In Christianity, Holy Wednesday, also called Spy Wednesday, and in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Holy and Great Wednesday) is the Wednesday of the Holy Week, the week before Easter. It is followed by Maundy 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. 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 Kassia) 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:
- 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."
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.
- Czech Republic: the day is traditionally called Ugly Wednesday, Soot-Sweeping Wednesday or Black Wednesday, because chimneys used to be swept on this day, to be clean for Easter.
- Malta: this day is known as L-Erbgħa tat-Tniebri" (Wednesday of Shadows) referring to the liturgical darkness (tenebrae). In the past children went to the parish church and drummed on the chairs to make the sound of thunderstorms, as their version of the "strepitus" sound at Tenebrae Wednesday.
- Scandinavia: this day is known as Dymmelonsdagen. A dymbil is a piece of wood. Historically, the metal clapper of the church bells were replaced by these dymbils on Holy Wednesday, to make a duller sound. The day is sometimes confused with Ash Wednesday, and to the public, the days have started to apply to one another.
Wednesday crucifixion theory
Although the consensus of modern scholarship is that the New Testament accounts represent a crucifixion occurring on a Friday, a growing body of Biblical scholars and commentators claim the traditional Holy Week calendar is inaccurate and Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday. A Thursday crucifixion has also been proposed.
Those promoting a Wednesday crucifixion date instead of Friday argue that Matthew 12:38-40 (ASV) indicates Jesus was to be dead for "three days and three nights," which would not have been possible if he was crucified on a Friday. 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." Others have countered by saying that this ignores the Jewish idiom by which a "day and night" may refer to any part of a 24-hour period, that the expression in Matthew is idiomatic, not a statement that Jesus was 72 hours in the tomb, and that the many references to a resurrection on the third day do not require three literal nights.
The crucifixion's proximity to the Sabbath day has also factored into the theory. 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, even though this would mean Jesus was dead for less than three days. The Wednesday Crucifixion theory accounts for this discrepancy. 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 Nisan 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, and resulted in Jesus being dead for three full days.
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.
- Packer, George Nichols (1893), Our Calendar: The Julian Calendar and Its Errors, how Corrected by the Gregorian, Corning, NY: [The author], p. 112, retrieved 15 Dec 2013, "Spy Wednesday, so called in allusion to the betrayal of Christ by Judas, or the day on which he made the bargain to deliver Him into the hands of His enemies for thirty pieces of silver."
- Gunn, Scott. "Spy Wednesday". Lent Madness. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "spy, n.", OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2013, retrieved 15 Dec 2013, "Spy Wednesday n. in Irish use, the Wednesday before Easter."
- The Holiday Spot: Journey through the Holy Week
- Catholic Online: Spy Wednesday conversion to Holy Wednesday
- My Catholic: One Bread, One Body - Reflection for April 4, 2007 - Spy Wednesday
- Oppenheimer, Mike. "The Betrayer Judas Iscariot". Let Us Reason Ministries. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Ken Collins: What is a Tenebrae Service?
- The United Methodist Church: What is a Tenebrae service?
- Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha: The Sacrament of Holy Unction: Holy Wednesday afternoon and Evening
- By Sun and Candlelight: Spy Wednesday Supper
- Akin, Jimmy (21 April 2011). "The Crucifixion: Wednesday or Friday?". The National Catholic Register. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
- Ashley, Scott. "Jesus Wasn't Crucified on Friday or Resurrected on Sunday". The Good News Magazine of Understanding. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- Humphreys, Colin (2011). The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052173200X.
- The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 pages 142–143
- New Testament History by Richard L. Niswonger 1992 ISBN 0-310-31201-9 pages 167–168
- Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg 2009 ISBN 0-8054-4482-3, footnote on page 225