Christ the Bridegroom
Christ the Bridegroom is the central figure in the parable of the ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13); Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church as described in the Book of Isaiah (chapter 54), as well as the primary image of Bridegroom Matins. The title is suggestive of his divine presence and watchfulness ("Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night...") during Holy Week and his selfless love for his Bride, the Church.
The Bridegroom is also the name given to the central icon used in Bridegroom Matins. The Bridegroom icon and service is also commonly known in the Greek tradition as O Nymphios.
Bridegroom Matins is a service specific to the first four evenings of Holy Week (though it is often omitted on Holy Wednesday in favor of the service of Holy Unction) and commemorates the last days in the earthly life of the Lord. Incorporated into these services is the theme of the first three days of Holy Week; which is the last teachings of Christ to his disciples. As such, these services incorporate readings and hymns inspiring this theme. The mood of the services is to experience sorrow and to feel Christ's voluntary submission to His passions and highlight the purpose behind the evil that is about to take place against the Lord. The atmosphere is one of mourning (for sins) and is symbolic of the shame the Christian should feel for the Fall of Adam and Eve, the depths of hell, the lost Paradise and the absence of God. The vestments of the Priest and the altar clothes are black or deep purple to symbolise and enhance the atmosphere of mourning and remembrance of sins. The main emphasis of the Bridegroom Service is metanoia and each service has its own particular theme on repentance and watchfulness. One of its primary features is its troparion:
- 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."
Palm Sunday evening
During the first service on Palm Sunday evening, the priest carries the icon of Christ the Bridegroom into the church. The Bridegroom troparion is sung during this procession, and the icon is brought to the front of the church and remains there until Holy Thursday. The icon depicts Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, bearing the marks of his suffering, yet preparing the way for a marriage feast in his Kingdom. He is dressed in the icon according to the mockery of the Roman guards just prior to his crucifixion.
- The crowns - a symbol of his marriage to the Church.
- The rope - a symbol of bondage to sin, death and corruption which was loosed with Christ's death on the Cross.
- The reed - a symbol of his humility; God rules his kingdom with humility.
Sunday evening also includes this kontakion:
- Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, but that noble one was seated in a chariot and honored as a king; for by not being enslaved then to the pleasures of the Egyptian woman, he was glorified by Him that beholdeth the hearts of men and bestoweth an incorruptible crown.
Holy Monday evening
On Holy Monday, the Blessed Joseph, the son of Jacob the Patriarch, is commemorated because he is seen as a prototype of Christ.
Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by them. In the same way, the Lord was rejected, betrayed by his own, and sold into the slavery of death and like Joseph forgave and spared his brothers during the famine when they came to him, so too, Jesus Christ offers himself as a sacrifice and forgives all those who come to him in faith.
The Gospel reading for the day is of the Barren Fig Tree, which Christ cursed and withered because it bore no fruit. The fig tree is representative of those who have heard God's word, but who fail to bear the fruits of faith. Originally the withering of the fig tree was a testimony against those Jews who rejected God's word and his Messiah. It is also a warning to all people, in all times, of the importance of not only hearing the God's word, but putting it into action.
Monday evening also includes this kontakion:
- Being mindful of the hour of the end, O my soul, and fearing because of the cutting down of the fig tree, labor diligently with the talent that was given thee, O hapless one, and be watchful and cry: Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ.
Holy Tuesday evening
On Holy Tuesday, the Parable of the Ten Virgins is read. It tells the story of the five virgins who filled their lamps in preparation for receiving the bridegroom while the other five allowed their lamps to go out and hence were shut out of the marriage feast. This parable is a warning that Christians must always be prepared to receive the Lord when he comes again. The theme of the day is reinforced by the exaposteilarion hymn:
- 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.
Holy Tuesday's Bridegroom Matins also includes commemoration of Kassiani (September 7), also known by the names of Kasia, Kasiani or Ikessia, was a great hymnographer from the 9th century. According to the Synaxaristi not many details of her life have been recorded but she has remained in ecclesiastical history for her great hymns. His Eminence Metropolitan Sophronios Eustratiadis of Leontopoleos  writes that Kassiani was "an orphaned girl from the Byzantine era, beautiful and wise, a saintly ascetic and respectful virgin".  Kassiani is also linked to the Emperor Theophilos (9th century) and his search for a bride. Theophilos was angered with a reply by Kassiani to a question of his, and he impulsively chose St. Theodora, who was standing next to Kassiani, to be his elected bride. Kassiani also played a great role in the restoration of the Holy Icons.
Heartbroken by Theophilos, one of those poems was the beautiful hymn of Kassiani, which in the Byzantine tradition is such a major feature that the service held on Holy Tuesday evening is often referred to simply as the Hymn of Kassiani. Theophilos searched for Kassiani and found her at a convent and the two never saw each other again. Her repentance and love for Christ is the theme of the wonderful Hymn of Kassiani which is chanted on this night, reminding all that they may be forgiven if they repent.
The text of the hymn, based on the account of the sinful woman who is introduced by the Evangelist St Luke in his Gospel (7:36-50). Kassiani contrasts the repentance of the sinful woman with Eve's fall (Gen. 3:8-11):
- The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Your divinity, O Lord, received the dignity of a myrrh-bearer, for with lamentation she brought fragrant myrrh to You before Your burial. And she cried: Woe is me, for love of sin and stings of lustful passion envelop me as the night, dark and moonless. As You cause the clouds to drop down the waters of the sea, accept the fountain of my tears. As by Your indescribable condescension You bowed down the heavens, so incline to the groaning of my heart. I shall kiss Your most pure feet and wipe them with the hair of my head, those same feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise when she hid herself in fear. Who can count the multitude of my sins? Who can measure the depths of Your judgments, O Saviour of my soul? Do not turn away from me, Your servant, for You have immeasurable mercy.
Tuesday evening also includes this kontakion:
- I have transgressed far more than the harlot, O Good One, yet have never brought you showers of tears; but entreating in silence, I fall before you, as I kiss your immaculate feet with love, that as Master you may grant me forgiveness of offences, as I cry out, O Saviour: deliver me from the filth of my works.
- Holy Week - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - from Holy Week: A Liturgical Explanation for the Days of Holy Week (St Vladimir's Seminary Press), by Very Rev. Alexander Schmemann
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