On Tuesday evening of Holy Week, we commemorate the anointing of Jesus’ feet by the sinful woman. The hymns for this service contrast the beauty of her humility and repentance with the betrayal of Judas. Of all of the hymns that we chant throughout the year, I think tonight’s hymns are the most beautiful and profound.
The harlot came to You who love humanity. She poured perfume and tears over your feet, O Lord. At your command she was absolved from the stench of her sinful deeds. Judas, on the other hand, though he breathed your grace, ungratefully rejected it, and disfigured himself with mire; for he betrayed you for the love of money. Glory to Your compassion, O Christ!
When the sinful woman offered the fragrant oil, then the disciple made his agreement with the transgressors of the Law. She rejoiced in pouring out the costly oil, and he lost no time in selling off the priceless One. She acknowledged the Master, and he was becoming estranged from the Master. She was emancipated, while Judas became a slave of the enemy. How dreadful was his rashness! How great was her repentance! Grant me this repentance, O Saviour who suffered for us, and save us.
Oh, the wretchedness of Judas! He watched as the harlot was kissing your feet, all the while with guile thinking about the kiss of betrayal. As she untied her braided hair, he was knotted up in anger, bringing rancid wickedness instead of fragrant oil. For envy does not even recognize its own advantage. Oh, the wretchedness of Judas! From this deliver our souls, O God.
Notice how, despite her sins, the harlot is forgiven everything because of her humility and repentance expressed through offering to God what she had: washing his feet with her tears and the perfume she had acquired through her harlotry. Judas, on the other hand, although he “breathed grace” being a friend of Christ, rejected that grace for the love of money and thus betrayed Christ.
In what is possibly the most profound hymn of this most profound service, The Hymn of Kassiani, we reflect deeply on the experience of repentance. Although the hymn is set in the mouth of the repenting harlot, her words are our words too. Every one of us, when we see our sin in the Light of Christ’s compassionate love, every one of us can pray these words also. Notice how heart-felt repentance can quickly elevate even the worst sinner to be a saint. Although this hymn is chanted only once a year, it has influenced great philosophers and has been referenced in famous novels.
Lord, when the woman who had fallen into many sins perceived your divinity, she assumed the role of a myrrh-bearing woman and lamenting brought fragrant oils to anoint you before your burial. “Woe is me,” she says. “Night for me is a ecstasy of excess, very dark and moonless, full of sinful desires. Accept the fountains of my tears, you who gather into the clouds the water of the sea. Take pity on me, and incline to the sighing of my heart, you who bowed the heavens by your ineffable self-emptying. I shall cover your unstained feet with kisses, and wipe them dry again with the locks of my hair; those feet, at whose sound Eve hid in fear when you walked in Paradise at twilight. Who can reckon the multitude of my sins, or fathom the depths of your judgments, O my life-saving Saviour? Do not despise me, your servant, since without measure is your mercy.”
May God deliver us all from envy and the love of money, and grant us the repentance of the harlot.