Opening and Closing Doors

Opening and Closing Doors

July 14, 2022

Before I was ordained a priest, I wanted to make certain that the Orthodox Church, and in particular, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which I was raised, was the right place for me to carry out my calling to the ordained ministry. Chicago, my home and where I was living at the time while in graduate school, is a wonderful city, replete with numerous ethnic communities that boast a plethora of religious communities. For almost one year I was privileged to visit numerous churches and temples and witness the religious services of prayerful worshippers. For me, I was quite sure that I wanted to be part of Christ’s family, and so it was early in my search that I decided that a non-Christian group was not for me.Although, you do not completely understand the full context of the word worshipping, or the richness of American diversity until you have seen a Hindu priest conduct a puja service complete with pouring milk on a statue of a deity, or been invited to a Hasidic bar mitzvah service, or gotten caught up in the rhythm of chanting Buddhist monks. And so, after praying with Southern Baptists (wow, can they preach!), high-church Episcopalians (who celebrate the divine services with great reverence), Coptic Christians (who love their incense), Lutherans (beautiful Christmas Carols – made my mother cry when she went with me) and other denominations – I returned home, contented, to the Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and submitted to ordination. As a younger man who saw almost everything in black and white (very few shades of grey), I decided to firmly close the door on being an adherent of another faith and open the door wide to a familiar faith.

Deciding to open and close doors is a subject that others have contemplated. Thomas Merton was a twentieth-century Roman Catholic monk of the Trappist order. He is best remembered as a theologian, writer, and social activist. He was particularly interested in comparative religions and studied Eastern (non-Christian) religions extensively. Merton told an edifying story about learning to close and open doors. “Once he [Merton] met a Zen [Buddhist] novice who had just finished his first year of living in a monastery. Merton asked the monk what he had learned during the course of his novitiate, half expecting to hear of encounters with enlightenment, discoveries of the spirit, perhaps even altered states of consciousness. But the novice replied that during his first year in the contemplative life he had simply learned to open and close doors.

Learned to open and close doors.’ The quiet discipline of not acting impetuously, of not running around slamming doors, of not hurrying from one place to another was where this novice had to begin (and perhaps end) in the process of spiritual growth. ‘Learned to open and close doors.’ Merton loved the answer.”[1]

Very often this website receives emails from LGBT individuals or their family members or friends seeking advice about opening and closing doors. They question remaining part of the Orthodox Church, keeping that door to their faith open. These seekers ask for help about how to remain truthful to who God created them to be while being faithful members of the Church they love. Or do they close the door on their sexual orientation and who God made them to be? Do they close the door to the person they, and to whom they have made a lifetime commitment? Do they close the door to the Orthodox Church, the Church they grew up in, or discovered and love? If they do decide to close the door, where should they go to find an open more welcoming one?

I would suggest that instead of closing doors, we open them.

We open the door to the truth that God loves us. We open the door to the truth that God created us in His image, with His love, and grants us His grace, His mercy, and His forgiveness. Many in the Orthodox Church want us to leave and close the door behind us. I wish that would change and I do not know if it ever will. But Christians are a people of hope and a people who should always have the door open. Because with God “all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

“Knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

[1] Taken from “Merton as Zen Clown” by Belden C. Lane, published in Theology Today 46:3 October 1989

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