The Shut Door

“I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come to him” (Revelation 3:20)

“The doors! The doors! In wisdom let us attend.” (Divine Liturgy, prior to the Creed)

The first reference is mystical, the revelation that Christ Himself awaits an invitation to the heart of every human being. He never intrudes or enters where He is not wanted or invited. The second is actual and practical, announcing to the doorkeepers that the non-baptized have been prayed for and now are to leave, because what follows is “for members only,” or at least it had been so in the early Church.

There are more doors: Those that separate vestibule from nave, and the doors or gates of the icon screen setting apart the sanctuary, the most sacred portion of the church. For many Americans, a door presents a challenge. We don’t like being kept out of places. The media exalts gate crashers. Humility is not a common practice. What is for the East, from the Mediterranean and Easter Europe to the Pacific Ocean, acts of reverence such as prostrations, bowing as a normal act of respect and lowering the eyes is foreign to those of our nation.

The fifth Sunday of Great Lent the Orthodox Church honors a woman who had the doors of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem barred to her entry. The shut door opened her conscience to the miserable state of her soul. Her narrative begins with her at age twelve running away from her home in the great city of Alexandria in Egypt. It’s all too frequent an occurrence in our time and nation, but she does not appear to be victimized, taken in by those who capture, abuse and misuse runaways, forcing them into lives of misery and humiliation. Mary, ironically bearing the name of the most pure and virtuous woman who ever lived, was a strong-willed, uninhibited type who plied her sordid trade shamelessly. For seventeen years, according to one account. She attached herself to a group of Christians on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Holy Cross. Assuming she could go anywhere, she approached the portal, expecting to venerate the Holy Cross with the others, but some powerful yet invisible force barred her way. She tried forcing her way twice, thrice, but to no avail. She then backed into a corner to sit and mull over her dilemma.

Her life of shame as a prostitute came as a blessed insight. She began weeping copiously for her sins, and it is written that she beheld an image of her patron, the Mother of God, near the doorway. She begged entry, went to kiss the Holy Cross, and that moment she changed her life entirely. The rest of the talk most Orthodox Christians know – how she met the priest Zossima then and spent many years later in the desert, where all her physical beauty was transformed into a woman of skin and bone, her hair below her knees, her texture deep brown from exposure to the sun.

Why such a radical, almost incredible and personal story on the last Sunday of Great Lent before Palm Sunday? A. Because it is so extreme, it speaks to those who believe their sin is so great even God cannot forgive them; B. It comes near the end of Great Lent, so that those even at the eleventh hour need not despair; C. It demonstrates the powerful gift of repentance; D. It displays the action of the Holy Spirit able to raise Lazarus dead four days, restoring Mary from her blindness to immorality to an extreme measure of penthos and return to purity of sainthood. If her, why not you or me? It’s never too late.