touching him. I encouraged him to go ahead and touch the priest's vestments. If there is an urge so strong in him to touch the holy, to be part of the service of the Divine Liturgy, then I want him to feel, to smell, to kiss, to experience. How else will his 5 year old self ever come to love standing up for 2 hours of chanting and praying?
When I discussed it with Tad later he pointed out what we were all feeling intuitively, but had neglected to notice consicously - that the Orthodox priest stands with the people before the altar. In the CEC, modeled after the RC church, the priests gathered on the opposite side of the altar from the people. During the Eucharistic Liturgy this took on almost a feeling of a judge standing behind his bench, facing the people, ready to meet out judgement. In fact, Tad commented that, as a priest, he struggled to face the people throughout the liturgy. He felt almost as if he were some sort of director of a play trying to get his actors to perform for the Holy Spirit. With the priest facing the altar with us we all focus in the same direction. If it is anyone from whom we seek attention during the liturgy, it is God Himself, not the priest. All present, including the priest, present ourselves as a sacrifice to God, each on equal footing with the other.
It almost makes me weep to think of this. Something within me stands with John in wanting to reach out, to touch, to kiss, to experience the holy things of God for myself, unhindered by the priest's directorial assent.