It’s Sunday afternoon. After a clear and solemn morning, after the consecration of willow branches, after the Palm Sunday, which portends the Easter, there is a stark contrast. The church is dimly lit, all sounds are muffled, everything has become quiet.
The Czechs have a saying that explains people’s slow pace: “staring at the Lord God’s windows”. Time goes in our churches at a slow pace, too, the reason for that being not the Lord God’s beauty but our following Christ as He carries his Cross to Golgotha. If you think of that, it sounds horrible from the human point of view. How is that even possible?
But then, there is a moment during the Matins, in the end of the Canon, when the Royal Door springs open, the priest appears from the sanctuary and starts singing a breathtakingly beautiful and profound Svetilen, which is performed only a few times during the year, namely on these days:
Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.
Enlighten the Vesture of My Soul, O Giver of Light
What do we ask God for with that prayer? Haven’t we spent forty days fasting and working as hard as we could to examine and correct our lives? Essentially, nothing has changed. We still have the feeling that we’ve missed something crucial and that we’re running out of time. Here we find ourselves in the Light of the Beautiful Kingdom of God that reveals itself in front of our eyes, and we realize that we have no wedding garment that we may enter.
I remember having been attracted to the Church by its beauty. I don’t mean just outward beauty of church architecture, art, and worship because if you think of it, you’ll recognize that all that outward beauty simply leads to the One who is the “Author of Beauty” (Wisdom 13:3). God is Beauty himself. If you explore the etymology of the word ‘beauty’ (kalos in Greek), you will find that it is connected with the verb kaleo, which means ‘I call’ or ‘I invoke’. This opens to us the second meaning of beauty: it calls us, attracts and draws us near, carrying us beyond our own limits and leading us into the relationship with the Other.
It is that Other who can bring the beauty that we’ve lost back to us, for we are in dire need of that beauty. It is God who can single-handedly make us beautiful. That is why we ask him to enlighten the vesture of our souls so that we could enter his bridal chamber.
Let us now add our lamentation to the lamentation of Jacob, and let us weep with him for the ever memorable and chaste Joseph, who though enslaved in body preserved his soul free from bondage and became lord over all Egypt. For God grants His servants a crown incorruptible. (Ikos of the Holy Monday Matins)
We are reminded of the Righteous Joseph on Holy Monday, the first day of the Holy Week. He was an astonishingly close prototype of Jesus. He was Patriarch Jacob’s favorite son, which made his brothers envious and hostile. They used an occasion to sold him to slave traders for twenty silver coins; the slave traders in turn sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery, where he was libeled and spent a considerable amount of time in jail. Nevertheless, the Lord guarded his righteous servant. Soon he was appointed governor of Egypt. It rescued the livelihoods of many people, including all his kin, who were then allowed by the Pharaoh to settle in the gracious Land of Goshen, which was like the Kingdom of God.
This story also has some bearing on the theme of beauty. The Righteous Joseph is referred to as All-Comely not because he was handsome but also thanks to his personal qualities. He set an amazing example of trusting God’s Providence, combined with chastity, faithfulness, and love. It is evident that even if the Lord sends trials to a righteous person to nurture his soul, He never leaves us alone. Joseph confirms it when he tells his brothers that everything that had happened to him was according to God’s Plan.
We have six days to go to the Feast of feasts. So many events are squeezed into these six days that you have to be especially careful and attentive so as not to miss anything important. That is why we need to proceed slowly. These coming six days have Jesus Christ, his love, his suffering, and finally, his death in the spotlight. He died so that we could be beautiful.