The Doors and God

You cannot attend an Orthodox service and not be aware of doors. There are the doors that form the center of the icon screen, opening directly upon the altar. There are the two doors that flank them, one on either side, known as the “Deacon Doors.” Someone always seems to be coming out of one and going into another. One visitor to my parish confessed that the service reminded her of a “cuckoo clock.”

“The door opens. Someone comes out and says something and goes back in again.”

I have to admit that I have never been able to rid my mind of her description. Doors are important things, even within the Scriptures. Their place in the liturgical life of the Church is important for all of the same reasons.

Doors hide things. “Behind locked doors,” has an almost ominous sound to it. They were clearly invented in the course of human history to keep animals, people and pests outside.

But doors also reveal things.

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” (Rev 4:1)

Indeed, one of the characteristics of revelation is that something must first be hidden in order to be revealed. That which always stands naked, open and available does not serve for revelation.

It is this character of hidden-and-revealed that serves as one of the main currents in the drama of Orthodox liturgy. The Christian faith is apocalyptic – it has always the character of that-which-is-revealed. Though we may employ reason in the consideration of the faith, we are nowhere promised that this is the true manner of coming to know what God has given to us. Instead, our faith is that-which-has-been-made-known. It is the revelation (apokalypsis) of that which is hidden (the mysterion).

I personally think that there is something within the human that is particularly attuned to revelation. We describe the experience by saying, “A light came on,” or “The coin dropped.” The movement between ignorance and knowledge in such situations is not a path. It is sudden and even jarring. We see when shortly before we were blind. I would suggest that the knowledge acquired in such a manner differs qualitatively from knowledge gained in other ways.

It is the instinct for such knowledge and experience that creates the theme of “the doors” in Orthodox worship. Some find the doors somewhat daunting and exclusionary. They announce, “You cannot go here!” a sentiment utterly contrary to our modern democratic sensibilities. But the exclusionary aspect of the doors always exists not to hide but to reveal. That which is closed will be opened – but the opening requires that they first be closed.

The universe presents itself as a closed door. As soon as we intuit structure and order, our efforts to make sense of things are rebuffed. The mystery of knowledge is not the perception of the obvious.

Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate and father of laser technology, self-described Protestant Christian, once observed:

“Understanding the order of the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are not very far apart.”

His own breakthrough invention of the “Maser” (using microwaves rather than light), came to him while sitting on a park bench. Work and study preceded it, but the idea itself came as an “Aha! moment” in his words. It is not unlike Archimedes famous cry of “Eureka!” (“I have found it?”).

Such moments do not come like the sum at the end of a math problem – they are rather like the dawning realization of how the math problem is to be done. It is knowledge of a different sort. And, unlike the sums, such moments are frequently life-changing. They are perceptions that change how we see things. A door that was closed has now been opened.

Doors also permit or restrict movement. St. Mary of Egypt’s famous conversion occurred in the experience of a doorway that would not yield to her sin. Entering can mean nothing if its refusal is not also a possibility. There is a hymn from Great Lent, sung first on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee:

Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life,
For my spirit rises early to pray towards thy holy temple,
bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
But in Thy compassion, purify me by the loving kindness of Thy mercy.

There is the thought within the Church that there must be a “place of repentance,” an opportunity that is never just a “given.” In our lives we can sometimes experience such catastrophic consequences in our actions that we cannot undo the harm we have done. No amount of asking forgiveness can make things right. It is among the most devastating places that anyone can reach. It’s for that reason that we pray for the gates or doors of repentance to be opened to us – that we might find a place and not be swept away in the tidal wave of our own destructive actions.

Most joyful, however, is the greatest entrance allowed by the doors – the entrance of God into our world and into our lives. It represents the deepest longing of the human heart: the return of the King and the restoration of all things.

Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory.  (Psa 24:7-10)

Perhaps the greatest moment in the Divine Liturgy comes when the Royal Doors open before the altar and the priest comes forth, carrying the Body and Blood of Christ with the words: “In the fear of God, and with faith, draw near!” It is the invitation to communion, a profound proclamation that our sins have been forgiven and that our union with God is at hand.

Such liturgical moments are profoundly true. The drama within the liturgy itself is made to serve the spiritual reality of the event. What they await is the corresponding movement within the human heart. Words alone are often not enough to open the door of the human heart itself. The dramatic portrayal adds yet one more plea from God in His invitation of love. Sadly, our hearts sometimes remain unmoved and the gates remain shut. It has always struck me as the greatest spiritual irony that the most recalcitrant locks that we encounter are those on the outside of the gates of paradise, those that insist to God that He remain beyond our world behind gates we have barred against Him. And there on the outside, we can rant and rage against all the injustice of our world and all that God has not done for us – or simply go about our business as though there were no paradise beyond those doors waiting to come forth.

59 comments:

  1. This is wonderful, and a lot to ponder over. The analogy comparing knowledge to how a math problem is to be solved and not simply (or necessarily) getting the answer to the problem is illuminating. However, that’s one thing if the math problem is simple arithmetic, another if it’s algebra, and yet another if it’s quantum mechanics. But it does make a lot of sense to me, and it rings true.

  2. Father, I have long wondered why we havve chosen to eliminate one door. “The doors, the doors, let the catechumens depart!”

    I had read about that aspect of Divine Liturgy before attending my first and was expecting it. I was astonished and a little bit disappointed when that did not happen.

  3. Michael,
    At least the words have not disappeared. It’s interesting, though, that, in some places a liturgical “innovation” has restored a bit of that early liturgical drama. It is something that I’ve seen increasingly across the Church (OCA) and is something we do in my parish. During the prayer for the catechumens, we open the doors into the altar, the catechumens come up to the ambo, the priest blesses them during those prayers. At “catechumens depart” they return to the congregation and the doors are closed. It helps put a focus on the catechumens (we always have a good number of them) and it puts them back into the “drama” of the liturgy in a visual manner that seems appropriate.

    Sort of interesting…and it works.

  4. Father, for me it was meant to preserve both the mystery and the value of what follows. One’s mind and heart had to be prepared to be present.

  5. Michael,

    My priest once told me that, while the Church does not require that non-members remove themselves now, there may yet come a time when that requirement is reinstated. I suppose we can simply give thanks for the Grace of God and the economia of the Church in this matter.

    Perhaps the most interesting door I had trouble finding was the one into the Church. Being Baptist, I wondered how one joined the Orthodox Church when there is no “altar call” in the service! It took some time for that door to open–and I had to go “knock” (ask) to even begin to understand the repentance and obedience that would open it.

  6. Thank you Father. This is a very useful, and rich, set of images and associations. Some reactions/thoughts:

    1. I giggled at the cuckoo clock. And that’s a great pic – I feel like that little boy a lot.

    2. If doors are slammed shut for too long (often not very long at all), a child will assume it’s not meant for them or uninteresting and wander off. Which makes me wonder what is it that makes a door intriguing rather than intimidating – hinting at the room beyond rather than sending a message “you are not meant to be here”?

    3. Following on from that, it’s interesting that a lot of children’s fantasy often surrounds doors and gates onto magical realms or hidden mysteries. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’s (LWatW) wardrobe is but one obvious example.

    4. Doors often have handles and locks and keys … We spend a lot of time searching for those. There’s even a slightly dark fantasy series on Netflix now called Locke and Key which has magical keys that do all sorts of things when inserted into doors (not Christian, but interesting motif in this context). Maybe Scripture and Liturgy partly work as keys (if one realizes there is a lock to be opened) and handles. Maybe part of the problem in the many misunderstandings and problems that arise come from people trying the wrong keys in the wrong locks, or not even realizing that a key is in fact a key and then what is actually for.

    5. I wonder whether there is an element of trust, or even faith inherent in the act of passing through an unknown door for the first time? The different childrens’ reactions both hearing of the wardrobe from Lucy then passing through it in different contexts when going into the wardrobe in the (LWatW) were very interesting. More generally, I like the hidden/reveal dynamic and you’re no doubt right about that, but I wonder whether maybe doors help us cultivate our sense of faith and trust?

    6. You’ve talked a lot about walls in the past. And rooms. Doors are spaces in walls and connectors between rooms. There is a deep set of functional and symbolic connections there.

    7. I was a little surprised at your lack of reference to Jesus’ own description of Himself as the gate (no doubt deliberate). But isn’t it the biggest hint of them all to the importance of doors? And in a similar vein, your quotation from Psalm 24 had me thinking that the Transfiguration was maybe a door being opened for a brief moment to see what is beyond.

    Anyway that’s more than enough for now. As you can tell, I am sure that this set of metaphors and ideas is going to bug me (another Father Stephen mind worm in the making!) for a long time to come and will probably settle into my mental landscape.

  7. I like the metaphor of the door because it shows the importance of not just space, but time. For a door to be closed and then opened requires the flow of time, the acceptance of time, and the remembrance of time. It necessitates history and future. It demands motion and change. In other words, mystery itself reveals that Christianity is not—and cannot be—limited to the present moment, but embraces all of spacetime.

  8. Ziton, good questions and examples.
    Others occured to me:
    St. Peter. The power to loose is clear but what of the power to bind?
    The Bridegroom Hymn, indeed Lent and Holy Week is a type of the heroic journeys to find the key so we don’t “get locked out of the Kingdom”
    Today’s magical keys seem to involve less journey–sometimes even none.

    I think there is an analogy here to the departure of the catechumens. There are days when I think to myself I should depart because of my unworthiness.

  9. And who is the one who knows how to untie all the complicated knots of our locked out in the darkness souls but the Theotokos! She contains the uncontainable and she is the door of salvation! She is the chalice!
    Father Stephen, is there a difference between the doors & the gates?

  10. Zoe,
    I’ve never thought about the difference of the two. A “gate” (pylein Greek) is like the “gateway” of a city – a gate for a thoroughfare. A door (thyran in Greek) is most commonly a door of a room or a house (and of a Church, etc.). It can be used in the same way as “gate” – which doesn’t help much. 🙂

  11. Zoe,
    to be honest, as a Greek, we’d think of the gate (Πύλη) as more of the arch through which you pass/enter – often thought of quite a grand thing (and not always closed by an attached door: it could simply be a doorless arch).
    A door (θύρα) on the other hand is the same as in English. It combines the notion of a door that opens or closes securely, as well as of an entry point like the “Πύλη”. The door (θύρα) is also sometimes assumed to be relatively smaller.

  12. Zoe, according to the online etymological dictionary https://www.etymonline.com/
    even in English and its predecessors there is little difference between ‘door’ and ‘gate’. The difference seems to be contextual. Also there is a size component as in Greek. The size distinction to me is that only one person at a time can go through a door(for the most part). But significantly more can go through a gate.

    As to the Theotokos, I was thinking the same thing as you.

  13. Ziton,

    Your comment made me remember someone I’ve not thought of in many years. When I was in nursing school doing my psychiatric rotation in a locked facility, there was a young man there, a patient in his early twenties. Though he rarely spoke, he had a childlike smile and didn’t engage in the usual bickering between patients. He spent his days standing in doorways, smiling and happy. But when he had to move from one location in the facility to another, it involved a series of fearful dashes from doorway to doorway. When he arrived at the new doorway, he stood relaxed and safe until the staff made him move on. Then another anxious sprint through the hall to the next doorway.

    In that the truth is written on our hearts, I wonder now if his behavior was symbolic of much more than any of us realized.

  14. Indeed Jamie, transitions can be difficult. The open door can be a thing to be feared.

    I’ve struggled for the longest time with the closed doors of my heart.

  15. Bryon, the importance of economia in the life of the Church is high. Evidence the poor Catholic priest in AZ who had 20 years of baptisms ‘invalidated’ because he spoke one wrong word. I cannot imagine such an outcome in the Orthodox Church. While economia can be used incorrectly we are a Church of mercy not law.

  16. Interesting Michael,
    The issue was the pronoun he used apparently. “We” baptize you instead of “I” baptize you.

    Father, as far as I remember neither pronoun is used in the Orthodox baptism. Is this correct?

    I’m sorry for this getting off topic.

  17. I’ve looked up a potential answer to my question to Fr Stephen, finding it in Fr Alexander Schmemann’s book,
    “Of Water and The Spirit” page 70. (a lot is going on before this point which is worthy of deep reading and prayer)

    When his whole body is thus anointed, the priest baptizes him, holding him upright, and looking toward the east, as he says: “The servant of God is baptized in the Name of the Father, Amen. And in the Name of the Son, Amen. And in the Name of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” At each invocation, he immerses him and raises him again.

  18. Father,
    Getting back to your topic, about what we want to call “knowledge” and what is revealed, I find it difficult to understand why some of our Orthodox brothers and sisters insist on “reading the times”. In Luke 17: 20-21, Christ clearly says:

    Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

    The implication to me is that it is not given to us to receive Christ’s warnings (involving the ‘birth pangs’ of the age to come– happening now, and has been happening since the resurrection), and then take our personal interpretation of that and “read into” the things of our times (politics, protests, wars) our observations that we are on the cusp of the “apocalypse”, which is popularly interpreted as the eschaton.

    The use of this term (apocalypse) I hear in the news seems quite different from what you show to be an Orthodox interpretation:

    Indeed, one of the characteristics of revelation is that something must first be hidden in order to be revealed. That which always stands naked, open and available does not serve for revelation.

    It is this character of hidden-and-revealed that serves as one of the main currents in the drama of Orthodox liturgy. The Christian faith is apocalyptic – it has always the character of that-which-is-revealed. Though we may employ reason in the consideration of the faith, we are nowhere promised that this is the true manner of coming to know what God has given to us. Instead, our faith is that-which-has-been-made-known. It is the revelation (apokalypsis) of that which is hidden (the mysterion).

    Father do I understand you rightly?

  19. Two things Dee:
    1. The “signs of the times” have always been with us especially spiritual wickedness in high places;
    2 The Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” because our Lord God and Savior is Incarnate, thus repentance reveals that Kingdom to us. Mt 4:17

    I like how you put your question on “reading the times”. A good question to contemplate. Few are exempt from the temptation to do so.

    Thank you.

  20. Michael Bauman,

    I’m not familiar with the specific situation you’re referencing, but Roman Catholics use the word “valid” in a way that is quite different, if that was indeed the word they used. If so, the situation is not easily comparable. Their use of the term “licit” is much closer (but not synonymous) to Eastern Orthodox use of the term “valid”.

    As for economia, that is a word that has also changed in usage dramatically, and unfortunately everything from day-to-day decisionmaking to rejection of the canons is lumped under that same term. Without getting too deeply into canon law, it should be duly noted that mercy and law are not opposed. Even the OT law was given by God, and Jesus Christ regularly told people not to disregard even the smallest part (Matthew: 23.23). One could say that law is mercy enshrined. This is perhaps why the word “legalism” is not found in the Scriptures (or canons, or Philokalia, or much anywhere else) but the word “lawlessness” is—on top of the mention of the “lawless one” (2 Thessalonians: 2.8–9).

    This is interestingly linked up with the OP, because doors are inherently lawful—perhaps even “legalistic”—and thus iconic of many points of God’s character. They are impartial, only unlocking when the key is properly provided (Acts: 10.34). They can be broken through with holy violence (Matthew: 11.12) and bypassed by unholy craftiness (John: 10.9), the latter to our detriment but the former to our salvation. And regardless of how we interact with them, the doors remain as witnesses (Luke: 19.40). It is no small wonder that doors—and laws generally—have been used to describe God Himself.

  21. Dee,
    Yes, I would agree. I believe (personally) that the desire to see, understand, predict, etc., is ultimately rooted (in our days) in the passion to “manage” the outcome of history (or at least see it coming). The disciples were clearly fascinated with the topic, even after the resurrection of Christ, and received “unsatisfying” answers at every turn – including a rebuke that basically said, “It’s none of your business.”

    “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” Acts 1:7

    It is worth underlining this statement. First, the times and seasons are in the hands of God (the Father has put them in His own authority). They are not in the hands of human beings. Those who are doing evil are doing evil and those who are doing good are doing good – but neither of them is in charge of the times and seasons – that belongs to God alone. Secondly, “it is not for you to know.” Thus, all claims to such knowledge is delusional (no matter how well-intentioned). It is simply a distraction from the truth of our life.

    This is why I write so repeatedly and insistently about doing “the next good thing.” It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s actually the only thing any of us ever do or can do. The outcome of our actions is in the hands of God.

    “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”;whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
    (James 4:13–16)

    “Apocalypse” as used in our current language is really drawn from the name of Revelations (The Apocalypse of St. John). It has lost its meaning of “something hidden being revealed.” I think its a good word when used in its original meaning – Christianity is inherently apocalyptic. The Kingdom of God has a hidden quality – and is then made known.

  22. JBT, Michael,
    I recall a bishop once saying that “the whole of our salvation is economia.” Often, in English, the word “economia” is translated “dispensation.” Thus we sing (in one of the Troparia) “glory to Thy dispensation, O Lord,” which is actually, “glory to Thy economia.” The same Bishop noted that we never sing, “Glory to Thy akrivia” (strictness).

    Of course, the term does get abused – treating economia as “loop hole” and adding up loopholes like the Pharisees of old who “fulfilled the Law” by cheating. The point is never the law. The point is our salvation. Even the law is given only for our salvation, never for its own sake. And, if we’ve lost sight of our salvation, then we make a mess of everything no matter what. But without the law (rules, guidance, rubrics, etc.) we would like not know where to start. Every doctor has to have some notion of what “healthy” looks like in order to know sickness when he sees it.

  23. Micheal, Dee, I’ll just say “wow” to that happening in the RCC…. I can’t imagine. …

    The point is never the law. The point is our salvation. Even the law is given only for our salvation, never for its own sake. And, if we’ve lost sight of our salvation, then we make a mess of everything no matter what. But without the law (rules, guidance, rubrics, etc.) we would like not know where to start. Every doctor has to have some notion of what “healthy” looks like in order to know sickness when he sees it.

    Amen, Father!

  24. Yes Father but having seen an abundance of doctors over the last 6 months I know that there are docs who tend to treat the symptoms of the disease and those that treat the person who has the disease. The second type does, IMO, more healing. Two very different doors.

  25. Regarding RC use of “invalid” here are the words that have been reported of the priest who has since resigned:

    “It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” he said. “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere … I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding,” Arango said .

    Mistakes and fails happen. As Father suggests above in his response to Michael and JBT, this isn’t how things are done in the Orthodox Church. The point is our salvation, and the Holy Spirit hears the prayer of the heart.

  26. Father,
    Also contemplating this further, it seems to me that the role of the presiding priest in Orthodoxy is as an icon of Christ, is different from the role (for want of better words) in the RC, is this correct? The role of the priest and their words are quite different from RC, including the priest’s words used in confession.

    Father, please forgive me, would you speak of this distinction to help clarify?

  27. Dear Father,

    In humility, for a friend and for me ,
    With the limitation of these words ,

    The One who neither speaks nor is spoken to, stands at that space of the door that your walking through

    May it blessed ,

    Thank you. Father

  28. Regarding the RC priest and invalid baptisms. The priest having gone to seminary and learning RC teachings, theology, scripture, liturgy, canon law, etc, I find it difficult to accept that he didn’t know his baptisms were invalid from an RC perspective.

  29. Dee,
    I really don’t know, since I’m not very familiar with RC teaching in the matter. I was surprised, actually, that the priest’s mistake was considered something that “invalidated” the Baptisms. Of course, you could get a rip-roaring argument going among the Orthodox if you asked just the right questions viz. Baptism. We’ve got our own messiness.

  30. Dee,
    an RC priest would be considered as persona Christi; in the person of Christ when celebrating the sacraments.

  31. Father, you are spot on pointing to the desire to “manage history”. In some ways that has been going on from the Fall on but it began to take the modern form around the time of the Renaissance. It is certainly a significant theme in Shakespeare including the often bloody consequences.
    Such an attitude is a total misconception of both history and humanity.
    Nietzche took the idea to the extreme.
    Certainly the political economy of the last 120 years is based on the possibility and desirability of the project. It is at the heart of the myth of progress.

    Forgive the metaphor stretch. I am in the middle of a Kansas blizzard. Wind, snow and cold all around. Makes my head spin to a bit.

  32. Thank you Fr. Stephen. It’s good to know the similarities and differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. From an RC perspective, when the priest baptises, it is Christ who baptises. Christ being the source of the priesthood.

  33. Andrew,
    In Orthodoxy, though you sometimes find speculations on these things, it’s never anywhere spelled out and described, certainly not in a dogmatic manner. We hold that Christ is the “great High Priest,” but precise descriptions of what is happening in the sacraments tend to be contrary to how Orthodoxy has historically approached these things. I often think that the habit of Medieval Catholicism was to say far too much.

  34. While it doesn’t actually refer to a door or doors, I was reminded by your essay, Father Stephen, of the loveliest of hymns:
    Your bridal hall I behold, my Saviour, made lovely
    But a garment I lack
    To enter therein;
    Make radiant the vesture, the vesture of my soul
    O Life Giver
    And save, and save me.

    It seems to me when we sing this we know without question what it means to be saved, what it means to knock and the door will be opened. We have only to ask. We have only to sing, to be part of this beautiful hymn.

    Thank you for your blog.

  35. Fr. Stephen,
    some aspects of RC thinking are, I think problematic. The scholastic mindset of defining more than can be known and the later idea of the development of doctrine, which justifies such things as the Filioque, Papal supremacy and infallibility amongst other things.

  36. Andrew,
    I’m aware that you’re on the road to Orthodoxy coming from the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps this is understood by you and others who were raised in the Roman Catholic Church.

    I have continued to follow the consequences of this current situation in the RC and discovered that any of those who were baptized in this manner and had been subsequently ordained are now facing their ordinations being invalidated. Weddings were performed and now they are under scrutiny all because of the pronoun used.

    I’ll admit I’m amazed.

    Father Stephen is also correct, we Orthodox have our messes too and worst, our fights. But it seems such actions only destabilize the church and parishes. Toward reconciliation, it seems that the parish in which this priest has worked is rallying behind him, even while he has already resigned. I find such love heartening.

    May God grant us peace.

  37. Father,
    Please forgive me regarding my continued attention to the development in the Roman Catholic Church. I find that it seems so different from the temperament and ethos in the Orthodox Church. And I don’t mean to say that there are not tenants and sacraments carefully followed in our Church, it is just that I haven’t seen a bishopric response of this sort to invalidate baptisms, weddings, ordinations, etc. Perhaps, however, I’m just not informed.

    Now, Father, I shall return to your topic of the doors and God.
    It has always surprised me when people from other confessions enter an Orthodox Church and insist upon receiving or become insulted when the Eucharist isn’t offered to them. There were those in my own family whom I had invited, who expressed their feelings of having been ‘insulted’. It was something that flummoxed me partly because I never held such a view myself. I just didn’t feel I was entitled. Even to my non-religious eyes in my first experience in the Orthodox Church, receiving the Cup seemed very intimate. Even if I was invited to in that early stage, I know I would not have come forth. Weeks later, when I finally had the courage (with ample loving support from a lady who would become my Sponsor/Godmother) to come up to the cross and kiss it, my willingness even in the moment surprised me. Indeed, I felt like a child (if not childish in my timidness).

    On my path to becoming a catechumen, I was acquainted with another catechumen who appeared to believe that it was their ‘right’ to receive the Eucharist and made quite an ongoing fuss about what they had to do (readings, catechism classes) to be received in the Church and to receive communion. They found the readings ‘useless’ and that they didn’t ‘move’ them. Frankly, I just didn’t understand this behavior. Why continue coming to the Church, if what is asked of them is so disregarded? They made it clear that they wanted access to the Eucharist, but not any of ‘this preliminary stuff’ because it was “unnecessary” according to them. They were ‘all- ready’ and ‘ought’ to receive the Eucharist, ‘now’. They were insulted.

    It seemed that the doors of their heart were locked from within. Never realizing this, once they finally came to the day when they were baptized, they were joyous on that day and they received the Eucharist. Then they stopped coming to services not long after that. Perhaps what they sought, they found, or perhaps not.

    This feeling of entitlement is an ongoing issue I believe. I believe it is a sort of entitlement that is inculcated in the other confessions, and results in the perception that the Orthodox Church is merely just another denomination. Even crossing from one jurisdiction to another in the Orthodox Church, I asked the presiding priests for their permission. I would not attempt to receive the Cup in another parish without their respective acceptance.

    When I was a catechumen, I left when the words were spoken that the catechumens leave. I wasn’t encouraged to do this by any parishioners or priests. And I returned when communion was over. I did this mainly because in my heart, I was still a scientist, becoming a Christian. There was so much that I questioned. I didn’t want to dilute my first experience of receiving the Cup, with a history and habit of standing at the side and watching, observing, questioning. Rather, I wanted to be like that child standing at the doors in the picture that you chose:

    “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will be no means enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

    Then that day came for me. I was baptized and began that walk to the Eucharist. Yes, I could barely reach the ‘handles’ of the door in my heart as I crossed hands in prayer. But what I lacked; the Lord provided:

    “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom…” (Luke 6:37-38)

    Glory to God.

  38. Dee,
    The essential issue (emotionally) is that of shame. When I’ve written about the “sin of democracy” I’ve had in mind our inability to bear inequality (such as hierarchy, etc.). Equality before the law is a very healthy and good principle. But “equality” as an actual state between people is never true. We are unique, which, by definition, excludes the notion of equality. Thus, that which is particular and unique must be suppressed in order to support a false application of equality. The Scriptures tell us that “one star differs from another in glory.”

    Grasping this requires a mature spirit and some level of humility (the ability to bear the shame of the truth of ourselves in the presence of God or others). Orthodoxy, in its liturgical life and structure, presumes that the acquisition of humility is good and important. Thus, we venerate things, and people, etc., learning to hold things and people in honor.

    Our culture, nurtured in a secular Protestant spirit, has acquired a sort of “spirituality” of equality which has a difficult time with humility and shame. That said, we should be very patient with those who come among us and chafe at this – it’s something to be expected and not really their fault. In time, by grace, it will change in them. If they’ve been injured with toxic shame, it may come slowly after a lot of healing.

    I have felt the sting of my pride throughout the years in many subtle ways. I’m far from immune.

  39. Dee,
    I was formerly a Roman Catholic. I was received into the RC Church as an adult in 1994 and left nearly three years ago.

    Regarding the invalidation of the said priests baptisms: As I pointed out in my previous post, I find it difficult to accept that he would not have known. A priests life and ministry is mainly sacramental, therefore the why’s and wherefore’s of how the sacraments are properly celebrated according to the RC Church are gone through academically and practically during priestly formation in a seminary.

    When celebrating the liturgy the priest should do what the Church does. It may seem legalistic on the surface, but most of the rules are there to safeguard against abuses and to make sure people receive valid sacraments.

    In Australia some years ago an RC priest was using the formula, I baptise you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier. There are some priests who have magical thinking and like to alter things in the liturgy to suite themselves and to curry favour with others. There are many problems because of this and the liturgy can become akin to entertainment, the priest drawing attention more to himself, than leading the people to God.

    Any men ordained who were baptised by this priest, their ordinations and any sacraments they celebrated are invalid. However marriage may be an exception. This is because the couple themselves confer the sacrament of marriage to each other through their consent to the marriage vows. The priest or deacon is a witness to the this. In an extreme situation, a lay person could baptise and witness a couples marriage vows.

  40. Dee,
    I forgot to mention that in the Roman Catholic liturgical books there are rubrics in read print, which give directions on what to do during liturgical celebrations. You really can’t go wrong, unless you ignore them and decide to change things according to your own will and ideas.

    I hope this has been helpful.

  41. Dee,
    I don’t know what God, Himself does in these situations, but from an RC teaching perspective it could be said, that the doors of grace are not opened because of an invalid formula used in baptism?

  42. Andrew,
    I don’t know how the RC Church thinks in such matters, but I imagine it’s a matter of not knowing for certain what happens versus the certainty of the normative sacramental formula. It always feels absurd to ask the question of what God Himself does, as if there were some precise form of words required to get Him to act in a precise manner – making it look like sacraments are magical spells in Hogwarts. It is, I think, instead a matter of maintaining a reliable consistency in things.

    For example, how far can someone deviate from the words of the Church and things remain “valid”? It’s an unanswerable question. Thus, it becomes a matter of strictness because it would become chaotic and absurd were it not.

    I know of Baptisms performed in an American Protestant Church where the celebrant used rose petals instead of water, and heaven only knows what words were used. I’m sure the effect was very “precious” but it’s not Christian baptism.

    Having said that, we cannot pretend to have some precise knowledge of the celestial mechanics of the sacraments. The Orthodox approach is to be faithful to what we have received and to do what we have been taught. That path has been the faithful life of the Church for 2,000 years. The other is a typical temptation of our contemporary world where as “managers” we always imagine ourselves able to improve things – even when we haven’t the slightest idea about what we are doing. An example being modern government. 🙂

  43. Fr. Stephen,
    you’re quite right in saying that having to the use of right words looking like magical spells. On the other hand there is another type of magical thinking that because of ordination, a person can muck about with formulas, because they are not as important as the person saying them. It does lead to liturgical chaos.

  44. Dear Andrew,
    Thank you for your explanation. Indeed, innovations in the Liturgy and sacraments are not the purview of priests in the Orthodox Church either. While there is some variety in the Orthodox Church in the calendar of feasts where some adhere to the Old calendar and some to the New, such were not innovations conducted by priests based on their own personal preferences. A recent innovation is the development of a ‘western’ rite in the Orthodox Church in the US. But this was not undertaken without prior approval of bishops and metropolitan. And the words spoken in the sacraments themselves are uniform across all jurisdictions as far as my experience goes (but I’ve only had experience in a couple of parishes).

    At the same time, I note that the use of personal pronouns is not used in such a way in the sacraments in the Orthodox Church as is seen in Roman Catholicism. (Father, if I’m wrong about this, please correct me). Furthermore, I haven’t heard a correction of a breach taken to such an extreme where subsequent ordinations or weddings of people having ‘invalid’ baptisms now find themselves with invalid ordinations and invalid weddings.

    Perhaps these things have happened in the Orthodox Church and I’m just not aware. Alternatively, perhaps such innovations and potential fallout are rare in the Orthodox Church because there is such strict adherence not to innovate. There is considerable sobriety with keeping the traditions.

    As Father Stephen mentions, there are indeed messes in the Orthodox Church. But the bishops and the metropolitans sort these out and call the shots what will be done and in a conciliar way.

  45. BTW I wrote my response before seeing Father Stephen’s. It took a while for me to write it and in the meantime Father Stephen responded. It was not my intention to ‘add-on’ what Father has written, having not first read it.

  46. Thank you Dee. Since the second Vatican council, there has been a lot of liturgical innovation.

  47. I think Psalm 103 KJV is indicative of many of the doors our God opens for us from the depths of His mercy. Especially vs 10-14.

  48. The doors to the Kingdom are everywhere. Some of them are uniquely tailored for a specific person. The key to those doors is the knowledge and/or belief that Jesus Christ is a real person.
    In my own journey I went through a lot of doors most people would not think of as doors to God.

  49. Thank you Michael! I enjoyed your reflections. I think they are true for many of us.

    I think for me that I believed in the resurrection (as odd as this might sound) before I had a tangible (for my heart) experience, and consequent consideration and belief inJesus Christ’s reality. For reasons of my personal history, that took more time.

    It’s easy to take gravity for granted without thinking about it. So it seems I originally took Resurrection for granted before the logical conclusion sunk in: therefore, there is and ever was, and ever shall be, Jesus Christ.

  50. “It is easy to take gravity for granted without thinking about it” Those words will rest in my heart Dee especially with troubles all around seeking to pen us in. Hard to hear the still, small voice in the middle of our heart calling us to thanksgiving and peace and mercy. Glory to Him who is.
    God grant us all great mercy.

  51. As anticipated this one has continued to proliferate. Enumerations continue from my last comment.

    8. William Holman Hunt’s famous “Christ Light of the World” painting has come up for me again https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Light_of_the_World_%28painting%29 . which is in part an illustration of this telling verse Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. In the picture the door Christ waits outside of does not have a handle representing the obstinately shut mind. The biggest doors are perhaps the ones our minds create to “protect” us from God? The closing paragraph of Father’s article is interesting in this light.
    9. I’ve been thinking about The Fellowship of the Ring outside the gates of Moria. Gandalf has tried all day every incantation and spell to open it in vain, and the company is now under attack from the swamp monster when it finally dawns on Gandalf that the instruction to open the door was literal and simple “speak friend and enter”. As he says the high elvish word for “friend” and they all pass through he comments that this (magic) door was erected in simpler times. The path sometimes feels like that to me – lots of frustration only to find out that the key was simple – if you know high Elvish 🙂 Actually, maybe more accurately you know a trusted authority figure who knows high Elvish!

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