Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight. And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching. And again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O our God! Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
Troparion (Bridegroom Matins)
Bridegroom Matins is one of those services that just gets under your skin. The melodies, the words, the Scripture…all of it lifts up that tough exterior layer and crawls in deep.
On Holy Monday, we went to Presanctified Liturgy in the morning and Bridegroom Matins at night. The Matins service was for Holy Tuesday, so we remembered the parable of Christ that gives the service its name.
Ten virgins went to a wedding feast. Five were wise and came prepared with enough oil for their lamps. Five, however, were foolish, and their lamps went out. The Bridegroom was delayed, and the foolish virgins scurried to buy more oil, but while they were away, the Bridegroom returned. They were shut out of the wedding feast.
A continuation of the theme for Holy Monday, this parable reminds us that we cannot rest on our Christian laurels. It is not enough to just bear the Christian name. We must fill our lamps with the oil of virtue; the flame of good works. More of that bearing fruit idea that we heard in the story of the withered fig tree.
It is so fitting that in Orthodoxy, we call the Christian life a struggle. It isn’t easy. When left to our own devices, humans will run home to what is comfortable; what is familiar. It is sin that we drift toward if we are not vigilant. Sometimes it rears its ugly head in dramatic fashion, but more often then not, sin is a quiet slither and a hushed word. It dims and darkens the light with such sneakiness that before we know it, the lamp flickers and flutters and goes out. We must always struggle against this tendency. We must always meet sin head on. For there is another, greater element of human nature…goodness.
Sin is not just an action, it is an event. Sin separates us from God with a wall that climbs higher brick by brick. Sometimes it’s a thin wall, one more of laziness than deliberate action. But sometimes, the wall is thick, sealed and strengthened with years of hard work on our part. It is I who draw back from God. He never backs down from me. If there is a wall, then I am the one who mixes the mortar and lays the brick. Sin came into the world and caused a separation, but that barrier is no more. Christ is risen from the dead! Any separation between me and God now is of my own making.
But how can this be? How can God want a relationship with me? How can I, the chief of sinners, be one who He desires? One, who as part of the Church, is the Bride for this Holy Bridegroom?
Your bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.
Exapostelarion (Bridegroom Matins)
In Baptism, we are given our wedding garment. It is a white and brilliant garment. The purity of Christ. No sin. No darkness. No death. Just life. Sometimes I look at myself and my wedding garment. There’s the spot where I drug the hem in the mud. There’s the corner that got caught and pulled and ripped. There’s a gaping hole in one spot. A general dinginess to the whole thing. Hardly fit for a wedding feast.
The virtuous life is a struggle, but it is not a battle to fight alone. As it says in the Psalms over and over and over…God is my helper. He’s not going to make the struggle disappear and make life easy and calm and uneventful, but He’s also never going to stop being my helper. The word “help” implies, though, that I have to do my part. I struggle and God helps. I go forward and never look back.
In the early days of Holy Week, we are warned of what can happen if we do not renounce our sin and seek God. It is a well-deserved warning. But also, we must remember that with the warning is an invitation. We are invited to the wedding banquet. We are invited to become one with God right here and now. The Kingdom is coming. The Kingdom is here.
Daily, I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I strive to be with God. To live in Him. Not to be good or good enough..but to be of God. Speak words of God. Think thoughts of God. Grow and nurture and preserve a heart of God. Wake up lazy soul! The Bridegroom is coming! Let us prepare for the Feast.
You are more beautiful than all men, O Bridegroom. You have invited us to the spiritual banquet of Your bridal chamber. Strip me of the ugly garment of my sins, as I participate in Your passion. Adorn me in the glorious robe of Your beauty, that proclaims me a guest in Your Kingdom, O merciful Lord.
Aposticha (Bridegroom Matins for Holy Tuesday)