On the Virgins and the Bridegroom

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

[T]he ten virgins, of which five were wise and five foolish, symbolize us Christians. Some of us are wise because of our faith, our virtuous life, and because we are prepared for our death; others are foolish due to their unbelief or cold indifference to the faith, their impure carnal life, and their being unprepared for their death and the judgment that will immediately follow it, for it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Heb 9:27). The foolish ones, it is said, took their lamps but did not take oil with them. What do the lamps and the oil for the lamps mean? The the Saviour’s words: the lamp of the body is the eye (Matt 6:22), by “eye” He means the heart of man, or soul. The oil symbolizes alms, according to St John Chrysostom’s interpretation, or good deeds in general. Therefore, the foolish Christians, going out to meet the bridegroom, did not prepare for their souls good deeds, which could have supported their spiritual life. The wise ones, it is said, took oil in their vessels with their lamps, meaning that they stocked up on good deeds in order to worthily meet the bridegroom. Who is the bridegroom? Jesus Christ. When and how do we go out to meet Him? Our entire lives must be since their beginning a preparation for our personal meeting with Him, because every soul after its death must appear and answer before Him, as to the Author of our life. Throughout our lives we must take care to acquire and preserve in our hearts a living faith and an ardent love for God, so that after our deaths standing before the terrible throne of the Lord of glory will neither be shameful nor to our condemnation. We will go out for the general meeting with Him during our resurrection from the dead, when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28–29). The bridegroom, that is, Jesus Christ, is in no hurry to cut our lives short with death, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9), and is equally delaying His glorious, and dreadful, second coming so that the sons of the kingdom may multiply more and more.

Meanwhile, people, temporarily seduced by the sweetness of sin, by its impunity, and seeing that the world remains stable, think it will remain as such forever, and they themselves, enjoying robust health and other material goods, immerse themselves in spiritual slumber, not caring for their correction, and thus sleep the sleep of sin. However, precisely at the midnight of their sinful sleep, when none among the sinners thinks about the grave dangers in which they find themselves, a loud voice is heard: behold, the bridegroom comes, go out to meet Him. Then all will tremble and light their lamps, that is, will exert spiritual attention. At that time it will be good for the wise Christians: their souls will ignite with the sweetest love for God; but for the foolish, it will be bad. Their souls, like lamps without oil, will die out, that is, they will grow dark and cold from the lack of love for God, the source of love, and will start to taste the torments of hell. They will ask the wise Christians for oil, that is, for good deeds, but those will not give it to them, so that they also may not be opportunities to do them, however, precisely at this time when they wish to do good deeds, the bridegroom will come, death will catch them by surprise, and will place them before the heavenly Judge without any virtues whatsoever, reeking of the filth of their own lawlessness. They will desire to go inside the bridal chamber of the heavenly kingdom, which all of us from birth are destined to enter, the reason for which we live. Their Lord will not allow them to enter, and will say to them: I do not know you. Watch therefore, the Lord concludes the parable, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Now all of us understand the church hymn: “Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is that servant,” that is, every Christian, “whom He shall find watching, and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless (sleeping the sleep of sin). Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep (that is, do not be weighed down with the sleep of sin), lest you be given up to (eternal) death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us.” Amen. (Season of Repentance, Lenten Homilies of St. John of Kronstadt: Homily 30, On the Hymn “Behold, the Bridegroom Comes at Midnight”)

Comments

  1. The fate of the foolish virgins is the rest of the story associated with the seventh seal in the Book of Revelation. Because the Orthodox largely ignore the Book of Revelation there is much confusion in the Church regarding a clear understanding of what the great tribulation of the Church is in relationship to the Day of the Lord. A comprehensive understanding of the eschatological Scriptures reveals that the great tribulation of the Church began in the first Century and will continue until the Day of the Lord begins. It is after the tribulation that the cosmic and seismic signs of the six seal take place in preparation for the opening of the seventh seal as recording in the 24th chapter of the Book of Matthew. This is why more Christians have been martyred for the Faith in the last 100 year, than the previous 1900 years. The Day of the Lord is like the Days of Creation in that it is not limited to 24 hours. The three and half years, 42 months, 1260, 1290, and 1335 days of Revelation and Daniel are revealing how long the judgements and resurrection harvest of the Day of the Lord will last.

  2. Marc,

    Christ is risen! Can you show the parallels between the parable of the Virgins and the Apocalypse? Thanks.

    in ICXC,
    Maximus

  3. Maximus,

    Indeed He is risen!

    In Revelation 14:1-5 we see the resurrected wise virgins in Heavenly Jerusalem. They are quantified as 144,000 which is symbolic of the Church 12 times 12, and fullness 10 times 10 times 10. They are also referred to as the first fruits of the general resurrection, confirming that there will be others found worthy to follow in the resurrection as the judgements of the Day of the Lord unfold over the course of 1,335 days. Because the foolish virgins were still baptized Christians, their fate is that of the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7:1-8. Again, this is symbolic of those who will be joined to the Church during the judgments of the Day of the Lord. This group is further defined by the twelve tribes of Israel to show that those who broke themselves off from the True Vine, can be restored to true Israel; the Church. Zechariah 14:16-19 also seems to confirm that the resurrection to Heavenly Jerusalem will continue over several years.

  4. Marc,

    Thanks for you illuminating comments! Have you read the translation of the commentary on the Apocalypse by St. Andrew of Caeserea accompanied by an in-depth study on the reception of the book by Presvytera Constantinou?

    http://www.revelation-resources.com/2009/10/01/e-s-constantinou-andrew-of-caesarea-and-the-apocalypse/

  5. In my initial study of the Book of Revelation beginning 10 years ago, I relied on “The Apocalypse” by Archbishop Averky Taushev. This work draws extensively from St. Andrew’s commentary. I have used Presvytera Jeannie’s extensive work as a reference.

    What is lacking in all of the Orthodox materials I have read on the subject, is an understanding of the unique sequential nature of the Book of Revelation. From the fourth chapter on, the visions are given from a heavenly perspective were past, present, and future events are indistinguishable from one another. To understand the chronological sequence, one needs to draw upon the related revelations found throughout the Holy Scriptures.

    If one considers that the sealed scroll that only the Lord can understand is symbolic of all the books of the Holy Scriptures, then we can understand that the first five seals are a recapitulation of the revelation beginning in Genesis, and this would make sense for the last book in the Canon of Scripture. The first seal recaps the creation account and the dominion given to Adam and Eve, the second through fourth seals recap the human condition since the fall of the human beings inhabiting the quarter of the earth’s surface covered by land. The fifth seal recaps the great tribulation of the Church from the first Century until the present time. The sixth and seventh seals reveal the future events that will unfold during the Day of the Lord. These seals and the woes of Revelation are to be understood as sequential, but the trumpets are not. The trumpets are like an instrument section in an orchestra, thus the seventh trumpet plays through the whole period of the Day of the Lord while the other trumpets play at different times.

  6. You need to blog about this so Orthodox can discuss this. Have you read the commentary by Oecumenius, or the commentaries of the Latin Fathers?

  7. I have read a lot of commentaries over the years, and the frustration led me to write my own short seventy page commentary titled, “The Twelve Visions of Revelation.” I had several priests, two seminary professors, and one bishop read it and confirm that the material fell within the boundaries of Holy Apostolic Tradition. It seems that the old joke about how many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb is true: “Change, we never change anything.” My experience with most Orthodox in the blog world reflects the concept that all revelation is closed. If it was not opined by an ancient Church Father or someone in Holy Orders, it must be dismissed. I am sorry to say that very few Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is still working in the Church bestowing gifts like knowledge and understanding.

  8. Yes, that is a prevalent attitude, but it’s stems from being cautious against the rampant prelest and error which abounds today. Frankly, the odds are against something “new” being Orthodox, however, it’s an error to think that everything new is heterodox and innovative. Newness is not inherently false. If that’s the case, why would anyone within Orthodoxy write anything besides patriotic anthologies? We still have new commentaries coming out all the time.

    Btw… The best Protestant commentary I’ve ever read on the Apocalypse is Chilton’s Days of Vengeance, are you familiar with it. He does a great job of demonstrating St. John’s mastery of the Old Testament writings. Also, I’d like to read your commentary.

  9. Because the Church admonishes us to be prepared as the wise virgins though Great Lent and Holy Week, I always thought a clearer understanding of what happened to the foolish virgins might be important. I became very concerned when I realized that the prevailing opinion in the Church that the last Antichrist would become manifested three and half years before our Lord’s returns was in direct opposition to the Church teaching that we cannot know the time of our Lord’s return. Those who teach that the appearance of the last Antichrist will happen before the beginning of the Day of the Lord are making a terrible error, and are possibly putting many at risk of not being prepared as the wise virgins.

    I will share the introduction of my commentary with you and if you are still interested in reading it, please email me. If you can open a Microsoft Works file I will send it electronically, if not I will send you a hard copy in the mail. I did not have Microsoft Word when I wrote the commentary.

    Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near (Revelation 1:3). A clear understanding of the Book of Revelation can be a blessing of encouragement for those Christians who are striving to overcome the tribulations of living a truly Christian life in this fallen world, and a blessing of warning for those Christians who are not.

    Although the Holy Spirit guided the Church Fathers to include the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, there has never been a consensus among the Fathers and teachers of the Church regarding how to interpret it. Without a clear understanding of the Book of Revelation, most of the other prophetic Scriptures in the Holy Bible concerning the great tribulation, the last Antichrist, and The Day of The Lord; cannot be correctly understood.

    The Book of Revelation has remained shrouded in mystery primarily because none of its previous interpreters have fully understood its unique sequential structure. St. John wrote down the revelations of our Lord in the sequence that they were given to him. However, from chapter four onward St. John received these revelations from a Heavenly perspective where past, present, and future events are indistinguishable from one another. When the text of these chapters are arranged in a sequence that follows the related historical and prophetic passages of the Holy Scriptures, it becomes very clear that St. John was given twelve distinct visions. These twelve visions encapsulate the entirety of the story of God’s relationship with mankind; from the beginning, to the end of this age. This is why our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ begins and ends His Revelation to St. John explaining: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Rev. 1:8,11,17; 22:13).”

    The Holy Apostolic Tradition of the Church also provides three keys of understanding to unlock some of the deeper mysteries of Revelation. First, God’s love for mankind is so great that He has done everything possible to save us from our own self-destruction, except to deprive us of His gift of free will. Second, there is only one family of God and one dispensation of His grace. True Israel is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Finally, God’s wrath and judgments are always remedial, never vindictive.

    Using these guidelines and keys to interpret Revelation allows the Bible and history to refute five widespread pernicious misconceptions. First, the great tribulation spoken of only in Matthew and Revelation is not a time limited to three and a half or seven years, but is rather the condition of the Church from the first century until our Lord’s Second Coming. The singular and plural form of the word tribulation is used many times in the New Testament, almost always in reference to the continuing condition of those in God’s Church. Daniel 9:27 is not referring to the great tribulation, but rather to the seven years that Jesus Christ confirms the New Covenant; beginning with His earthly ministry, then ending with the Day of the Lord. Second, the Day of the Lord is not a standard twenty-four hour day, but is rather the period of time which begins when Jesus Christ returns in glory, then continues for one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days until the confirmation of the New Covenant and the harvest of the resurrection are completed. The last chapter of Daniel and much of Revelation consists of prophecies about what will happen in Heaven and on the earth during this period of judgment. Third, the temple of God referred to in the eleventh chapter of Revelation is not a third temple yet to be built upon the temple mount in Jerusalem, but is rather the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which now stands upon the holy site of our Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Fourth, the prophecy in second Thessalonians concerning the “falling away” is about the sequential events of the Day of the Lord, and the departure from the Church of many nominal Christians as the resurrection harvest begins. Fifth and finally, the last Antichrist will not be manifested before the Day of the Lord begins, but rather after the initial worldwide chaos of the Day of the Lord begins to subside. The last Antichrist is not a single person, but is rather an evil trinity of Satan and the two beasts in chapter thirteen of Revelation. The first beast represents the political leader of the last empire of Satan’s dominion on the earth, and the second beast represents Satan’s false prophet, who will deceive many people during the Day of the Lord.

    The Book of Revelation completes the Holy Scriptures given to the Church by God the Word, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It summarizes the historical revelations that begin in Genesis, then focuses on the Incarnation of the Son of God, His Gospel message, and the continuing great tribulation of His Church on the earth. Revelation concludes by focusing on the future, and the prophesied events that will take place during and after the resurrection harvest of the Day of the Lord.

  10. I emailed you brother…

    in ICXC,
    Maximus

  11. Did you post Marc’s paper? If so, please forward link.

    Thanks!

  12. CJ,

    No. I have a hard-copy of the paper so I can’t post it.

    in ICXC,
    Maximus

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