June 5, 2021

The Tradition of the Open Beautiful Gate During the Resurrection Period

By George Zaravelas, Theologian

The Resurrection period of the Pentecostarion, which lasts for forty days, from the night of the Resurrection of Christ until the Wednesday of the week of the Blind Man - on the eve of the Ascension - is distinguished for its ritual idiosyncrasies, especially during Renewal Week. Among the special liturgical elements is the opening of the Beautiful Gate of the sacred bema.

This act is an informal tradition, which does not seem to be officially testified to anywhere. The priest, after opening the Beautiful Gate and leaving it to solemnly transmit the Holy Light before the Resurrection ceremony, now leaves the door of the Gate open for the period of the Pentecostarion.

Liturgical practice and experience have documented variations on the practice, both in terms of how and in terms of time, that the Beautiful Gate will remain open.

A) The way the Beautiful Gate is kept open.

Priests follow different practices, depending on the local traditions and the needs of the church:

1. The Beautiful Gate remains completely open.

2. The Beautiful Gate is blocked only by the bema doors.

3. The Beautiful Gate is dismantled, since the bema doors are completely removed from it and placed in front of the iconostasis, symbolizing the breaking of the shackles and gates of Hades, due to the Resurrection of the Lord.

B) The time of keeping the Beautiful Gate open.

The period for which the Beautiful Gate remains open is another element with variations:

1. The Beautiful Gate remains open only during Renewal Week and closes during the following weeks of the Pentecostarion.

2. The Beautiful Gate remains open until the apodosis of the Resurrection service on the Wednesday of the week of the Blind Man.

3. The Beautiful Gate remains open during Renewal Week, while throughout the Resurrection period, until the Wednesday of the Blind Man, the bema doors are closed.

The variety of relevant practices proves that there is no formal and correct choice. The absence of any testimony creates confusion and sets every example at the discretion of the officiant. The opening of the doors throughout the Resurrection period is based on the breaking of the bonds of Hades and the gates in which it held humanity captive, after the glorious Resurrection of Christ from the dead.

The broken doors and the broken locks of Hades are vividly depicted at the base of the Byzantine icon representation of the Descent of Christ into Hades. The Lord, in this depiction, stands on the doors of Hades taken out of their pilasters and placed crosswise, while He is wearing bright robes and with the visible signs of His Passion, and the keys and shackles, which held those who had known death until then, are thrown around, with Hades being the only prisoner, under the broken gates of his disintegrated kingdom.

This image seems to be the most plausible reason, from which comes the tradition of the open doors of the Beautiful Gate. It is worth noting that in early Christianity the sacred bema was open and the configuration of the iconostasis evolved gradually to the modern form dating back to the 2nd century, after first low doors were placed, which were gradually raised by placing an entablature between the columns, on which veil-curtains were placed, which were opened during the Divine Liturgy. The veils were replaced by the icons of the iconostasis, while later other elements were added, such as the icons of the Twelve Feasts and the "mournful" ones (the Crucified One and the Theotokos with John the Theologian in prayer) at the top of the iconostasis, above the Beautiful Gate.

The opening of the Beautiful Gate, therefore, is not an element that goes deep into ecclesiastical tradition, while it is not possible to date its introduction to worship. The most appropriate version of those proposed requires its full opening during Renewal Week and the closing of only the bema doors from the Sunday of Thomas until the Wednesday of the Blind Man, with the optional opening of the curtain-veil, to leave the Gate half open. The open Beautiful Gate cannot guarantee that one will not enter the bema, especially in churches that receive crowds of pilgrims and tourists, either out of ignorance or maliciously. The above proposed practice preserves the sacred bema from the entrance of others, but also the beautiful practice of the open door, which declares in a vivid way the Resurrection of the Lord.

The opening of the bema doors and the curtain proves the distinction between the mournful and overshadowed character of Great Lent and the festive atmosphere of the Resurrection and the Bright period. The apodosis of the feast of Easter during Renewal Week does not justify, however, the opening of the door until the Ascension, since from the Sunday of Thomas other feasts are celebrated and not the Resurrection of Christ itself. The resurrection hymn, of course, is sung daily until its apodosis on the Wednesday of the Blind Man.

Brief Bibliography:

Μαυρόπουλου Δ., Διερχόμενοι διά του Ναού· Μαθήματα κατήχησης για ενηλίκους, εκδ. Δόμος, Αθήνα 2009.

Μωραΐτη Δημ., «Αμφίθυρα», ΘΗΕ, 2(1963), στ. 432-433.

Φουντούλη Ιω. Μ., Απαντήσεις εις λειτουργικάς απορίας, τ. Β’, εκδ. Αποστολικής Διακονίας, Αθήνα 20065.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.