In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Reverend Fathers and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ we stand at the entrance of the Great and Holy Week. We have seen Christ enter into Jerusalem triumphantly and in a few short days we will see the same people that cried out Hosanna in the Highest Blessed is He that comes in the name of Lord cry out crucify Him, crucify Him, away with Him. We often wonder how such a change of heart can occur in such a short time. The more important question is can or will this type of change occur within me?
The Church gives us an answer to our wonder and our questions with the troparion for the first three days of the Great and Holy Week.
“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, art You, O our God, Through the Mother of God have mercy on us.”
When we first hear this tropar we immediately think of Christ as the Bridegroom. Jesus gives us this imagery of Himself as the Bridegroom in the Holy Gospels in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) and when asked why His disciples are not fasting He replies “Can the children of the bridal chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” (Mark 2:19).
This tropar instructs of something that is very important to our spiritual lives; when does the Bridegroom or Christ come to us? The tropar states it plainly at midnight. Midnight represents for us the dark night of our souls. Those dark moments that are the most challenging for us. They are moments of anguish and pain; the death of a loved one, extreme illness, the loss of a job, or other times that we feel that we have lost control over our lives. It is at these times that we are ready to let Christ into our lives.
I have found it most interesting that the most confirmed agnostics and atheists will cry out for help from God in their most extreme pain. It takes the form of calling out from the depths of the soul into the abyss with the words “God help me” or just “Help me.” If we ever need proof of the existence of God it happens at these moments in time when we cry out to someone outside of ourselves that is greater than ourselves; the One True God. Some may say these are just expressions of pain but, why say them at all if there is nothing there to provide help. The soul knows the existence of God even in its most corrupted form and knows when to call to Him for aid.
These are the times that we are broken. The times when we have to surrender our will over to the care of God because no amount of self will can carry us through these times. These are the times that we open up and let the Bridegroom enter into our lives. We must know that He is always there knocking at the door of hearts but it seems that it only through tragedy, the midnights of our lives that we are really willing to turn our will over to the will of God letting Him in.
When we experience this dark night of the soul we can be found in one of two conditions. Those conditions are a condition of watchfulness or a condition of sleep. Another way to describe this is the condition of the soul; is it awake and watching for things that are beneficial and things that will take it away from God or is it in a condition of apathy.
Saint Hesychios the Priest, in the Philokalia, says the following “Watchfulness is a way of embracing every virtue, every commandment. It is the heart’s stillness and, when free from mental images it is the guarding of the intellect.” In other words we are to be careful about what we bring into our souls through our senses because if we are not our souls will be lulled into a state of sleep. Saint Paul puts this simply with the words to Timothy “Pay attention,…” (1Timothy 4:13)
If we are not giving our attention to God then we take on all types of distractions. These distractions take on various forms love of money, sex or various addictions. Often these distractions start with good intentions. What they are in reality abuses of our free will. It is the placing of our will first over the will of God. In this way the soul becomes weighed down. It becomes tired. It can no longer look to God for guidance or rise up to meet Him because it is concerned about itself.
Some of those that are in this state of sleep or distraction are woken up at midnight, the dark night of the soul, an extreme situation. It is at this time that a decision must be made. Does the soul embrace God or continue on its way to destruction. It is at these times that the one that is suffering from sickness of the soul realizes that God is really in charge of the world but allows us to choose to do what we want, even to our own destruction.
If the soul chooses to embrace Christ the Lord then action is required as the tropar states “But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art You, O our God, Through the Mother of God have mercy on us.” What is this action? The first thing that must occur is the giving over our will to God or as Saint Paul put it we must pay attention to God. The next thing that must occur is the unburdening of the soul. Those things that were done out of self will must be admitted, we must own up to our actions. For this to be effective it must shared through confession. It is trough confession that all inappropriate actions are forgiven by God through His priests. The final thing that must occur is to do that which is necessary to make things right. Making things right is the real saving grace of repentance or the changing of our ways. It is the changing of one’s ways away from self willed actions to the caring for others that we start to pay attention to God. As it says in the Gospel of the Last Judgment “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ we can see that it is possible for all of us to embrace Christ at a dark time in our life as the Jews embraced Him at a dark point of their history when He entered Jerusalem. It is also possible for us to deny Him just as quickly and yell out Crucify Him, Crucify Him, Away with Him if we fail to be watchful and take the necessary actions to heal our souls.
My prayer of all of us is that as a result of this Great Lent and the coming Great and Holy Week that we be found awake and taking the actions necessary to greet our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ at the Resurrection and be found worthy to enter into Paradise.
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Hermitage, PA at the Mission Vespers Palm Sunday 2010.