On the evening of Holy Wednesday, the Sacrament or Mystery of Holy Unction is celebrated and given out to Orthodox Christians. It is one of the seven sacraments of the church and has been used since the first century when St. James first used it(James 5:14-15). The Sacrament of Holy Unction is for the healing of soul and body. At the end of the service, the Orthodox worshipers are anointed with the Holy Unction oil. The Holy oil is a sign of God's presence, strength, and forgiveness. It is important to note here that Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as to be given only to those near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit and can be offered in special cases other than Holy Wednesday as well.
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.
~ Holy Wednesday Matins
On Holy Thursday morning we focus on the events that took place in the Upper Room - the establishment of the Eucharist and the washing of the disciples feet. The act of washing of the feet of his disciples signifies Christ's intense love as well as His humility. In commemorating this act we bring to mind that Christ gives of Himself to any person according to that individual's ability to receive Him (Jn 13.6-9). It's a very humbling service and I urge any of you that have not attended such a service to do so.
The service on this evening of Holy Thursday is one of the longest services of the year as a Christ's betrayal and arrest, the trial and conviction, and His scourging, crucifixion and death is read from twelve portions of the Gospels. The Gospel readings are as follows: John 13:31-18:1; John 18:1-29; Matthew 26:57-75; John 18:28-19:16; Matthew 27:3-32; Mark 15:16-32; Matthew 27:33-54, Luke 23:32-49; John 19:25-37; Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:62-66
There are three services on this day of mourning. The first service, called Royal Hours, is when the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours (prayers commemorating specific events) are read recalling the hours Jesus suffered on the cross. It is after this service that the Epitaphion (embroidered cloth on which is a representation of Christ laying in the grave) is decorated with flowers.
The second service, held at three in the afternoon, is when we commemorate the body of Jesus being taken down from the cross. We bow and kiss the hands and feet of Christ.
The third service, my personal favorite, is when we return to church for a vespers service along with a procession along with the singing of the Lamentations - hymns of sorrow.