Holy Monday ~ Bridegroom Matins

During this the first service on Palm Sunday evening, the icon of Christ the Bridegroom is carried into the church. The Bridegroom troparion is sung during this procession, and the icon is brought to the front of the church and remains there until Holy Thursday. 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. He is dressed in the icon according to the mockery of the Roman guards just prior to his crucifixion.The crowns – a symbol of his marriage to the Church.The rope – a symbol of bondage to sin, death and corruption which was loosed with Christ’s death on the Cross.The reed – a symbol of his humility; God rules his kingdom with humility.Christ the Bridegroom is the central figure in the parable of the ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13); Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church as described in the Book of Isaiah (chapter 54), as well as the primary image of Bridegroom Matins. The title is suggestive of his divine presence and watchfulness (“Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night…”) during Holy Week and his selfless love for his Bride, the Church.

This evening’s service calls to mind the beginning of Jesus’ suffering. The gospel describes the plotting of the priests and elders to trap Jesus into convicting Himself as a religious heretic. Through parables, Jesus tells us of His coming betrayal, trial, conviction and execution by crucifixion. The hymns of this service commemorate two things; the first, the prophetic figure of Joseph, who, while virtuous, nonetheless suffered unjustly at the hands of his brothers before being greatly rewarded, and the second, the parable of the fig tree, which in failing to bear fruit, became a symbol of fallen creation, and of our own lives, in which we also have failed to bear spiritual fruit.

Joseph was the eleventh son of the Patriarch Jacob, born to him of Rachel. Envied by his brothers on account of certain dreams that he had, he was first cast into a pit. Jacob was deceived by his other sons into believing, on the basis of a bloodstained robe, that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast. Joseph was then sold to some Ishmaelite travelers for thirty pieces of silver. The Ishmaelites in turn sold him to the chief eunuch of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt.

Joseph the All-Comely is an icon of Christ, since Christ, too, was envied by the Jews, His own people, was sold by one of His Disciples for thirty pieces of silver, and was enclosed in the dark and gloomy pit of the tomb. Breaking forth thence by His sovereign will, He reigns over Egypt—that is, He is victorious over all sin by His Divine power—and rules over the entire world. In His love for mankind, He redeems us through the mystical provision of corn, in that He offers Himself as a sacrifice for our sake, nourishing us with the heavenly Bread of His life-giving Flesh. Such is the proper interpretation of Joseph the All-Comely.

On this day, we also commemorate the fig tree that was withered. For the Divine Evangelists, namely Saints Matthew and Mark, after the narrative concerning the Palms, add the following story. According to Saint Mark: “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever” (Mark 11:12-14). According to Saint Matthew: “In the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away” (Matthew 21:18-19). Now, the fig tree is the Synagogue of the Jews, on which the Savior did not find the appropriate fruit, but only the darkness of the Law. Taking even this away from it, He rendered it completely fallow.

If one were to ask why the inanimate tree became dry when it received the curse, not having sinned in any way, let him learn that the Jews, seeing Christ always doing good to all men and not causing anyone even the slightest distress’, supposed that He had the power only to do good, and not to chastise. In His love for mankind, the Master did not wish to show that He had the ability to act thus towards any man. Therefore, in order to convince the ungrateful people that He had sufficient power to chastise, but in His goodness did not wish to chastise them, He inflicted a punishment on inanimate and insentient nature.

There is, at the same time, an apocryphal account that has come down to us from wise Elders, that says: that the tree which caused the transgression of Adam and Eve was this fig tree, the leaves whereof the transgressors used to cover themselves. Hence, since it had not suffered this fate originally, it was withered by Christ in His love for mankind, lest it any longer bear fruit that would be the cause of sin.

That sin is likened to the fig tree is quite clear; for the fig has the sweetness of pleasure, but the adhesiveness of sin, and it subsequently stings the conscience by its harshness. The Fathers placed the story of the fig tree here in order to arouse us to compunction, and the commemoration of Joseph because he is a type of Christ. The fig tree is every soul that is devoid of all spiritual fruit. The Lord, not finding any refreshment on it in the morning, that is, during the present life, withers it through a curse and consigns it to the eternal fire. It stands as a withered reminder, inspiring fear in those who do not bring forth the appropriate fruit of virtue.

By the intercessions of Joseph the All-Comely, O Christ God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Sources:Mystagogy Blog


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