During the first four days of Passion Week, the Orthodox Church begins to commemorate the sufferings of Christ with special, penitential Matins services, known as the Bridegroom Matins. In many places these are held in the late night/early morning hours, and begin with the Bridegroom troparion, which sets the tone for those services:
“Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; but unworthy is he whom he shall find heedless. Beware therefore, O my soul, lest thou be weighed down with slumber, lest thou be given up to death and be shut out of the kingdom; but rise up crying out: ‘Holy! Holy! Holy art Thou O our God; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.’
Another feature of these services is the exapostilarion hymn, sung after the canon:
“I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.”
This exapostilarion is generally done by the canonarch in the middle of the church while the congregation prostrates. However, in some places, including the Skete of Optina Monastery, there is another custom: all the lights in the church are extinguished, the congregants kneel in the middle of the church and begin the singing, while the Royal Doors are slowly opened to reveal the Holy Table adorned with lit lampadas, to represent the radiant bridal chamber of Christ. Bishop Nektary (Kontzevitch), our monastery’s first spiritual father, who was himself a disciple of St. Nektary, Elder of Optina, brought this beautiful custom to our monastery, where we continue to celebrate it to this day.
Below are photos of the singing of the exapostalarion in the monastery church in the early morning hours of Great and Holy Monday, March 24/April 6, 2015.