Each year we are invited once again to traverse the sacred days of the fast and come to that Week of all weeks - Holy Week. We are invited by the Church to take pause and reorient our crazy hectic schedule around "church time." Every year we are guided through this rich, profound and beautiful cycle of services where we participate in Christ's final days. If we pause enough we enter into the deep silence of the fear, isolation, sadness of the coming crucifixion of our Lord. Though the one Subject is Christ Himself, we come to find that it is us as well who become a vital component to these services. As we are remembering these events - Judas, the crowds, the Virgins awaiting the bridegroom, the harlot who anointed Christ's feet - we begin to see that we are just like these persons. We are the Virgins who are not ready for the bridegroom. We are Judas who so often are willing to sell Christ for the sake of our worldly gain, we are the disciples who deny our Lord, and we are the crowds who boldly proclaim "crucify him!" As a new mission we continue to take steps to fill out our liturgical cycle and this year we are adding the services for Monday through Thursday known as Bridegroom Matins.
The first three days of Holy Week are referred to as "the end". We have just laid our palm branches down into the silence of Christ's final days. Darkness and judgment are the theme for the first three days. This is centered around the the Gospel reading from Great and Holy Tuesday found in Matt. 24:36 - 26:2. This is the parable of the ten virgins. Here we are urged not to be like the five foolish virgins who were not prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The troparion hymn sung on these three days:
Behold the bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the 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 over 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!"
Also another hymn:
Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.
As we enter into Holy Week we are overwhelmed with the sense that we have nothing to offer our Lord and that we have wasted our life and are asleep and that we have missed the coming of the bridegroom. It is only through the grace and mercy of our Lord's voluntary Passion that we are made worthy to enter. We hear this echoed on Monday evening:
How shall I, the unworthy one, appear in the splendor of Thy saints?
For if I dare enter Thy bridal chamber with them my garments will betray me: they are unfit for a wedding.
The angels will cast me out in chains.
Cleans the filth of my soul, O Lord, and save me in Thy love for mankind.
O Christ the Bridegroom, my soul has slumbered in laziness.
I have no lamp aflame with virtues.
Like the foolish virgins I wander aimlessly when it is time for work.
But do not close Thy compassionate heart to me, O Master.
Rouse me, shake off my heavy sleep.
Lead me with the wise virgins into the bridal chamber, that I may hear the pure voice of those that feast and cry unceasingly: O Lord, glory to Thee!
It is important to let the full weight of these services permeate us. Let the heavy truth of seeing ourselves as we truly are lead us to glorify Christ's passion and cause us to cry out as we will on Holy Friday, "show us also Thy Glorious resurrection!"
(This is a wonderful prayer that should give words to the deepest groaning of our hearts as we complete the Great Fast and joyously await our Lord’s Pascha
But, O Lord, guide of those gone astray, the unerring path of those who come to You, turn us all around and place us before Your ladder, and direct our hands with Your own hand to take hold of it, and enable us to raise ourselves from the earth and to step onto the first rung, so that we may know that we have somehow, sometime, taken hold of something with our hands and have raised ourselves a little from the earth. For we are obliged to ascend, just a little, at first to You, in order that You, the good Master, may come down from so far away and unite Yourself to us. Show us, Master, the door at the forecourt of Your Kingdom, so that we may knock patiently at it until the gate should open to us by virtue of our voluntary death, and we enter within and knock one by one at the gates and open them. May You Yourself, hearing our groans and the beating of our breasts, hurry to come down from your high chambers, You the greatly compassionate and merciful God, that we may hear the sounds of Your all-immaculate feat and know that You are opening the innermost gates, closed to sinners, and drawing near us and saying: "Who is he who is knocking?" and that, answering with cries and tears, we may reply to You with trembling and joy: "We are, Master, we the unworthy, the wretched, Your cast-off and wicked servants, we who until now have been wandering astray among mountains and cliffs and ravines. We are those who have senselessly soiled Your holy Baptism, who denied our covenants with You. We are those who have fled away and even deserted voluntarily to Your enemy who plots against our souls. Now, though, having remembered You and Your love for mankind, we have run away from there and, weary with labor, have come to You in great fear and trembling.
Forgive and be not angry with us, Master, but with mercy and compassion for us wretched ones open to us, Lord, and do not call to mind our evils, neither bear rancour for our ingratitude, for we have stood long hours in knocking, nor misunderstand us, Your servants, lest, having been slighted, we turn backwards. We have grown weary beating on the doors to the forecourts of Your Kingdom. Open to us, You Who by nature love mankind, have compassion on us. For if only You open to us the door of Your mercy by a little, who will not shudder at seeing you? Who will not fall prostrate in fear and trembling and beseech Your mercy? Who, seeing You Who have ten thousand times ten thousand angels and a thousand thousand archangels and thrones and powers, abandoning the heights and coming down to us, and meeting and opening to us, and both welcoming us graciously and falling upon our necks and kissing us, who will not immediately wounded to the quick and undone as if he were dead? And his bones will be poured out on the earth like water, and he will weep day and night reckoning up the ocean of Your compassion and goodness, and reflecting the glory and splendor of Your countenance. Glory be to You, Who have arranged all things thus. Glory to You, Who have been well-pleased to be seen by and united with us. Glory to You, Who for the sake of Your great compassion are revealed and seen by us, You Who by nature are invisible even to the heavenly powers themselves. Glory to You, Whose mercy toward us is unspeakable, Who have deigned through repentance both to abide and to walk with us. Through the payers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.