The anointment of Christ in Bethany

The event of the anointing of Christ with precious myrrh is described in all four of the Gospels with different variations. In Matthew 26: 6-13 and Mark 14: 3-9, a woman pours myrrh on our Lord’s head, and the disciples complain about the seemingly wasteful extravagance. In John 12: 1-8, Maria, the sister of Lazarus, is clearly identified as the woman anointing Christ, out of gratitude for the miracle of the raising of her brother that occurred a few days before (John 11:1-44). Maria is described as washing Christ’s feet with expensive fragrance and wiping them with her hair, while the disciple complaining is named as Judas Iscariot.

Immediately after the event, in Matthew 26: 14-16 and Mark 14: 10-11, we read about Judas betraying his Teacher to the chief priests.

In Luke 7: 36-50, a similar event is described where an anonymous sinful woman, in great repentance, anoints our Lord’s feet with fragrant oil and wipes them with her hair, and, consequently, Christ forgives her sins. This is most probably a different event from the previous Gospel accounts.

The moving hymnology of the day is inspired by all of the Gospel variations of this story, drawing a sharp contrast between the woman’s act of gratefulness and the disciple’s act of betrayal:

I have transgressed more than the harlot, O loving Lord, yet never have I offered You my flowing tears. But in silence I fall down before You and with love I kiss Your most pure feet, beseeching You as Master to grant me remission of sins; and I cry to You, O Savior: Deliver me from the filth of my works.” (Kontakion, Tone 4, Orthros of Holy Wednesday, celebrated on Holy Tuesday evening).

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 has suffered for our sake, and save us.” (Sticheron no.3, Orthros of Holy Wednesday, celebrated on Holy Tuesday evening – listen to it HERE).

Finally, it is worth noting the famous Hymn of St. Kassiani the Hymnographer, a beautiful poem of love and repentance of the sinful woman who anointed the Lord with precious myrrh. The Hymn of Kassiani, also known as the Hymn of the Fallen Woman, is only chanted once a year, during the Holy Wednesday Orthros service and the subsequent Pre-sanctified Liturgy, yet it is considered the high point of the Bridegroom Services during the Holy Week. 

“The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Thy divinity, O Lord, fulfilled the part of a myrrh-bearer; and with lamentations she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to Thee before Thy 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 Thou who drawest down from the clouds the waters of the sea. Incline to the groanings of my heart, O Thou who in Thine ineffable self-emptying hast bowed down the heavens. I shall kiss Thy most pure feet and wipe them with the hairs of my head, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise, and hid herself for fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the abyss of Thy judgements, O savior of my soul? Despise me not, Thine handmaiden, for Thou hast mercy without measure.” (Hymn of Kassiani – Plagal of tone 4, Orthros of Holy Wednesday, celebrated on Holy Tuesday evening –listen HERE)