The Service of the Bridegroom
Introduction to Holy Monday, Tuesday, WednesdayThe first part of Holy Week presents us with an array of themes based chiefly on the last day's of Jesus' earthly life. "The story of the Passion, as told and recorded by the Evangelists, is preceded by a series of incidents located in Jerusalem and a collection of parables, sayings and discourses centered on Jesus' divine sonship, the Kingdom of God, the Parousia, and Jesus' castigation of the hypocrisy and dark motives of the religious leaders."
The Orthros Services of Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is called the Service of the Bridegroom, and gets its name from the central figure in the well-known parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25.1-13). "The title Bridegroom suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the Kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion is the Divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggest the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ.
Each day of Holy Week has its own particular theme. The theme of Holy Monday (celebrated in anticipation on Palm Sunday evening) is that of the barren fig tree (Matthew 21: 18-20) which yields no fruit and is condemned. On Holy Tuesday (celebrated Holy Monday evening) the theme is on the vigilance of the wise virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) who, unlike their foolish sisters, were ready when the Lord came to them. On Holy Wednesday (celebrated Holy Tuesday evening) the focus is on the sinful woman (Matthew 26: 6-13) who repents. Great emphasis is made in the liturgical services to compare the woman, a sinful harlot who is saved, to Judas, a chosen apostle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kisses his feet; the other betrays Christ for money with a kiss.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins - Matthew 25: 1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
The Icon of the Parable of the Ten Virgins
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins illustrates the need for being spiritually prepared while the bridegroom - Christ - is delayed in His return. The Kingdom is often portrayed as a marriage between Christ and His Church. The marriage will be consummated at the end of the age when the Bridegroom returns to escort His Bride - the Church - into the eternal wedding banquet.
This parable is primarily about the virtue of charity and almsgiving, as oil and ‘mercy’ have the same root in Greek. The wise virgins are those who practice charity and mercy in this life, while the foolish are those who squander God’s gifts on themselves.
The fact that all the virgins slumbered and slept indicates death: in this world the virtuous will die alongside the wicked. The cry at midnight indicates the Second Coming, when the wicked will arise with the righteous for judgement. The inability of the righteous to share their oil is not to be interpreted as a lack of generosity. Rather, it is an illustration of the impossibility of entering heaven without one’s own faith and virtue, and the impossibility of changing one’s state of virtue after death.
Orthodox Study Bible, p. 1317
3rd Tuesday of Lent
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