In Christianity, Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday, also called Holy and Great Wednesday in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, is the Wednesday of Holy Week, the week before Easter. It is followed by Maundy Thursday.
In the New Testament, just after Palm Sunday, the Sanhedrin gathered together and plotted to kill Jesus, even before the feast of Pesach. On the Wednesday before his death Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the Leper. As they sat at the supper table, a woman named Mary anointed Jesus' head and feet with costly oil of spikenard. The disciples were indignant, asking why the oil was not instead sold and the money given to the poor. But Judas Iscariot wanted to keep the money for himself. Then Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered to deliver Jesus to them in exchange for money. From this moment on, Judas sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.
In reference to Judas Iscariot's intent to betray Jesus, formed on Holy Wednesday, the day is sometimes called "Spy Wednesday". (The word spy, in obsolete usage, could mean "ambush, ambuscade, snare".)
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 (in parish practice) or early the following morning, the matins follows the special Holy Week format known as the Bridegroom Service. Towards the end of matins, 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 Leper. (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.
- McKim, Donald K. (1996). Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 269. ISBN 9780664255114.
Spy Wednesday: The Wednesday of Holy Week, so named from its being the day on which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16).
- Matthew 26:3—5; Mark 14:1—2; Luke 22:1—2
- Matthew 26:6—7; Mark 14:3; John 12:3—4
- Matthew 26:8—9; Mark 14:4—5; John 12:5
- John 12:6
- Oppenheimer, Mike. "The Betrayer Judas Iscariot". Let Us Reason Ministries. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Matthew 26:14—16; Mark 14:10—12; Luke 22:3—6
- "spy, n.", OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2013, retrieved 15 Dec 2013,
Spy Wednesday n. in Irish use, the Wednesday before Easter.
- 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.
- McNichol, Hugh (2014). "http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=4225". Catholic Online. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
- "spy". Oxford English Dictionary (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1933.
- 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