“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, / and blessed is that 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, are You, O our God, // through the Theotokos have mercy on us.” (Troparion, Byzantine Great Week)
This well-known hymn, sung at Byzantine matins on the first three days of Great Week, refers to the well-known parable of the ten bridesmaids (Mt 25: 1-13): five of them were “foolish,” because they were not prepared for the arrival of the “bridegroom” at midnight, and ended up shut out of the “wedding banquet.” Ancient Christians believed that Christ’s return in glory would coincide with the night of the Paschal vigil, hence this ancient hymn is attached to Great Week.
For me this hymn is always a wake-up call, in any event. My Lord is indeed “coming,” He is coming to be betrayed, handed over, tortured, mocked, crucified, and to walk through it all, even unto death, descent into hell, and, finally, resurrection. He is coming to draw me in, once again, into that Paschal mystery, for which Lent is supposed to prepare me. But I’m never quite prepared, am I? No, I tend to be “weighed down with sleep.” And that is the sad truth, every year.
But today I appeal to His holiness, His mercy, and to a “Bridesmaid” more merciful than the “wise” ones in the parable. May the Most Holy Theotokos intercede for us and strengthen us for the journey of Holy Week, and for entrance into the “banquet” of the Paschal vigil. “Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God,” I sing today, “through the Theotokos have mercy on us.”