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In Christianity, Holy Wednesday (also called Spy Wednesday, and in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Holy and Great Wednesday, Greek: Μεγάλη Τετάρτη, Megale Tetarte) is the Wednesday of the Holy Week, the week before Easter. It is followed by Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday).
In Western Christianity, the Wednesday before Easter is sometimes known as "Spy Wednesday", as a reference to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot., indicating that it is the day that Judas Iscariot first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty silver coins.
The Sanhedrin was gathered together and it decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. Here he was anointed on his head by a woman with very expensive ointment of spikenard. In John's Gospel, this woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Some of the disciples, particularly Judas, were indignant about this; the oil could have been sold to support the poor. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Although it is frequently celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the Tenebrae is a liturgy that is often celebrated on this day. The word tenebrae comes from the Latin meaning darkness. In this service, all of the candles on the altar table are gradually extinguished until the sanctuary is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolizing the death of Jesus. The 'strepitus', as it is known more probably symbolizes the earthquake that followed Jesus' death: "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent" Matthew 27:51(AV).
In the Orthodox Church, the theme of Holy and Great Wednesday is the commemoration of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus before his Crucifixion and Burial; a second theme is the agreement to betray Jesus made by Judas Iscariot.
The day begins with the celebration of the Presanctified Liturgy on Tuesday afternoon. Later that evening, the Orthros (Matins) follows the special Holy Week format known as the Bridegroom Prayer. Towards the end of Orthros, the Hymn of Kassiani is sung. The hymn, (written in the 9th century by Kassiani the Nun) tells of the woman who washed Christ's feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) Much of the hymn is written from the perspective of the sinful woman:
The Byzantine musical composition expresses the poetry so strongly that it often leaves many people in a state of prayerful tears. The Hymn can last upwards of 25 minutes and is liturgically and musically a highpoint of the entire year.
It is on account of the agreement made by Judas to betray Jesus on this day that Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays (as well as Fridays) throughout the year.
A growing body of Biblical scholars and commentators - particularly those of Fundamentalist Churches - claim the traditional Holy Week calendar is inaccurate and Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday. Those promoting a Wednesday crucifixion date point to the story recounted in Matthew 12:38-40 (ASV):
Elsewhere Biblical texts reinforce the point that Jesus was to be dead for three days and three nights, including in Mark 8:31, where it is written that the Son of Man "must be killed and after three days rise again." In Matthew 27:62-64 the Pharisees quote Jesus as saying, "After three days I will rise again." However, Mark 15:42 indicates that Jesus was crucified on "Preparation Day (that is, the day before Sabbath)." Since weekly Sabbath occurs on Saturday, it was presumed that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.
In the traditional Jewish calendar there were weekly Sabbaths on Saturday, as well as seven High Sabbaths, also called "High Days", some of which can fall on any day of the week. John 19:31 says that that particular Sabbath day before which Jesus was crucified was, in the Greek translation, a "great day" or "high day" (μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα).
Proponents of the Wednesday crucifixion theory argue that this special Sabbath was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commenced on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan and was preceded with a passover meal on the 14th of Nisan. If Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D. or 31 A.D., the 14th of Nissan would have fallen on a Wednesday, with the next day being an Annual Sabbath. If true, the Wednesday crucifixion would have still occurred the day before a Sabbath, as recounted in Biblical text.
Other Biblical texts add weight to the Wednesday crucifixion theory. Modern versions of Matthew 28:1 record the resurrection as occurring "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week." But the Greek text reads "After the Sabbaths" (plural), meaning two Sabbaths had passed between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – the annual Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath.
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