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 allusion, 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, one from the Paschal Canon and one from the Paschal Stikhera.
With torches in our hands let us go out to meet Christ as He comes from the grave like a bridegroom, and with the festive ranks of Angels, let us together feast God’s saving Passover.
Come from that scene, O women bearers of glad tidings, and say to Zion: “Receive from us the glad tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection! Exult and be glad, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, seeing Christ the King, Who comes forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession!”
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 are what we might call post-nuptial. That is, 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, the place 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, the iconic “Bride and Groom” - from Hades. Their salvation precisely as Man and Woman, Bride and Groom, becomes the icon by which we see the Paschal Mystery itself.
Christ has accomplished our salvation by wedding our nature to the Divine nature. His Bride, the Church, is this newly-wedded human nature, the New Creation and the first-fruits of the resurrection.
He, “like a bridegroom coming forth from his bridal chamber,” is the cause of all our joy. We feast and rejoice and dance and sing at the union of a man and woman in marriage, as we should. So how much more when the icon - human marriage - is fulfilled in the union of God and Man in Christ? “Exult and be glad, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, seeing Christ the King, Who comes forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession!”
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 united in the mystical marriage that is Christ and the Church.
Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!
With Love In Christ, Fr John