St. Mary Magdalene, Myrrh-Bearer and Equal of the Apostles


Commemorated on July 22

On the banks of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was the small city of Magdala. Only the small village of Mejhdel stands on the site.

A woman whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account was born and grew up in Magdala. The Gospel tells us nothing of Mary’s younger years, but Tradition informs us that Mary of Magdala was young and pretty,and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary (Luke. 8:2). From the moment of her healing, Mary led a new life, and became a true disciple of the Savior.

The Gospel relates that Mary followed 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 Choza (steward of Herod), Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Luke 8:1-3) and undoubtedly shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks in common with the other women. St. Luke wrote that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, 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 Savior ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.

The Evangelists also list among those standing at the Cross the mother of the Apostle James, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee, but all mention Mary Magdalene first. St. John, in addition to the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from all the women who gathered around the Lord.

She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His extreme humiliation. As St. Matthew writes, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nicodemus went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body. She watched as they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, entombing the Source of Life.

Faithful to the Law in which she was raised, Mary together with the other women spent the following day at rest since it was the Sabbath, coinciding with the Feast of Passover. But the rest of the day the women gathered spices to go to the Grave of the Lord at dawn on Sunday to anoint His Body according to the Jewish custom.

It is necessary to mention that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women had no opportunity to meet one another on Saturday. They went separately on Friday evening to their own homes and went out only at dawn the following day to go to the Sepulcher, not all together, but each from her own house.

St. Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as St. Mark wrote, extremely early before the rising of the sun. St. John wrote 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 yet daybreak.

Mary went to the tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she ran to tell 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 cloths, they were amazed. The Apostles went and said nothing to anyone, but Mary stood before the entrance to the tomb and wept.

Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it and saw two angels in white garments, one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. They asked her, “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 laid Him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw the Risen Jesus standing near the grave, but she did not recognize 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 take Him away.”

Then she recognized the Lord’s voice. He spoke her name, and she gave a joyful shout, “Rabbi” (Teacher).

Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendor as great Teacher, all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and threw herself down at the feet of Christ to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them: “I ascend to My Father, and your Father; to My God and to your God.”

She ran again to the house where the Apostles still remained in dismay, and proclaimed to them the joyous message, “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.

Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt that she must have stayed with the Apostles during the happier times after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke writes that all the Apostles stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.

Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to all the ends of the earth, Mary Magdalene also went with them. She went beyond her native borders to preach in pagan Rome. Everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His teachings. When many did not believe that Christ was 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 message she traveled all over Italy.

Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. She gave 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 that in his Province of Judea, the unjustly condemned Jesus the Galilean, a holy man, a miracle worker, powerful before God and all mankind, had been executed at the instigation of the Jewish High Priests, and the sentence confirmed by the procurator appointed by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.

Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. On one ancient Greek manuscript, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of St. Athanasius near Thessalonica, is a prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese. In it is indicated that the 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, therefore the holy Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul had her in mind in his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentioned Mary (Mariam), who as he expressed “has bestowed much labor on us.” She extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.

She remained in Rome until the arrival of St. Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome, St. Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John worked. There, she finished her earthly life and was buried.

Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the Church of St. Lazarus. In the era of the Crusades, they were transferred to Italy and placed in Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Some of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.

The Orthodox Church honors the holy memory of St 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 that path. Mary loved the Lord Who called her to a new life. She was faithful to Him not only when He was surrounded by enthusiastic crowds and winning recognition as a miracle-worker, but also when all the disciples deserted Him in fear 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 to proclaim His Resurrection.

Troparion (Tone 1) –

By keeping His commandments and laws, holy Mary Magdalene,
you followed Christ, Who for our sake was born of the Virgin,
and in celebrating your most holy memory today,
we receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers.

Kontakion (Tone 4) –

Podoben: “Today the Virgin...”
Standing before the Cross of the Savior,
suffering with the Mother of the Lord,
the most glorious Mary Magdalene
offered praise with tears.
She cried out: “What is this strange wonder?
He Who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer.
Glory to Your power, O Lord.”

Kontakion (Tone 3) –

Standing before the Cross of the Savior,
Suffering with the Mother of the Lord,
The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears.
She cried out: What is this strange wonder?
He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer:
Glory, O Lord to Your power!

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)