In the Middle of the Night : Behold the Bridegroom

Our Lord, The Bridegroom

Wednesday April 15, 2020 / April 2, 2020

Passion Week: Great Wednesday.
Great Lent. By Monastic Charter: Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)
Venerable Titus the Wonderworker (9th c.). Martyrs Amphianus (Apphianus) and Edesius (Aedesius) of Lycia (306). Martyr Polycarp of Alexandria (4th c.)

The Scripture Readings

John 12:17-50 (Bridegroom Matins Gospel)
Matthew 26:6-16 (Gospel)

During the first service on Palm Sunday evening, the priest carries an icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Gr: O Nymphios/Ο Νυμφίος) to the front of the church, where it remains until Holy Thursday. The three days of Holy Week it is there are dedicated to Jesus Christ as the central figure in the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13). This parable is perfect for the week leading up to Easter, as its clear message is to be prepared for the coming of Christ. From the evening service mentioned:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night,
And blessed is the servant He shall find vigilant;
But unworthy is he whom he shall find neglectful.
Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep,
Lest you be given over to death and be closed out from the kingdom;
But rise up crying out: “Holy! Holy! Holy are You our God;
Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.”
(Troparion of the Bridegroom Service)

Given the eschatological undertones of the services (“Christ is coming: look busy!”) it might be expected for the Bridegroom icon to show Christ in Glory, or at His Second Coming. Yet the Icon shows Christ humiliated by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers (Matthew 27:27-31). In a cruel irony, the soldiers mockingly worshiped Jesus and through insults proclaimed Him rightly to be the King of the Jews. Crowned with thorns, cloaked in scarlet, bound and holding a reed, this is how Christ appears in the Bridegroom Icon.

The crown is a symbol of Christian marriage in the Orthodox Church, and the ropes binding Christ’s hand are a near-universal symbol of marriage. The reed used as a mock-scepter is a symbol of humility, of a person that does all possible to bend in service to others.

In stark contrast to the fearsome images of Christ the King presented at the beginning of Lent, we are now presented with our suffering Bridegroom. Why does He suffer? Because of human sin. The betrayal of Judas, the hatred of the Jews, the cowardice of Pilate, the cruelty of the Romans: this is why Christ appears as He does. What form of humanity is not represented by those who mocked Jesus?

Yet still He stands before us. While we are still as unfaithful as harlots, Christ is betrothed to us. This is Divine Love, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . Such perfect, divine, love casts out all fear; and so instead of the stern Judge of the Apocalypse to spur us to repentance, we “behold the man”: the Bridegroom Who burns with such love for us that He suffers death on the Cross.

This Icon, this image of the Bridegroom, shows us nothing more than what the Roman soldiers who spat upon Christ saw. It is up to us whether we see beyond the bloody, brutalised, Jew before us and recognize our divine spouse. A good sign we have benefited from the rigours of Lent is when we look upon our humiliated King and still worship Him. Ah…but, no, even the Roman soldiers did that. With hard-hearts they hailed Him as king, bowed down before him, then led Him off to be executed. Our worship, our repentance, must be longer-lasting.

I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, but have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me!

From: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/behold-the-man-christ-the-bridegroom-icon/

HYMN OF PRAISE

SAINT AMPHIANUS AND EDESIUS

Two brothers offered themselves to God as a sacrifice,

Despising the decaying world, the dead corpse.

Amphianus and Edesius, brothers from the womb,

Wonderful brothers, in sufferings like unto Christ.

He who has faith in God does not value the world;

But for a dead soul, the world can replace God.

Whoever has love for Christ is not afraid of death;

Even before death he is already numbered among the immortal.

Whoever considers death as the gloomy end, the inglorious end,

Must also consider himself a slave of despair.

The martyrs considered death the veil of heaven;

They showed that to fear death is not necessary.

Do not fear, O man, that there is no heaven,

But fear the Dreadful Judgment which heaven prepares.

For a sinner it would be easier if heaven did not exist.

That is why the sinner angrily asks:

“But where is heaven?”

O sinner, heaven is not where you are,

You and heaven will never be together.


REFLECTION

“It is better to be a simpleton and approach God with love than to be a learned man and at the same time an enemy of God.” These are the words of the hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons. The truth of these words has been confirmed in all times and is also confirmed in our time. One thing must be added to this: namely, that the lovers of God are not simpletons, because they know God well enough to be able to love Him. Of all human knowledge, this knowledge is the most important and the greatest. To this it must be added that the enemies of God cannot be highly learned–even though they consider themselves as such–because their knowledge is unavoidably chaotic, without a source and without order. The source and order of all knowledge is God. Some of the saints, such as Paul the Simple, did not know how to read or write, yet with the strength of their spirit and divine love they surpassed the entire world. Whosoever approaches God with love is not capable of crime. Knowledge without love toward God is motivated by the spirit of criminality and war. St. Euthymius the Great taught: “Have love; for what salt is to food, love is to every virtue.” Every virtue is tasteless and cold if it is not seasoned and warmed by divine love.

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplate the Lord Jesus in hades:

1. How His plan for salvation is all-abundant, encompassing all generations and all ages from the beginning to the end;

2. How He came to earth in the flesh, not only for the sake of those who lived on earth then and for the sake of those who would live, but also for those who had already lived;

3. How He, while His lifeless body lay in the tomb, descended into hades with His soul and announced salvation and redemption to the fettered.

HOMILY

on the Living God and His living children

“Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).

Whose are we while we live? We are the Lord’s. Whose are we after we die? We are the Lord’s. Whose are the righteous? They are the Lord’s. Whose are the sinners? They are the Lord’s. The Lord embraces all, both the living and the dead, those of the past, those of the present and those of the future. No one is so all-embracing as is the Lord Jesus. Who of the so-called benefactors of mankind–teachers, leaders or enlighteners–ever attempted to perform any good for the dead? This can be decisively answered: No one! Even the thought alone would be ridiculous in the eyes of the world–to do something good for the dead! This is amusing to all those who think that death is mightier than God, and that that which death swallows up is destroyed forever. To be concerned for the dead, to do good for the dead, has ceased to be amusing since the revelation of the Lord Jesus, Who revealed that He is God–the God of the living–and Who showed it by His actions, by descending into hades to redeem and save the souls of the righteous, from the time of Adam to the time of His death on the Cross.

Our Lord is all-embracing and all-glorious, first of all by His discerning thoughts (for He thinks about everyone and sees everyone born of women, both those who are above the graves and those who are in the graves); then by His love (for He embraces all the souls of the righteous, regardless of the time or place in which they are concealed); and finally by His labors (for He labors for everyone), to redeem them, to save them, to lead them into the Kingdom, and to glorify them before the face of His Heavenly Father, the Life-giving Spirit and the myriads of holy angels.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.