By Elder Petroniu Tanase
The last Liturgy of Holy Wednesday is the closing and culmination of the entire period of Great Lent. It reveals what marvelous works can be done and how many pitfalls and temptations we invite when it is absent from our lives.
The twofold events of the day are: the sinful woman and His disciple Judas, the destroyer of repentance. The sinful woman is found to be in a worse situation due to her moral fall in debauchery, yet Judas is in a more honorable seat: he is a disciple of the Master.
The repentance of the sinful woman elevates her and makes her a myrrhbearer, yet the avarice of Judas lowers him to the most horrible of falls. It makes him a traitor of his Teacher and in the end drives him to hang himself. The change in these two situations fills our hearts with fear and anxiety for our salvation, but at the same time with trust and hope in the great power of repentance.
Let us more thoroughly examine these two situations.
The Scribes and Pharisees in particular, and the Hebrew people generally, had faith that as a people they were chosen, and as observers of the Law they were automatically destined to be heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior on numerous occasions showed that their faith was incorrect.
This is expressed in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee: a sinner and a righteous one with positions and works in their life, suddenly change their positions due to the contrasts of their soul. Farmers of the vineyard, as another Parable says, initially trusted the master of the vineyard, but then they heard the stern decision of the Lord: "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matt. 21:43).
The disciple Judas and the prostitute who are remembered on Holy Wednesday express these things even more fully. The disciple knows his Lord better than anyone. For years he has lived with Him, he has seen miracles, he has heard so many wondrous teachings, and with all these things he became a servant of avarice and brought his soul down to eternal perdition.
Contrary to this, the woman alienated due to her sins, presented with great repentance only her tears and the very costly myrrh. She becomes a myrrhbearer and appropriately prepares the Lord for burial, and this deed of hers is always proclaimed throughout the world in remembrance (Mk. 14:9).
This Matins service always sets before us these two situations: the disciple and the sinful woman. Change came from the repentance of the prostitute and the fall of Judas due to his avarice.
"The harlot approached Thee, O Lover of mankind, pouring out on Thy feet costly perfume mixed with tears; and at Thy command she was redeemed from the stench of her sins. But the ungrateful disciple, though he was touched by Thy grace, rejected it and defiled himself with mire, selling Thee for love of money." (Kathisma of Holy Wednesday)
The nun Kassiani in her famous Doxastikon of the Aposticha expresses the anguish of her soul and the wailing of the prostitute at the feet of the Lord.
The immortal teaching arising from the events of this day should under no circumstance be forgotten by us. That which happens with Israel and the Scribes and Pharisees, the same can happen with the New Israel, the Christians, and its sacred Liturgizers, the priests and monks. The fact that we are a chosen people, or Christians, or priests, etc., does not alone lead us to salvation, but rather our response to the invitation of the inner life, repentance and humility. This is why the Holy Fathers continually say it is better to be a humble sinner rather than a proud righteous man.
At the end of the Fast the commemoration of the prostitute and the betrayal of Judas has a singular explanation. We are approaching Holy Pascha, after a long period of preparation and many labors. Let us not be restless and unresponsive. One carelessness can devastate the entire reward of our soul, as happened with the passion of avarice in Judas.
At the same time the one loaded with sins and alienated from God has hope for salvation. A sincere repentance and renunciation of evil from the depths of the heart can make one worthy of forgiveness, as happened with this mornings "sinful and impure fallen woman".
Therefore with fear and hope, let us work out our salvation. With fear, owing to the illness and unworthiness of our human nature, and with hope because of the power of repentance, which rectifies us with the boundless compassion of God, before which no sin can resist. Judas could also have been forgiven, had he repented. This is made certain by the sinful woman, who poured out many tears and was redeemed from the stench of her passions.
This is also seen in the other disciple, Peter, who after his triple denial cried bitter tears, and was forgiven by the Lord like the prostitute.
Holy Wednesday is a dark and sad day, owing to the consultation of Judas to sell Jesus and the decision of the Scribes and Pharisees for His murder, as the troparion for the prophecy in the Trithekti of the day says: "Today the evil Sanhedrin has assembled, and devised vain things against Him. Today Judas places around his neck the noose. Caiaphas confesses He came to suffer for us all. Our Redeemer, Christ God, glory to Thee."
For this treacherous deed of the disciple and the Jewish people, who denied the Messiah they so waited for, the Church mourns every Wednesday of the year with fasting and prayer. This is because the sin of selling and denying the Master did not disappear with the death of Judas, but continues throughout the centuries and is also claimed by Christians. Because they, like the Jewish people, were made worthy of the great gift of the Master, the redemption of our sins and honorable discipleship, yet we sell the Master for infamous money and the futile pursuits of our current century.
Lord, redeem our souls from such iniquity!
Source: From the book by the same ΟΙ ΠΥΛΕΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΕΤΑΝΟΙΑΣ: ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΟΙ ΣΤΟΧΑΣΜΟΙ ΓΙΑ ΤΗΝ ΠΕΡΙΟΔΟ ΤΟΥ ΤΡΙΩΔΙΟY (Ὑπό Ἀδελφῶν Ἱερᾶς Μονῆς Ὁσίου Γρηγορίου 2003). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.