The Myrrh-bearing Women

May 1, 2008 Length: 38:04

Fr. Thomas examines who the myrrh-bearing women were and clears up some misconceptions about Mary Magdalene in the process.

In series The Paschal Season

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The third Sunday of Pascha in the Orthodox Church is dedicated to the memory of the myrrh-bearing women, the women who ministered to Jesus during his lifetime, who stood afar off watching the crucifixion—although in St. John’s gospel they are closer—and those who came to the tomb on the first day of the week seeking to anoint the corpse of Jesus, the dead body of Jesus, for his burial.

This Sunday also we remember in the Church Joseph of Arimathea, the wise counselor, the noble Joseph, who, according to St. John’s gospel, with Nicodemus, anointed the body of Jesus for burial. According to the gospels it was Joseph who took the body down from the tree, asked Pilate for permission to do that, so that, according to the Jewish law, the body would not hang upon the tree of the cross; that was considered to be unacceptable on the sabbath, and that sabbath was a great day. So it’s Joseph with Nicodemus, the very one who came to him by night, according to St. John’s gospel, who took the Lord’s body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linens and with spices—a lot of spices, it says in St. John’s gospel, huge amounts—buried, put Jesus into the sepulcher.

And the teaching is even that Joseph put Jesus into his own new sepulcher that was nearby and had never been used before. Some of the holy Fathers and interpreters see this particular act as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, when Isaiah speaks about the Suffering Servant, the man of sorrows, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and who bore our griefs and our infirmities and suffered for our transgressions, that it says, “with a rich man in his death,” and that rich man is considered to be Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy man, obviously. He had money to get this ointment, and he had this nice, new tomb nearby. But he is the one who, in tears, in turn, puts Jesus into the sepulcher. Then the soldiers come and seal the tomb and set a watch, according to the gospels.

When we think about these women, when we think about Joseph and Nicodemus, when we read in the Scriptures about the crucifixion of Christ and his burial, and then the anointment of his dead body, we see that the gospels, the four gospels, have rather different accounts of what happened. They’re not exactly the same. There are, of course, similarities, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but even here, Luke is quite different from Mark and Matthew, and John is different from all three of the synoptic gospels.

First of all, when we consider these women, we know that there were women disciples who followed Jesus during his lifetime and ministered to his needs, as it says in Scripture. And there is a passage in Luke’s gospel, the eighth chapter, where it even specifically names them. It says that as Jesus was going through the cities and villages, preaching and bringing the glad tidings, the good news, the evangelion of the kingdom of God, and the Twelve were with him, the Twelve who became the 12 apostles—they have to be 12 because there were 12 tribes of Israel, and we know how Matthias was elected to take Judas’ place—so the 12 are mentioned here, and then it says, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities.”

So it claims that the women in plural were healed of evil spirits and infirmities, and then it names “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” Then it names “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward.” And it names Susanna. And then it says, “and many others who provided for them”—some ancient texts say “for him”—“out of their means.” So we have this record of the women disciples who ministered to Christ and who ministered to the apostles as well, most likely, one of whom, as we know from other accounts, was the mother of Zebedee’s children, was the mother of James and John. It doesn’t give us her name, but she is mentioned several times.

And then, at the actual crucifixion of Christ, when he is crucified, we have the gospels also testifying to the fact that there were women looking on. In Luke’s gospel, to stay with Luke, it says at the time of the crucifixion that all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things. They stood at a distance and saw these things. Then it says in Luke also that these same women who had come with him from Galilee and followed and saw the tomb, they saw how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared the spices and the ointments.

And then it says that on the next day, being the first day of the week, having rested on the sabbath according to the Law, they took these spices that they had prepared, and they were wondering who was going to roll away the stone. Of course, when they came there they found the vision of angels and the empty tomb. In Luke’s gospel it names the women who went to the tomb bearing the myrrh, bearing the ointment to anoint the dead body of Jesus. It says that it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, and then it says again “and the other women with them.” And it is these women who came and told the apostles that the tomb was empty, that they had seen a vision of angels, and that the Lord was risen.

In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we have also the naming of these women at the time of the crucifixion. So when Jesus is being crucified, you have written in Matthew: “There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.” Then it names them again: “among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” So there you have the mother of James and John. And then it says that when Jesus was buried, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” assuming that this is Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (Joses or Joseph), were sitting opposite the sepulcher.

Now, in the Gospel according to St. Mark, a very similar narration is given. It says in Mark at the time of the crucifixion—this is Mark’s account: “There were also women looking on from afar.” And then it names them again: “among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James (the younger) and of Joses,” and it mentions here a Salome, “who, when he was in Galilee, followed him and ministered to him.” Then it also again says, “and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.”

So you have these women mentioned, and then in Mark, when you have the account of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses, seeing where Jesus was put into the sepulcher, into the tomb that was hewn out of a rock, when the stone was rolled against the door, it also mentions that when the sabbath was over, being the first day of the week, Sunday, it names Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome again, who bought spices, that they might go and anoint Jesus, that they might anoint the dead body of Jesus. Then of course it also says that when they came there, the tomb was empty, they had the vision of angels who told them not to be afraid. It says that they were afraid, that they were amazed, and that they ran back and they again told the apostles. Then it specifically mentions in the additional ending of Mark: Mary Magdalene is again mentioned where it says, “When he (Jesus) rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.”

So you have this account. Now in the gospel of St. John, the anointment is done by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. It doesn’t mention the women anointing them, but in John’s gospel, it does mention that standing by the cross, and this time not at a distance but very close to the cross, were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. And they were close enough in St. John’s gospel, for Jesus to speak to them, because he says to his mother, “Woman, behold your son,” then he says to John, “Behold your mother.” According to the Scripture, John, the beloved disciple, takes Mary and cares for her for the rest of her life. In St. John’s gospel also it is Mary Magdalene who comes on the first day of the week, who is wondering who will roll the stone, she’s weeping in the garden, and then you have the appearance of the risen Christ to Mary Magdalene, and then she also goes and says to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” So Mary is the one who is with the other women who announced to the apostles, who are hiding in the upper room, as it says, for fear of the Jews, while the women were out there at the tomb, weeping over Jesus or coming looking for where he is laid, bringing the ointment for his dead body.

So we have these different narratives and different naming of the women. In all of the gospels, Mary Magdalene is mentioned; in all of them. It’s interesting to note that the mother of Jesus is mentioned at the cross in John, but she is not mentioned among those who go to the tomb. St. Gregory Palamas, one of the saints of the Church in the 12th century, held that it must have been true that Jesus, the risen from the dead, appeared to his mother. He even claimed that he probably appeared to her first, but technically there’s no record of this in the holy Scripture. Sometimes where it says “the other Mary,” Gregory thinks that that was the mother of Jesus or could have been; he even thinks that it is. However, I think that that is probably incorrect. The Scripture wouldn’t have simply said “the other Mary”; they would have said “the mother of Jesus.” And “the other Mary” generally is the mother of James and Joses, this other Mary.

Then it says “his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas.” Now it’s interesting that if you interpret this text as the mother of Jesus and his mother’s sister, comma (that’s a second person), and Mary, the wife of Cleopas, comma (that would be a third person), and Mary Magdalene (that would be the fourth person), then there were four women standing there. However, I think it’s even more traditional in the iconography and so on that when it says “his mother and his mother’s sister Mary, the wife of Cleopas,” that that’s the same person, so that’s the same person, so that would be three people there, not four, but that would be interesting, too, because it would mean that the term “sister” is obviously used for a close relative and not for a biological blood sister from the same womb, from the same mother, because Mary’s mother, according to the Tradition of the Church, Anna, had no other children but Mary, and even if Anna had had other children, she wouldn’t have named a second daughter Mary. So most likely, “his mother’s sister,” it means a cousin, a near relative, and it’s either a fourth person or it’s in fact Mary, the wife of Cleopas.

But you have these women, and Mary Magdalene is always mentioned, and the others are always mentioned several times: Joanna, Susanna, Salome, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, are not mentioned at the cross in St. John’s gospel, nor are they mentioned among the myrrh-bearing women who went to the tomb. However, it does say “those who ministered to him out of [their means],” but those who ministered to him out of [their means]” are those who followed him from Galilee, and Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, were most likely from Bethany, perhaps even connected with Essenes and so on, but they do not seem to have been Galileans. Many of the Jews knew Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and so on.

In Luke’s gospel, there is a mention of a Martha and a Mary, the same names as Lazarus’ sisters, but it does not identify them as the sisters of Lazarus. There’s just the account in Luke where Jesus is teaching, and a certain Mary is sitting at his feet, listening to what he says, and her sister, Martha, is busy about many things, and she kind of rebukes Jesus and says, “Why don’t you tell my sister Mary to come to help me?” And Jesus says to her that Mary has chosen the better portion, the better part, and it will not be taken away from her. So says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things, but only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion; it will not be taken away from her.” This is in Luke’s gospel, but there is no connection of this Martha and Mary in Luke to Lazarus, but it is interesting that they have the same names. Then, of course, it’s interesting that in Luke you have the parable of the poor man who dies and the rich man asks Abraham to have him rise from the dead in order to warn his brothers, and in that parable, he is named Lazarus.

So you have the names Martha, Mary, Lazarus in Luke in different ways, and then in John, Martha and Mary are the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus, in the great, spectacular messianic sign, has raised from the dead.

Now this group of women who served Jesus, ministered to his needs, observed the crucifixion from afar, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, up close with Mary the mother of Jesus, according to John, who saw where he was buried, who came to the tomb, who came weeping, who came with ointment to anoint his dead body—these women are very crucial in the Gospel account, because it shows that there were women disciples, it shows that women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection, it shows that Mary Magdalene, out of whom had been cast seven demons—that’s written in Scripture twice—was the first, that they went back and announced this to the apostles, so that they are called in Church Tradition eisapostolai, equal to the apostles. In fact, Mary Magdalene was called by St. Ambrose of Milan “apostola apostolorum, the apostle to the apostles, or the apostle of the apostles.

The term “apostle” means technically a person who has been sent, sent on a mission. Apostelo in Greek means to send. It’s the parallel word to the Latin mitto, which means to send. So to have an apostolate or to have a mission is the same word, one Greek and one Latin. But an apostolos or an apostole, feminine, is a person who has been sent. So it is certainly the teaching of Scripture that the women are sent first, and they’re sent to those who will be the Apostles. But it’s also interesting that according to Roman law and the law of the time, a woman could not be a formal witness; only a man could be a witness at a trial. Women’s witness, for whatever reasons, probably sexist reasons, were not accepted in a court of law, so the women have to call the men, and the men have to go and see for themselves that the tomb is empty.

And then the risen Lord appears, certainly appears to Mary Magdalene, but then appears to the apostles and appears to Peter, and there are many accounts in the Scriptures of the appearances of the risen Lord in various ways. Then the apostles become martyrs; they become witnesses. Martys means witness. They become witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, and they preach the resurrected Christ.

Looking a little bit closer at these women, we have to comment on a couple of other things. One is Mary Magdalene. You know in The Da Vinci Code and all these books now, there are claims that Mary Magdalene was some special friend of Jesus, perhaps he was married to her, they claim, or they had some sort of love affair with her or whatever. Well, of course there is no record of this in any of the gospels. But what does seem to be very clear in the gospels is that Mary Magdalene was a very special disciple of Christ, that she was a very devoted follower, that she is in all four gospels very prominently, and in all of them she’s the first to witness the empty tomb, and in John’s gospel she’s the first one to see the risen Christ. So Jesus, it seems pretty clear, had a very special relationship with her. It might even be said that she’s kind of the feminine counterpart to the beloved disciple John, because we know that among the men disciples, and certainly among the twelve apostles, John is considered to be the beloved disciple, the one closest to Jesus, who reclined at his breast at the Supper and so on.

So Jesus, being human, had closer relationships with some people than with others. If you take even the twelve apostles, Peter, James, John, Andrew seem to be the more prominent. We hardly know anything about Bartholomew, for example. There is some, of course, about others: Matthew, who was Levi the tax collector; Thomas, who saw the risen Lord in St. John’s gospel and touched his side and proclaimed him as Lord and God. But you can tell from the gospels that Jesus was closer to some than to others, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s important to know that there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just normal. We have some people that we just kind of know as acquaintances. We hopefully treat them with love and kindness but are not particularly close to them. Then we have other people to whom we are closer; we can say they’re our friends, not just acquaintances. Then we have others who we can say are our really closest friends; we have close friends. And then practically every one of us has a few friends that we would say: These are our real special friends. Some of us even have perhaps one person, maybe two, that we can say: This is my closest friend, that I’m really most intimately acquainted with.

It seems, of course, that among the apostles it was James and John and Peter and Andrew, and then particularly John. And then among the women, you have these women named. And in John’s gospel, it even says how Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. There’s special mention of his particular love for them. But most likely Mary Magdalene was the closest.

Now, with Mary it’s also important to know that in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, Mary was not a prostitute. Mary was not a harlot, and she was not a fallen woman. In Western traditions, some of them, I believe, Mary is identified as a fallen woman. In some traditions, she’s even identified with the woman in the eighth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, who is specifically said to have been a fallen woman, who came to anoint Jesus with the ointment when he was at the table in Simon’s house. But in Luke’s gospel, this takes place very early in the gospel. It’s not on the eve of his crucifixion. There’s no mention that this woman is anointing him for burial.

It simply says that a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that Jesus was at the table in the Pharisee’s house, now, just like the other women, she brings an alabaster flask of ointment. She stands behind him at his feet, she weeps, she washes his feet with her tears, wipes them with the hair of her head, kisses his feet, and anoints them with the ointment. Then this is scandalous to the Pharisees, and Jesus says she’s a fallen woman, and he speaks about how she loved him and washed his feet and wept over him and provides this oil, and she’s forgiven much because she loved much. But in that narrative in Luke, there’s no mention of what this woman’s name is. In Orthodox Tradition, ancient, Eastern Orthodox Tradition, she is not Mary Magdalene, but it doesn’t say who she is. It doesn’t say who she is.

In Luke’s gospel there is no account of any woman anointing Jesus for burial, specifically for burial. Now, in Matthew and Mark, there is. Matthew and Mark both have an account of a woman who, after the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, and he goes to the house of this Pharisee, Simon, it does say in Mark and in Matthew that this woman comes and also takes an alabaster box of ointment, also very precious, anoints Jesus, and there it says specifically for his burial. Then people are scandalized, particularly Judas. They say that the money could have been used for the poor. Jesus says the poor you always have with you. Then he says: Wherever this Gospel is preached in the entire world, it will be told about this woman, what she has done to Jesus for his burial. It will be told all through the world where the Gospel is preached, about this woman, what she has done, in memory of her—but it doesn’t say who she is, and there’s no mention there whatsoever that she’s a fallen woman, that she’s a harlot or a sinner of any sort.

John’s gospel is really different. In John’s gospel you have a woman anointing Jesus for his burial. It’s very clearly stated in St. John’s gospel. In fact, it’s read, I think, three or four times during Holy Week, but in St. John’s gospel it’s very interesting that this anointment of Jesus’ feet is done six days before Passover. It’s done in Bethany where Mary and Martha and Lazarus live. At the table when it’s done, Lazarus is there, having been raised from the dead. And the one who does it is Mary; the one who does it in St. John’s gospel is specifically said to be Mary—not Mary Magdalene, but Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. But again, there is this reference to the poor—“The poor you always have with you”—but there is no sentence about she being mentioned, this act in memory of her; it’s not there. But it does precipitate Judas into his betrayal, and there is a kind of murmuring against this woman, Mary, for wasting the unction.

It’s interesting also in John’s gospel that this takes place before Palm Sunday, before the entrance into Jerusalem. It’s the next day that you have Jesus entering Jerusalem with the crowds. So you have a different chronology in Matthew and Mark from John, and in Luke you don’t have this narrative at all, but you do have the story of the clearly fallen woman, earlier in the gospel, who does a similar, if not identical, act. The only conclusion that we might draw, which seems most plausible, is that there were different traditions, different traditions about how it happened, [by whom] it happened, when it happened, but there was that living, oral tradition among the apostles about this anointment of Jesus.

But only in Luke is the woman a fallen woman. It’s interesting that in Orthodox Holy Week, in the hymnology, especially the Hymn of Kassiani on Great and Holy Tuesday night matins, Wednesday, I believe it is, where this long hymn is sung about the woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears, wipes them with her hair, anoints him, but in the song in church, it’s clearly a fallen woman. She was clearly a sinner in the song in church. And it seems that the Church services kind of conflate these four stories: the Luke story, the Matthew, the Mark—and Matthew and Mark are very similar; in fact, they’re identical—and then John which is different. They’re kind of conflated, but certain things are very, very clear.

Certain things are very clear and very important for our faith and important for our understanding of as much as we can reconstruct what happened historically. One thing that has to be said very clearly is the woman who anoints Jesus for burial is not Mary Magdalene. The woman in Luke who anoints his feet is a fallen woman; in Matthew, Mark, and John, she is not. In John, she is Mary, Lazarus’ sister, who is known for her holiness; she sits at Jesus’ feet, according to Luke’s gospel, if that’s the same Mary, indeed. And we know that there is no mention in Scripture of Mary Magdalene being a fallen woman. So the one who anoints is not Mary Magdalene, and Mary Magdalene is not a fallen woman.

But Mary Magdalene is said to be one of the women disciples of Christ, and it is said that probably she’s the leader. I mean, she seems to be the head one. She’s the one mentioned all the time. She’s the first one in every one of the accounts of the gospels that mention the women. Then she’s at the cross; even in John she’s at the cross with Christ’s mother, Mary. Then in all the gospels she’s the first witness of the resurrection.

Now what does it mean that “from her had been cast out seven demons”? That is said twice. What does that mean? What it means, it seems to mean and certainly for our Church service for Mary Magdalene, which comes in July—I believe it’s the 22nd of July; there’s a whole liturgical office for Mary Magdalene, which never even once mentions that she’s a fallen woman or a prostitute—but it does mention these seven demons. Now, seven is a symbol of fullness, and demons means being possessed of madness. So what we can conclude was that Mary Magdalene was really a screwed up lady. She was really messed up. She was really sick. She was really driven around by all kinds of dark and evil powers, but Jesus healed her. He cast out these seven demons, and then she was in her right mind.

But she is also very clearly shown, especially in St. John’s gospel, as a kind of a passionate woman. When she sees the risen Christ in the garden, she wants to cling to him, and Jesus says, “Don’t cling to me, Mary.” In other words, we’re not taking up where we left off; it’s all changed now; I’m risen from the dead. He said, “I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And then he makes her into an apostle; he tells her to go and tell. He sends her on a mission. So Mary is certainly a very impassioned person, a very loving person, and totally devoted to Jesus, as were the other women, without any doubt. These women were totally, completely, unconditionally, and without qualification, devoted to Jesus. They loved him, and he loved them.

Now the love of these myrrh-bearing women is particularly shown at the crucifixion, because they’re there. They observed the crucifixion. They go and find where the body was laid. Then they keep the sabbath. Then they get this ointment, precious, at least according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And then they go to the tomb early on the first day of the week, while the apostles are still in the upper room there, hiding for fear of the Jews. I always think about James and John, the sons of thunder, the sons of Zebedee. They’re up in the room, and their mama, their mother, is out there on the street with her ointment, going to the tomb.

Of course, the marvelous thing that we celebrate on this third Sunday of Pascha is: they go, expecting to find a corpse. They do not go expecting to find an empty tomb. They go expecting to find a corpse. They are worrying about who’s going to push the stone away so that they could get to that corpse. And they have total love for him, even when he’s dead. We might even say they have total love for him even when he has nothing to give them. We must say that they didn’t follow him just for what he could give them. They didn’t minister to him during his public life and his missionary activity, announcing the kingdom of God, just for what he could give to them.

Now, he had given them; he had given them life already. Certainly, Mary Magdalene, he gave her sanity; he cast out seven demons. In fact, in Luke when he mentions the women, he says, “Out of whom”—in plural—“he cast out demons from them.” Perhaps all those women were sick at first. Maybe that’s even an important teaching: We’re all sick at first. We’re all filled with all kinds of demons at first. Then the Lord comes and casts them out and we get healed and get in our right mind, and then we can follow him, and then we love him. But this love of the women seems to be very pure, very holy, not self-interested.

And the demonstration of that, the proof of that, is when they go to his tomb on that first day of the week, expecting a corpse, showing love for him even when he was dead, taking care of him. They not only took care of him and ministered to him when he was alive; they continued to care for him, to love him, and to minister to him when he was dead. And then they become the first witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah, the first witnesses of the empty tomb, visions of angels, “He is not here; he is risen; go tell the apostles.” In Mark, it even says, “Go tell the apostles and Peter,” because he was kind of not in good shape there, because he had been a denier. In John’s gospel he has to be reinstated by those three questions at the end of St. John’s gospel. But they are the first.

And it’s very ironic, when you think of it; when you think of the Christian faith, you see so many ironies. The first witness of the resurrection, the empty tomb, and the first witness of the risen Christ, who sees him, who wants to embrace him, is a woman out of whom seven demons had been cast, a woman who was very sick, very crazy, and then was restored to health. And you could even go on. The first one to enter paradise was a thief, a murderer, one who was crucified together with Jesus; his traditional, customary name is Dismas, the good thief. The leader of the apostles was an apostle who denied Jesus publicly three times, and went out and wept bitterly. In the Church services there’s even a comparison of the fallen woman to the Apostle Judas, that Judas who was with him all the time betrays him, and in Luke’s gospel the fallen woman, who was really a harlot, prostitute, evil in any case, she’s the one who loves him and is forgiven much.

Then we could even add to this St. Paul, the Apostle Paul. He was part of the gang that killed the first Christian martyr, Stephen. He was holding their cloaks while they were throwing the stones at Stephen, consenting to his death. And then he gets converted, and he becomes the leader of the apostles of the Gentiles. He becomes that great Apostle who was not one of the Twelve, but who had seen the risen Lord on the Damascus road, and then studied the Scriptures and preached from the Scriptures that indeed Jesus was the Christ.

How ironic it is! You might even say: How like God! That the greatest of the apostles, leader of the Twelve would be one who denied him, the Apostle to the Gentiles would be one who participated in killing Stephen. The first to go to paradise would be a crucified malefactor, a thief, a robber, whoever he was. And that the first witness of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ would be a very sick, crazy woman, who had been healed by the Lord, out of whom were cast seven demons. That’s how the Lord operates.

Sometimes I even think about America and about our Orthodoxy here in America. Isn’t it ironic that the first canonized saint in America would be Herman of Alaska? Herman of Alaska was a missionary to the Alaskan people in the end of the 18th century. He was a part of the first missionary band. But he was not a bishop, he was not a priest, he was not a deacon, he was not ordained. He was a simple man. He was a monk, but he was a layman. We don’t even know his last name. He had absolutely nothing. Everybody else either died or fled, and there he was left all alone, living on Spruce Island off the coast of Kodiak, and just caring for the simple people, praying, fasting, couldn’t even have the sacraments: he wasn’t a priest. He had not public relations department, no PR, no prestige, no power, no position, no pleasures, no nothing, and yet he’s the first canonized saint of the Church in America and is called the North Star of Christ’s holy Church.

The Lord really has a sense of humor; the Lord really deals ironically, and we can see this not only in the fact that he redeems the world by crucifying and having his own Son betrayed into the hands of evildoers to be crucified, but look who surrounds the crucified and glorified Christ. Who are those people? On the third Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate those women, and Joseph and Nicodemus, and they were high-class guys, they were aristocrats, they were members of the council. Nicodemus was very learned. So you see, you have all those people around Jesus.

But when we look at those women, we know how much they loved him. We know how they served him. We know how devoted they were to him, and we know how devoted he was to them, too. It’s so wonderful when you think about them: Mary Magdalene and Mary, the other Mary, and Susanna and Joanna and Salome and the mother of Zebedee’s children and Mary and Martha, and even the woman who anoints his feet—we don’t know her name—and that fallen woman in Luke, whose name we do not know. We think of all of them, and we just are marveling how beautiful and how wonderful this whole Gospel is, this whole event of the coming of the Messiah, the coming of God’s Son in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, and all those people who were around him, which included not only the men and the holy apostles, but the women, who are called in Orthodox Tradition, eisapostolai, equal to the apostles, equally apostolic. And on the third Sunday of Pascha, we even remember that the first apostles were sent by the risen Lord and by the angels to announce the Resurrection—not the men, but they were the women.