Being Alone with the Bridegroom

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

Being Alone with the Bridegroom

by Fr Gregory Scratch

A reflection on the current Public Health Orders restricting our participation in the services of Holy Week and Pascha.

During the first three days of this Holy Week, many of our Churches served those beloved and dear "Bridegroom Matins" as a meditation and clarification of what the Lord will be doing to heal our broken and mortal nature; by going to, and dying for His bride the Church, "that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Heb. 5:25-27). And in the middle of the Church arrayed in flowers is the Icon of of the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος — Ho Nymphios —).

Truly, it is a very striking image that we are more likely to note as His "Extreme Humility" (a similar but different Icon), but it is certainly anything other than what we would consider an image of a Bridegroom; after all, most bridegrooms generally are well dressed and giddy (if not a little nervous). Yet this Icon speaks volumes to the length the Lord goes to be with His beloved, to be with us. 

We see in this Icon, the Lord's movement to us is not about Himself, it is all about us. He humbles Himself so completely to demonstrate this; being bound like a criminal by our sins, crowned with thorns- by our vanity and pride, and arrayed in mockery with a cloak and reed- by our contempt, so that He might transform our broken and mortal nature by His self emptying love.

Yet this understanding can be lost on us with everyday life, getting the family ready for Church, preparing for the feast and all. Indeed we can lose perspective on what we are preparing for, and who it is we are doing these things for; The Bridegroom, the Lord. For The Bridegroom comes to offer a ransom for our humanity- disciples and us seek to sell Him in betrayal. The Bridegroom comes and offers Himself in a feast- His disciples and us, argue about who is the greatest. The Bridegroom comes to serve- His disciples and us, we protest. The Bridegroom is betrayed- and His disciples and us,we flee. Indeed The Bridegroom comes and we are unprepared (Mt. 25: 1-13).

It is in this that we see maybe the most striking aspect of the Bridegroom Icon, that the Lord is alone in His sorrow, abused, shamed and abandoned; with only His humble and undying love left.

This is something to consider in the light of the new Public Health Orders that have come into place in Manitoba (and across the country). We have spent our Lenten season in anticipation of the Lord's Holy Pascha. We have prepared ourselves through fasting, prayer and acts of mercy for that glorious third day, like a bridegroom (and bride for that matter) preparing for a wedding, only to have this feast of feasts pulled out from underneath us like a carpet, even while it was so close. It  feels like we have been betrayed, we have been relegated, we have been protested against, and we have been abandoned. Indeed, we, like the Icon of The Bridegroom are truly alone, unable to participate in the Liturgical, cultural, and social life of the Church in a normal way.

We have been stripped of those elements of grace and respect that we associate with our preparation for Pascha, and like the Lord have been humbled by circumstances beyond our control. The question is, what is left to offer the Lord when everything has been taken away? To answer this is to see the Icon of the Bridegroom for what it offers; love, and only love. There are no snappy suits (or bridal gowns), no services; no laurel wreaths or gilded crowns, no beautiful temple to be in; no cheering bridal party, no brothers and sisters in Christ to share our Pascal joy with; there is only love, witnessed in the most profound way.

It might seem that I am just promoting these Public Health Orders, or cowering to an antagonistic civil authority. Far from it! I don't like these orders, although I am sympathetic to their goals (reduction of infection) yet any disobedience to either the civil authorities and Bishop would have drastic effects for myself and more importantly our community. Regardless of what I might think or feel about the whole situation, I know that the Lord is in this all.

Maybe, just maybe, the Lord has permitted these restrictions as a way of helping us understand the mystery of God's love for humanity as revealed in this Holy Week, and profoundly understand the miracle that is Pascha. That as St John Chrysostom proclaims  "Hades It took a body (broken and shamed one relegated as criminal), and met God face to face. It took earth (the finite and corruptible), and encountered Heaven (the infinite and everlasting). It took that which was seen (creation), and fell upon the unseen (the Creator).

Maybe, just maybe we have been stripped of those blessed elements of the Holy Week and Paschal services, to be like Him; alone with only our love to offer.

Maybe, just maybe, this is what we need to do to realize that we are not alone in our sorrow, abused, shamed and abandoned by the world around us. Rather we have the Risen Christ with us, calling us by name, and offering His peace and life to us, which can not be taken away.

These are difficult times, and our prayer is that we might see the Lord's love through it all: and moreover respond to it with the proclamation that Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!