Thursday, April 16, 2009

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen!

Not only was the “Bridegroom” imagery present during Holy Week, but during Bright Week (the week after Easter) we sing every morning during Resurrection Matins about Christ coming forth from the tomb “like a bridegroom.”

“Bearing torches let us meet the bridegroom Christ, as He comes forth from His tomb; and let us greet, with joyful song, the saving Pasch of God.” (Ode 5)

This was an especially meaningful Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) because it was the first we celebrated in our monastery! In fact, Holy Week was the first week we spent here. We moved in on the Friday before Palm Sunday with the help of a few friends.

We prayed in our monastery for the first time on Saturday morning—matins for Lazarus Saturday—in the foyer at a little icon corner we set up. God’s providence was brilliantly clear to me when I realized that three years ago, right after praying matins for Lazarus Saturday at a discernment retreat, was the moment I felt God calling me to religious life! And now it was that very prayer that was our first in the monastery.

On Sunday evening we prayed vespers at Bishop John’s residence and had our icon of Christ the Bridegroom blessed, along with our cadillo (censor). On Monday morning we set up our chapel temporarily so we could pray there, even though the walls are still bare drywall. Fr. Rich Plishka brought our icon and prayed Bridegroom Matins with us. How beautiful it was to see our icon carried around the altar and placed on the icon stand as we prayed for the first time in our chapel, singing “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night…”

Holy Week was spent praying the services in our chapel, the parish across the street and other churches, and baking the Easter foods. Good Friday was an especially beautiful and prayerful day. Fr. Rich came out again, with Seminarian Jaroslav from Slovakia, and we prayed Matins with the 12 Gospel readings and the Royal Hours. Our little chapel was filled with the Passion story and incense. We also prepared our chapel for the burial and Resurrection by making do with what we could find, including a “tomb” for the Plaschanitsa (burial shroud) which we constructed with cardboard boxes and cloth! Considering the situation, our chapel is beautiful!

We celebrated Resurrection Matins at my home parish in Brecksville on Saturday night and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning at the Shrine parish across the street from us. The rest of the day was spent visiting with family and friends.

We hope you and your families had a glorious celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection! (And we wish our Orthodox brothers and sisters a blessed Pascha this Sunday!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Behold, the Bridegroom is coming..."

Jesus Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. He became incarnate, took on our flesh and came into the world to betroth Himself to His bride with the price of His blood. He invites us, woos us to come to His beautiful garden, His bridal chamber, to envelope us in His love, life, joy and peace (Ephesians 5:25-27). He yearns to be intimately one with each of us, His Bride (Song of Songs 7:11).

The icon of Christ the Bridegroom portrays the selfless love for Christ’s Bride, the Church (Isaiah 54). He is dressed in royal colors as the betrothed King, complying with Sacred Scripture’s account of His mockery by the Roman guards before His crucifixion. The crown is a symbol of His marriage to the Church; the rope, a symbol of bondage to sin, death and corruption which Jesus untied by His death on the Cross; the reed, a symbol of His humility.

During Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, we celebrate Bridegroom Matins. We sing:

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. Blessed is the servant he shall find awake. But the one he shall find neglectful will not be worthy of him. Beware, therefore, O my soul! Do not fall into a deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you. Watch instead and cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy are you, O God. Through the intercession of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

Other beautiful prayers during Bridegroom Matins include these prayed on Tuesday:

O faithful, let us be on fire with love for the Bridegroom, and with lamps burning, let us go out to meet him. May the light of our virtues shine brightly, and may our faith be radiant. With the wise Virgins, let us prepare to enter the banquet hall of the Lord; - for the divine Spouse offers us all the crown of immortality. (Sessional Hymn One)

O wretched soul, think of your last hours. Be dismayed at the rebuking of the fig tree. Act and double the talent given you with a loving purpose. Be watchful and cry out: Grant that we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ. (Kontakion)

May we all stay awake in anticipation and prayer throughout this holiest of weeks, as we prepare to meet the Bridegroom as he emerges from the tomb.

Please also keep us in your prayers as we move into our monastery this weekend!