Eastern Orthodox Christians all over the world celebrate the Wednesday of Holy Week as "Holy and Great Wednesday." One of the key aspects of their worship that day remembers the woman who anointed Jesus with her tears.
Traditionally, the Hymn of Kassiani is sung which commemorates this event and tells the story from the woman's perspective. The hymn was written in the 19th century by St. Kassia who is now acknowledged as one of the saints of Russia.
O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer.
With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. "Woe to me!" she cries, "for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gather into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension.
I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy."
This story is written about in the Gospels. Jesus went to the Pharisees Simon's house to have dinner. A woman, who lived a sinful life, heard the news and came to Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume and wept over him washing his feet. Jesus used the occasion to teach about forgiveness. As we prepare and remember Christ's death and resurrection - this is a beautiful passage upon which to reflect:
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor." 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her."
We have not yet escaped a world where the service and acts of worship from women are free from the disdainful critique of men. But we worship a Jesus, a Savior, a Messiah who sees these gifts and acts of leadership for their beauty and importance. Jesus calls this service and leadership from a woman, yes, a sinful woman, part of the Gospel story that should be remembered always.
Holy Week is a week full of God's love for all, but the attention given to women in a society that treated them as second-class citizens is part of the beauty of the greater Gospel story. This woman will be remembered always when the Gospel is preached.
A few days later, it will be women who will be among those there at the foot of the cross and then it will be women who are the first to tell, to preach, the good news of a Risen Savior.
Blessings to you this Great and Holy Wednesday.
Note from the author: An earlier version of this article seemed to imply that April 1, 2015 was Great Wednesday in the Orthodox Tradition. In fact, Orthodox Holy Week begins the following week. April 1 is part of Holy Week in the Western Tradition.