The first three services of Holy Week

I’m writing about Holy Week in parts, because there are a lot of services to cover. And I may not go into as much detail as I like. Bridegroom Orthos is the first service of the week and it is split into three parts. Now, I have to say that until I joined the church as an adult, I had no idea that Bridegroom Orthos even existed. Since rejoining the church, I haven’t been able to attend, and this year is no exception. I have this idea that when my kids are grown and we have no external schedule demands, I will be able to attend all the services of Holy Week. Insh’Allah.

Anyway, I’m doing a little research so I can tell you about these services.

Holy Monday – April 18, 7pm
Bridegroom Orthros (also called Bridegroom Matins)

Holy Tuesday – April 19, 7pm
Bridegroom Orthros

Matins means “morning” and therefore, Matins are usually served in the morning. The Bridegroom Matins (also called Orthos, meaning “straight or true”), are served in the evening the day before each Holy day. Therefore, Monday Matins is served Sunday night, and so on. There is a reason for this, and it has to do with the meaning of these services. I’m quoting here from the Orthodox Church in America (taken directly off the OCA website):

“The First Three Days of Holy Week

The first three days of Holy Week are referred to in the Church as “The End.” Jesus was walking into the very midst of those who sought to take His life. He experienced deep anguish within Himself (John 12:27). Despite the triumph of the Palm weekend, which had confirmed the outcome of His Passion even before it had taken place, the Lord had already told His disciples that:

…he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)

The moment of truth had arrived. No longer did Jesus speak to the people from boats or in the countryside. He spoke openly in Jerusalem itself. He confronted His enemies and publicly refuted them.

Judgment and The End

We see the sin and darkness which triumph in “this world” loom before us as we follow Christ as He approaches the Cross. On the first three “great and holy” days of this week, it is the Gospel read at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the “end” of each liturgical day – when “the light of Christ illumines all” – that the “theme” of the whole day is revealed.

On Monday the theme is quite simply the End: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:3-35).

On Tuesday we are minded of the vigilance and care required of all Christians as we hear Christ’s parables of the ten virgins and of the talents, and we are filled with “holy fear” as we listen to Him prophesy the Last Judgment (Matthew 24:36-26:2).

On Wednesday we hear about the harlot who anoints Christ’s feet to prepare Him for His burial, and of Judas who judges her, mercilessly condemning her act of mercy (Matthew 26:6-16). Indeed, “The Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). And this darkness brings judgment.

Judgment is the theme of the Gospel lessons read in darkness each evening at Matins.

On Monday we hear of the barren fig tree which Christ curses and causes to be dried up (Matthew 21:18-43); on Tuesday, of the blind and hypocritical Pharisees (Matthew 22:15-23, 39); and on Wednesday, of the final rejection of Christ: “now is the judgment of the world” (John 12:17-50).

The two themes of darkness and judgment are combined in the troparion sung at Matins on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday:

Behold! the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.

But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!”

Midnight is the time for us to keep vigil, to watch and pray. The nighttime of “this world” is when we look for the coming of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom forms the basis of this special troparion sung at the beginning of Matins each day. Ten virgins went out to meet the bridegroom. They were not sure when he would come. Five took sufficient oil for their lamps, five did not. The five who came unprepared had to return to buy more oil. At midnight, while these are gone, the bridegroom came and the virgins who were prepared entered the bridal hall with him to begin the marriage feast. The bridal hall is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bridegroom is Christ. He comes at an hour when we least expect Him. We must “watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

In view of this special troparion, the Matins of the first three days of Holy Week are commonly called “The Bridegroom Service.” This service is customarily served in anticipation on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings. Throughout the services we are never allowed to forget that Christ the Bridegroom who comes is God, the God who created man in the beginning and who now comes to do all things for his salvation in His love for mankind. He constantly demands that we return this love, and that we show to others the same mercy that He shows to us. On Great and Holy Thursday the last of the Bridegroom Services is celebrated, and there we see this vital Christian requirement of love put to the ultimate test. For the last time we sing the exaposteilarion which forms the only link between all of the services of the first four days of Holy Week.

Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.This special hymn, sung near the end of the Service, tells us, in effect, that in our present state we are not ready to meet the Lord. There is no room for pride, callousness, or the recounting of our good deeds. We must repent, i.e., have an inner change of mind and heart before we can enter the Kingdom.”

It’s a neat idea that the services of Holy Week lead us on a journey with Christ from the time He comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hailed and praised by the people who cry out, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” until the time of His crucifixion and  resurrection. We contemplate our sin and the darkness of the world, and we look to Christ for Salvation and Mercy. Thank God that He “so loved the world.”

Holy Wednesday – April 20, 7:00pm

Holy Unction

“Is any among you sick, let him call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (Jas 5:14-16; see also Mk 6:13).”

The sacrament of Holy Unction is the blessing of a person with the anointing of Holy Oil. It is a sacrament of healing and forgiveness.  If there is only one service of Holy Week that I am able to attend other than Pascha, I try to attend Holy Unction. I need healing and forgiveness. And I really like to share this service with my children. It’s hard to set time aside during the week, when we’re already so overwhelmed with school and family activities, but I cherish the times when we can enter the church in reverence and worship and connect with God in a special way.

“Thank you Lord, for these special services of the Church and for our opportunity to deepen our faith.”

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About Leila

I am a wife and mother. I am an Orthodox Christian. I am a Syrian American with family living in Syria. I am a also a yoga teacher and freelance writer. I recently described myself in a job pitch as "a person who's lived in Portland, Oregon for over 20 years with a passion for writing and a passion for all things Portland. I'm a foodie, knitter, wine and beer lover, bee-keeper (yep, I said it), mead and fruit-liqueur maker, organic gardener, home-canner, hiker, biker, runner, and occasional skinny-dipper. I’ve camped all over the state, I sail a sailboat that’s moored on the Columbia (o.k., I'm the first mate), and I spend a large percentage of my time at our beach house in Seaside." That about sums it up.
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