By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
Interpreting the event mentioned by Matthew the Evangelist, which happened in the house of Simon the leper in the presence of that woman who "came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table,"1 the sacred Chrysostom stands with great admiration for this woman. It is worth following the thought and teaching of this father, especially on Holy and Great Wednesday when our Church commemorates her action.
First, that woman came to Christ not for the sake of physical healing, but to honor Him and to correct her soul: "For neither was she at all afflicted in body, so that for this most especially one might marvel at her."2
Second, she did not come to Christ thinking He was just a simple man. This is why she wipes His feet with the hair of her head, for this part of the body, says the sacred father, is the most honorable of the body. She brought her head towards the feet of Christ. This woman did nothing different from what the thief on the cross did at the last moment of his life. She recognized Him as God. This is why she asked for the forgiveness of her sins. And not only did she receive it, but she also accepted praise from Christ: "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached, that shall be told also which this woman has done."3
Third, what was the intention of the woman? According to the golden-mouthed John, her intention was great reverence and unspeakable zeal. This is why Christ out of his exceeding condescension allowed the oil to be poured over his head: "For indeed great was her reverence, and unspeakable her zeal; wherefore of this exceeding condescension, He permitted the oil to be poured even on His head."4
We see this reverence and zeal painted on the faces of our Saints: when they approach Christ, when the Panagia and the Saints make entreaty on behalf of the world. "How can I come to you with empty hands," said Saint Paisios to the Panagia, "to ask you for grace for people who are sick and tired? And because I have nothing, I brought you some wild flowers from my garden."
God has no need of these things to hear us. We have need of reverence and zeal to approach God and receive the remission of our many sins.
At the same time, the sacred father of the Church occupies himself with the person of Judah. Much has been written and said about this. The hymnography of our Church describes him as being "ungrateful" and having "wicked jealousy." It presents him as being bound to his anger, stinking with malice and envy, thinking of betrayal with a kiss.5
How did this disciple arrive at this point? The sacred father answers: "Because he grew indolent. For hence arise such changes, as on the other hand, those for the better come from zeal."6
And how did he become like this after having been called by Christ? The response of Saint John Chrysostom is disarming and highly enlightening: "Because God's call is not compulsory, neither does it force the will of them who are not minded to choose virtue, but admonishes indeed, and advises, and does and manages all things, so as to persuade men to become good; but if some endure not, it does not compel. But if you would learn from what cause he became such as he was, you will find him to have been ruined by covetousness."7
Let us stand respectfully before this sinful woman, since the Only Begotten Son and Word of God as a teacher of repentance respected her, that we may be liberated from our overwhelming passions and be anointed with the noetic myrrh of the grace of God so we may enter into the bridal-chamber of His glory.
1. Matt. 26:7.
2. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 80 on Matthew.
5. Holy Wednesday Matins, Praises.
6. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 80 on Matthew.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.