During the first three nights of Holy Week we are reminded of the Second Coming of Christ. These are called the Bridegroom services. Why the Bridegroom?
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt. 22:2).
A wedding is traditionally celebrated with a grand feast and a most joyous time. Christ is the Bridegroom and we are His bride. He invites us all to a great feast in His kingdom of heaven. When the Bride accept one in marriage the Bridegroom pledges His inheritance and glory. It is a union where two become one. As we join with Him as His bride we become one just like the bride and groom become one in the marriage ceremony. But with this invitation comes a warning. In the words of the King, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy” (Matt. 22:8).
It is us who are not worthy? Will we be accep[ted in His Kingdom. Will we become His bride? On one of several occasions, the Lord was asked why His disciples did not observe the prescribed fasting periods of the Jewish faith, Christ responded, "Can you make wedding guests fast, when the bridegroom is with them (Luke 5:34)?" And He went on to say, "The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them... (Luke 5:35)."
In the Bridegroom services celebrated on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings we sing this hymn:
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." Its a warning. We are reminded that we must be ever ready as we do not know when the time will come when we will be called to join with Him in eternal life. Will we be properly clothed for the wedding banquet? Will we even be invited.
On Sunday night the icon is brought onto the Solea in a procession and after the Gospel is read, we sing:
I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein; What is this wedding garment? It is our purity of heart demonstrated by the fruit we bear.
One of the Gospels lessons (Matthew 21:18-20) of these services is the lesson is about the barren fig tree, which Christ cursed and withered because it bore no fruit. The fig tree is a parable of those who have heard God's word, but who fail to bear the fruit of obedience. 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. Those who belong to Christ ought to live and walk in the Spirit; and the Spirit will bear fruit in them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-25).
These services set the important tone of repentance which we all need to be accepted in His kingdom. Its a sobering message in preparation for the Passion of Christ where the services dramatically lead us though the incredible suffering He went through for us. It demonstrates His extreme humility which he expects us to also have as our wedding garment.
This icon is the focus of the service.
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. It portrays Christ during His Passion, particularly during the period when our Lord was mocked and tortured by the soldiers who crowned Him with thorns, dressed Him in purple and placed a reed in His Hands, jeering Him as the "King of the Jews." . The crown of thorns is a symbol of his marriage to the Church and His suffering. The rope around His hands is a symbol of bondage to sin, death and corruption which was loosed with Christ's death on the Cross. And the reed is a symbol of his humility; God rules his kingdom with humility. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggest the Parousia.
He invites us to become His Bride and to be properly prepared.
Here is a final thought by Elder Ephraim:
In this life that we live, man labors to become rich, to become educated, to have an easy life, to become great; but unfortunately, death comes and foils everything. Then what he labored for all his life is taken by others, while he leaves life with a guilty conscience and a soiled soul. Who is wise and will understand these things and will renounce them and follow Christ the Bridegroom, so that all the works he will do will be recompensed infinitely in His kingdom?Always, my daughter, remember death and the judgment of God which we will unavoidably undergo. Bear them in mind to have more fear of God, and weep for your sins, because tears console the soul of him who weeps.