His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros Homily for the First Bridegroom Service
Evening of Palm Sunday - April 12, 2020
Archdiocese Chapel of Saint Paul, New York, New York
Φθάσαντες πιστοί, τὸ σωτήριον Πάθος Χριστοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ!
We have arrived, O Faithful, at the saving Passion of Christ our God!
We have indeed arrived, my beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ, at this first of the Holy Week services that we are sharing with you from our Archdiocese Chapel of Saint Paul in New York City.
As you know, we serve this Matins of Holy Monday in conditions as confining, or even more confining, than the Catacombs were for our early Christian forbearers.
At this beginning of Holy Week, we must be as the Disciples were after the Resurrection – behind shut doors, τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων.[*] But unlike the Disciples of that moment – before they knew of the Resurrection, we do not cower in fear. We gather in love. We gather in faith! We gather in hope! For we know the end of the story!
My beloved Christians, how fortunate we are indeed. We know that after the pain, comes the gladness. After the suffering, comes the glory. And after the darkness, comes the dawn.
Therefore, as we embrace the Bridegroom Who presents Himself to us, Who comes to us in the middle of the night, ἐν τῷ μέσῳ τῆς νυκτός, we embrace Him as He is.
He is the Philanthopos – the One Who loves humankind. The One for Whom no sacrifice is too great, no distance too far, no humiliation too extreme.
The Lord offered everything – His Humanity and His Divinity, subjecting Himself to suffering and death.
He traveled the greatest span that could ever be bridged – the Uncreated to the Created, from Heaven to Earth.
And as the Apostle Paul says:
He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, born in the likeness of humankind. Being found in human configuration,
He humbled himself, became obedient unto death, even death of the Cross.[†]
His humiliation was total and complete, and it is manifest in the Icon of the Bridegroom that we bring forth and venerate today.
Indeed, my beloved Sisters and Brothers, what bridegroom was ever adorned like this?
Instead of shining garments, a robe of mockery.
Instead of a garland of flowers, a crown of thorns.
Instead of a scepter of dignity, a reed of humiliation.
Instead of hands reaching out to His beloved, they are fettered in captivity.
This is our Bridegroom, the One Who comes to us – the Church – His most beloved and precious Bride. And as Isaiah so rightly prophesied:
He has no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of men; a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.[‡]
Therefore, we must look beyond the outward appearance, to His heart that burns with love for every single human being.
And we will see His robe of mockery as a covering for our sins.
His crown of thorns as our adoption into the royal family of God.
His reed of humiliation as the battering ram that bursts asunder the gates of hell.
And His chained hands as our emancipation from death.
Our Bridegroom spares nothing in His pursuit of our love. He will never accept how we spurn His affection out of our sin, our ignorance, our guilt, and our shame.
He has come this Holy Week to liberate us, and to take us into His Bridal Chamber, the sacred Θάλαμος where we will begin to understand our purpose as human beings: to love as He loved us, to forgive as He forgave us, and to show mercy in every aspect of our lives, just as He pours His mercy and compassion upon us ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ καὶ πάσῃ ὣρᾳ.
My beloved Christians, this Holy Week – a week unlike any other – let us welcome the Bridegroom of our souls into our innermost selves. Let us embrace His love for us, just as a happy and joyful bride awaits the embrace of her bridegroom.
And let us prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to experience the Resurrection of Christ in ways that we never anticipated, but that our Lord will accomplish, through His grace and love for all humankind. Amen.