Third Sunday after Pascha – The Holy Myrrhbearers: May 8, 2021by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher
All four Gospels describe how certain women disciples of Christ Jesus came to His tomb both as He was interred late Friday afternoon after His crucifixion and on the following third day (Sunday) of His resurrection. We read in the Gospels that the women "prepared spices and fragrant oils" (Gk., aromata kai myra; Lk. 23:56) in order to eventually anoint Jesus' body after the intervening Sabbath day (Saturday) when they were prohibited by the Law from doing any work.
Because the women brought myra (myrrhs), we commemorate them in their devotion as the Holy Myrrhbearers. These women were not only present at Jesus' crucifixion and burial, but they supported Him and His apostles during His preaching and teaching ministry: "…certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities – Mary called Magdalene (lit., "from Magdala"), out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance" (Lk. 8:2-3). In the week prior to His crucifixion, two of the women anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume preparing Him for His burial: Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, on Sunday [Jn. 12:3]; and another on Wednesday [Matt. 26:6f.]. Compare the following lists of names (among many others):
- At the Cross: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons (Matt. 27:56);
At the Tomb: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 27:61; 28:1).
- At the Cross: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome (Mk. 15:40);
At the Tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mk. 16:1, 9).
- At the Cross: the women who followed [Jesus] from Galilee (Lk. 23:49);
At the Tomb: the women from Galilee and certain other women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (Lk. 24:1, 10).
- At the Cross: Jesus' mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (Jn. 19:25);
At the Tomb: Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:1).
Also, when we compare the lists of Myrrhbearing Women at the tomb of Christ, we notice that they went to the tomb at different times of the morning. Matthew – "as the first day of the week began to dawn" (28:1). Mark - "Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen" (16:2). Luke – "very early in the morning" (24:1). John – "Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark" (20:1).
Mary Magdalene appears to have been at the tomb with several different groups of women at different times, except when she was alone (in the Gospel according to John) or with one other person, the "other Mary" (in the Gospel according to Matthew). This "other Mary" is not listed as someone else's mother or wife, and she is at the tomb first watching where Jesus was buried and at the earliest time in the morning of the Resurrection. Therefore the Orthodox Church has always understood this "other Mary" as the Virgin Mary, Jesus' mother. The Orthodox Church sings: "The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace: Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! Again I say: Rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb!" (Theotokion for Pascha; see Matt. 28:1-2, 5-6). The Virgin Mary who conceived and gave birth to God in the flesh, nursed Him from childhood, and watched her Son die on the Cross, she was the first to receive the joyous message of the Resurrection of Christ.
So the Myrrhbearing Women in their devotion to Jesus Christ become the first to announce the Resurrection of the Savior to the disciples. Because she was sent by the angels with the good news, Mary Magdalene is called "equal-to-the apostles" in the prayers of the Church. Their funeral preparations were transformed into a celebration of incorruptible life. Their faith in Christ was not in vain, but fulfilled with the reward of faithfulness.
Similarly for us, our adornment of Christ's holy Church confesses the Resurrection. Our worship and service in the Church does not merely honor the memory of the dead, or maintain a clean and spotless appearance (like a museum). We do not simply re-enact religious events and ideas of the distant past. Our Christian worship and service proclaims the Life of Christ, and the lives of the Myrrhbearing Women are testimonies to that fact.