As we continue our reflections on the names and titles of Jesus, we have two more of the “I am” sayings that are found in St. John’s Gospel to reflect on. We have already reflected on the fact that Jesus speaks about himself simply as “I am—Egō eimi,” and we mentioned, of course, many times, that this “I am” is the divine name. It’s the name that the Lord God Almighty, the El Shaddai, the Most High, speaks to Moses in the Pentateuch. That the Lord says, “I was known among you as El Shaddai, the Most High God, the Most High, the Elohim, but now I will be known as Yahweh, which means ‘I am, I am who I am.’ ”
So Jesus says: before Abraham was, I am; when I am lifted up, you will know and see that I am; unless you believe that I am, you will perish in your sins. So that “I am” is like a loaded, it’s a very loaded expression in the Bible generally, and certainly in the New Testament when Jesus, in John’s Gospel, in St. John’s Gospel, applies it to himself.
But then there are the other “I am"s with predicate nominatives: I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. You have these “I am"s: I am the good shepherd. So we have these, and now, today, we want to reflect on one of these “I am"s with a predicate nominative, and, of course, it comes from St. John’s Gospel. They all do; all the “I am” sayings come from St. John’s Gospel, but this particular saying comes in the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and it is indeed the very chapter in which Jesus does say, “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”: you have this there in St. John’s Gospel.
But in the beginning of the Gospel, this is what is written. I’ll read from the Revised Standard Version first. It’s written (John 10):
“Truly, truly, I say to you: He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. The stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he speaks specifically. He says:
So Jesus spoke to them again: “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
Now let’s remember that that particular phrasing is found nowhere [else] in Scripture, and, in fact, the scholars think, as we mentioned before, that that particular way of speaking is absolutely unique to Jesus. No one else speaks that way. When a prophet speaks, he expects the people who hear him to say, “Amen, truly, verily, this is the truth.” When a teacher teaches, it’s the disciple who has to say to the master, “Amen. What you say, master, is true.”
“Amen” means “so be it.” So in Greek you have Jesus saying many times, again in St. John’s Gospel, he begins by saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you—Amēn, amēn, legō ymin,” translated in the RSV as, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” In the King James, it’s “Verily” that’s used: “Verily, verily, I say to you.” Sometimes they just don’t translate it; it’s just “Amen, amen, I say to you.”
And that means, as we have already mentioned several times, that there is no discussion, that this is not a sentence for discussion. This is a statement that I say “Amen” before I even say it, which means what I am saying to you, I am not looking for your Amen. Jesus isn’t looking for our Amen to him. Later on, we will even reflect on the fact that one of the titles of Jesus is the Amen. The Amen is a title of Christ in Scripture; we’ll talk about that later: our Amen to God is Jesus.
Here we have him saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you.” So what he’s saying is, “What I am saying is the truth. It’s the categorical truth. It’s not debatable. It’s not negotiable. I’m not asking for your agreement. This is my clear, categorical teaching that I affirm as the absolute truth and reality of things, and I do it by beginning by saying ‘Amen, amen, I say to you. Truly, truly, I say to you.’ ” So then he says again:
“Truly, truly, I say to you: I am the door of the sheep.”
Or it could also be translated: “I am the door of the sheepfold. I am the door of the flock, where the sheep are, where they are gathered together.” It says literally, “Egō eimi hē thyra tōn provatōn—I am the door of the sheep.” So the sheep go through this door: “I am the door of the sheep.” Then he says:
“If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”
And that’s a categorical expression. If you go my way, if you go through me, if you go by way of me, if you go on the path that I open to you, if you enter into the house or into the vineyard or into the flock area or into the pasture, into the temple that I lead you though, you will be saved.
“If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
“I came that they may have life and have it in abundance”: it’s just an amazing sentence. And then it continues:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
So he begins by saying that he is the door, and he moves into saying that he is the good shepherd. I think just for the record, so to speak, and for our edification here, illumination, let’s read it from the King James version. In the King James, it says that Jesus said these words about the sheep and following the shepherd and so on. It says:
Jesus spoke this parable unto them, but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
Then the King James continues:
Then said Jesus unto them again: “Verily, verily, I say unto you: I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door.”
And here you have simply “I am the door,” not “I am the door of the sheep,” but “I am the door,” period: “Egō eimi hē thyra—I am the door.”
“By me, if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and shall find pasture. The thief cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy. I come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.”
And then he continues: “Egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos—I am the good shepherd.”
Let’s think about this imagery of the door. Actually, in Greek, there are two words that are used interchangeably for “gate” or for “door.” One is “thyra,” which you have here, and that’s the word that we use in church, Orthodox people use in church for the doors on the icon screen, the doors into the temple itself, the doors into the church building. That would be the word “thyra.” For example, at the Divine Liturgy, when the doors of the nave are to be closed and only the faithful are to be present for the Holy Eucharist, the deacon—or if there is no deacon, the priest, the presbyter—says, “The doors, the doors! In wisdom, let us be attentive!” or “Let us attend!” “Tas thyras, tas thyras!—the doors, the doors!” So it just means a door, like a regular door. That’s what that particular word means.
But there’s also another word, “pylē, hē pylē,” which is also translated in the Bible as “door,” and sometimes it’s translated as “gate.” Sometimes even the word “thyra” is translated into English as “gate.” For example, the doors in the iconostasis in the church, we can call the royal doors or the heavenly doors or the kingly doors, or the deacon’s doors, the side doors that the deacons go in and out of in the service, but sometimes they can also be called the gates: the heavenly gates.
My own opinion here is that those two words are simply synonymous. I don’t think that there’s any particular connotation, one with the other, except, perhaps—maybe this is not accurate, but perhaps—“door,” the word “thyra, door,” that can mean just like a door into a room, or a door into a building, whereas “pylē” can mean like a gate, a gate in a fence. For example, in English, if we were passing by a fence and wanted to go into some territory that was fenced, we wouldn’t say, “I’m going through the door”; we’d say, “I’m going through the gate.” So fences have gates, and houses and buildings have doors.
But the meaning, obviously, essential meaning, is really the same. It’s just the same. So, for example, in the Bible, if we didn’t bother [ourselves] too much about the difference between “gate” and “door,” and understood them as pretty much being the same thing, you see how many times that symbolism of the gate is used. It’s interesting that on the very first pages of the Bible and on the very last pages of the Bible, you have the imagery of gates and doors being used.
In the Genesis stories, where you have Adam and Eve, the earth creature and the mother of the living, being created by God, and God breathes his breath into them and makes them in his own image and likeness, male and female, then he places them in Paradise—but then we know when the first humans sin, and when the humanity from the very beginning apostatizes against God, rebels against God, does not obey and love God, then they’re put out of Paradise into the present world, as St. Basil says in the Liturgy, that the Lord let them go outside Eden, outside Paradise—and then it speaks about a gate.
It speaks about an angel being put in front in front of the gate: the gates of Paradise, the doors of Paradise, that you cannot enter in again, and you’ve got to be saved, you’ve got to be redeemed, you’ve got to be forgiven, you’ve got to be healed, so that you can enter through that gate again. And here, right from the very get-go, right from the very beginning, in Genesis, Christians reading all of that would understand that the gate we can pass through to enter again into Paradise, to participate again of the Tree of Life, is Christ. So that very gate already, the gate of Paradise in the Holy Scripture, we Christians would sort of automatically, organically connect to this, these words in St. John’s Gospel. When Jesus says, “I am the door,” we realize he’s the door to Paradise! He’s the door that leads us into the Paradise of God, where we can participate of the Tree of Life and live forever in communion of God.
But then you have the gates being used other ways, and doors used other ways in the Holy Scripture. For example, you have when the Hebrews, the Jews, are going through the desert, you have the door of the camp, and only the righteous could go into the door of the camp, and when the people had violated the law of God, they were put outside the gate. They were put outside the door; they were not allowed to enter into the camp.
Then you had the doors on the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle that was built. Who could enter into the doors? And through some of the doors, only Moses could go. Not everyone could go through the doors. And you have the teaching that only the righteous enter through those doors, and the sinners have to be cast out from the doors, they’re not allowed to enter in.
Then you have the door of the Temple itself, probably one of the most wonderful [passages] that you find in Ezekiel, that there’s the door facing the East. We’ll talk about that in a minute more specifically. But this gate facing the East that the kabod Yahweh, the glory of the Lord passes through. And then that gate is shut and no one can enter into it, because the Lord has used that gate. And so the princes and the kings and the priests have to use the other door, the north door, not the east door. So there is this symbolism of the gates of the Temple.
And then, of course, you have the gates of Jerusalem in the Scripture. And then in the New Testament, you also have the gates of Jerusalem. And the horrible thing in the New Testament about the gates of Jerusalem is that our Lord Jesus Christ is crucified, according to Scripture, outside the gate. He goes outside the gate. He’s put out of the city. The one who is himself the Gate of the heavenly Jerusalem is himself cast out. He can’t go through the gate. Outside the walls, outside the gate, outside the camp. He goes out there with the unrighteous who are rejected, in order to become himself the Gate or the Door by which they will then, being forgiven and redeemed, be able to enter again into Jerusalem.
This is, of course, also, like everything in the New Testament, [having] its prefigurations in the Old Testament. For example, in the psalm—and it’s very interesting that this psalm that I’m going to quote now is 118, according to the Hebrew numberings—and that is that psalm of praise. It’s a Hallel psalm, I think they call it, the praise psalm, and it’s a very important psalm in the Orthodox Church, because it is like the Paschal psalm. It’s the psalm where the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever, and we call out to the Lord, and all the enemies are cut off, and then you have, it’s the glad songs of victory, the right hand of the Lord that does valiantly, the right hand that is exalted. Then you have the line “I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord” and “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” which is the Paschal prokeimenon in the Orthodox Church, the main psalm verse for the Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ.
Then you have that very famous line: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” but it’s not only “come,” but “enter”: “Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.” And here you have Jesus, also, entering the city of Jerusalem as the King, going through the gate. I think he goes through the gate called Beautiful on Palm Sunday. I’m not sure, but I think so. Then he enters into the Temple; he goes in through the gate into the Temple, and that particular line is used on Palm Sunday. It’s also used on Epiphany: “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us. Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord” or “comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.”
Well, in that psalm, you also have the imagery of the gate being used. It’s the 19th and 20th verses. It says, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord. The righteous shall enter through it.” So we Christians, when we hear sentences like that, we think of the gates of Paradise; we think of the gates of the Temple; we think of the gate of the Holy of Holies within the Temple; we think of the gate of Jerusalem; and, of course, we should mention right away, we think of the gate of the heavenly kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Then, of course, we know that in the Book of Revelation, that imagery of the gate is used because in the Temple in the heavenly Jerusalem, and in the heavenly Jerusalem itself, according to the Holy Scripture, and this is how the Bible ends; it begins with the gates of Eden in Genesis; it ends with the gates of God’s Temple and God’s kingdom in the Apocalypse, in the Book of Revelation, but it says very specifically that there are no gates there. There are no doors there, in that heavenly kingdom. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come, let everyone who can enter, come” (Revelation 22:17).
The Lord by grace opens up the gates to all sinners if they will accept forgiveness and admit their sins and glorify God. They can enter in with no gates whatsoever. So what you find written in the Book of Revelation where it says about the temple and the heavenly kingdom, in fact, it even says that there is no temple in the city (Revelation 21). It had a great high wall with twelve gates, and the gates had the names of the angels, and the gates were similar to the [Temple in Jerusalem]. It’s prefigured in the Jerusalem Temple: three gates on each side, four sides, twelve foundations. The twelve are the apostles of the Lamb, but then it says that all the gates are open. All the gates are removed. In the temple of the Lord, there is no temple. The Lord God is Almighty and the Lamb of God is there. There’s no night there, and [the kings of the earth] shall bring [into it the glory and honor of] the nations.
It says that nothing unclean shall enter it, but the Lord invites everyone to enter into that reality of God’s coming kingdom. So then you have, for example, in almost the very last line of the Bible, it says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life, and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Outside those gates are the dogs, the sorcerers, the fornicators, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. The imagery takes us right back to Genesis, that they may have the right, the privilege, the boldness, to approach the Tree of Life.
When you hear in the Psalms, sentences like, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord,” that’s eucharistic language. “Give thanks” is “efcharistein—to give thanks.” So we go into the church building. We enter into the Holy of Holies. The royal gates and doors of the icon screen are open. We have access to the altar of God, like it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, that you enter in, following the one High Priest, Jesus Christ, and everybody enters in. And then it says, “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.”
Well, St. John tells us that gate is Jesus himself. Here, again, you have, very similar to the other “I am” sentences, that not only Jesus speaks about the gate when he says, for example, on the Sermon on the Mount, “Enter by the straight gate; enter by the narrow gate. The way is hard and the gate is narrow that leads to life,” so he uses the gate as the imagery; he not only says that we have to enter the sheepfold by the gate—you have even other things where he says, “I stand at the door and knock” or “He who stands at the door will [have it] be opened to them” and “I will open to you the gates, and you shall enter into the kingdom”—but he says, “I am the gate.” Here you have it again.
We spoke about this before, like when Jesus says… He doesn’t say, “I show you the truth”; He says, “I am the truth.” He doesn’t just speak the words of God; he is the Word of God. He doesn’t just illumine people; he is the Light which illumines them. He doesn’t simply show the way; he is the Way. And he does not only indicate the gate into salvation, the gate of righteousness, the gate of the house of God, the gate of the Lord—all these are biblical expressions—the gate of the New Jerusalem, the gate of Paradise—he doesn’t only show that gate. He not only is the one who opens up that gate, that he is not only the one who allows us to enter through that gate—but he is the gate. He is the gate himself.
He says, “I am the gate. I am the door. I am the door of the sheep. If the flock are going to enter through the gate, I’m not only the good shepherd, I’m the door by which they enter.” And then he says, in St. John, these kind of terrifying sentences, where he said, “Who does not enter the sheepfold by this door but climbs in another way is just simply a thief and a robber.” So what he’s saying is: “There isn’t any other door. I’m the only door there is. Any other door leads to perdition.” Just like any other way leads to perdition. And those other doors and ways are broad, that lead to destruction, as he says in the Sermon on the Mount.
But the door and the way, the road and the door and the gate that leads into God’s kingdom, into the Paradise of God, into the tabernacle of the holy, into the Holy of Holies is narrow, and few there be who find it, even, it says in Scripture. But he says, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd.” So as the good shepherd, he’s the first one to walk through the door, but the door that he himself also is. And, of course, we could remember at this point that he’s also the Lamb.
He’s not only the shepherd, he’s not only the door of the sheepfold, but he’s also the sheep! He’s everything! And, basically, that is our conviction: that Jesus is everything. Anything you can name and think of, Jesus is. He is it, perfectly, hypostatically, that’s what he is, and we have to follow him through that gate, and through that gate that he himself is. And he says, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and go in and out and find pasture.”
Here, having affirmed these things, and it’s biblical teaching, so very clear, we have a few other things that we can reflect upon now, just in a few minutes. One is that you have this absolute teaching of the Christian faith of the uniqueness of Jesus. He’s not one of the truths; he is the truth. He doesn’t just show the way to life; he is the way and he is the life. He doesn’t just give the words; he is the Word. And here we would say he is also the unique Gate. There aren’t any other gates. He is the only gate. So if you’re saved, you enter by him.
When we hear things like this, immediately come to our mind sentences like this: “No one can come to the Father except by me. No one can be saved, even, except by me. No one can enter into life and into light and into truth except by me.” So there’s this great exception. He is the one and the only one. And we’ve said many times that he’s not one among the ways; he’s not one of many windows or doors; he’s not one of many words. He is the unique one and, in a sense, the only one that there is. There isn’t any other. It’s only by his name; only by him are we saved. If a person is saved, they are saved by him and no other way.
However, we’ve got to say right away; [it’s] very important, that that does not mean, at all, that if a person’s not a Christian, they can’t be saved. It doesn’t mean at all that if you do not accept Jesus as your personal savior in this life before you die that you’re going to burn in hell. It doesn’t mean that. The holy Fathers clearly teach, beginning with St. Paul in Romans 2, that what is being taught here is this: if a person does know anything about God and his kingdom, they only know it by way of Jesus. They only know it by way of him who is the Word and the Wisdom and the Light of God.
So there may be people who are hungering and thirsting to enter into God’s kingdom, but they don’t know where it is; they don’t know how it works. As St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, they don’t know the teaching. They’ve never heard it. And we know that there are plenty of people who never heard the Gospel, either the Gospel of the Old Covenant or the Gospel of the New, because we should remember that the Old Covenant is nothing but a series of gospels: glad tidings of God’s victories of enemies. It’s all through the whole Bible. The Old Testament is a good news and a glad tidings as much as the New Testament is. It’s not that the Old Testament is Law, the New Testament is Gospel. It’s all Gospel! It’s all grace. It’s all faith, beginning with Abraham himself. He believed God, and it was accounted righteous.
And the good news was that God was the savior, that the only savior the Jews had was God. The only one who kept them going and kept them from being destroyed and gave them the land and promised himself in fidelity—this is the sheer grace of God; it’s not for the righteousness of the people at all, certainly not for the righteousness of the Jews and of Israel. Oh my goodness—just read the Bible! God is faithful and graciously saving them all the time, even when they don’t deserve it. They never deserve it. We never deserve it. Nobody ever deserves it. So this is our conviction.
However, we must say right now, and we will say right now: there are people who don’t know about that at all. Never heard about it. And, alas, as St. Paul also says in Romans 2, there are people who heard it all screwed up. They didn’t hear it in the right way at all. They heard a version of the Bible and of Christianity that no one in their right mind would want to follow. And how many people are peddling that now?
Have you ever heard Richard Dawkins list about how God is in the Bible? Oh my goodness! If that would be true without qualification, no one would want to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s just a horrible monster-creature, according to many people. But they don’t understand it. They don’t see the glad tidings in it. They don’t see how it’s fulfilled in Jesus. They don’t see the whole story. They don’t see the whole… They don’t go from the Paradise of Adam and Eve to the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse. They don’t start in the right place; they don’t end in the right place; and they don’t know anything in between! They’re just in darkness. They’re messed up.
And, let’s be honest, according to the Holy Scripture, a good reason for that is us. You know, St. Paul says it again in Romans 2. Read it. Read it carefully. He said, he quotes Isaiah, where the Lord says, “My name is blasphemed among the nations because of you.” Now, of course, Jesus as the door all the nations enter, too, not just the Jews. As the truth, as the way, as the life, it’s for all the nations, not just the Jews.
However, there can be people who are scandalized by how the Christians behave. They can be scandalized by how churches act. Who would not be scandalized when you look at Christianity these days? Which church are you going to go to? Which minister are you going to follow? Which preacher are you going to be with? Which elder is going to be yours? How do you understand all this? Which interpretation of the Bible are you going to have? And the Christians have been fighting each other, even killing each other, even burning each other at the stake and everything else through history.
You could imagine why, by the 21st century, there are some folks who want no part of this at all. But, if they do come to some light, if they do find some compassion, if they do find some truth, Orthodox Christians, ancient Orthodox Christians would confess: what they have found, even without knowing it, is Jesus himself. It’s the Christ himself.
And on the day of judgment, and the parousia of Christ, at the end of history, they will see that. They will realize that, and they will understand that the one that they were loving and hungering and thirsting for and wanting all along was Jesus Christ himself, and they will realize, also, at that day, that there’s no other way and no other door to God and his kingdom except Christ himself.
When a person knows anything about God, they know it by God’s Word, who is incarnate as Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit. No one can know anything of the one [true] God except being inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, through God’s Son and Word and icon and image, who is Jesus of Nazareth himself in the human flesh, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world, the light of the whole world, the life of the whole world, the only gate by which people can be saved.
But this does not mean at all that if a person is not a Christian or even, some churches would say, if a person is not a member of my church, our church, they’re in some other church, that they’re just damned and are going to hell. That’s not for us to say. That’s God’s business. We preach Christ crucified and glorified as the way, the truth, the life, the door, the bread, the good shepherd. We’ll see also soon, the true vine. So many things we say about him, but how that ultimately works itself out and who is ultimately saved at the end, only God knows.
It may be some people who preach a lot, talk a lot, speak on Ancient Faith Radio, listen to Ancient Faith Radio—we ourselves might be cast out, because we really have made up our own Jesus. We have made up our own interpretation of the Bible. Or we may even have the real Jesus and the right interpretation, but we’re filled with vanity and pride and arrogance and judgment of others and condemnation of others and even presume to tell God whom he should save and not save and so on. And then we’re really in the hands of the devil.
When it says in Holy Scripture that “if anyone enters by me he will be saved, he will go in and he will go out and he will find the pasture of God’s kingdom,” that’s the absolute truth. If anyone is saved at all, they’re saved by Jesus. If anyone does anything good at all, they do it by mediation of Christ through the Holy Spirit. That’s our Christian conviction. If anyone is wise to any degree, the wisdom is Christ himself incarnate. If anyone is in truth at all, that truth is Jesus—any truth: natural science truth, whatever that truth is.
It’s important here to realize what we’re saying and what it means. He is that only Gate, but if somebody does make it into God’s kingdom, they have made it by him, and only by him. And they will even realize someday that if he were not crucified and then raised and glorified, they would just be dead. They would not be raised. When the dead are raised, they’re going to know who raised them. The one who raised them is the Resurrection and the Life who is Christ himself. Everybody will realize on that day that we’ve been raised by Jesus, and not by anybody else. And if we enter into God’s kingdom, we enter by him as the Way and as the Door, and not by anyone else. And that is the teaching of the Gospel.
One more thing here for today, and that is this: we Christians believe, certainly ancient Orthodox Christians believe, that it is God’s will, through his Son Jesus Christ, by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that we would not only have everything that God has, but we would actually become everything that God is. That as human beings, we would literally participate in the life of God and become divine. And here, the teaching—it’s a very bold teaching, but it is a clear, ancient Christian teaching—that by faith and by grace in Christ, we are to be everything that he is and do everything that he does.
In fact, Jesus says it in St. John’s Gospel. He says, “The one who believes in me”—a singular construction: “That individual, that person, who believes in me”—“will do the works that I do, and greater works even, because I go to my Father.” Now, what does that mean? If we just quickly, [in] shorthand, stated what it means, it means: if Jesus is the Son of God, we all, male and female, become sons of God through him. We are adopted sons of God with him. We have every gift and privilege of sonship. If he is the heir of all things, we become heirs of all things in and with him. We’ll talk about that later at some point: Jesus as the Heir, the Firstborn, [and] we become firstborns with him.
If Jesus is the light, we have to be light, too. He not only says, “I am the light of the world,” as we heard before, but he says, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men.” And we can say this about everything that Jesus is. If Jesus is the icon of God, we have to be icons of God. We’re created according to the image of God, who Christ is, to be images [ourselves]. If Jesus is the Word of God, we have to be living words of God. If Jesus is the Bread of Life, we have to become bread to people. We have to let people eat us, chew us up, swallow us, so that they could find life through our ministry to them. If Jesus is the Way, we should be living exemplars of the way. When people look at us, they should see the way to God, the way to the kingdom of heaven, the way to the truth, the way to real Life.
And, for today, we have to be gates, too. We have to be doors. If Christ is the Door, by faith in him and by God’s grace, we become doors, too. We participate in his Doorhood, so to speak, his Gateship, just like we participate in him as the Bread. At the Holy Liturgy, for example, we invoke the Holy Spirit upon us and upon the bread and wine so that we could become living sacrifices to God, together with him; that we could be lambs of God who are slain together with him.
Everything is together with him: co-crucified with him, co-raised with him, a co-heir with him, a joint son with him. It’s all joint; it’s all co-; it’s all together with, and therefore, we have to be gates. We, by grace, have to be gates. And here, in Orthodox Christianity, from the earliest centuries, we have a conviction that is very scandalous to many people, certainly to many Protestant Christians, where we call Mary the gate of heaven. In our prayers and in our hymns in church, we call Mary a gate; that she’s the gate by which Christ entered our world. She is the gate through which the Word of God passed in order to become human.
In the Prophecy of Ezekiel, when they speak about the gate facing east, through which the glory of God enters and then that gate is shut up and no one ever enters into it again, we use that even as a proof of the ever-virginity of Mary; that her womb, we believe it was opened—I believe it’s open; some people think God passed through her with her womb shut; I don’t agree with that personally, but God may have shut that womb after—and he certainly did shut it, because nobody else was ever born of her. She had only one child, and that was Jesus. But we certainly praise her in the hymns as the gate, the gate by which the glory of God enters into the world, the gate by which Christ himself came who is the Gate.
So we call Mary the gate, the same way we call Jesus the Gate. Or, let me be more accurate: we use the imagery of a gate and a door for Mary the same way we use the imagery of a gate and a door for Jesus, but in a different way. Jesus is it by nature: he is the Door. And then Mary becomes a door also, by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit comes upon her, the power of the Most High overshadows her, and she becomes the gate through which Christ enters the world.
And then she even can function, by her intercession, as a gate by which we can become in communion with her Son, Jesus. We can go by way of Mary into communion with Jesus, and then by way of Jesus, into communion with God the Father. And all that happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. So we do speak. And then, in our hagiology, in our teaching about saints, we would say that saints are doors; saints are doors that lead us to God. If you follow this saint or that saint for what they are holy, you will come right to God; you will come right to Christ. You will be led into the very presence and the very sheepfold and into the very vineyard of God himself.
We are made to be gates, so every single one of us is supposed to be a gate, a gate for other people to enter into communion with God, into the fellowship with God, into the life with God, into everlasting life, into the New Jerusalem, into God’s kingdom—however you want to speak about it. And that means we should not be obstacles. We should not be barricades. We should not be shut-up, locked doors that never open to open to anybody and nobody could penetrate through us. No! Every one of us should be an open door. We should be an open door, like Christ is an open door, to God’s kingdom, inviting people to enter, and showing them how.
Of course, it says, terribly in Scripture, about certain people, that they not only [do not] enter themselves, but they shut the doors to those who would enter. Jesus used that imagery against certain of the leaders of the people. He says, “You go halfway around the world to get a proselyte, you make him half [as] much a child of hell as you yourself are. You do not enter yourself, and then you prevent other people from entering.” You don’t go through the door yourself, but you cease being a door. You become an obstacle. You become a dead end. You become a way that leads nowhere. You become a door that’s never opened, and if it would be opened, it would take you into hell.
So we’re supposed to be doors into Paradise ourselves. We’re supposed to enter in through the Door; we’re supposed to follow Christ who is the Door; and we’re supposed to become living doors [ourselves], by the grace of God. To be by grace what Christ himself is by nature. That’s a wonderful expression of St. Maximus the Confessor. St. Irenaeus said it a couple hundred years earlier. He said, “A Christian is a human being to be by grace everything that Christ is by nature.”
If Christ is real God and real human being, we are real human beings who are to become gods by grace. We can never be real God; that’s for sure: true God. But being human beings, we can become gods by grace. We can be sons of God, images of God, lights of God. We can be vessels of grace of God. We can be pillars of the wisdom of God. We could be bread of God that people could eat and be nourished. But we can also be doors. We can also be gates.
When we think about Christ saying, “I am the door—Egō eimi hē thyra—I am the door. Egō eimi hē thyra tōn provatōn—I am the door for the sheep. I am the door of the sheep, of the sheepfold,” well, that’s our faith. So we confess Jesus as the one and only Gate, the one and only Door. He’s the one by which and through which we enter. He’s the one who opens up all the doors that lead to life, the doors of righteousness, the door of faith—these are all biblical expressions—the door of the word of God, the door of Paradise, the door of the [New] Jerusalem, the door of the Temple, the door of the kingdom—he is all of that, and we pass through those doors.
But having done so, we also confess that we should be doors [ourselves]; that he can make us to be doors also. Words, ways, breads, and doors, lights. So let’s beg God, really, that we would believe, that we would receive the gift of God, that we would have Christ as our one and only Door, our one and only Gate, our only, one and only Way; and that we would know that he opens to us all the doors that lead to life, and that we would know also that we, in turn, should become doors and gates and ways for all of those around us.