The usual service on Wednesday evening of Holy Week is the Holy Unction. It replaces in parish practice the Matins service for the Last Supper. However, this year our Bishop has asked us to pray this Matins service. I speculate that one of the reasons it is normally replaced by Holy Unction is that the hymns for this Matins service are extremely sad. The themes of the service are Christ’s humility in the washing of the Disciple’s feet, including Judas’; the Last Supper, in which Judas also partook; Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweat great drops of blood; and the actual betrayal of Christ by a kiss. The hymn of the Bridegroom is now replaced with a contemplation of Judas’ betrayal with a warning to each of us, for we are all tempted by the love of money. This hymn is chanted three times at the beginning of the service and once more at the end.
While your glorious Disciples were being illumined at the evening washing of their feet, Judas of evil worship was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And he delivered and surrendered to the lawless judges you, the righteous Judge. Wherefore, O lover of wealth behold him who for its sake did hang himself, and flee from that greedy soul that ventured such things against the Master. O you whose goodness pervades all, glory to you.
Similarly, other hymns chanted this evening contemplate unblinkingly the horror of Judas’ betrayal. The following example is terrifying in its use of contrasts to contemplate that betrayal.
The law-transgressing Judas, O Lord, who dipped his hand with you in the plate at supper, has put forth his hands with iniquity to take silver; and he who calculated the price of the myrrh did not shrink from selling you, O priceless One. And he who put forth his feet for the Master to wash, deceitfully kissed him to deliver him to the law-breakers. Truly he has been cast away with his thirty pieces of silver without beholding your third-day resurrection.
We remember also how both on the way to Jerusalem (according to John’s account) and even at the Last Supper itself (according to Luke’s account), the disciples are still arguing about who will be first and leader among them. Therefore, the hymns for this service remind us that one of the reasons why Jesus washed the disciples’s feet, even Judas’, was to teach them the way of humility, which is the heavenly way.
The Master shows to his Disciples an example of humility: He who wraps the heavens in clouds girds himself with a towel; and he in whose hand is the life of all things kneels down to wash the feet of his servants.
Although the hymns of this Matins service take us to the darkest places of our souls, they do not leave us there. The last verse of the last set of hymns reminds us of Jesus’ words of encouragement to his disciples recorded in John’s Gospel. As terrible as it is—Christ’s betrayal, unjust trial before the hypocrites, the spitting and beating and humiliation and death—as terrible as all of this is, it is not the end. Ours is to suffer with him, not to separate ourselves from the shame nor to be scandalized, for if we suffer with him, we will rise with him.
Instructing your disciples in the Mystery, O Lord, you taught them saying: “My friends, take care that fear does not separate you from me. For, though I suffer, yet it is for the sake of the world. Do not be scandalized because of me; for I have come not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give my life as a ransom for the world. If then you are my friends, you will do as I do. He who will be first, let him be the last; let the master be as the servant. Abide in me, that you may bear fruit: for I am the Vine of Life.