What is a tabernacle and what purpose does it serve?

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A tabernacle is a sacred vessel for keeping the Holy Gifts — the Body and Blood of Christ. The Holy Gifts are prepared on Holy Thursday and used for the entire year. They are used for communing the sick and dying outside the church. The tabernacle is always located on the altar. It is also called a monstrance, ark, zion, or sepulchre.
History of the Tabernacle
Small reliquaries for keeping the Holy gifts have been known since the first half of the third century. During the Divine Liturgy, members of the early Christian church placed into holy vessels particles of the Body of Christ dipped into His Blood, so that they could receive Holy Communion at home for themselves or their kin.
The first tabernacle in the full sense of the word was perhaps the Eucharistic Dove. Saint Basil the Great, a fourth-century saint, suspended a metal figure of a dove above the altar, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. During the blessing of the Holy Gifts, the Dove would flutter its wings. In later years, eucharistic doves began to be used at other churches. They were hollow and had an opening for the Holy Gifts.
Eventually, small rectangular reliquary boxes succeeded the doves. With time, it became the practice to embellish them and use a variety of shapes – churches, censers, belfries, the Ark of the Covenant, scenes from the Sacred History, etc.

Great and Holy Week... and you seem to Disappear!

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It is impossible to understand, to emotionally depict, or imagine the meaning of the words, by our sins we crucify Christ.  And we probably ought not to attempt it.  However, it is impossible for a person who believes in Christ not to feel that way towards the end of Lent, during Holy Week.  For, during Lent we are going up to Jerusalem.  And the further along we get, the more serious it becomes, the more insistent does the Church become in reminding us about it in its Sunday Gospel readings.
On Palm Sunday, we become like them, the people of two thousand years ago, who with branches of palm trees exclaimed “Hosanna!”  Christ enters Jerusalem, and we enter the Holy Week, mystically, but in a very real way.  For Great Lent allows us to experience spiritual life as a genuine reality.  For a person, it becomes an encounter with a reality that can neither be felt, nor described.
An instant, and eternity is before us.  Suddenly we are near, and Holy Week is speeding past us.  Possibly, only the poet Pasternak could have described the reality, with which it happens in a person’s life, how people actually experience it within themselves.

Wisdom from Saint John of the Ladder

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The vision of a ladder connecting earth to heaven is found in the story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis (28:12). Jacob, while in a dream, saw a ladder reaching to heaven on which angels were ascending and descending as a sign of divine revelation. In the Gospel of John, Jesus mentions Jacob’s ladder and proclaims that He himself is the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Christ in His person and ministry is the supreme revelation of God’s being and truth in history.
Later Christian thinkers used the metaphor of ladder to speak of Christian life as a spiritual ascent. In the seventh century a man named John, the abbot of the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai, wrote an entire book with the title The Ladder of Divine Ascent featuring thirty steps (for the years of Jesus up to His baptism) by which a Christian could ascend to a life of perfection. John became known as St. John Klimakos (“of the Ladder”). The book is a classic in Christian spirituality.

"Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"

Mathew 28:19