Holy and Great Wednesday…

On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh, inasmuch as this took place a short time before the saving Passion.

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, when He was in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came and poured most precious myrrh on the head of Christ and wiped His feet with her hair, rendering Him service at a very great cost to herself. This event is set forth here that, according to the Savior’s word, her act of great fervor may be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, and because it occurred a short time before the Passion. What moved her to act thus? She had seen how merciful Christ was and how accessible to all; now, in particular, she saw Him enter the house of a leper, whom the Law deemed unclean and unfit for society. She thought to herself that He would heal the man’s leprosy and likewise the illness of her own soul. Thus, while He was seated, she poured on the top of His head a quantity of myrrh, which was worth about “three hundred thirteen denarii in silver coin,” that is, sixty assaria, and she wiped His feet with her hair. She placed her head at His feet, showing her zeal for repentance, but the disciples rebuked her, particularly Judas Iscariot. Christ, however, welcomed her, not allowing them to frustrate her good intention. He further mentioned His burial, dissuaded Judas from becoming a traitor, and honored the woman by saying that her good deed would be related everywhere, throughout the whole world.

Let it be known that there are two women who anointed the Lord with myrrh, as the divine Chrysostom says. He said that in the three Evangelists there is a certain woman who is also called a harlot, while in Saint John there is another woman, Mary the sister of Lazarus, who was not a harlot but a friend of Christ. Thus, the woman in St. John’s Gospel is not the same as the one mentioned by the other Evangelists. Whether both of them anointed Christ on the same day – this is not mentioned. Others, however, assert that there was a third woman: the one who was at the house of Simon the Pharisee; a second, Mary the sister of Lazarus; and a third woman, a different one who was at the supper. Although this opinion is added as a supplement, it is not known whether it can be held as accurate, since one of these women is not she who is now set before us.

That nard, or rather myrrh, with which the harlot anointed Christ, was very costly. It belonged to that type of compound called myrrh, which Moses was commanded by God to make for the anointing of priests and chief priests. It is of this that David says, “It is like the precious oil on the head, running down to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, running down to the edge of his garment” (Ps. 132:2). It was a compound of four substances: myrrh, flowers, fragrant cinnamon, and oil. It was called true or genuine, because skilled and trusted men were appointed to prepare that which God had in a mysterious manner revealed to Moses alone. An alabaster jar is a glass vessel made with no handle, which is also called a vykion.

We should know that today the deceitful Judas, that lover of money, that whelp of Satan, began the negotiations with the wicked Sanhedrin to betray the Master for thirty pieces of silver. Being indignant after Christ rebuked him for showing concern for the cost of the oil of myrrh, he sought out the Jews who were at the court of Caiaphas. After taking council with the Jewish High Priests, he searched for an opportunity to betray the Lord when He was alone, for the Sanhedrin feared the multitude that followed Christ.

We see in today’s Gospel (Matt. 26:6-16) that the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh to anoint Christ, while Judas brought his greed to the Sanhedrin. She spread out her hair to wipe the Lord’s feet, while Judas stretched out his hands for the money. She rejoiced to pour out the very precious oil on the Lord, while Judas made plans to sell the One who is above all price. By anointing Christ, she acknowledged Him as Lord, while Judas severed himself from the Master. She was set free of her sins, while Judas was entrapped and became a slave of the devil. She tenderly kissed the feet of Christ, asking for forgiveness, while Judas plotted to betray the Lord with a kiss, anticipating the silver.

Because the betrayal of Christ occurred on a Wednesday, the Orthodox Church has received the tradition from Apostolic times to observe Wednesday as a fast day throughout the entire year.

O Christ our God, Who was anointed with the noetic myrrh, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Kontakion, Tone 4

Though I have transgressed, O Good One,
more than the harlot,
I have never offered Thee a flood of tears.
but, praying in silence,
I fall down before Thee,
with love embracing Thy most pure feet,
that Thou as Master mayest grant me remission of sins.
And I cry to Thee, O Saviour:
Deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds.

Ikos: Having come to hate the works of sin and carnal pleasure, the woman who before had been a prodigal became chaste at once. Calling to mind the magnitude of disgrace and the condemnation of torment which harlots and profligates, of whom I am first, shall endure, I also am afraid; yet I foolishly continue in my evil ways. But the woman who was a harlot, having been filled with fear, hastened quickly to the Deliverer, crying out: “O compassionate Lord who lovest mankind, deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds.”

The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)

Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.

The Hymn of Cassia

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins,
perceiving Thy divinity,
became one of the Myrrhbearers,
bringing Thee ointment in tears before Thy burial.
She cried, “Woe is me!
“For I lived in a night of licentiousness,
“moonless and dismal love of sin.
“Accept the fount of my tears,
“O Thou who drawest the waters of the sea from the clouds.
“Bow down Thine ear to the sighing of my heart,
“O Thou who didst bow the heavens in Thine ineffable self-emptying,
“that I may kiss Thy most pure feet
“and wipe them again with the hairs of my head,
“the feet whose step Eve once heard in Paradise in the cool of the day,
“when for fear she hid herself.
“My sins are many. And who may search the depths of Thy judgments?
“O Saviour of souls, my Saviour,
“despise not Thy servant
“in Thy limitless mercy.”

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