With the intoning of our first Bridegroom Matins, Holy Week has begun. It has always astounded me how fickle the crowds in Jerusalem appear. One week they proclaim their King with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Yet only days later, this same crowd exclaims “Crucify Him!” If I am, however, honest with myself, I am no less fickle than this crowd (and in all probability, more so).
The contrast between the joy of Palm Sunday and the sobriety of Bridegroom matins is no less striking. We have come through the resurrection of Lazarus and the waving of palm branches. But just, seemingly, moments later, the call for our souls to awaken rings slowly and meditatively. This is what makes Bridegroom matins a truly frightful and awful service: it lays before us a plain view of ourselves. Eschewing all pretext, through haunting melodies and vivid imagery, it brings us to our own hearts so that we might (if only this once) see what truly lies there. First, we are reminded to, like the wise virgins, be prepared for the bridegroom who comes at midnight. We are then warned to produce fruit, unlike the fig tree which wasted its talents by burying them in the ground. However, the depth of Bridegroom matins, and its placement in Holy Week, is most clearly seen in the juxtaposition of some seemingly unlikely hymns: that which speaks of the voluntary passion of Christ and that of the bridal chamber. We sing:
Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.
What does the passion of Christ have to do with the bridal chamber? The bridal chamber is no less the tomb of Christ. The hymns of Pascha make this clear: “It was fitting for the Lord to come forth from the grave as from a bridal chamber!” This is the call of Bridegroom matins, that we too might take up our cross and follow after Christ, that dying with Him we might also be raised with Him. Yet can I honestly say that I desire nothing but Christ, to lay down my life so that I might find it? This is why Bridegroom matins seeks to stir us from sleep like the foolish virgins:
Why art thou slothful, O my wretched soul? Why do useless cares occupy thy thoughts amiss? Why dost thou busy thyself with things that pass away?
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, And blessed is that 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, art Thou, O our God, Through the Theotokos have mercy on us.