Why are the altar doors open on Pascha?
When are they closed and what does it mean?
2nd Sunday of Pascha; Thomas Sunday
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
As you can see, the doors are now closed. The doors were open for all of Bright Week, from the time of Pascha, all the way until we sang the first Sticheron of Great Vespers for St. Thomas Sunday. It happens to be in the first tone. It's from the Octoechos, so we would sing this every eight weeks we would sing this.
We sang "When the doors were shut," and then we shut the doors. Father Nicholas and I were a little bit tardy. It actually was on the next one that we shut them, but the meaning is still the same.
"When the doors were shut and the disciples were gathered together, Thou didst suddenly enter in, O our almighty Jesus our God, and standing in their midst and granting them peace Thou didst fill them with the Holy Spirit and didst command them to wait and in no wise to depart from Jerusalem until they were invested with power from on high. Wherefore we cry out to Thee, O our Enlightenment, Resurrection and Peace, glory be to Thee."
There's actually two different usages, the one that I had learned before was to shut the royal doors before Vespers begins on Saturday night. But Vladyka Peter told me about what they do, and I find it to be very meaningful, that when we say "when the doors were shut" then we shut them at Vespers. And since Vespers is a transition from the previous day to the next, it's appropriate at that time.
Now what does it mean for the doors to be shut? Well, what does it mean for them to be open? Normally they're shut. Why were they open for Pascha? They are open because it is a sign of God's grace overflowing and filling us. Really, all things are made new on Pascha, and God's grace is apparent to all.
Now, there's an unfortunate fact of our human nature, and that is, if we are not careful, if we stop struggle for a period of time, we become lazy and we become forgetful and we can fall into despondency and all manner of sins. It's not because God will not help us if we do not struggle. It is because our nature is such that we need to struggle. It's just human nature. When you stop struggle, you go backwards, not forwards.
So the doors are open for all of Pascha. We don't fast for all of the Paschal Bright Week. And then the doors are closed. And we return to normal fasting as of tomorrow or the next day, really, Monday, because then we will have normal fasting rules from then on. So Wednesdays and Fridays we won't eat meat and cheese and eggs, except we will be able to have wine and oil throughout all of Pascha. This still shows something of the Paschal joy.
All of these things are not just minutia of rules, but they are all things that should remind us about ourselves and about God. When the doors are open, we feel the Paschal joy. When they are closed, we realize this is because of us, because we get lazy and because without struggle we will fall away from God.
And also it means another thing, another tragic thing. But this tragedy can be rectified. It is rectified by the Resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ. And that tragedy is that we cannot receive all of the Grace of God that He wishes to give us. We're too weak for it. It is as if we have weak eyes and we go out into the sun and we must close our eyes or shield them because it is too bright. The Grace of God is too bright, too holy for us because we are not holy. But over time we become capable of having all of the Grace of God that He wishes to give us and containing it in ourselves.
But now we are not ready. So the doors are closed. It's always kind of a sad time for me but a very instructive time. I'm not ready for all of the Grace of God that He wants to give me. Neither are you. But we will become ready if we struggle, if we pray to God, if we fast at the appointed times and pray at the appointed times. Not because there are ten rules that we need to follow or ten thousand, but because of our desire for knowing God. Then, yes, we will become perfected, and the doors will always be open in the Kingdom.
May God bless you and help you.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2011
Transcribed by the hand of Helen; May God save her and her loved ones.
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