This week marks the 7th anniversary of the Prayer Team. Actually, the date of the very first Prayer Team message was February 20, 2015. I am thankful to God that for seven years now He has inspired me to write a daily message. I am thankful to you for subscribing to the Prayer Team and for the prayers and encouragement I receive so often from so many of you. Thank you, God. Thank you, Prayer Team!
The focus of the first three days of Holy Week is the icon of Christ the Bridegroom. For the men who have been married, we’ve had the experience of getting down on a knee and asking for our bride’s hand in marriage. Perhaps we did so with eloquent language, we put on our best attire, and put a lot of thought into the event. For the women, you watched a man get on his knee, and ask you one of the most serious, yet joyful questions you’ll ever be asked. Engagement is one of the most euphoric events of your life. Phone calls are made, impromptu (or planned) celebrations ensue, and there is great revelry.
The icon of Christ the Bridegroom portrays Him as the groom, and we, the church, are the bride. He proposes marriage to us. He comes dressed in the instruments of His Passion—the purple robe, the reed, the bound hands, and the crown of thorns. This is not a celebration scene. As an aside, many people who are getting married are so obsessed with the wedding, they don’t put emphasis on the marriage. They plan an elaborate celebration, while in some ways sowing seeds of failure with all the stress associated with the wedding. No matter how great the wedding is, the party will only last a few hours.
Christ does it the opposite way. The marriage comes first, the wedding feast comes later. The marriage goes by way of the cross. The marriage to Christ is about His sacrifice for us and in turn our sacrifice for Him. The wedding feast is in heaven, and it lasts forever. Of course, just like with the weddings we are familiar with, there are many parties that precede it. And in the same way, with Christ, there are many wedding banquets that precede the ultimate banquet. These banquets are called the Divine Liturgy, where we receive Christ in a small way, as we prepare to receive Him fully in the wedding feast in heaven.
The Hymn of the Bridegroom, which is the central hymn of the first three nights of Holy Week is based on the parable of the ten maidens, which is found in Matthew 25:13. In this parable, the bridegroom is Christ. The maidens represent us. The oil in the lamps represents our faith and our stewardship of the life that God has given each of us. While we can encourage one another to have faith and to use our talents and our lives wisely, the choice to believe and to use what God has given us is ultimately a personal choice. This is why the wise maidens couldn’t share their oil with the foolish ones. We can take from our material things to give to others. We can divide twenty dollars in half so another person can have ten and we can have ten. However, we cannot divide our faith in half. Faith is personal. The choice to follow Christ is personal.
Both the Parable of the Ten Maidens and the Hymn of the Bridegroom speak to our earthly death, which is the entrance to the heavenly wedding. The Bridegroom is Christ, we know that. And the moment of our death is when He will come to take our souls, the beautiful God-like part of us that He put into us, this is when He will take our souls back to Himself for judgment of whether we are worthy to enter into the heavenly wedding banquet. As we will see, there are a lot of wedding tones throughout Holy Week, both in Scripture and in hymns, and this is because we all know what marriage is, we’ve all been to weddings, and thus it will be easier to understand the message if it is encapsulated in examples we can relate to from real life. Marriage is a covenant between two people, to live with and for one another. The reward is supposed to be “happily ever after” in this life. Marriage to Christ is also a covenant, where He lives in us, and we live for Him. The reward is “happily ever after” for eternity, and eternity begins now, we have some of that joy in this life as well.
The Bridegroom will come at an unexpected moment, “in the midst of the night” as the hymn says, to call us to the heavenly banquet. And blessed is the servant that He will find vigilant, the one who has plentiful oil in his or her lamp. Unworthy will be the one who is heedless, who has no faith to light the lamp. We must beware, therefore, to be vigilant in our souls, and to not let them be overcome by the sleep of laziness, sadness, lack of focus or ungodly behavior. Because to do so is to risk being shut out of the kingdom of God, of missing out on the heavenly banquet, of having the door shut to us and the bridegroom saying, “I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12) Wherefore, we are to rouse ourselves from spiritual slumber and move to spiritual vigilance, by crying out to the Lord, “Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, our God,” praising Him and pleading for His help and mercies.
One thing I’ve taken away from the parable of the maidens in later years is that all the maidens were sleeping while waiting for the bridegroom. Those who were foolish perhaps knew they did not have enough oil and either had no plan to get enough or thought they’d be able to borrow some. The wise perhaps knew they had enough oil and so they slept peacefully, confident that their faith and their lives were ready to meet the Bridegroom, whenever He was going to arrive. Likewise, for us, there are many who slumber and sleep their way through life, never being attentive to their own souls, growing in faith, and glorifying God in their works. The hope is that we will spend time daily caring for the health of our souls, growing in faith, and glorifying God with the talents and time He has blessed us with, and then we can be confident, knowing that when we’ve done all we can do, that the Bridegroom will come and we will be ready for the feast.
This day radiates with the first fruits of the Passion of the Lord. Come, therefore, O feast-loving friends, let us meet, and greet it with hymns; for the Creator comes, condescending to the Cross; to questioning and to lashings, judged by Pilate. Also smitten on the head by a servant, He endures all to save mankind. For this let us cry aloud: “O Merciful Christ our God, grant remission of sins to those, who worship in faith Your Holy Passion. (Kathisma, Bridegroom Service, Palm Sunday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
The Hymn of the Bridegroom reminds us that Christ wants to be His bride, He wants us to join Him in the heavenly banquet, He made His proposal through His passion. Will we say yes?!