Commemorated on July 22
Myrh-Bearer Equal-unto-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene. On the banks of Lake
Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was
situated the small city of Magdala, the remains of which have survived to our
day. Now at this place stands only the small village of Mejhdel.
In Magdala sometime
formerly the woman was born and grew up, whose name has entered forever into
the Gospel account. The Gospel tells us nothing about the youthful years of
Mary, but tradition informs us, that Mary from Magdala was young and pretty,
and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels, that the Lord expelled seven
devils from Mary. From the moment of healing Mary led a new life. She became a
true disciple of the Saviour.
The Gospel relates
that Mary followed after the Lord, when He went with the Apostles through the
cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God.
Together with the pious women – Joanna, wife of Khuza (steward of Herod),
Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Lk 8, 1-3) and
undoubtedly, shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks, in common with the
other women. The Evangelist Luke, evidently, has her in view together with the
other women, stating that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto
Golgotha, when after the Scourging He took on Himself the heavy Cross,
collapsing under its weight, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing,
but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on
Golgotha at the moment of the Lord's Crucifixion. While all the disciples of
the Saviour ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the
Mother of God and the Apostle John.
enumerate among those standing at the Cross moreover also the mother of the
Apostle James the Less, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from
Galilee itself, but all mention first Mary Magdalene; but the Apostle John
aside the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how
much she stood out from amidst all the women gathered round the Lord.
She was faithful to
Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His Extreme
Humiliation and Insult. As the Evangelist Matthew relates, she was present at
the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nikodemos went out to the tomb
with His lifeless Body; before her eyes they covered over the entrance to the
cave with a large stone, behind which went the Sun of Life...
Faithful to the Law
in which she was trained, Mary together with the other women stayed all the
following day at rest, because it was the great day of the Sabbath, coinciding
in that year with the Feast of Passover. But all the rest of the peaceful day
the women succeeded in storing up aromatics, to go at dawn Sunday to the Grave
of the Lord and Teacher and according to the custom of the Jews to anoint His
Body with funereal aromatics.
It is necessary to
suggest that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb
early in the morning, the holy women, having gone separately on Friday evening
to their own homes, did not have the possibility to meet together with one
another on Saturday, and how only at the break of dawn the following day did
they go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from their own house.
Matthew writes, that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as the Evangelist
Mark expresses, extremely early before the rising of the sun; the Evangelist
John, as it were elaborating upon these, says that Mary came to the grave so
early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of
night, but it was not daybreak when round about darkness still ruled – she ran
there where lay the Body of the Lord.
Now then, Mary went
to the Tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she rushed away
in fear thither where dwelt the close Apostles of Christ – Peter and John.
Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles
ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and winding cloths, they were amazed.
The Apostles went and told no one nothing, but Mary stood about the entrance to
the gloomy tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb still so recently lay her
lifeless Lord. Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to
it – and here a strange light suddenly prevailed upon her. She saw two angels
in white garments, the one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where
the Body of Jesus had been placed. She heard the question: "Woman, why
weepest thou?" – she answered them with the words which she had said to
the Apostles: "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know, where they have
put Him". Having said this, she turned around, and at this moment saw the
Risen Jesus standing about the grave, but she did not recognise Him.
He asked Mary:
"Woman, why weepest thou? Whom dost thou seek?" She answered thinking
that she was seeing the gardener: "Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where
thou hast put Him, and I will reclaim Him".
But at this moment
she recognised the Lord's voice, a voice which was known from the day He healed
her. This was the voice in those days and years, when together with the other
pious women she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where His
preaching was heard. She gave a joyful shout "Rabbi" that means
Respect and love,
fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His
Splendour as great Teacher – all came together in this single outcry. She was
able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Teacher,
to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: "Touch me not,
for I am still not ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them:
"I ascend to My Father and your Father and to My God and to your
She came to herself
and again ran to the Apostles, so as to do the will of Him sending her to
preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles stayed still in
dismay, and announced to them the joyous message "I have seen the
Lord!" This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.
The Apostles were
obliged to proclaim the Glad Tidings to the world, but she proclaimed it to the
Holy Scripture does
not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ,
but it is impossible to doubt, that if in the terrifying minutes of Christ's
Crucifixion she was the foot of His Cross with His All-Pure Mother and John, undoubtedly,
she stayed with them during all the happier time after the Resurrection and
Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke
writes: that all the Apostles with one mind stayed in prayer and supplication,
with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.
testifies, that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem for preaching to all
the ends of the earth, then together with them also went Mary Magdalene to
preach. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the
Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and set off to preach in pagan
Rome. And everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His Teaching,
and when many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what
she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection:
"I have seen the Lord!" With this preaching she made the rounds of
that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited the Emperor Tiberias (14-37 AD) and
proclaimed to him about Christ's Resurrection. According to tradition, she took
him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the
words: "Christ is Risen!" Then she told the emperor about this, that
in his Province of Judea was the innocently condemned Jesus the Galilean, an
holy man, a maker or miracles, powerful before God and all mankind, executed on
the instigation of the Jewish High-Priests and the sentence affirmed by the
procurator named by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.
Mary repeated the
words of the Apostles, that believing in the Redemption of Christ from the
vanity of life is not as with perishable silver or gold, but rather the
precious Blood of Christ is like a spotless and pure Lamb.
Thanks to Mary
Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Luminous
Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. On one
ancient hand-written Greek ustav, written on parchment, kept in the monastery
library of Saint Athanasias near Thessalonika (Solunea), is an established prayer
read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese, in which it
is indicated, that the Hegumen (Abbot) in passing out the blessed eggs says to
the brethren: "Thus have we received from the holy fathers, who preserved
this custom from the very time of the holy apostles, wherefore the holy
equal-unto-the-apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of
this joyful offering".
continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the
Apostle Paul has precisely her in view in his Epistle to the Romans (16, 6),
where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary
(Mariam), who as he expresses "has done much for us". Evidently, she
extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties,
being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labours of
According to Church
tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for
two more years still, following his departure from Rome after the first court
judgment upon him. From Rome Saint Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved
to Ephesus where unceasingly laboured the holy Apostle John, who with her wrote
the first 20 Chapters of his Gospel. There the saint finished her earthly life
and was buried.
Her holy relics were
transferred in the IX Century to the capital of the Byzantine Empire –
Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of Saint Lazarus. In the era
of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome
under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene
are located in France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep
mountain is erected in her honour a splendid church.
The Orthodox Church
honours the holy memory of Saint Mary Magdalene – the woman, called by the
Lord Himself from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.
Formerly immersed in
sin and having received healing, she sincerely and irrevocably began a new life
and never wavered from the path. Mary loved the Lord Who called her to a new
life. She was faithful to Him not only then – when He having expelled from her
the seven demons and surrounded by enthusiastic crowds passed through the
cities and villages of Palestine, winning for Himself the glory of a
miracle-worker – but also then when all the disciples in fear deserted Him and
He, humiliated and crucified, hung in torment upon the Cross. This is why the
Lord, knowing her faithfulness, appeared to her first, and esteemed her worthy
to be first proclaiming His Resurrection.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.