2nd Sunday after Pascha: Sunday of The Holy Myrrh Bearers
The second Sunday after Easter (The Resurrection) is called Sunday of the “Myrrh-bearing Women” where the Holy Church celebrates the memory of the women who came early, carrying fragrances to Christ’s Tomb. We celebrate them as witnesses to His resurrection, and then preachers of the Resurrection not just to the Apostles, but to the whole world. We also commemorate the memory of Joseph of Arimathea, the secret disciple, and Nicodemus, the disciple by night.
The Gospel reading is from Mark (Chapter 15:43 and 16:1-8)
The term “Myrrh Bearers” refers to the women who followed Jesus, served Him, and were with Him at the time of His crucifixion. They then accompanied the immaculate body to the place of burial and were the ones who saw His body being placed inside the Tomb. The Myrrh Bearers as a collective were numerous, but the evangelists only mentioned a handful of them by name; the most prolific and profound of them.
The Holy Tradition names seven Myrrh-Bearing Women: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, Susanna, Mary and Martha of Bethany, sisters of Lazarus.
But there is no doubt that the number is even greater as the Evangelists testify that on the Cross “there were many women who looked from afar and who followed Jesus from Galilee,” (Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:50).
The group is also joined by two righteous men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the disciple who came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2). The Evangelist Mark claimed that Joseph was “an honorable counselor, who also awaited the Kingdom of God,” and according to St Mathew, “he was rich, and he was also a disciple of Jesus,” (Matthew 27:57). Joseph was the one who boldly approached Pilate and pleaded for the body of Jesus, he took linen with him, brought His body down, shrouded it with the linen and laid Him in a new sepulcher carved in a rock which he covered by rolling a stone over the entry to the Tomb, (Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50). We also remember Nicodemus, who came with Joseph, “carrying a blend of Myrrh a aloes, about a hundred-pound weight,” (John 19:39)
The most profound of the seven Myhrr Bearing women is undoubtedly our most holy Theotokos. Not only was she Christ’s mother, but the resurrection would have first became known to her above all others. Listen to the words of the chant during the Resurrectional Apolytikion in tone six, “Thou didst meet the Virgin and didst give life to the world.” She would have been aware of the tiding news of the Resurrection before any other woman and the Apostles.
To think historically about Jesus appearing to the women, we know that He FIRST appeared to the women because it was required that whichever gender had first heard the curse in Paradise, was to be the first to receive the joy of resurrection and salvation. “In telling the Myrrh Bearers: Rejoice, thou turnest the condemning of Eve to divine joy.” (from the Aposticha of Matins of Monday of the Myrrh Bearers).
Through biblical readings and the lives of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, we can say that there were three main virtues that this group of women upheld and demonstrated: Courage, Sincerity and Dedication and Love.
Simply put, their courage overcame their fear. We know that Joseph dared to enter the room and speak with Pilate, demanding that the body of Jesus be released to his care, but there were also many challenges faced by the Myrhh Bearing women, including fear of the Jews and the presence of the guards at the grave. We can say that the biggest difficulty for them would have been the presence of the large and heavy stone at the entry of the tomb, “who will remove the stone for us from the door of the Tomb?” But these hinderances did not discourage them or dim their determination to approach the body of Jesus to apply the Myrrh. Courage overcame their weak nature.
The women displayed sincerity and dedication by accompanying the Lord Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and remained faithful to Him until the last moment of His earthly life. The evangelists remind us that at His crucifixion “they were standing looking from afar”. Then they accompanied the body to the grave to see where He was being laid so they could later bring the Myrrh to ointment Him. When all the Disciples escaped and none of them remained, this faithful group to Christ Jesus showed great dedication and devotion, even after many had lost their hope and faith in Him.
These two virtues of courage and sincerity are the fruits of love. Love begets courage and sincerity.
If we look to the role that these women played in the history of the church, they can be summed up as three major roles: service (ministry), eye witnessing and evangelism.
- Service and Ministry: Luke the Evangelist mentions that while Jesus preached and heralded the Kingdom of God with the twelve, some women were “serving Him from their money” (Luke 8:2). Women were like “disciples of Christ”.
- Eye-witnessing: The women acted as eyewitnesses to the death and burial of Christ, and then ultimately His Resurrection. The evangelist Mark mentions that Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Josses were looking at where He was laid in the grave (Mark 15:47).
Then they were witness to the stone as it lay rolled away from the entry of the tomb and a young man in a long white robe who told them “He is not here, behold the position where they laid Him in.” The Evangelist Mathew mentions that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on their way to tell the disciples “Jesus met them and said Peace be to you”. They saw Christ risen from the dead. But John the Evangelist mentions that Jesus only appeared to Mary Magdalene while she was standing at the grave, crying out (John 20:11-18). For this, the Holy Church calls them “The Resurrection Witnesses”.
- Evangelism: the Myrrh Bearing women were the first to proclaim the resurrection to the Apostles as ordered by the Angel: “Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He precedes you to Galilee there you will see Him as He hath told you.” So they are most deserving of the title The preachers of Christ God’s resurrection. In essence, they were “the messengers to the Apostles” and as such, St Mary Magdalene is also most deserving of the title “Equal to the Apostles”.
The women initially came to the grave carrying Myrrh to anoint His Holy Body, but after observing His Resurrection, their role changed to become the preachers of the Resurrection and missionaries to the Apostles. They arrived with tears and sadness and returned with joy and good cheer. “When the women heard the words of joy spoken by the angels there seated within the tomb of the Word, they set forth and ran their course with earnest effort and zeal, and on leaving their former rank of Myrrh-bearing women, they became evangelists, preaching the good report unto the initiates also.” (Stichera vespers of Wednesday of the third week)
The memory of the Myrrh-bearers is a tribute to the remembrance of the women who served the Lord Jesus, and through their memory, the Holy Church honours the Christian women of our church, in appreciation of what she offers in love, sacrifice, and service. Their lives and service should act as a role model for all those who wish to serve the Lord and the Church for the Glory of the Risen Lord. “Let us extol the wondrous Joseph, with Nicodemus and the faithful myrrh-bearers, O ye faithful as we cry: the Lord is truly risen!” Amen!
Yours in Christ,
+ Metropolitan Basilios