Dear Friends in Christ,
Holy Week is fast approaching, and Great Lent 2012 will conclude before we know it. This year, we began celebrating the Akathist to the Theotokos (Hairetismi) each Friday night. When I was not able to make it to Greenville, the parishioners came together and prayed it as a lay-led service, which is so very encouraging to me. Our faith must be owned by each and every one of us! Thanks to everyone who made this possible.
During Holy Week, we pray the service of the Bridegroom Matins on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. The highlight of this service is the singing of the hymn:
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh 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 up 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.
This hymn refers to the Gospel passage found in Matthew 25:1-13:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
The Bible is full of similar warnings about the end of time and the Second Coming of Christ. It is clear that none of us know the time when He will return; every attempt to predict His return has been thwarted and the would-be prophets shamed. Because we do not know when the Lord will return, we should be vigilant and prepare ourselves.
Besides a reference to the end of time, however, this parable has meaning in our individual lives, for all of us will die one day, and we “know not the day nor the hour” of our departure. Some of us may live to a ripe old age, while others may suffer some tragedy. The first year of our mission in Greenville, we lost two friends; an elderly man and a middle-aged but relatively young man, both unexpectedly. The one outlived his wife, while the other was outlived by his own mother.
Knowing this, however, most of us continue to sin! We compartmentalize ourselves, so that we can shut off our conscience and avoid thinking of the consequences of our actions. The Bridegroom service—which is repeated four days in a row—helps to reinforce the truth about what is to come; it confronts us and calls us to prepare. The Scripture parable that serves as its basis shows us that we must prepare for the coming of the Lord with as much fervor as we prepare for the worldly pursuits which sustain our bodies. How many of us work long hours, encourage—even compel—our children to study and become successful in their careers, and yet we do not insist on our own preparation nor do we teach our children that such preparation is essential to the Christian life? Will Judgment Day catch us by surprise?
The good news is that we can turn away from sin now and get back on track. While we still have life in our bodies, there is still time to repent and return to God! The first step toward this goal is to increase our participation in the Divine Mysteries, such as Holy Communion and Confession. If we do this regularly, we will not depart from this world unprepared, and in our life here we will begin to experience God’s grace in all its glory, as we witness a transformation from natural man to child of God.
This is one reason why it is essential for Orthodox Christians to attend Church each and every time there is a service, as much as is possible; while it is true that “God is everywhere,” the Holy Mysteries can only be found at Church. We only have a limited amount of time to grow as Christians, and we can never know for sure if there will be a “next Sunday.” Such sentiments are not intended to be morbid, but rather to give an honest presentation of the facts and exhort all to prepare.
Let’s not take for granted that there will be a next time, for we simply cannot know what tomorrow will bring. Let us store up oil like the wise Virgins, so we are prepared for the Lord when He comes for us. If we do, then we shall enter into the Bridal Chamber of Heaven and live with Christ forever.