Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Holy and Great Wednesday

On GreatWednesday the Church commemorates the act of contrition and love of the sinful woman who poured precious myrrh-oil on our Savior's head, and, though she did not know it, "prepared Him for burial." And in contrast we hear of the dark act of Judas, whose greed led him to betray his Master. All the readings and hymns of the day warn us to beware of greed and love of money, which even tempted a disciple of Christ. We too can betray Him, if we let greed and selfishness get hold of us, while every deed of humility and love at once brings us near to Him.

Concerning these incidents recorded in the Holy Gospels, the Synaxarion has the following account:

Two women — say the more discerning interpreters of the Gospel — anointed the Lord with myrrh; the one, a long time before His Passion; the other, a few days before. The one was a harlot and sinner; the other, chaste and virtuous. The Church commemorates this reverent act today. While mentioning herein the person of the harlot, it also mentions Judas' betrayal; for, according to the account in Matthew, both of these deeds took place two days before the Passover, on Wednesday.

That woman, then, anointed Jesus' head and feet with very precious myrrh, and wiped them with the tresses of her hair. The disciples, especially the avaricious Judas, were scandalized, supposedly because of the waste of the myrrh. Jesus reproved them and told them not to trouble the woman. Indignant, Judas went to the high priests, who were gathered in the court of Caiaphas and were already taking counsel against Jesus. On agreeing with them to betray his Teacher for thirty pieces of silver, Judas sought from that time opportunity to betray Him (Matt. 26:14-16). Because the betrayal took place on Wednesday, we have received the tradition from Apostolic times to fast on Wednesday throughout the year.

It is on this day also that one of the most beautiful and compunctionate hymns ever composed is chanted in the Holy Church. This hymn, composed in the early part of the ninth century by the nun Cassiane, has as its theme the anointing of our Savior's feet by the harlot:

The Troparion of Cassiane

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins perceived Thy divinity, and taking upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer, with lamentation she bringeth Thee myrrh-oils before Thine entombment. Woe unto me! saith she, for night is become for me a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O Thou Who gatherest into clouds the water of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O Thou Who didst bow the Heavens by Thine ineffable condescension. I will kiss Thine immaculate feet and wipe them again with the tresses of my head; those feet, at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Thy judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me, Thy handmaiden, O Thou Who art boundless in mercy.

The Kontakion for this day continues the theme of contrition and remorse, and confronts us with our unworthiness before God:

The Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

Though I have transgressed more than the harlot, O Good One, I have in no wise brought forth streams of tears for Thee; but in silence I supplicate Thee and fall down before Thee, kissing Thine immaculate feet with love, so that, as Master that Thou art, Thou mayest grant me the forgiveness of debts, as I cry to Thee, O Savior: From the mire of my deeds do Thou deliver me.

On Holy Wednesday night the Orthodox Church administers the Mystery of the Holy Unction for the bodily and spiritual health of the participants. At this Mystery, the oil is consecrated by prayer and the clergy anoint the people. When this is done, the priest recites the prayers for the remission of sins, while the clergy hold the open Gospel over the heads of the people.

The Psalter is not used after Holy Wednesday until Thomas Sunday.

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