Holy and Great Tuesday

11 April 2023

Through two parables, Holy and Great Tuesday prepares us for entry into the bridal chamber of our Savior: one concerning the ten virgins and the other the talents. The first compares eternal life to a wedding. Christ is the Bridegroom who invites all of us to a wedding feast, as we sing in mattins for the day. ‘Bridegroom surpassing all in beauty, you have called us to the spiritual feast of your bridal chamber. Strip from me the disfigurement of sin, through participation in your sufferings. Clothe me in the glorious robe of your beauty and, in your compassion, make me feast with joy in your kingdom’.

The sacrament of marriage is great, according to Saint Paul. Through union in marriage, the human desire for eternity is met, in part. Through their descendants, people extend the limits of their presence on earth. Earthly marriage is a faint image of the inexpressible joy of being together with Christ the Bridegroom. Union with him is eternal and the joy is everlasting.

But in order to gain entry into the bridal chamber, certain conditions have to be met and these are laid out in the parable of the ten virgins. Vigilance, virginity and oil for the lamps. We heard about vigilance and cleanliness on Great Monday. We shall now dwell longer on oil as a condition for entry into the Lord’s bridal chamber.

It’s true that all the young women were virgins. They all stayed awake in expectation of the arrival of the Bridegroom.  Because they had sufficient oil for their lamps, five of them are called wise and careful and they entered the chamber. Because the other five didn’t take steps to buy oil in good time, they lost the reward for their vigilance and virginity and remained outside the chamber. For this reason, they’re called foolish. So, oil is the touchstone. What mysteries are concealed in the oil for the lamps of the virgins?

Virginity is a precious treasure for God. Christ the Savior was born from a virgin and lived as a virgin himself. Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist, as well as his disciple, Saint John the Evangelist, were also virgins. But the parable of the ten virgins basically tells us that virginity in and of itself isn’t sufficient for salvation. Although they were virgins, the foolish young women didn’t enter the Bridegroom’s house with him. The holy Fathers explain that the oil for the lamps of the virgins is alms-giving, which means that, if virginity is to be a means of salvation, it must be linked to charity.

‘Great are the wings of alms-giving’, says Saint John Chrysostom. They fly through the air, reaching the moon, the sun, the heavenly realms and come to rest at the throne of God. No matter what sins you commit, alms-giving outweighs them all.

Virginity is so difficult to maintain that hardly any of the ancients managed to do so. Noah didn’t nor did Abraham and Joseph. Virginity and disdain for death are the most difficult of the virtues. It’s only been since the time of Christ that the flower of virginity has bloomed, and then within the Church.

So five of the ten virgins, those without alms-giving, were expelled. Virginity’s the flame, but alms-giving is the oil. Just as a flame won’t light or will go out without flammable material, so virginity, unless it’s linked to alms-giving, loses its value and is to no avail (from a homily on repentance by Saint John Chrysostom).

What’s the purpose of the union of these two virtues? The holy Fathers distinguished two sides to one and the same event. The body, or the visible form of the deed; and the soul, or the purpose for which the deed was performed. This is what makes a deed good or bad: the purpose, not its form or appearance. This is because the devil is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8, 44), and he always invests sin with the appearance of virtue. The form of virtue and the form of sin can often seem to be the same, but the purpose differs radically. The aim of every good deed is God; the aim of every wicked one is death. So, for an action to be pleasing to God, we have to be certain that its purpose is to bring us to him. This guarantee has been lodged by God with our neighbors. ‘Indeed, I tell you, insofar as you’ve done this to the least of my siblings, you’ve done so to me’ (Matth. 25, 40), said our Lord. This is why every virtuous deed is given value by the behavior we exhibit to others. Alms-giving is an act of love towards our neighbors. That’s why it’s the certificate of guarantee for our virtue: it’s a good deed and leads us to God. At the dread judgement, God will check only the certificate and his perusal will be detailed. Without this guarantee, no good work is redemptive. Saint Maximos the Confessor says: ‘Any ascetic effort which does not include love is foreign to God’.

It isn’t difficult to understand the point of this parable, coming, as it does, at the end of Great Lent. During the course of the fast, people are more careful and sober as regards bodily deeds: fasting, repentance, labors and so on, when carried out properly, lend a certain refinement to the body, to spiritual purity and virginity, since virginity is the synthesis and harmonious functioning of all the bodily virtues. This is reflected in the outer form, the appearance of the virtues. Alms-giving, however, as love towards God and other people is reflected especially in the inner depths of the virtues, their purpose. True virtue has to unite both sides: bodily efforts must be united to spiritual virtues. Virginity must be adorned with alms-giving, otherwise it won’t lead to salvation.

The foolish virgins are an example of those ascetic efforts which don’t save. Any efforts that were made were performed for the virgins themselves, not for God. This is why they’re foolish and imprudent, because it’s stupidity to spend a life devoted to ascetic efforts if you end up being cast into eternal fire.

The most important lesson that we should keep in mind from the parable of the ten virgins is this: salvation isn’t earned only with personal ascetic effort and struggle. That’s necessary, but it’s only half of the whole. You also need the other half, which is even more valuable: works of love for other people.

There’s also another reason for the commemoration of the parable on this day. Holy Passion Week shows us, in the strongest possible terms, God’s great love for us. He invites us to approach the Mystical Supper ‘with faith and love’, and all Christians desire and prepare themselves to enjoy ‘lordly hospitality at the immortal table’. If we’re to be allowed to take part in this banquet, our preparation for the holy resurrection should be centered on these two things: virginity and charity. That is, on our personal purity and our love for others.

The other parable, that of the talents, brings to the attention of our mind two main points. We have a duty to live virtuously. The Savior always commands us: ‘Be holy, as I am holy’, and we have the gift of sanctity from the time of our baptism. We received the talent from Christ the Lord and we have to take care to multiply it, by doing godly works, which we’ve been given the spiritual strength to perform. As the mattins service urges us: ‘Let us increase the talent of grace. Let one gain wisdom through good deeds… let others share their faith by preaching to the uninstructed; let others give their wealth to the poor. So shall we increase what is entrusted to us and as faithful stewards, will be counted worthy of the Lord’s joy…’. The parable also shows us that if we increase the talent, we do so not by ourselves but with the aid of someone else, the banker whom Christ mentions (Matth. 25, 27): ‘You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest’. We’re told who this banker is by the doxastiko at lauds: ‘Behold, my soul, the Lord entrusts you with a talent. Receive his gift with fear; make it gain interest for him; distribute to the needy and make the Lord your friend, so that you may stand at his right hand when he comes in glory’.

The banker’s the poor and through them, Christ himself, because whoever gives to the poor, lends to Christ. Christ shares out the talents and, then again, he’s the banker who increases them, because he adds interest to their value. We see here the mastery of divine love and charity. God bestows his gifts on us and then urges us to lend them back to him, as if they were actually our own. In this way, he rewards us with greatest remuneration, which is not only the initial gift, but also the additional interest. And all of this for hardly any effort on our part. Out of his goodness, he borrows the gift which he’s given us and increases it.

Yet again, we see here how important it is to do good deeds for other people.

Source: agiazoni.gr