Orthodox Mission – Hyde Park, Chicago

“Let the Bridegroom Go out from His Chamber” Part 2

“Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”(Joel 2:15-17)

Monastic life, too, affirms the life-giving aspects of marriage. But monasticism lays aside all other things in poverty in this life, so as to be enriched in the resurrection. Laying aside sexual procreation, the monastic seeks direct entry to the eternal Wedding Feast. Monastic life is about birth, it is baptismal: new birth of the monastic, new birth of virtue and renunciation of sex (as a fleshly “resurrection” ) so as to be an “only-begotten” son or daughter of the kingdom, offered up so that “God will provide.” Monasticism, or even celibate life in the world, gives up the partnership of husband and wife to acquire the perfection of spiritual children through obedience and humility, seeking dispassion, perfect faith and love.

Generally our tradition thinks most highly of the focus on God and the prayer of the ascetic, monastic figure. Lay people, married, or not very ascetic people in the world can achieve a little of this, but it comes with sudden flashes of the cross in our lives—illnesses, mental and spiritual troubles, financial woes, suffering of indignity. If we are already praying in readiness for these things, we bear these troubles knowing the need to cry out immediately for the grace of God. If we have been lax then we lose faith, we blame God and everyone else and we do not find that our cross has been placed near Christ. If our cross is near Christ’s, then we can do as we should: cry out like the wise thief “Remember me, O Lord, when you come in your kingdom!”

In addition to prayer and self-offering, we need to practice above all else in the world, hospitality and generosity (specifically mentioned in the marriage service). This superlative virtue is one of the great places where we are allowed to exceed the virtue of the monastic, but in fact fall short of the serious monastic who only has to give away one or two things, to give away all that they have. Without radical hospitality and generosity, we are the rich (or possessive and possessed) who cannot enter the kingdom.

Monasticism allows those who have not married, if they succeed in their calling towards the heights of dispassion, to practice spiritual procreation, entirely empty of any sex or passion. Like the Mother of God, their soul is united to God so that they can conceive virginally, through acting as guides in the monastic life, leading their sons and daughters to a new birth. This is the realization of the baptismal goal of the monastic. It is a non-sexual and adoptive role.

Godparents are called to this adoptive role, but it is usually a very worldly failure (check the etymology of ‘gossip’). This sort of adoptive procreation also takes place in the sacramental act of ordination: the priest, deacon or bishop gains an ancestry and lineage, which in a ‘Melchizedekian’ eternity, makes us all “cohanim,” priests. Likewise, the priesthood is also transferred to all Christians in baptism, and thus ties to Christ’s fulfilment of the pattern revealed to Moses, and the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek. The fast and the feast in the life of a married couple plays on this tension between old and new, life and death, while the celibate and monastic function without the physical sign of union that is sex in marriage, but is a perpetual fast tied to the eschatological hope of becoming a perfected child of the Kingdom.

The soul of every Christin is to be a bride; but this is only properly played out in union with the Church, as mirroring the Church as the Bride of Christ. It is a spiritual application of the idea of marriage in the life of the celibate person. For the married couple this is imaged by the husband imaging Christ and the wife imaging the Church. However both of them are together Church and altar, serving and submitting to Christ. As altar, the two of them together form a throne for Christ who shapes them both in holiness. As a married couple they must work this together not separately or in isolation.

We have fasted. All of us, one way or another, are to have left the bridal chamber, our own bridal chambers, so as to ask God to spare us as his Bride, his Church. Where is our God? He comes as the Bridegroom. This is why we have left our bridal chambers in the fast—so as to be spared through the cross and to be able to enter the Wedding Feast of Christ’s resurrection, where we no longer labor for life in the midst of death, but rise to eternal life. Make us inheritors of your Kingdom, remember us when you come in your Kingdom, O Bridegroom.

Fr. Elijah