Here is another parable of Jesus, recalled on Tuesday of Holy Week (“Great Tuesday”) in Orthodox Churches. It is here represented in a 14th century fresco from Pech, Serbia:
As the Slavic title inscription tells us, it is the “Parable of Christ about the Ten Virgins.”
Here is another Serbian example from the same century, this time from Vysokie Dechani:
Perhaps you noticed that the writer of the inscription in that example has not written out the word “ten,” but instead has just used the Slavic letter number for it:
Here is the parable, from Matthew 25:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.
7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12 But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I know you not.
13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man comes.
Now the conventional interpretation of this is that some Christians keep prepared for the coming of the bridegroom — Jesus — and some foolishly do not. There is some controversy (largely outside Eastern Orthodoxy) over whether this parable depicts ten female companions of an unmentioned bride, or whether the virgins in the story are all intended brides of the bridegroom — which would of course be polygamy, though the number of brides does not seem to be the point of the parable — or allegory, as some prefer.
Our purpose today is not to unravel what the original significance of this parable might have been, but rather to identify it as a somewhat variable iconographic type.
Here is a more sophisticated example:
If we look more closely, we can read the inscription by the central figure of Jesus:
As you know IC abbreviates ΙΗCΟΥΣ/Iesous — “Jesus,” and XC abbreviates ΧΡΙCΤΟC/Khristos — “Christ.”
The Ὁ ΝΥΜΦΙΟC/Ho Nymphios inscription identifies Jesus as “The Bridegroom.”
Now you will recall that there is a separate “Passion” icon in which Jesus is identified as “The Bridegroom,” but that is a different type — though its title is related. To refresh your mind about that other “Bridegroom” type, read this previous posting:
Just below the Ho Nymphios inscription, there is another barely visible inscription in the photo. It is Jesus talking to the rather sad-looking women on the right side (at his left hand). He is saying:
[οὐκ] οἶδα ὑμᾶς/[ouk] oida hymas
The words are taken from Matthew 25:12, literally “not I-know you” — in normal English, “I do not know you.”
A troparion from Great Tuesday says in Church Slavic:
Се, Жених грядет в полунощи,
и блажен раб, егоже обрящет бдяща:
недостоин же паки, егоже обрящет унывающа.
Блюди убо, душе моя, не сном отяготися,
да не смерти предана будеши и Царствия вне затворишися,
но воспряни зовущи: Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже,
Богородицею помилуй нас.
Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
That of course relates also to Mark 13:34-37:
But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is.
For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at evening, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning:
Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.