Many years ago, I had a teacher, we’ll call him “Mr. Harry.” Mr. Harry had a reputation of being very hard on his students. He prided himself, so we heard, on the fact that many students failed his class, and many others who were failing dropped out. I actually was one of the dropouts. On the first day of class, Mr. Harry told us that we were all starting his class as failures, and it was up to us to work our way out of failure. The constant pressure to avoid failure only made me fail more. I dropped the class, and it forever soured my interest in the subject.
At the same time, I had another teacher, Mrs. Pat (that was her real name), who had a reputation for being an encourager. We were told that students thrived in her class. And when I took her class, I found that to be true. Mrs. Pat told us “You all are starting this class with an “A”, which is yours to lose. The more she encouraged us, the harder we worked. We wanted that “A” and she wanted us to earn it. She wasn’t going to give it away from nothing, but she was going to let us earn it. While she wasn’t a “pal” with the students, she certainly could have been considered a friend, even though she was our teacher.
The Lord said in the parable of the talents, to both the servant who had five and made ten, as well as to the servant who had two and made four, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” He was joyful in celebrating their success. And the success wasn’t based on final number, but on effort.
The Bridegroom Services, as we have discussed, center around the theme of Christ as the Bridegroom, and the Church (us) as the bride. The feast will come at an unknown hour and so we must all be vigilant. And we are to be vigilant by utilizing what God has entrusted to us—the time He has grants to us, the talents that He has loaned to us.
Christ is more like “Mrs. Pat” than “Mr. Harry,” in the sense that He wants us to succeed. He wants to welcome us. We all start out with a chance for salvation. It is ours to lose. Christ doesn’t oppress us as failures and does not constantly berate us that we have to work our way out of failure. Rather, He encourages us by telling us that all people have the chance at salvation and that He’s rooting for us to make it.
The hymn which we are discussing in this reflection is the last hymn of the Bridegroom Service of Holy Monday evening. It is a conversation that a person should have within his or her own soul. Many of us have conversations within ourselves. We give ourselves pep talks. Sometimes we might even beat ourselves up over failure. Do we ever have a conversation with our souls? Do we ever counsel ourselves to be more careful and respectful of what God has given us? Do we look with joyful expectation on the day we will stand before the Lord, or do we cower in fearful trepidation?
Indeed, the Lord has entrusted each soul with a talent, a gift, in the form of our time, our abilities and our circumstances. We should receive this gift with a little fear and a lot of awe—awe in that it is a gift, an imprint on our lives from the Lord Himself, and fear, that if we don’t use what we’ve been given properly, there will be an accounting before Him as to why. The hymn calls on us not to be afraid, but to be vigilant. Among other things, it tells us to be generous, to give to those who are poor, and the reward will be that we will gain the Lord as a friend. Not only will we “pass the class” but we will become a friend to the Lord, and He to us, as a result.
The journey of repentance is not about what we’ve accomplished, but what we still lack, and so the hymn acknowledges that we have strayed. However, despite this, we are entreating the Lord to deem us worthy of the joy promised to those whom He places at His right hand.
The Lord is to be feared and respected for sure. After all, He is the Lord, and we are not. However, the Lord should be loved, and we should feel joy in His presence, because He is “phil-anthropos” which means “friend of man” and because He wants to say those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” to each of us. Paradise is ours to lose. That’s why He opened the path to it through His Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Since I, O Bridegroom Christ, have permitted my soul to slumber in indolence, I do not possess the flaming lamp of virtues; and like the foolish virgins, I wander, when it is the time for work. O Master, do not close for me Your heart of compassion; but awaken me, shaking off my darkening sleep, and bringing me in with the prudent Virgins to Your Bridal Chamber, where there is the clarity of son, from those who feast, and unceasingly cry out: “O Lord, glory to You.” (Praises, Bridegroom Service, Holy Monday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Let us use what we’ve been given generously, and in so doing, we will make a friend in the Lord, and be on our way to the salvation that He wants to give us.