April 15, 2020

"I See Your Bridal Chamber" (Elder Ephraim of Arizona)

By Elder Ephraim of Arizona

"I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Giver of Light, make radiant the garment of my soul, and save me,” chants our Church during Holy Week.

The Christian soul, the repentant soul, the soul who is conscious of her sinfulness and accountability, turns her eyes toward the Bridegroom of the Church and woefully exclaims, "My Savior and my Benefactor: You were crucified for me the sinful soul. I do not possess a clean, radiant garment cleansed with tears and repentance. I do not have a pure garment. How will I appear before You, O Heavenly Bridegroom of every repentant and pure soul? Your bridal chamber is beautifully adorned and wonderfully embellished. I, however, do not have the necessary garment in order to dwell therein eternally. Please, I beg of You, O Heavenly Bridegroom of my soul: Make me radiant, and cleanse the garment of my soul. Give me the required means of purification in order for this garment to become radiant, and make me worthy of partaking and dwelling in Your heavenly and eternal bridal chamber.”

The Kingdom of God, the Jerusalem above, the heavenly, eternal, and incorrupt world constitutes the bridal chamber, where God dwells in light, and where angels chant unceasingly, "Holy, Holy, Holy is our God” (cf. Isa. 6:3). In that heavenly world exist the bliss of God, happiness, magnificence, and beauty.

Souls who have been cleansed and purified with tears sense this heavenly bridal chamber. They taste it now at the present time. They see it with the eyes of their soul. They desire it, long for it, and yearn for the day and the hour when they will go to dwell in it.

We wretched people, however, are not assured of the above by our conscience because neither our soul nor our body is clean. Consequently, the eyes of our soul are not open to see this heavenly world and beauty. The Apostle Paul had a glimpse of it and exclaimed full of surprise and amazement, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33). Elsewhere he says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

We are invited to become inhabitants of and to dwell in this heavenly bridal chamber, to assemble with the angels and the saints in a heavenly bridal room, in the Jerusalem above, in the beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom, in the unapproachable light, in the super–brilliant darkness of the unknowing of God, once we have purified the garment of our soul.

Our Church helps us tremendously with the purification of our soul's garment, which we are called to achieve. For this reason, during these holy days, during this time of the year that has opened up for us again – through general fasting, by abstaining not only from food, but mainly from evil desires – every Christian who longs for salvation must collect his thoughts and decisively struggle to live more modestly, moderately, and plainly. He must cease trying to look attractive externally and turn toward his internal embellishment. The external vessel will be destroyed; it will disintegrate; it will decay and become food for the worms. However, nothing can ruin the beauty of the soul; on the contrary, the Spirit of God remodels it to a more noble state.

Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death. We should know that even one tear of repentance is equivalent to a spiritual bath. Just as the body feels refreshed when it bathes, and just as clothes become clean when they are washed, similarly, the tears of a repentant soul purify the heart, purify the mind, purify the body, purify life, purify speech, and purify a person's every action.

Let us kneel and pray with extreme humility! Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer. We observe this with the harlot in the Gospel reading of Holy Wednesday (cf. Mt 26:6-16). How did this woman of the street know how to pray? She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth. How beautiful are the words to the Savior! She knelt in front of Him and, undoubtedly, had an inner dialogue with Him! She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior. Everyone else had deceived her. She realized that only Jesus Christ was the One who would give her light, relief, joy, and the remission of her many offenses.

"Accept me," she said, "the sinner. Accept the sea of my sins!" As you know, her tears that washed the immaculate feet of Christ were so plentiful and copious that she was compelled to wipe them away with her luxuriant hair. There was no need for any other myrrh. Her tears were a most-precious myrrh worth a large fortune. They were capable of erasing her entire debt before God. Even though she was deep in mire, submerged in filth, and enveloped in stench, those precious tears were accepted by our Savior, and they brighten the garment of our soul.

Every sinful soul who sheds tears and wets the feet of our Christ noetically also receives the same blessing as the harlot. Not only was she herself saved, but she also become a bright example for every straying soul by pointing to the way, the path, and the light of return. If one could penetrate into the soul of this woman – the very moment she was bewailing, praying, and wetting the immaculate feet of Jesus – one would witness how light she become as the tremendous weight was lifted from her, and how much peace her conscience received. On account of her repentant tears, Christ granted complete remission of all her sins.

This is the case for every person who returns to Him. Christ bestows bountiful forgiveness, as long as a person repents sincerely. There is no problem, whatsoever, once a person repents. "I do not desire the death of the sinner, since My will is for him to turn from their evil way and live” (cf. Ez. 18:23), says the Lord. God makes an oath with Himself and confirms, "I do not want any person, any soul, to be lost and condemned to Hell, but I will wait patiently for him. I will exhaust every margin of time waiting for his return.”

Let us follow the way of repentance! If we sincerely repent, God will accept our repentance and establish a new relationship with us. Many times due to the weight of sin, a person reaches the point of asking, "Can God possibly forgive me for what I have done?” To some extent, man has a point. He feels heavily burdened and wonders is God can lift so much weight. For goodness sake! Do you think that Christ our God, the ocean of compassion and mercy, is incapable of lifting the weight of one sinful soul? What is a handful of sand when thrown in the ocean? It is nothing; it disappears. Does even a single grain remain visible on the surface of the water? Not at all. This is precisely what happens with all the sins of humanity. They are nothing in comparison to the abyss of God's compassion. This is even more true with the sins of only one soul!

The enemy of man`s salvation, however, the devil, comes from the right and suggests to the soul, "There's no way that you will be forgiven!” He pressures and oppresses the soul in order to drive it to the crime of suicide. We should never believe such a thing, even if we commit crimes every day. We should never lose hope. No matter what we do, no matter how far we fall, no matter how often we are injured and hurt – we should never ever despair or lose hope!

Oftentimes thoughts of doubt persist: "How long will God wait for me?” Rest assured that as long as God is allowing you to live, it is a guarantee from Him that He is waiting for you! You cannot deny God the prerogative to wait for your repentance. With this hope and courage in mind, let us approach the majestic throne of God's grace.

We have innumerable brilliant examples of people who repented, who were previously living far away from God, but who later returned and were not simply saved but even reached great heights of holiness.

Consider the example of Saint Mary of Egypt. Think of how many sinful men and woman there have been like the venerable Mary, who later become saints! For this reason, no one should despair. Rather, one should proceed with repentance to your spiritual father, who is able with his words to reconcile the sinner with God and to justify him instantly. "Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:19), proclaimed our Christ to His Apostles. "The Grace of the Most-Holy Spirit has forgiven you and loosened you in the present age and in the future”. Automatically, God's "computer” deletes all of man's sins and, simultaneously, the gate of the Heavenly Kingdom opens. The bridal chamber of Christ now receives the person who previously was without a radiant garment for his soul.

On account of God's infinite compassion, let us thank Him, and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul. If God were not so infinitely compassionate, no one would be saved. No one at all! There is no one, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be anyone on the earth who is blameless, without fault, and without stain. No one can boast that he has preserved his heart clean and unblemished. Nonetheless, God's compassion is so effective, this medication is so powerful and potent that it wipes out everything. It makes wondrous interventions, performs unbelievable operations, and saves man's soul from certain death.

There are instances where souls who left this life unrepentant – through God's divine providence and the intercessions of holy people – come back to life and received forgiveness. "After death there is no repentance” (Ps. 6:5) for the condemned soul itself. For the soul to repent on its own, it must return to this life. Yet, God's providence performed even such miracles in order to save people.

The bridal chamber has been opened. Christ is patiently waiting for us; we must not delay. We have now entered the arena of fasting and purification, and the bath of repentance is awaiting us. Let us use our time wisely now that all things are conducive to repentance. The words of our Church are replete with contrition, as long as we carefully pay attention to their meaning. Let us kneel every day and night, and let us beseech God to grant us a contrite spirit and tears.

And if God grants tears to our eyes, let us thank Him, let us humble ourselves, and let us confess to Him our weaknesses. Let us admit that we are incapable and unworthy of repentance, and that only with His compassion do we sincerely repent. If we believe in God and if we acknowledge our sinfulness, we do so only through His grace and compassion. If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change. If we decide to return, if we repent, if we change our lives, this is all due to the indescribable grace of God. If the grace of God has come upon us, this means that grace will accept us.

Let us repent as long as we have time at our disposal, as long as we have time in front of us. God is so good! Our Heavenly Father`s heart is big enough to embrace all of us, as long as we draw near with repentance and confession. Especially now during Great Lent, we should attend the Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts because they are filled with contrition and grace. How beautiful is the Cherubic Hymn of the Presanctified Liturgy! Likewise, what doctrine and theology does the Cherubic Hymn of Holy Saturday contain!

Let us compel ourselves to remain vigilant and watchful, and let us ward off negligence and indolence because they hinder God's love toward man. Oftentimes the demon comes to make us feel tired and worn out. "Don`t do prostrations,” he whispers to us. "Don`t get up to pray now. You are tired! Sleep a little longer because you have to go to work,” and so many other things. Let us not listen to him! Let us force ourselves because we do not know what may happen in the moments that follow. "As I find you, I will judge you” (cf. Ez. 33:12–16). If He finds us forcing ourselves to struggle, He will rank us with the faithful strugglers. If, however, He finds us in negligence and indolence, He will group us with the failures and the indolent.

Furthermore, we should help our fellow men. Let us talk to others about God, and the love of the Heavenly Father. Let us give courage and hope to others. Helping another soul is the greatest from of charity. Just as others have helped us, we also are obligated to do the same and help others.

Let us, therefore, force ourselves to struggle in everything, so that we may enter the bridal chamber of Christ – because "to them who struggle belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (cf. Mt. 11:12). Amen.

Source: From the book The Art of Salvation.