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April 20, 2022

An Interpretation of the Hymnography of Matins on Holy Wednesday

By Dr. Michael Koutsos


In the third service, our Church features a controversial person, a prostitute, but with an important characteristic - repentance. We are not surprised that there is talk of prostitutes and thieves, because they, according to the Word of God, lead us to Paradise. Both the prostitute who regretted her restless life and the thief who said on the Cross, "Lord, remember me when you enter into your kingdom," conquered Paradise. The prostitute and the thief are examples of repentance, which leads to a change of attitude towards life and ultimately leads to redemption and salvation.

Judas is a classic example of regret, which leads to the recognition of error, but only so far. He does not change his life and repent in practice, but instead is led to destruction and many times death. If Judas truly repented, asked God for forgiveness, and changed his life, then he would not have hanged himself but would use the rest of his life to do good, that is, to repent in practice. But he did not do it, because he had become an instrument of Satan, he had penetrated the tollbooth of avarice, to complain about the value of the myrrh, which the woman poured on His feet, and at best he would not betray his teacher and Lord.

That is why our Church extols the repentance of the prostitute, because no matter how many virtues we have, if we do not repent, the virtues are useless. Virtues are of course useful, but they must be accompanied by a spirit of repentance, because whatever we do is little in the way of what God offers us.

First Tone
While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh,
the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors.
She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious,
he made haste to sell the One who is above all price.
She acknowledged Christ as Lord,
he severed himself from the Master.
She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy.
Grievous was his lack of love!
Great was her repentance!
Grant such repentance also unto me,
O Savior who hast suffered for our sake, and save us.


The troparion presents the two protagonists of the day in an action, to which everyone reacted differently. The behavior of each is exactly the opposite of the behavior of the other. We have opposite pairs on the same subject:

The prostitute hastened to offer the precious myrrh to Christ, and Judas hastened to agree with the scribes and Pharisees to deliver him.

This woman knew for the first time the great forgiveness and mercy of the Master Christ, while Judas, who was with Him for three whole years with the other disciples, now separates from his position with them and separates himself from the Master and his teacher.

The prostitute was freed from the bondage of sin and set free, while Judas, on the other hand, was bound by the passion of greed, now even more so, and became a slave to the wicked enemy.

The conclusion:

Idleness was what excluded the foolish virgins from the bridal-chamber of the Kingdom of God, and now the idleness of Judas sent him to death and hell. Idleness is really terrible, while on the contrary repentance is great, which we ask God to give us, especially now in the period of preparation for the reception of the Bridegroom during Holy Week.

Plagal of the Second Tone
Drowning in sin, she found in You a harbor of salvation,
and pouring out the oil of myrrh with her tears, she cried to You:
Lo, You are He who accepts the repentance of the sinful.
O Master, save me from the waves of sin in Your great mercy.


The harlot had been "drowning", that is, she was living in the sea of sin and the worst was she had sunk to the depths of this sea. The consolation for her is that she climbed to the surface of the sea, thought about where she was going and headed to the harbor, which was, fortunately for her, a harbor of salvation. Her stay in this harbor was too short but enough for her to offer to Christ the precious myrrh mixed with her tears and to ask for her salvation from the raging waves of sin. She knew who she was talking to. She went to the harbor of the storm-tossed sinners, where their repentance was accepted. So do we. We ask the Lord, who knows how to calm the sea and bring peace to our souls, to free us from the storm that sin brings, and to save us.

The same theme is set forth in the next troparion:

Plagal of the Second Tone
Full of despair on account of her life,
her evil ways well known,
she came to You, bearing oil of myrrh, and cried aloud:
Harlot though I am, cast me not out, O Son of the Virgin;
despise not my tears, O Joy of the angels;
but receive me in repentance, O Lord,
and reject me not a sinner in Thy great mercy.

Poem of the Nun Kassiani
Idiomelon. Plagal of the Fourth Tone.

The woman who had fallen into many sins,
perceiving Your divinity, O Lord,
fulfilled the part of a myrrhbearer;
and with lamentations she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to You
before Your burial...


Again this concerns the harlot woman, who fell into many sins. The important thing for her is that she realized the divinity of the Lord and the hymnographer likens her to the Myrrhbearers. They went to anoint the body of the dead Christ with myrrh, and this woman also went to anoint the feet of Christ with myrrh. The difference is that the Myrrhbearers were pure women, while she was a sinner. They had every right to anoint Christ with myrrh, because He was their beloved person, when He was alive, and even now that they lost Him, they went to the memorial to show their love. But this woman, all her life, ignored Christ and soiled her soul with sins. Christ accepted with joy the myrrh of the Myrrhbearers, but with even more joy He also accepted the myrrh of the sinful woman, because this was mixed with the tears of repentance. Moreover the myrrh of the sinful woman was symbolic, because she offered it before the burial of Christ, while the Myrrhbearers after the burial.

... “Woe is me”, she said, “for night surrounds me, 
dark and moonless,
and stings my lustful passion with the love of sin.
Accept the fountain of my tears,
O You who drawest down from the clouds the waters of the sea.
Incline to the groanings of my heart,
O You who in Your ineffable self-emptying
has bowed down the heavens.
I shall kiss Your most pure feet 
and wipe them with the hairs of my head,...


It is rather certain that the sinful woman did not say any of what the great hymnographer Kassiani wrote that she said, but interpreting as a poet her silent sigh at the feet of Christ, she gives us in the most brilliant way the feelings of this woman. She presents the woman beaten herself and saying: Woe is me, in my soul there is a gloomy night, which is not even illuminated by the Moon, a beauty of contempt and a love of sin. She had taken the descent into sin and no one could stop her. The demon of sin and depravity had ridden her like a horse her so much that she ran without thinking, without putting up any obstacles.

But now her tears are running and she begs God, the one who regulates the waters of the sea with the waters of the clouds, to accept her in His arms. The sighs of her heart are so strong that she begs God to bend to these sighs, the One who came down from heaven with the indescribable "kenosis", the incarnation, and came to sinful man to save him. The myrrh was not enough for her to ask the Lord to forgive her. She went even further. She kissed and kissed again the immaculate feet of Christ and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Extreme humility, extreme repentance. The Lord cannot but be moved, who, together with the angels, rejoices "over a sinner who repents."

... those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise, 
and hid herself for fear....


This section is the most discussed whether it refers to Eve in Paradise or to herself during her visit to the emperor. It certainly echoes that sunset of Paradise, where after the disobedience the First-created quickly put on clothing and hid when God came and called them to appear. Anthropomorphically, God is presented as making noise by walking in Paradise and the sound of his feet frightened Eve and she hid, because she "was ashamed", to see God after her disobedience. What has this got to do with a harlot? At first glance, nothing. Yet a woman was the first to fall into sin and seduce Adam, and a woman was also the prostitute who dragged into sin all the men who went with her. Eve did not ask God for forgiveness and God's curse fell on people, while the sinner with her practical repentance gained her salvation.

... Who can search out the multitude of my sins
and the abyss of Thy judgments, O Savior of my soul?
Despise me not, Thine handmaiden,
for You have mercy without measure.”


There is a contrast here between the "multitudes of my sins," as the hymngrapher writes, and the abyss of God's mercy. But this is the consolation. God's mercy is so great that the sins of mankind, no matter how great, can be forgiven by God. God "who examines the hearts and reins" can detect the good intentions of people, but the opposite cannot be done. God clothes Himself with the abyss as with a garment, according to David, let alone the intentions and plans of God for man and for the whole world. Our only refuge is the Lord, so let the sinful woman, like us, ask God not to despise us their faithful servants, for His mercy is immeasurable.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.