By Dr. Michael Koutsos
Plagal of the Fourth Tone Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He finds watching. And again unworthy is he whom he shall find careless. See to it, my soul, that sleep does not overcome you, lest you be given over to death and are locked out of the kingdom. But arise and cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy are You our God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us.
The Service of the Bridegroom takes place early on during Holy Week, because the Bridegroom is coming. When He will come is unknown, maybe during the day or during the night, so we have to be awake, to be “watchful”, to receive Him. The foolish virgin showed indifference, while the prudent ones showed prudence. This concerns us all. We must be ready when Christ comes either by violent death or by a natural one. We must have the necessary oil, the necessary lamp, that is, our good works, which is the ticket to enter the bridal-chamber, that is, Paradise. So happy is he who is watchful and unworthy is he who is indolent. We must not fall asleep, that is, be lazy and indifferent, because “the kingdom of God is taken by violence and the violent take it by force.” And our punishment is not only that we will be excluded from Paradise but we will be surrendered to death, because turning away from God means death. The exhortation of the hymnographer is clear, according to the fathers of the church “arise and be sober all of you.”
Fourth Tone Let us love the Bridegroom, O brethren, and let us carefully prepare our lamps, shining with the virtues and right faith, so that like the wise virgins of the Lord, we may be ready to enter with him into the wedding feast, for God the Bridegroom as a gift, grants to all, the crown incorruptible.
The hymnographer assumes that we belong to the order of wise virgins and demands appropriate compliance. First, love for the Bridegroom, which is absolutely necessary, otherwise the expectation to meet Him is not justified, then a practical manifestation of this love with the display of virtues, which will be the result of right and deep faith. Virtues will make us ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, which is likened to mankind’s happiest event, a wedding. The virtues will simply be the sign of our love for the Bridegroom, it will be the ticket with which we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where a great surprise awaits us: God will put on us an incorruptible crown, that is, incorruptibility and eternity, which is not redeemed by any virtue, but is simply a gift from God, and therefore invaluable.
Praises. Idiomelon. First Tone. How may I, unworthy as I am, enter into the brightness of Your saints? For if I come boldly to the king’s palace my garment will convict me, in that I have no wedding garment, and I shall be bound and cast away by the angels. O Lord, cleanse my soul from all filthiness, and save me for You love mankind.
Let us assume that we are invited to this supper, the Kingdom of Heaven, which the saints brighten with their presence. I, the unworthy one, says the hymnographer, how dare I enter. As a guest at this royal dinner I need to have the appropriate attire. And while the robes of the saints are shiny, mine is inappropriate and dirty. So how do I get in? If I dare, the angels will tie me up and throw me out, and rightly so, since I do not have the proper attire. The only solution is to clean the dirt not only off my clothes but also of my soul. But only the benevolent Lord can do that.
How has our garment become dirty, namely our soul. The story is very old. After the disobedience, the First-Created wore “leather tunics”, that is, perishable and soiled garments, and thus circulated, covering their nakedness, which they did not feel before the disobedience. It will take many years for Christ to be baptized in the Jordan, for us to be baptized and thus to wear a white robe again, after the holy water of Baptism has cleansed us from our original sin. Since then it is everyone’s personal responsibility to keep their white clothes clean from the filth of the world’s sin. That is why the hymnographer asks Christ to cleanse the dirt of his soul, in order to dare to enter the bridal-chamber, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Plagal of the Second Tone O Bridegroom, surpassing in beauty all men, who has called us to the spiritual feast of Your bridal chamber, divest my ill‐clad form of offences through the participation in Your sufferings, adorn me with the glorious robe of Your beauty, declare me as a joyful guest in Your kingdom, for You are compassionate.
The hymnographer insists on highlighting his unworthiness for his participation in the spiritual banquet, which was called by Christ, only here the comparison is not with the costumes but with the beauty of Christ and his own ugliness. The Host, who invites him, is Christ, who is “called the Bridegroom surpassing in beauty all men”, the most beautiful groom of all the grooms in the world. In this spiritual banquet, to which the Host called him, he is “crooked, ugly,” like Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, in his appearance. This ugliness of the face but especially of the soul is due to the effect of sins on it.
The only hope again lies with the Lord, who with his Holy Passion and His Holy Blood cleanses the soul and adorns the soul with the appropriate attire, so that he too may be included among the Companions of the Host and enter the Kingdom of God with the appropriate attire, with which Christ will adorn him, a garment of glory that emanates from the beauty of Christ. To do this, however, he hopes only in the mercy of the benevolent God.
Idiomelon. Plagal of the Fourth Tone. Come ye faithful, let us eagerly work for the Master, for He gives wealth to His servants, and according each to his measure, let us multiply the talent of grace. Let one gain wisdom through good deeds, let another celebrate the Liturgy with splendor, let another faithfully communicate the word to the uninstructed, and let another distribute his wealth to the poor. Thus shall we increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of his grace, we shall be accounted worthy of the Master's joy; of this make us worthy, O Christ our God for You love mankind.
After talking about the virtues that will allow us to enter Paradise again, here we are talking about how to acquire them. And of course we cannot have all the virtues, because God did not give all the talents to everyone. One has wisdom and another does good deeds, another does brilliant liturgies, another has wealth and scatters it to the poor, etc. God is the one who gives to everyone those talents that He deems every man should have. We must be faithful stewards of God’s Grace. We are not responsible for how many talents each one has, but for the management of the talents. What matters is to multiply them and not to leave them unused, like the wicked slave, who took a talent and did not take advantage of it, because he was afraid of losing it, a pretext for laziness. The one who had two talents and made four is not inferior to the one who had five and made ten. They both showed the same progress, doubled their capital. If we work like this, the Master, God, will take joy, who is also our gift-giver. This joy the hymnographer asks God to find him worthy of to rejoice and with him for God to rejoice in him.
Translation by John Sandinopoulos