“THE DOORS! THE DOORS!”
Deacon: “The doors! The doors! In wisdom, let us be attentive (ἐν σοφίᾳ πρόσχωμεν)!”People/Choir: “I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...“ (Byzantine Divine Liturgy)
In today’s liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox and other Slavs, or Slav-influenced churches, at the command, (originally meaning to close and/or guard) “The Doors,” the curtain of the Holy/Royal Doors of the iconostasis is drawn open, while the Holy/Royal Doors remain closed, as they have been since the end of the Great Entrance. But in Greek Orthodox practice today, nothing happens with the “doors” at this moment, as they usually remain open throughout the Divine Liturgy. And this is one example of how things have changed, both in our Church and (consequently) in our “ancient” liturgical rite.
Throughout the complicated history of this command’s evolution and its perception in liturgical piety, the command to “close” came to mean to “open.” Here is how St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains this moment, by the mid-14th c.: “Then the priest again commands everyone to proclaim what they have learned and believe about God: the true wisdom… In this wisdom he orders us to open all the doors, our mouths, our ears. Open in this wisdom, he says, proclaiming it and listening to it constantly… And they recite aloud the whole confession, the symbol of faith.”
The command to guard “the doors,” initially meaning the doors of the church, which were closed after the dismissal of the catechumens, originated in a Church concerned with guarding her “doors” from “outsiders,” during the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery (lest the catechumens tried to sneak back in? ☺). In later times, from the post-iconoclastic period until rather-recently, as the chancel-barrier before the sanctuary developed into a full iconostasis, the command came to be understood as referring to the doors of the iconostasis, which were to be “guarded” and “guarding” from the eyes of the faithful, the laypeople, in the nave of the church.
But today, as we see reflected in the practice of the Greek Orthodox, and also in the opening of the curtain amongst the Slavs, the prevalent pastoral concern of our Church tends to be about “opening” doors, rather than “closing” or “guarding” them. And this, I’d like to suggest, is a sign of strength; a sign of the Church’s growth, in the ever-unfolding “wisdom” of the Holy Spirit, throughout the ages and even up to our time. Thank You, Lord, for opening to us the “doors” of Your wisdom, as You see fit, in and through our ever-unfolding, beautiful Tradition.