"Behold the Bridegroom Cometh in the Midst of the Night..." (Part I)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

PALM SUNDAY EVENING

THE DIVINE SERVICE OF THE BRIDEGROOM

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore O my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and lest thou be shut out from the Kingdom. Wherefore rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, our God, Through the protection of the Heavenly Hosts save us.

This evening I would like to offer a few thoughts and reflections on the hymn, which is so characteristic of these first days of Great and Holy Week. "Behold the Bridegroom is Coming..." This hymn is directly inspired by the Parable of the Ten Virgins in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, and virtually every word and phrase in it comes directly from Holy Scripture. The Parable is found is chapter 25 of Saint Matthew's Gospel, and was one of the last things our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said before his betrayal and arrest.

It is a popular and beloved hymn, one of the highlights of Great and Holy Week, and many of you will know that it is also read every night in the Midnight Service. It is also a very ancient hymn, and we know it was sung at least as far back as the 8th century and probably earlier.

The hymn is a poem, and the hymnographers of the Church are poets, and their hymns merit and stand up to close readings and repay our spiritual study of them with spiritual benefits, especially a hymn like this one, which is essentially the language of Holy Scripture elevated to the level of poetry.

'Ιδού- Look, see, open your eyes! Where is the center of your attention? What do your thoughts consistently turn to? What comes repeatedly to your mind? What is your heart forever rushing to? Society places ever-increasing demands on our attention, which has become a commodity, something that is trafficked and traded by interested parties. But we must not let ourselves be distracted from God, we cannot allow this most precious gift to be taken from us--and when it is, the Church calls us back, and says, look--behold--Ιδού...

ο Νυμφίος έρχεται--the Bridegroom is coming: the verb is in the present tense, which means he is coming now, in this very moment. In the mystery of Orthodox Christian worship, time and eternity mingle; Christ is ο ελθών και ο έρχόμενος, the one Who came, and the one Who is to come. He encompasses past, present, and future, and in His presence the temporal limitations of the world fall away.

The image of Christ as the Bridegroom is taken directly from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. In Saint Matthew 9:15, Our Lord Christ calls Himself the "Bridegroom", Saint John the Baptist is the "friend of the bridegroom" (St. John 3:29); Saint Paul says that marriage is an image of "Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5), and so on.

The image of the Bridegroom associates Christ directly with God, for in the Old Testament God takes Israel as His wife, enters into a covenant with her, and He remains faithful to her despite her infidelities, despite all her spiritual adulteries with false gods and idols.

Saint John Chrysostom says that Christ as the Bridegroom loves His wife ("His Bride") so much--that is, the Church, or the individual soul--that when she abandons Him, He does not regret having betrothed her; when she sins against Him, He does not renounce her, but rather He pursues his fallen bride even into the very depth of hell. There is an old tradition that after Eve ate from the tree, and after Adam saw what befell her, he also partook of it, so that he could continue to be with her, even in her fallen state, so that he would never be separated from her--so great was his love for her.

Christ the Bridegroom is an image that conveys the mystery of God's love for us; it says something about the lengths that He goes to in order to find what is lost; how He never lets go of those He loves, no matter the cost.

έν τω μέσω της νυκτός--"in the middle of the night," or "midnight." This phrase is also from the Parable. A moment ago, I mentioned the Midnight Service which represents the ancient practice of rising at midnight for prayer, which was considered the ideal time for prayer, for at that moment all creation was hushed, every creature was still and offered praises to the Lord, in a kind of cosmic psalm of praise.

Saint John Chrysostom again says: "Imagine the darkest of nights, when all men and all living creatures are fast asleep in the midst of the greatest silence, and you alone are awake, speaking freely and openly with God. Is sleep sweet? And yet nothing is sweeter than prayer."

But there is also a warning here, because in the Parable, the "middle of the night" means that the Bridegroom will arrive suddenly, unexpectedly, at a time when no one knows.

In what state will God find us? If we were to die suddenly, what would our family and friends find in our home, in our apartment, on our computers? We must strive always to be ready, to be prepared, to understand that we have been betrothed to God, that our lives, our bodies, are not our own anymore, but they belong to another. (Source: Father Maximos Constas)

(To be continued)

Please note: All the divine services throughout the ecclesiastical year, but especially, during Great and Holy Week. Every divine service has a profound and inspiring message and lesson for the true Orthodox Christian believer.

People today are full of fear, anxiety, insecurity, and horror. Why? Because there is no faith, there is no prayer, there is no inspiration from the Holy Scripture, there is no trust in the Almighty God. It is faithlessness that creates this spiritual darkness and lack of courage, lack of hope.

You, the Orthodox Christians, must stay close to our Holy Orthodox Christian Faith and Church. Raise your children in a Christian environment at home and make God real in your family. Protect them from a society which has lost its way. An atheistic society which makes every effort to kill and destroy every ounce of faith and virtue.

Our Church is the Ark of Salvation. It is in the Church that we find the grace of the Holy Spirit, where we find peace, hope, protection, and salvation. Stay close to Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church, the Bride of Christ.

The Service of the Bridegroom is at 7:00 p.m,

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George