From the Bridal Chamber
The hymns of the Church are a school of spiritual life. In fact, it has often been said that if you want to learn the Orthodox Faith and teachings all you need to do is go to Church and pray with attention, for the great hymn-books of the Church - the Menaion, the Octoechos, the Triodion, and the Pentecostarion - contain all our dogmas and spiritual teaching in doxological form. An exceptional example of this are the hymns of Pascha, the Feast of Feasts. The hymnographers, in composing these hymns, wove biblical allusions, dogmatic theology, and spiritual practice into poetic form and united this to melody to create magnificent hymns in praise and wonder of the Paschal Mystery. Let’s look at two examples from the Paschal Canon and from the Paschal Stichera.
The common theme in these two hymns is their reference to Christ as the Bridegroom. This is interesting, first of all, because it is a backward glance from Pascha to Holy Week. The first services of Holy Week are commonly referred to as the Bridegroom services as they allude to, among other things, the parable in Matthew 13 about the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom. The hymns there instruct us to be like the wise virgins and to watch and be vigilant with our lamps trimmed and burning.
Here, however, in the hymns of Pascha, the references to the Bridegroom have a different thrust. For, while in Holy Week the Bridegroom was coming to the wedding and to His bride, now, in the resurrection, He is coming forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber. The reference is biblical, Psalm 18.6 (LXX). And quite interestingly, in the context, the Psalm is referring to the sun as God’s Tabernacle from which He emerges, “like a bridegroom coming forth from his bridal chamber.”
It is easy to see how the hymnographers would see this is a prophecy of the Paschal Mystery, for Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4.2), rises from the tomb and emerges in the light of the glory of God. The tomb, once a cold chamber shrouded in the darkness of death, has now become the bridal chamber resplendent with the glory of God.
And what is a bridal chamber? It is, of course, where the marriage is consummated, where bridegroom and bride become one in the nuptial union. And this is precisely what happens in the Paschal Mystery. Christ, the eternal Son of God, takes our human nature and unites it to Himself so fully and completely that He goes even to death and to Hades to raise it up (this is what we see in the Paschal icon: Christ raising Man - Adam and Eve - from Hades). He has, in other words, wedded our nature to the Divine nature in the nuptial union that is He Himself, the God-Man. And having accomplished this union perfectly He emerges from the tomb as God and Man, “like a bridegroom coming forth from his bridal chamber.”
This, then, is the cause of all our joy. If we feast and rejoice and dance and sing at the union of a man and woman in marriage, how much more when the icon - human marriage - is fulfilled in the wedding of God and Man in the Christ? “Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.” And we are not alone in our feasting! For we are joined - or rather, it is we who join - “the festive ranks of Angels”. And this is only right, for in the Paschal Mystery all things - Heaven and earth, angels and men - are joined in the mystical union that is Christ.
With love in Christ, Fr John