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Fifth Sunday of the Cross

The Fifth Sunday of the Cross

Basilica Hymn
Bless the Lord, O my soul
Turn, O my soul, to your rest
Leave evil behind and do good
Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to greet him
O my miserable soul, when you take up your lamp, await and listen for the glorious Bridegroom and, with the wise virgins, prepare and stay awake with them, and with your eyes not hanging in sleep shout the praises of the Lord, and beg him, saying: “O God, forgive me and have mercy on me, O Lover of mankind!”
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
The cross was established in Jerusalem, and all creatures were gladdened; greedy death was unraveled in it, and the power of demons was taken away; it chased the Jews away to the four corners of the earth, and it gathered the nations together, and brought them into the Kingdom: that Paradise of heaven which Adam lost when he disobeyed, and the Second Adam conquered in Judah, returning its land to the Kingdom. He seized power in heaven and on earth, for lo, assemblies of angels worship before him, and they all cry out in one voice: thanksgiving to the Son of the Lord of All!

Falling Asleep

In discussing the end of time, St. Paul urges the Thessalonians, “let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober. Those who sleep go to sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). From the time of this (most likely) earliest-written of all pieces of Christian literature, we have a sense of the symbolic meaning of “sleep” and “wakefulness.” To be “asleep” means to be unprepared for Christ’s coming, in a state of forgetfulness of his existence and his presence already among us; that is, in a state of sin. Spiritual wakefulness, on the other hand, means being in a consistent state of awareness of God’s existence and presence, and living as one who knows God and is near him.

“What if you died today? What would you say to God?” If this is a jarring question to us, then perhaps there is some part of our soul that is asleep. Christ himself, again in discussing the last days, uses similar imagery: “Then” (that is, “at the end”) the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom…since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” (Matthew 25:1,5). The closer one examines this parable, the more confusing it becomes. On the one hand, there are five wise virgins and five foolish; at the end of the parable Christ’s message is “therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13). But the problem is that all of the virgins, wise and foolish alike, fall asleep! Not even the “model” virgins, the wise ones, were able to stay awake until the coming of the bridegroom. What distinguished them was not their ability to stay awake, but their foresight in bringing extra oil for their lamps (Matthew 25:4).

We know what staying awake signifies: living a virtuous life, a life without the sleep of sin. But we are told (and rightly so) that on our own this kind of life is utterly impossible, even for the wise. Yet, with Christ’s command to “stay awake,” the impossible comes within our grasp, for his is the grace that allows us to love God at all, especially with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves. Perhaps this love, given by Christ, is the oil that supplies light in the darkness, and envigors our drooping eyes. The Basilica Hymn of the Third Sunday of the Cross and the Sixth Sunday of Elijah continues the Elijihan seasonal theme of the end of the world, and brings these images together:

O my miserable soul, when you take up your lamp, await and listen for the glorious Bridegroom and, with the wise virgins, prepare and stay awake with them, and with your eyes not hanging in sleep shout the praises of the Lord, and beg him, saying: “O God, forgive me and have mercy on me, O Lover of mankind!”