This evening we have been through the Matins of Holy Monday, and so we have now actually begun our journey through Holy Week. The three days that open this "Great Week" are called "Holy" or "Great" Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; and they are "Great" precisely because each of them symbolically teaches us something of ourselves, and of God in our life. Most people know what happens on Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but the first three are the least known days--I mean it's already hard enough going to Church three days in a row. Yet they are theologically significant.
Structurally, or liturgically, we still have the "Lenten call" - the melodies are still lenten: at the beginning we sing "Alleluia", and throughout these days we hear the prayer of St. Ephraim, "O Lord and Master of my life..." which is the Lenten prayer.
So, on the surface it's like an extension of Lent; we are still in the Lenten "mood". But it is not this alone; it is a cycle in its own right, with a common theme which is the revelation of the End. Christianity is the religion of the End--not the end as "apocalypse now" or as catastrophe; of Christ's return, chronologically, we know nothing! It is an End whose content is not chronological but qualitative. The understanding is that Christ's coming, death and resurrection are the decisive events for our salvation, and our life now is an expectation of the End already begun, of His Kingdom already realized. Although as free people we may refuse this, the Church declares that Christ has saved us. And although we may lamentation our death, yet the Church proclaims the death of death. This is why Holy Friday, for us, is not a lamenting; nor again is Easter Sunday an aesthetical expression of happiness: daily we live the tragedy of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, of life and death, of Christ's victory over death and of our expectation of His "Kingdom which has no end."
The Church continually lives within this mysterious time between Creation and the End. And the common hymn of these three nights: "Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night", summarizes the main theme of celebration. For us "the middle of the night" is symbolic--this is why we celebrate the Matins in the evening; in the early Church they held a vigil service--that is, they stayed awake all night. "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night"--we don't know when Christ will come, but He will come at midnight; where life comes to an end, at zero time. The liturgical life of the church is precisely this "waiting" for Christ. Christianity's new dimension is this "waiting for"! Our whole life is a waiting, an expectation, and a continual vigilance. Think of the words of St. Andrew of Crete recited throughout Lent: "My soul, O my soul, rise up! Why art thou sleeping? The End draws near, and soon shalt thou be troubled. Watch then, that Christ my God may spare thee, for He is everywhere present and filleth all things." This is the joyful aspect of Christianity. "I sleep but my soul is awake". And this dimension is vital for the understanding of monasticism and of the long services in our Church. Our continual prayer is... the final words of the Book of Revelation: : "Come, Lord Jesus". Our never-ending invocation is: "Thy Kingdom Come".
This is why our Church so frequently makes use of the imagery of the Bride or of the Banquet. Christ as Bridegroom comes and takes us into His Bridal chamber; God Incarnate takes us into His tomb... So that when at Easter midnight we open the Royal Doors, the very essence of the Kingdom is revealed, and we shall sing "today everything is filled with light and joy."