The services for Holy and Great Week begin on Sunday evening. The Matins services read during the first three days of Holy and Great Week are known as the Bridegroom Matins services.
We begin each Bridegroom Matins service in the same way as we do a regular Matins service, with the Enarxis – consisting of the Trisagion prayers, hymns, and a Small Litany – and then the Exapsalmos (the six morning Psalms) followed by the Great Litany, the Kathismata, the Gospel Reading, Psalm 50 and the Prayer of Intercession. We then read the canon for the day.
The focus of the canon of the first of the Bridegroom Matins services, that of Holy and Great Monday (read on Sunday evening), is Joseph the Excellent, son of Jacob, who was a type of Christ.
The focus of the canon of the second Bridegroom Matins – that read on Monday evening – is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The Parable of the Ten Virgins appears in the Holy Scripture in Matthew 25:1-13, occurring between the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem and His subsequent betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, which is where we find ourselves in terms of the Church calendar; that is in the week leading from the entry of our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Holy and Great Friday. The Lord offers the parable to His disciples in response to the question they ask in Matthew, Chapter 24:
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him in private, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”— Matthew 24:3, EOB: The Eastern/Greek Orthodox New Testament
In this parable, our Lord is the bridegroom and we are the virgin bridesmaids who hold the vessels used to carry the oil. Our hearts are the vessels; the oil is the Holy Spirit, the oil of compassion. The principal lesson for all of us is that we must always be ready for the Lord’s Second Coming and the Day of Judgement (Mt 24:44). We cannot hope to borrow oil from others should we find our own vessels lacking when the day comes. Only God may grant us the gift of His Holy Spirit; to be afforded this gift, we must repent and seek His forgiveness.
The focus of the canon of the third Bridegroom Matins service, that of Holy and Great Wednesday (read on Tuesday evening), is the Anointing of the Lord by the penitent harlot and continues with the theme of oil, which the harlot uses to anoint the Lord’s feet.
The Gospel reading on Tuesday Evening is taken from Matthew 26:6-16 but the parallel account in Luke 7:36-50 also influences the hymns we chant. While Luke emphasises the love of the harlot and the Lord’s unbounded capacity for forgiveness, Matthew focuses on the contrast between the harlot and Judas the betrayer. Thus, being a member of Christ’s inner circle, His Church is by no means a guarantee of salvation. Each of us is capable of betraying our Lord, as we demonstrate each time we fall into sin, but each of us can repent our sins, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and rising again as the harlot did. The degree to which we have fallen into sin does not determine whether or not we are granted entry into the heavenly Jerusalem; acts of repentance secure our place in the Kingdom, as our Lord’s rebuke to Simon the leper demonstrates.
The Bridegroom Matins of Holy and Great Wednesday reaches its climax with one of the most beloved hymns of the Orthodox Church, the hymn of St. Cassiani (also known as the Hymn of the Fallen Woman).
Before he departed from us, Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory presented a very informative podcast on the theme of our Lord as the Bridegroom, which runs through both the Old and New Testaments. You can find a link to Fr. Thomas’ podcast here:
For those of you who wish to learn more about the services of the first three days of Holy and Great Week, Fr. Thomas also presented a longer and more detailed series of podcasts on this subject, which can be found here:
Transcripts of each podcast can be read by scrolling down each page.