Christ the Bridegroom
Christ The Bridegroom comes from the central figure in the parable of the ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13); Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. This title is suggestive of His divine presence and watchfulness ("Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night ...") during Holy Week.
The Bridegroom is also the name given to the central icon used in The Service of the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom icon and service has been more commonly known as "O Nymphios" but over the last decade, this title has caused much confusion to the ever-growing English speaking christian population.
Service of the Bridegroom
The Service of the Bridegroom is a service specific to the first three evenings of Holy Week and commemorates the last days in the earthly life of our 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 our sins) and is symbolic of the shame we 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 our sins. The main emphasis of the Bridegroom Service is metanoia and each service has its own particular theme on repentance and watchfullness.
Palm Sunday evening
During the first service, Palm Sunday evening, the priest carries the icon of Christ the Bridegroom into the church. We sing the Hymn of the Bridegroom during this procession, and the icon is brought to the front of the church and remains there until Holy Thursday. In the icon, we behold our Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, bearing the marks of His suffering, yet preparing the way for a marriage Feast for us in His Kingdom. He is dressed in the icon according to the mockery of the Roman guards just prior to his crucifixion.
- The crowns - The crown of thorns are a symbol of His marriage to the Church.
- The rope - the rope symbolises our bondage to sin, death and corruption which was loosed only when Christ opened His arms on the Cross. This is highlighted in the Third Ode of the Canon of Holy Friday - You have stretched forth Your hands, O Saviour, and gathered the things dispersed of old; and by Your burial in the linen and the grave You have loosed the captives, who shout, "There is none who is Holy apart from You, O Lord."
- The reed - a symbol of His humility; God rules his kingdom with humility.
The Kontakion for Holy Monday
The Kontakion for Sunday evening, eighth tone.
- 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.
The Hymn of the Bridegroom
- 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."
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, our 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 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. However, 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.
The Kontakion for Holy Tuesday
The Kontakion for Monday evening, second tone.
- 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 we must always be prepared to receive our Lord when He comes again. The theme of the day is reinforced by the expostelarion hymn we sing "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."
We also remember Kassiani (September 7). Kassiani was a beautiful young aristocrat, who came from a Byzantium family at the time of the Emperor Theophilos (9th century). While choosing a bride from a parade of eligible girls, Theophilos became angry at a reply Kassiani gave as a reply to a question of his, so he impulsively chose Theodora, who was standing next to Kassiani, as his bride. Kassiani played a great role in the restoration of the Holy Icons and dedicated her life to the composition of sacred poetry. Heartbroken by Theophilos, one of those poems was this beautiful hymn. It retains the original Byzantine music which may be difficult for all to understand. Theophelos, 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 us one more time, before "it is too late," that we too may be forgiven if we repent.
The Hymn of Kassiani
The text is based on 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):
Hymn, Tone 8:
- 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 judgements, O Saviour of my soul?
- Do not turn away from me, Your servant, for You have immeasurable mercy.
The Kontakion for Holy Wednesday
The Kontakion for Tuesday evening, fourth tone.
- 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.