Tonight we pray the first of three Bridegroom Matins. For Holy Week all of the services are done half a day earlier than normal out of heightened anticipation (for example, on Sunday evening we are praying the service for Monday morning). The main hymn of Bridegroom Matins is a reflection based on Matthew 24:42, “Watch therefore for you know not the hour when the Lord will come,” and Matthew 25:6, “At midnight the cry was made, ‘behold the Bridegroom comes.’”
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find vigilant; and unworthy is he whom he shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul that you not be overcome by sleep, lest you be given up to death and be shut out of the Kingdom. Wherefore, rouse yourself crying out: Holy, Holy, Holy are you our God, through the intercessions of the Theotokos save us*.
(*the ending changes slightly each time)
This hymn, sung three times in a row at each Bridegroom Matins service, reminds us that each of us must remain vigilant in our relationship with God. Sleep represents the attitude of not caring, of not anticipating or longing for the awareness of God’s presence in our life. This hymn specifically, and all of Holy Week generally, reminds us that just as the same crowd that shouted ‘Hosannah’ this morning will five days later be shouting ‘Crucify Him,” so we too, if we are not vigilant and attentive to our souls, we too can fall away and miss the coming of God in our lives.
Each Bridegroom Matins service has different themes focusing on various aspects of the last week of Christ’s ministry. Tonight we focus on the Patriarch Joseph, who is considered the most perfect prefiguring of Christ’s innocence and unjust suffering. Tonight we also remember the cursed fig tree. The fig tree represents the Jewish nation to whom Jesus had come (for Jesus is a Jew). However, when Jesus came to His people, He found only the outward forms of religion (leaves) but not the fruit of true religion: mercy, truth and compassion. And so we are reminded that just as many years ago Jesus cursed the fig tree with leaves and no fruit, so today we are not safe if we have only the outward appearance of piety and religion but are not also cultivating it’s fruit.
These are sombre themes, but they are meant to be sombre. We are going with Christ to the Cross. But even so, the shouts of Hosannah are still ringing in our ears from this morning and the anticipation of the resurrection is beginning to glow dimly in our hearts.