Icons for Holy Tuesday | Parable of the Ten Virgins

Be prepared, always, because Christ can return at any time, and we do not know how long any of us have left for repentance.
admin | 15 April 2014

On Holy Monday Christ’s teaching on the importance of genuine fruitfulness was emphasized. On Holy Tuesday, we are reminded of the importance of remaining watchful. This is illustrated in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13).

Image from Serbian monastery in Kosovo; 14th Century

Image from Serbian monastery in Kosovo; 14th Century

The parable is straightforward enough: ten virgins (bridesmaids) wait for the bridegroom, Who is Christ; five are prepared for His arrival, five are not. When the bridegroom appears suddenly in the dead of night, only the five wise, prepared, virgins are allowed into the wedding feast. The five foolish virgins are shut out.

Five wise virgins, Bulgarian fresco

Five wise virgins, Bulgarian fresco

The parallel to the Last Judgment is clear, underlined by one of the main hymns of Holy Week:

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
And again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep,
Lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom.
But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God,
Through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.
-Troparion for the Bridegroom Service

Byzantine fresco; shows the wise virgins on Christ’s right hand, and the foolish on his left side (Matt 25:31-46)

Byzantine fresco; shows the wise virgins on Christ’s right hand, and the foolish on his left side (Matt 25:31-46)

Be prepared, always, because Christ can return at any time, and we do not know how long any of us have left for repentance. This imperative of Christ is repeated also in the Church’s iconography. The image of the Ten Virgins abounds in churches and monasteries (in the latter the imagery of virginity also appeals). The bridegroom is always depicted as Christ, and the bridal chamber is often shown as a walled garden or city; i.e. it is paradise. The five foolish virgins’ disconsolate appearance cannot be overstated given the real meaning behind being locked out of a wedding party.

Christ greeting the wise virgins; Sacalu Church, c. 1816

Christ greeting the wise virgins; Sacalu Church, c. 1816

Thy bridal chamber, O my Saviour, do I behold all adorned, and a garment I have not that I may enter therein. Illumine the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me
-Exapostelarion of the Bridegroom Service

Five foolish virgins; France, 12th Century

Five foolish virgins; France, 12th Century

Foolish virgins, locked out; 19th Century wooden church, Salaj, Romania

Foolish virgins, locked out; 19th Century wooden church, Salaj, Romania

Five foolish virgins; Jercalai Monastery, Romania

Five foolish virgins; Jercalai Monastery, Romania

Modern Romanian fresco of the parable

Modern Romanian fresco of the parable

Wise virgins; detail from 18th century wooden church, Ortata, Maramureș

Wise virgins; detail from 18th century wooden church, Ortata, Maramureș

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Modern image of High Decani icon, showing the bridal chamber as paradise.

Modern image of High Decani icon, showing the bridal chamber as paradise.

Fresco from High Decani Monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (14th century)

Fresco from High Decani Monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (14th century)

Greek fresco. The “Bridal Chamber” is shown clearly as Paradise, with trees and flowers

Greek fresco. The “Bridal Chamber” is shown clearly as Paradise, with trees and flowers

Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Volgoda (15th century)

Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Volgoda (15th century)

Detail from the Rossano Gospel, 11th Century

Detail from the Rossano Gospel, 11th Century

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