The Orthodox Pages



 30th APRIL 2009














































































































































































Christ is risen from the dead, by death he hath overcome death, and to them in the graves hath he given life.
After our rather long break over Lent and Easter, I would like to welcome you all back to our weekly talks which sadly will only be for the month of May because then we break again for the summer holidays and start again with the new season in October. I hope you all had a great Spiritual and enlightening Pascha. After fifty days of fasting I’m sure many of you felt your bodily strength fading, but now after the Paschal feasts and all the meats and other rich foods we have all been eating, I’m sure everyone’s strength have returned. But Pascha should have given us not only bodily sustenance, but also an increased and renewed spiritual strength with a thirst for more spiritual understanding so that we can continue living the joy of the Resurrection, not only once a year, but everyday of our life. But to do this we must still continue our spiritual struggles. Just because Lent is over it doesn’t mean that we can now become lax in our efforts. Yes, we sing that Christ is risen from the dead, and by death he hath overcome death and that He has overcome the power of the devil, but this doesn’t mean that the devil and his demons no longer exist. Christ’s victory lies in the fact that he has reopened the gates of Paradise which, had since the fall of Adam, been shut for mankind and has made it possible for all who believe in him and who join themselves to him to enter this blissful Paradise and live with him forever. The fullness of the victory will not be realised until the Second coming when Christ will cast Satan and his fallen angels into the hell that has been prepared for them, but until then, Christ allows them to tempt men so that men can find faith in God, gain knowledge and spiritual strength so as to prepare them for the spiritual world. This knowledge and spiritual strength we gain by prayer and fasting, by attending the Church services and by partaking of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, but also by hearing and reading spiritual material. The aim of our weekly talks is precisely to help us gain more spiritual knowledge that will help us in our spiritual warfare against the evil powers and prepare us for the life in Paradise. Today we will continue with the Apostle and Gospel readings for the following Sunday.
With the Resurrection of our Lord we begin a new age, a new beginning and the readings reflect this new beginning. From the first Resurrection Liturgy the Apostle reading begins from the first Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles which is the first book of the New Testament after the Gospels and the Gospel reading is from the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. In the New Testament John’s Gospel is actually the last of the four Gospels, but in the Church’s Book of the Gospels it is the first. Why, do I hear you ask? Simply because John begins his Gospel from the very beginning. Matthew and Luke begin with the Nativity of Christ. The birth of our Lord is indeed a new start for mankind, a new chapter in the history of mankind, but it is not the beginning. Mark begins with the Baptism of our Lord which is again a new beginning, it is the start of our Lords ministry, but again it is not the beginning. Only John begins from the very beginning before the creation of this world. He begins saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Thus in the order of events, John’s Gospel is ranked as the first Gospel. From the Resurrection Liturgy until Pentecost, most of the readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostle and St. John’s Gospel. Having said this, there are a few exceptions and this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is actually from St. Mark’s Gospel. But first, let us look at the Apostle reading, which is from the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 6 verses 1-7.
In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
The election of the Seven Deacons which the reading describes is one of the most beautiful and instructive pages in the history of the apostolic Church. It is beautiful because it allows us to touch the body of the Church as it took its first historic steps as a society and a community of men: men who in spite of the fact that they had accepted the new faith and had enjoined themselves to the body of the Church, continued to be surrounded with human imperfection and were influenced either by their own passions or by temptations by the evil one.
The Church is not a society for the clean and perfect, but a hospital for the weak. Perfection as a way of life in Christ is the end result which the faithful attempt to achieve. Overcoming human imperfection and achieving perfection beyond the renewing energy of the Holy Spirit, presupposes the continual spiritual struggle of the members of the Church. Thus the complaints and the resentfulness of the Christians of the first Jerusalem community, mentioned in the reading, come and verifies the human element of the Church, which we very often forget about and which is why we are so easily scandalized by the weaknesses which we observe in people in the ecclesiastical enclosure. The enrolment of the first Christians to the new faith does not mean that they were automatically transformed or that by some magic their way of life and behaviour were completely changed overnight.
At the same time, the reading is very instructive because it presents us with the fundamental problems that began to take shape in the internal life and administration of the first ecclesiastical community of Jerusalem. A way of life and organization which constituted the prototype for other communities which were later founded. The unity of the Apostles and the Christian people, the worthy order of the things that comprise the life of the ecclesiastical community (prayer, preaching and charity), the way and the criteria for electing the members who were to accept the various ministries, the superior position of the Apostles in the life of the community and the election of those to ecclesiastical orders and lastly the importance of the Apostolic teaching and the spreading of the Christian faith are the most important elements which slowly unfold within the reading.
So, let us take a closer look at the reading by taken one verse at a time.
1) “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”
The time specified “In those days” given us by St Luke for the historic election of the Seven Deacons is rather general and does not allow us to pinpoint the exact time of the event. What we can be sure of is that it happened after Pentecost when the Church in Jerusalem was on its way to becoming established. The Church was still in its infancy and having taken those first baby steps, conflicts began to arise among the members from different ethnic background. From early on, the Christian community began to grow and in spite of the opposition that the Christian Gospel found among official Judaic circles, the number of the members of the Church increased very rapidly. One of the names which from early on was adopted to identify a member of the Church was the name “Disciple”. The name Christian was not adopted until it was first used by the Antiochian Church. Until then the members were called Disciples and the name was to be used widespread later even outside of the Palestinian borders.
As a result of the increase of the Christians there appeared various problems. Luke mentions the complaints of the Greeks against the Judaics in connection with the daily distribution of foods to Christians who were in need and especially the Greek widows. From the beginning, the Church showed particular concern for the welfare of the widows. The Greeks were Christians who had Judaic roots but who came from Greek places and spoke the Greek language. The Judaic Christians were Hebrews, born in Palestine and spoke Aramaic. Thus both the Greek and the Hebrews belonged to the same race but they spoke different languages and of course had different mentalities and attitudes.
In what exactly consisted this negligence of the Greek widows, St. Luke chose not to specify with greater details. What is important is that the passage shows that the Apostolic Church from its very beginning showed particular care and concern for charity work towards her members who were in need.
2) “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.”
The problem that arose had to be dealt with and to find a solution, the twelve Apostles, including Matthias who took the place of Judas Iscariot, called a general meeting of all the members of the Church, of the multitude of the disciples. This action by the Twelve shows the measure of wisdom and humility which discerns them, because even though they had the power and authority of the Apostolic dignity given to them by the Lord himself, they do not solve the problem by themselves, but they place it before the whole body of the Church and ask for the active participation of all the Disciples.
The Apostle’s words to the gathering of the Church reveals the deep consciousness they had for their mission. They had the Lord’s commandment to preach the Gospel. But now with the increase of the Christians and the subsequent problems which began to appear in the internal life of the Christian community, the foresaw a danger of all their time being absorbed by the work of serving tables and thus their main work of preaching the Gospels would be neglected.
The serving of tables, which was daily, must have been the common meals which came to be known as the Christian “Agapes” or the gatherings of love which took place daily during the gatherings of the Christians. After the meals they would then offer the Eucharist and very possibly the practice of collecting and distributing charity which had been placed at the disposal of the Apostles for the needs of the members.
The priority which the Apostles give to the preaching of the Word of God does not mean that they undervalue the work of serving tables and other works of charity and love. Both are equally sacred ministries and the practice of both constituted a commandment by the Lord himself. But comparing the two, the work of preaching the Gospel was unquestionably far more nobler and holier. Thus the Apostles had to remain exclusively devoted to it.
3) “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
The Apostles proposal to the members of the Church was for them to choose from among themselves seven of their members to whom would be assigned the responsibility of serving the tables at the Agape gatherings. Special attention should be given to the criteria proposed by the Apostle by which the people were to use to select the Seven. The Seven had to be men of honest report, in other words they had to have a good name and be blameless among the people. This is a basic precondition that the Church has always tried to observe from the times of the Apostle to the present day. All candidates who are to be chosen to serve the various positions and ministries within the Church must have this good report, an unimpeachable life and an unimpaired character. At the same time they had to be full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom. Every ministry which is exercised within the body of the Church, even the most material, is a sacred work which is done in the name of Christ and serves the salvation of the body of members. Thus even the serving of tables was a ministry of the saints. And that is why those who were to be entrusted with this ministry had to be active members of the body of Christ, partakers of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, men that stood out for their discernment and wisdom, so that they could exercise the ministry entrusted them with success. It is clear that the Apostles use of the word wisdom does not refer to the wisdom that is associated with knowledge but rather the prudence and good sense and fear of God which are fruits of the Holy Spirit abiding within us.
The Apostles entrust the election of the Seven to the multitude of the faithful and keep their own authority for the appointing, in other words the power to ordain someone into the diaconate of the Church. St. John Chrysostom observes that they could just as easily had asked to choose the seven by drawing lots or by a ballot vote or even select the Seven themselves inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless they don’t, but allow the election of the Seven to the crowd and fully accept those that are chosen and had the Good report of many. Why? So that they would not appear as favouring certain people over others. They retained for themselves only that which was exclusively their work, the number to be chosen, the appointing and the ordination of the chosen.
Traditionally we call the Seven chosen as Deacons and Stephen an Archdeacon, but nowhere in the Acts of the Apostles are they given this title. Their ministry was to serve the tables, the widows and the poor and thus we cannot say that they were ordained Deacons like the Deacons mentioned in Paul’s letters who were Deacons of the priestly order as we know them today. But if we judge from the case of Stephen and Phillip, it is clear that they did not only serve the work of charity but also preached the word of God.
4) “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
In this verse we see the emphasis given to what is proper for the Lord’s Apostles. Of foremost importance above anything else are the work of prayer and the ministry of the word. In contrast the serving of tables was of a secondary nature. The first was the work of the Apostles and the second the work of the Seven. St. Luke does not speak of prayer in general. In the Greek text we find the article “the” before the word prayer so it should read: “But we will give ourselves continually to the prayer”. This allows us to conclude that he is referring to a specific prayer – the public and common prayer offered on behalf of the assembled community which included the breaking of bread and which has come down to us as the Divine Liturgy.
Thus prayer and the ministry of preaching the word of God comprised for the first years of the Church’s life, the two founding rules of the ecclesiastical life. With the preaching of the word, God spoke to his people and with the common prayer, the assembled Church communicated and united herself with the Lord. Through this double ministry the Apostles played a significant role. In the ministry of preaching they were the mouth of God through which he voiced his will. In the ministry of praying they became the voice and mediators of the people to God. This double ministry has always been the primal work of the shepherds of the Church and like the Apostles they should give themselves, or more correctly, devote themselves to it continually. Every other work is secondary and must never be exercised at the expense of the main ministry. That is why the Church has always encouraged various committees to exist within the structure of the Church; the Church committee who are responsible for the Church funds and buildings and the charity committees who are responsible for the cares of the needy within the Parish.
5) “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:”
The Apostle’s proposal was accepted unanimously by the assembly of the multitude of disciples and is proof of the unity of the Apostolic Church and expresses the spirit of obedience the first Christians had before the Apostles of the Lord.
First is mentioned the First-martyr Stephen as a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. By placing Stephen at the head of the list and characterizing him as a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, Luke expresses the common awareness and agreement of all the Church concerning Stephen. It is certain that when Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles, St. Stephen had already been martyred for his faith in Christ and was a partaker of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Next follows the name of Phillip possibly because in a following chapter, Luke mentions him preaching in Samaria. Next follow the other names and lastly is mentioned Nicholas with the observation that he was a proselyte of Antioch: in other words a believer who as a gentile first joined himself to the Jewish religion. In the New Testament apart from the proselytes to Judaism we also have those who “feared” God and those who “worshipped” God who were people who accepted the Jewish teachings and mainly the belief in the One God; they took part in the synagogue’s worship, but had not completely embraced the Jewish faith by receiving circumcision. Nicholas on the other hand was not just a fearer or a worshipper of God, but a proselyte, in other words a gentile who had received circumcision.
6) “Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.”
After the election the assembled community present the seven before the Apostles who then pray and lay their hands upon them. The prayer and ordination being exclusively the work of the Apostles completes the official posting of those whom the multitude gave preference to. With the prayer they invoke the enlightening and power of the Holy Spirit so that the elected will have the strength to exercise the ministry they are called to do. With the laying on of the hands the transmission of the grace in a certain way becomes tangible and observable. This was something which was done even in the Old Testament when the Levites selected from the people those who were to dedicate themselves to the ministry of God. In ordination we see the human hand touch the head of the candidate - these are the sensible and visible elements of the Sacrament, but the person who performs every work is always God; thus the invisible and supernatural element is always Divine Grace and so we can say that it is God’s hand that touches the heads of those ordained into the Priesthood. In the Acts of the Apostles we come across this laying of hands on many occasions. Sometimes it is to transmit the gifts of the Holy Spirit after Baptism, at other times to cure an illness and at other times for the mission of preaching. From similar testimonies from Paul we can say that the laying of hands as an action to transmit spiritual graces for the various ministries had become a common practice during the early Church.
7) “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
With the election of the Seven Deacons, the problem of caring for the poor was solved and the Apostles remained completely devoted to the ministry of preaching the word of God. It didn’t take long for this arrangement to bear its fruit. With the spreading of the word, the numbers of the Christians increase daily in Jerusalem. Among the new Christians who abandoned the Jewish faith and embraced the new faith were many of the Jewish priests. The new Christians were obedient to the faith. Faith is an act of obedience; obedience to the Gospel and obedience to God himself who gave us the commandment “That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another. (1 John 3:23) Only those who are obedient to the Gospel of Christ become partakers of his life and citizens of his kingdom.
This Sunday is dedicated to the Myrrhbearers in other words to the women who bought sweet spices and myrrh ointment to anoint the Lord’s dead body. The Gospel reading is the Resurrection account of when these brave women came to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath was over to care for the Lord’s body as was the custom of the Jews. This day is also dedicated to St. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus the secret disciple. Let’s hear the reading which is from St. Mark’s Gospel Chapter 15 verses 43 through to chapter 16 verse 8.
“At that time, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid. And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”
Joseph of Arimathaea was an honourable and respected member of the Jewish Council. He was held in high regard for his position, his manners, his good upbringing and his high standing in the community because he was also from a wealthy family. He came to believe in Christ, but until the Crucifixion remained a secret disciple for fear of losing his position in the community. He must certainly have felt a deep guilt for not speaking up for Jesus and probably felt that he could have even prevented the crucifixion if he had been bold enough to stand up and place his own life on the line. He would of course have lost everything – his important position, his wealth and would have made himself an enemy of the Jewish leaders and would have been persecuted. But now he is ready to lose everything to gain the one true treasure. He realises that nothing in this world is of value when compared to the treasure he allowed to be crucified and is ready to lose his own life in order to gain eternal life with Christ. Thus, it says that he went in boldly unto Pilate and asked to be given the body of Jesus. Boldly because it was the custom of the Romans to leave the crucified bodies hanging on the cross for days exposed to the sun and the rain and the flesh eating birds. Boldly also because the Jews had a more charitable law which says that the bodies of those crucified must not remain on the cross during the night but must be taken down and buried before sunset, but the high priests of the Synagogue were more than happy to ignore this law; their contempt and hatred for Jesus made them wash their hands of him as though he was not one of their race and so didn’t need to be treated according to the their religious laws.
Pilate was indeed greatly surprised that Jesus was already dead. It was usual for those crucified to suffer their torture from one to three days before actually dying. So before releasing the body for burial Pilate had to be sure that Jesus was indeed dead and that no sigh of life remained in him. Thus, he called for the Centurion to verify that Christ had been dead for some time. Pilate could have sent Joseph away without hearing his request or could have shown an indifference to whether Jesus was buried or not, but he doesn’t because he wants to give the body to Joseph. For Pilate this would have been an act that would have eased his heavy conscience because he knew that Jesus was innocent. He now had the opportunity to show a certain amount of respect to the body of the man he allowed to be unjustly crucified.
The centurion’s report was the official confirmation that Jesus had indeed died, but all this was done by divine providence. Pilate asked for verification of the death so that later there could be no question or doubt that the Lord had not died and so that there would not be any doubts that he had truly risen. But it was also divine providence that the high priests didn’t themselves run to Pilate and ask for the body so that they might drag it through the streets and treat it with the utmost disrespect. God made sure that the body of his only begotten Son was given as a precious gift to Joseph who recognized its worth.
With Christ’s funeral and burial we have nothing of the funeral processions, the grandeur and fine speeches that accompany those who are honoured in the world. All there is is a very private and plain burial. But the remembrance of this burial will continually be remembered throughout the ages with honour, with sincere contrition, and with devout worship like no other man has had or ever will have.
Joseph bought fine linen, took Jesus down from the cross and wrapped him in the linen. But even if Joseph had not bought new linen and had used an old and used piece of linen, this would have been sufficient. But here we have an answer to all those that accuse us of adorning our Churches with expensive and needless items. When it comes to showing our respect to Christ, we must always be generous and serve him with the very best that we can provide, and not with some casual and makeshift item that we find lying around in the attic.
With the body now wrapped in the new linen cloth it is placed in a sepulchre, a cave for burial use, which was hewn out of a rock and a very large and heavy stone, was rolled to close the entrance. While Joseph and Nicodemus, who is not mentioned in this Gospel account, closed the entrance, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where they had laid him. The rest of the Gospel reading is the exact same reading we heard during the Resurrection night service, but instead of explaining the reading which is fairly straight forward and I’m sure you all know anyway, I would like to concentrate on the Myrrhbearers and on who saw Jesus first.
If we look at all the resurrection accounts found in the four Gospels, we might be rather confused and think that each Evangelist is contradicting the other. Matthew says that “As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” Here Matthew tells us that there were two women and an earthquake caused by the angel that rolled away the stone from the door.
Mark says that there were three women Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. Here there is no earthquake as the stone is already rolled away. But further down Mark says that “when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,”
Luke mentions women who came with Jesus from Galilee and that “upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them”. He then mentions that “It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.”
John says that “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre”.
In one account there is one angel and in in another there are two, in one that he appeared to the two Maries and that they held him by the feet and in another that Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene and there he told her not to touch him.
It is confusing because there was not only one visit to the sepulchre, but probably two, three or even four and each evangelist is giving different details of these visits. But another thing that brings confusion is that all four Apostles are trying to conceal the identity of one of the Maries - not to the faithful who knew who she was, but to the unbelievers who would have used her testimony of the Resurrection to discredit that it actually happened. This Mary is none other than the Mother of God who instead of calling her the Mary the Mother of Jesus is disguised as Mary the Mother of James or the Mother of Joses or the other Mary. James and Joses where Joseph’s children from a previous marriage and although they were older than Mary, legally they were considered her children and Jesus’ stepbrothers. The woman mentioned as Salome is also Joseph’s daughter and is the mother of James and John the sons of Zebedee. Thus Salome is Jesus’ stepsister.
To help us get through all this confusion St. Gregory Palamas interprets the various Gospel accounts in such a clear way and proves that the Mother of God was the first to see the Risen Christ, because she was the purest and holiest of all. He says that:
When Christ was risen from the dead, no man saw him because no one was present. But later according to St. Mark, he was seen by Mary Magdalene. But this is not how it was, because before Mark mentions this he says that Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre on a previous occasion with other women and found the tomb empty and left. So the Lord had risen much earlier that when Mary saw him. If we try to pinpoint the time of the visit we will notice that Mark says of the first visit that is was very early but St. John says that it was still dark. And again according to John, Mary not only came to the tomb, but left without having yet seen the Lord. In fact she runs to Peter and John, not to tell them that the Lord is risen, but that “they have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” Thus up to this moment she had not seen the Lord and when she finally did see him there was complete daylight. But there is something that is mentioned by the Evangelist in an obscure way which I will reveal to you. Truly the joyful news of the Lord’s Resurrection, first before all other men, as it is proper and just, was received by the Mother of God from the Lord himself and she first saw the Risen one and first enjoyed his divine words. And she did not only see him with her eyes or just hear him with her ears, but with her hands was the first to touch him, only she touched his pure feet. The Evangelists do not mention all these things clearly because they don’t want to show his Mother as a witness of the Resurrection so that they do not give any cause for suspicion to those who don’t believe in the Resurrection. But because now we are addressing ourselves to the faithful we will reveal this also.
When they buried Christ and placed the great stone at the door of the tomb, there was present according to Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, sitting opposite the sepulchre. With the phrase “the other Mary” the Evangelist means the Mother of God. Again according to the Same Evangelist, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the sepulchre. From what I can surmise, and according to what I have already said, first before all the Myrrhbearers came the Mother of God to the tomb of her Son and God and brought with her Mary Magdalene. Then a great earthquake took place, because an Angel of the Lord, having come down from heaven, rolled the stone from the door of the sepulchre.
All the other women came after the earthquake and found the tomb open and the stone rolled away. But the Mother of God reached there at the time of the earthquake. And although the guards left because of fear, the Mother of God delighted in what she saw. I even think that the tomb was first opened for her (for because of her and through her everything was opened for us, whatever is above in heaven and down here on earth). And for her sake also the angel did shine as lightning so that she could see even though it was still dark. She not only saw the empty tomb, but also the burial clothes as they were laid and testified to the resurrection.
The angel was none other that Gabriel. As soon as he saw her running to the tomb. He who at the Annunciation told her “Fear not Mary, for thou has found grace with God” now rushes and comes down to tell her the good news of the Rising from the dead of Him who without seed was born of her and to remove the stone and show the empty tomb thus verifying the joyful message.
While the other Myrrhbearers were still afraid, because they didn’t realise the great mystery, the Mother of God received the great joy of the Resurrection and was filled with light because she had reached the greatest purity and with divine grace she recognized the truth and believed the Archangel.
How could she not believe after all the things that had happened? The great earthquake, the angel coming down from heaven as lightning, the removal of the stone, the empty tomb, the burial clothes untouched and intact and held together with the dry flowers and spices yet at the same time empty of a body.
When they came out of the tomb after the joyful news of the angel, Mary Magdalene is as though she had not seen or heard the angel and the only thing she can verify is the fact that the tomb is empty. She doesn’t even notice the burial clothes and runs to Peter and John and tells them that someone has taken the body of the Lord and we know not where they have laid him. How then is this possible, if she had seen him and touched him with her hands and heard him speak, would she not have mentioned this to the Disciples?
Therefore, first of all the women to meet the Risen Lord, to recognise him and to fall down and touch his feet was the Mother of God. Later when Mary Magdalene was met by the Lord he told her not to touch him. How is it possible when the Evangelist says that they held him by the feet to mean also Mary Magdalene when the Lord didn’t allow her to touch him? Therefore Christ only allowed the Mother of God to hold him by the feet. The Evangelist just simply avoids speaking of the Mother of God clearly so that it would not appear that the news of the Resurrection was circulated by his Mother.”
As I mentioned earlier, this Sunday is dedicated to the Myrrhbearers, so before finishing the talk we should also mention something in general for these women disciples. We often hear from women that the majority of the saints are men and that the Church is an all male institution not allowing for women to join the priesthood and that they are considered as second class citizens. The Gospels certainly speak a different story. Yes, the Apostles were men but there were also women disciples who although are not mentioned in the same way as the apostles had their role to play in Jesus’ life. Firstly the greatest saint of all above any other person is the Mother of God. What greater honour can there be for woman than the fact that through a woman mankind was saved.
At the crucifixion we see that out of fear the Apostles deserted Jesus and left him alone, only John remained. On the other hand, the women disciples remained loyal and courageous and stood by him until the end. And even then they didn’t desert him, but remained and saw where his body would be laid. Due to their great love for Jesus they became so brave and bold that in spite of the climate of panic that circulated the streets, they risked all danger by coming very early while it was still dark to the tomb to bring Christ sweet spices mingles with their tears, their love and devotion. They are ready to endure everything for Christ and even to die for him. That is why Christ honoured these women above his disciples and appeared to them first. And because they first heard the good news of the Resurrection they became Apostles to the Apostles. Thus the Church also honours woman by dedicating the first Sunday after Thomas Sunday to the Woman Apostles. We can even say that this Sunday is dedicated to all the women who in silence serve the Lord. And as we have Mother’s day and Lady’s day and such, maybe we should rename this day and call it Holy Women’s day.