Orthodox America

  Behold, They King Cometh

I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there.

     During the whole of Great Lent the Church has been teaching us to “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven" in all that we do spiritually, psychologically, and physically. We were to become as little children and receive the King who came to Jerusalem on a foal but was honored only by children. We were to trim our wicks, lay in a supply of oil, and prepare the bridal chamber, for "behold, the Bridegroom cometh..."

    But, as usual, we did none of these things. On the contrary, we must now in all truthfulness number ourselves among the foolish virgins who were not ready and waiting for the Bridegroom.

    Throughout all these weeks of Lent the Church brought before our spiritual and mental faze a mighty procession of great Sundays, beginning with the Sunday of Orthodoxy, on which we beheld the mystery of the True Faith, with banners triumphantly flying: "God is with us, understand O ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us." Then came the quiet image of a Holy Father, St. Gregory Palamas, to whom the Church dedicates this light-filled second Sunday of Lent, and whose whole life demonstrated that following Christ begins in the heart.

    After this, the Sunday of the Holy Cross, on which the wood of the Tree was brought forth from the altar to the faithful and venerated as the "fair Paradise of the Church...the unconquerable trophy of the True Faith, invincible weapon."

    On the fourth Sunday the Church again directed our attention to a Holy Father, St. John of the Ladder, who in the seventh century composed an immortal explanation of repentance, The Ladder of Divine Ascent; for which the Church sends up a stream of praise: "We have learned through thee to journey on the straight path!"

    And then, on the fifth Sunday, the Church brought before us the greatest of all "types" of repentance, St. Mary of Egypt, before whose life we can only bow down and sing with one voice: "Once thou wast defiled with every impurity, but today through repentance thou hast become the Bride of Christ."

    Finally, it is Palm Sunday, the day on which we are supposed to echo the salute of  the children: "Hosanna in the highest: blessed is He that comes, the King of Israel." Suddenly we stand on the threshold of that most sacred week in the entire year. "Christ in His love hastens to His sufferings" and we are invited to hasten with Him, keeping vigil, approaching the mysteries of this incomparable week with greatest concentration, passing "from palms and branches...to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ's Passion." Mournfully we hear the cry, "Prepare thy priest, O Judea, make ready thy hands to kill God: for see, He has come to His Passion, meek and silent..."

    But, Brothers and Sisters; how shall we, who have wasted our time of preparation in frivolity and laziness, now go with Christ "up to Jerusalem" and remain with Him as He is betrayed with a false kiss, arrested, accused, and "led as a sheep to the slaughter"? We are given the opportunity to enter into a dread and marvelous mystery, but most of us will continue to be consumed with the anxieties and cares of this world. The Church asks us to join St. Joseph of Arimathea in his lament, "Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus!" but our hearts are not filled with sorrow. The Church joins the angels in singing, "Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand with fear and trembling; and let it take no thought for any earthly things," but we do not understand silence, fear, or trembling, and our minds are not emptied of earthly things.

    We seem to think that Lent is of only passing importance--a little bit of fasting (maybe the first and last week), an occasional church service, palms or pussy willows, and suddenly: kulich and pascha, and "Christ is Risen," and that's that. But the Church for many long weeks has arrayed herself in the brightest, most beautiful, and most solemn of apparel, "wooing" us, as-it-were, to come with repentance, not to kulich and pascha, but to the very feet of the Master, the Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God! And thus the Church alternates between displays of brilliant theology (much of which is far beyond the feeble 'spirituality" of our times to comprehend), and intensely personal invitations to us to enter into something that is far, far above this mortal world:

My soul, my soul arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake then, and be watchful.

    Call we catch even a glimmer of the light of Pascha if we do not arouse our souls and keep watch with Christ? St. Paul tells the Philippians, "Rejoice...The Lord is at hand," but it seems that during Lent we more often run to shut the door in His face rather than open it to Him. Yet now, even though only days and hours remain before Christ's Resurrection and the Feast of Feasts, it is not too late for us. We know that even those that come at the Eleventh Hour are given a seat at the Mystical Supper. Only, we must hasten, we must go! We must "walk about Zion and encompass her, and within her walls give glory unto Him Who is risen from the dead!" It is true that the reformed publicans and harlots are seizing the Kingdom of Heaven before us, but that does not mean that we still cannot follow them into Heaven.

     Therefore, let us leap up, let us enter with heart, mind, body and soul into whatever remains to us of this year's Great Lent. Let us in fact seize greedily upon what is left or Lent and let us squeeze from it as much nourishment as we can possibly absorb. Indeed, it is still possible for us, late as it already is, to be found among the Myrrh-bearing Women as they go early in the morning to the Tomb, where they hear those most wonderful of all words: "Why do ye seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!"

Fr. Alexey Young