“Behold the Bridgegroom cometh in the midst of the night….”
(The service is MATINS [Morning Prayers] of Great Monday)
Monday of Holy Week commemorates the blessed and noble Joseph and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord. The withering of the fig tree was a miracle of special symbolism, since the tree had leaves, but no fruit. It is symbolic of the many people who claim ethical and religious identity, but who in reality have empty lives that yield no fruit. This was also the case with some of the Pharisees of that period. Jesus cursed the tree: “May no fruit ever come from you again!” Matt. 21:19. The reference to the story of the virtuous Joseph of the Old Testament (Genesis 37-41) is made only for contrast, since the life of Joseph was a model of propriety and sincere observance of ethical principles.
On this evening we begin with the Hymn of the Bridegroom, “Behold the Bridegroom comes in the midst of the night… beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be borne down in sleep….. and lest thou be shut out from the Kingdom . . .” The canticle hymn also has a symbolic exhortation: “I see thy bridal hall adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment. . . O giver of Light, make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me”. At this time the solemn procession of the Icon of Christ-Bridegroom takes place around the church. The people, anticipating the sufferings of Christ, sing: “Thy sublime sufferings, on this day, shine upon the world as a light of salvation”.
The Gospel reading during this service is Matthew 21:18-43. It mentions that “the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said. ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”‘ v. 23. They sought to have Christ accuse Himself in answering this question.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ has its beginning on this day. Joseph is regarded as a symbol of Christ from former times, and thus is celebrated on Great Monday.
Joseph was the son of the Patriarch Jacob, born to him by Rachel. Because his brothers envied him on account of his prophetic dreams, they decided to hide Joseph in a dug-out pit. They proceeded to trick their father using a bloody garment to show that Joseph was devoured by beasts. Joseph was then sold to some Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; they, in turn, sold him to Potiphar, captain of the eunuchs of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Potiphar’s wife was enraged by Joseph’s chastity because, not wishing to commit sin, he fled from her, leaving behind his garments. So she gave him to his master and Joseph was put into bonds. Yet soon after he was released because of his ability to interpret certain dreams; he was brought before the king and appointed governor of the whole land of Egypt. Later, he was recognized by his brethren when they came to take their share of grain, which was given to those suffering drought. Having lived a full life, Joseph died in Egypt, recognized as being great and kind towards others. He is, moreover, symbolic of Christ. Christ was also envied by His own people, the Jews: He was sold by a disciple for thirty pieces of silver and was imprisoned in the dark and gloomy pit of the grave, whence He broke out by His own power, triumphing over Egypt, that is, over sin. In His might He conquered it, and He reigns over all the world. In His love for mankind He redeemed us by a distribution of grain – as He gave Himself up for us, and He feeds us with Heavenly Bread, His own Life-bearing Flesh. For this reason, Joseph the All-comely is commemorated at this time. He is also remembered on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ.
At the same time, we are also drawn to the withered fig tree, because the Evangelists Matthew and Mark write about it following their accounts of the palm branches. One says, “Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry” (Mark 11:12); while the other says, “Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “let no fruit grow on you ever again. Immediately the fig tree withered away” (Matt. 21:18-19). The fig tree, then, is the Jewish synagogue, in which the Savior did not find the necessary fruits of obedience to God and faith in Him, but only the leafy shade of the Law; He took away even this, leaving it completely bare.
There is also another mysterious explanation. As St. Isidore of Pelusium wrote, “This was the tree of the transgression of God’s commandment, whose leaves, the transgressors, also used to cover themselves. Because it did not suffer at that time, Christ, in His love for man, cursed it, so that it would no longer bear the fruit that was the occasion of sin.”
It is also quite clear that sin is likened unto the fig, since it possesses the “delight” of sensual pleasure, the “stickiness” of sin itself and the “hardness and sharpness” of a guilty conscience.
The fig tree is also every soul which is devoid of all spiritual fruit. In the morning, that is, after this present life, if the Lord finds no refreshment in such a soul, He withers it with a curse and hands it over to the everlasting fire. It remains standing as a dried-up post, striking fear into those who do not produce the fitting fruit of the virtues.
have mercy on us and save us.
Troparion of the Bridegroom
Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
Kontakion, Tone 8
Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph,
But his noble son was seated on a chariot and honored as a king.
For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of the Egyptian woman,
But he was glorified by God, Who sees the hearts of men
and bestows on them a crown incorruptible.
Ikos: Let us now add our lamentation to the lamentation of Jacob, and let us weep with him for the ever memorable and chaste Joseph, who though enslaved in body preserved his soul free from bondage and became lord over all Egypt. For God grants His servants a crown incorruptible.
The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)
Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.
Great Monday. Svetilen (end of matins), mp3, 1.100mb http://www.valaam.ru