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Choral Corner #20: Why is Bridegroom Matins called "Bridegroom", & what are its special features?

Bridegroom Matins is a form of Matins served on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. These services have a distinctly eschatological character — a reflection of the fact that in the days preceding His Passion, our Lord spoke at length to his disciples (and others) regarding the signs of the end times. This theme is reflected in the beautiful Troparion sung in place of the "Alleluia" near the beginning of each service:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessèd is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is that servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware therefore, O my soul! Do not be weighed down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death and shut out of the kingdom. But rouse thyself before the end, crying: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!

The Scriptural basis for this hymn is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). The theme of repentance before the end appears again in the poignant Exapostilarion, based on the parable of the wedding guest (Matt. 22:11-13):

I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of light, and save me.

Although all three Bridegroom Matins services present the overarching themes of repentance and the coming eschaton, each service also has its own sub-theme. On Holy Monday, many hymns describe the indignities endured by the innocent Patriarch Joseph (Genesis, chapters 37 and 39-40), a type of Christ, the innocent Paschal Lamb); other hymns tell us of Christ cursing the barren fig tree (Matt. 21:18-20).

On Holy Tuesday, the hymns reiterate the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13); and also describe the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). On Holy Wednesday, the hymns remind us of the sinful woman who washed Christ's feet with her hair, drawing from descriptions of this event in Matt. 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8. Other texts address Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ, and contrast his suicide with the fruitful repentance of the harlot. It's critical to understand that this comparison, while tragic, is not judgmental. Instead, we reflect on our own countless betrayals of Christ and beseech God to deliver us from Judas' fate.

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