The Myrrh-bearing Women and us
Once more we are called to pay homage to the pious and faithful Myrrh-bearing Women, and with them to Nicodemus and Joseph of Aremathea, all of whom played a role in the burial of the Lord. With this opportunity we focus our attention on their role and its significance for us, nearly two thousand years later from the unique events of our salvation, of which they became eyewitnesses. First then let us briefly address the place of the woman in our society and in our Church; then more broadly let us see what lessons we can draw for ourselves today.
Different tasks, different ministries
We have addressed in the past the heroism of the Myrrh-bearing women and of the woman in general, not as woman, as much as a human being. While we gladly and rightly pay homage to the Myrrh-bearing women and to the Christian woman in general, our homage is not to feminism, but to the woman as a human being and chiefly as a Christian. Men and women face the same problems, have the same goal as men. Any attempt to promote the women’s causes, to advocate their rights and to advance their interests has no pure and genuine Christian motivation. The world says: “All men are created equal.” The word of God says: All human beings are created different: “Every human being was made from the earth, just as Adam was. But the Lord in His wisdom made them all different and gave them different tasks.” (Sirach 33:10-11)
“Different tasks,” different ministries, although when it comes to salvation there is no difference between the two sexes: “There is neither male nor female; for you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) The woman can become a temple of the Holy Spirit, just as man can. She cannot be priest, however. If she could, then the holy Theotokos should have been the first. But that does not mean she is excluded. She is not considered inferior. We venerate all Saints equally: St. George as St. Irene, St. Demetrios as St. Catherine, St. Anthony as St. Paraskeve. The distribution of gifts, however, differs: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” (1 Cor. 12:29) Although the woman does not have the gift of priesthood, she does possess the “higher gift”—that of love—more eminently. By her nature the woman is more giving, more caring, more loving. In the Church she is given the possibility to fulfill her potentialities to their fullest.
Saint Xenia: a true follower of the Lord
I was reading in a small book written by the Russian émigré philosopher Tatiana Cherichova about Saint Xenia, a Russian Saint of the 18th century. She was of a rich family and the wife of a Colonel. At age of 26 she became a widow. The people thought that she had lost her mind from her great sorrow. She distributed all her possessions to the poor, put on her husband’s clothes and went by his name, Andreas. She became homeless, after she gave her home away, to be a home for homeless people. Thus she became a true follower of the Lord, who had nowhere to lay His head on (cf. Mt. 8:20). But she was not crazy. Her strange ways simply meant scorn and contempt for the worldly goods and ways, which, she had realized, do not make one happy.1 Another woman, among many, that comes to mind, who gave everything for the love of Christ, is the Deaconess Olympias 2, who serves as an admirable example of Christian life, to be imitated by all, men and women alike.
Christ liberates men and women
Modern society wants to think it has liberated the woman. In reality only Christ liberates the woman truly, as He does the man. All the other liberations—political, sexual, intellectual, domestic—are illusory, and in fact enslaving. In the Christian woman, and in the Christian man as well, are manifested the noblest of the human qualities and virtues—naturally, simply, unpretentiously. The Faith, as found in the true Church of Christ, liberates the human being, because the Church alone is concerned and provides salvation, freedom from the tyranny of sin and the slavery of Satan. Look at the feminine models before Christ, the goddesses of the idolatrous pantheon: Isis, Artemis, Astarte, Demeter, who incarnated the dark and demonic powers. They were all superseded, they melted and withered away before the humble image of a simple teenage virgin, the holy Theotokos.
I was reading how Tatiana Cherichova, whom I mentioned earlier, initially resisted the invitation to contribute to a feminist magazine. She realized that the Russian woman suffered much during the 63 years of communism. She wanted to write about her wisdom and patience; that today family and work depend on the woman—and in some way even our Church does; in that the woman is the carrier of life and partaker of the Resurrection. Yes, she realized that there should be a magazine that would refer to the significance of the Russian woman, her experience, her struggles, her sorrows, but again, she realized that it should not be about these things alone. So they did publish this magazine, but in this all-inclusive and all-encompassing sense. Eventually the women became so outspoken in Soviet Russia that someone who came out of prison said: “I didn’t find any men in Leningrad, except for the women!”3
The ways of the world are not the ways of the Christian. The world goes on its merry way, oblivious of Christ, of holiness, of the fear of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice,” said the Lord (John 16:20). Some of us would think that it should be the other way around. To the extent, however, that we follow the Lord we will be hated by the world: “The world hates them because they are not of the world” (John 17:14). An Orthodox Bishop in his Paschal Encyclical states:
“The Church displeases most people; it is barely tolerated, people laugh at it and revile it.”
And what do we do? We must distance ourselves from the ways of the world, because there is no agreement between Christ, whom we say we follow, and the world, which follows the Evil One. “We,” however, continues the Bishop,
“thoughtlessly chase after the shadow of earthly good things and our imaginary good repute, as long as no one inconveniences us or disturbs the tempo of our life of comfort."
I am afraid it is true that we do not want Christ and His holy Church to come into our lives and touch us in an intimate way. We want to keep our lives “private” and “nobody’s business.” Thus we are not true followers of the Lord. What our lips profess our life does not support. There is a dichotomy and a schizophrenia in our lifestyle, which is given to both Christ and the Devil. To the scribes the Lord addressed the words: “My word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you heard from your father” (John 8:27-28), that is the Devil. What place do the Lord’s words find in us? Do we do what we hear from Him or from the Devil?
The word of the Lord transforms lives
The word of the Lord is not theory, it is not philosophy. It is meant to transform our lives, to bring about in us the good change, to regenerate us in the likeness of God. No aspect of our life is left outside the transforming power of God's word. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) We cannot therefore remain indifferent, passive, inactive to the word of God, that should awaken us, energize us, fill us with zeal and with the power of the Holy Spirit.
“The word of God cuts the ignorance and the deceit of the mind, the perversity of the will, ...the desires of the flesh and mind, and renders men eager to undergo painful sacrifices in order to deaden sin. It examines and discerns the most secret and hidden thoughts and dispositions. It reveals the inner motives, the sinful purposes, the destructive ways men are led to ... that they may see them and come to their senses”4 and be saved.
Obedience to the word of God is what liberates, what is lived by the Saints, the holy Myrrh-bearing women, and most eminently by Panagia.
Unfortunately we follow the Lord so far as our personal life goes, and stops short of transforming us. Let us, my dear Christians, imitate the Myrrh-bearing women, who followed the Lord everywhere He went, ministering to Him. They were committed to serve Him. What was their motivation? Faith in Him, but I think most of all love. A love that is not selfish (1 Cor. 13:5). They followed the Lord everywhere: present during His divine sermon on the mountain, present at the multiplication of the loaves, present also by the feet of the Cross. Once they made their choice to follow the Lord, they followed Him all the way. Have we made up our mind? Where do we stand vis-à-vis the Lord’s commandment: “Seek first the Kingdom of the Father” (Mt. 6:33)?
Finally, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the Myrrh-bearing women were the first to see the Lord, because their faith and love and obedience to the word of God, brought them where the Lord was–in the tomb! By following Him all the way to the Cross and to the tomb itself, they were privileged to be the first to see Him Risen from the dead. May the Lord, through the intercessions of the Myrrh-bearing women, of the holy Theotokos and of all the Saints, find us also worthy to see Him in Heaven, where He is eternally resurrected, reigning together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- The Madness of Being Christian, pp. 95-98
- See her life in Orthodox and Westem Way of Life, by Arch. I. Vlahos, pp. 256ff.
- How I Found God in the Soviet Union, pp. 87-88
- P. Trembelas, ad loc.