The Holy Myrrh-Bearer, Mary Magdalene, an Equal of the Apostles. In early Christian writings she is called ‘The Apostle to the Apostles’ designating her equal, if not elevated, role amongst the other Apostles. Mary came from Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, on the banks of Lake Genesareth, between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, Magdala was a small city, the remains of which can still be visited today. Although now, only the small village of Mejhdel stands on the site that was once Magdala. In Luke 8:2 it says that she actually was “called Magdalene”. In Hebrew מגדל Migdal means ‘a tower, fortress’; in Aramaic, “Magdala” also means ‘tower’ and ‘elevated, great, magnificent.’ The Jewish Talmud affirms that Magdala had an unsavory reputation, and because of the harlotry practiced there was destroyed. But we must not assume, as others in history have incorrectly that Mary Magdalene was a harlot. There is no Biblical evidence to support this as being true.
A woman, who within the four Gospels is named at least 14 times, more than most of the other apostles, was born and grew up in Magdala. The Gospel tells us nothing of Mary’s younger years, but tradition tells us that Mary of Magdala was young and beautiful, and a woman with her own financial means – a woman of high standing and comfortable circumstances (This is a fact found in the Gospels, and shown by her helping to support the ministry of Jesus). It says in the Gospels that the Lord expelled seven demons from Mary (Luke. 8:2, Mark 16:9). Although the demons have been assumed by many to be forms of sinfulness, the “seven demons” may have referred to a complex illness (she may have suffered from the malady of periodic insanity, or afflicted with nervousness, she may have been the victim of violent epilepsy). The seven demons not being linked to any form of sinfulness. Or it could represent an exorcism on Jesus’ part, implying the Magdalene was possessed, for seven is a mystic and symbolic number suggesting “completeness,” implying that when the evil spirits dominated Mary her suffering was extremely severe (whatever the malady; whether mental and/or physical illnesses or real demons cast out). But the phrase may equally refer to some sort of conversion and/or ritual initiation. Whatever you may believe is meant by the seven demons being expelled, is in one way a moot discussion, for from the moment of her healing Mary led a new life, and became a true and beloved disciple of the Savior.
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. She traveled 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. In the Gospel of Luke, she is listed 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 Savior ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.
The Gospels 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 shows how strongly 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 during His times extreme humiliation and insult. As the 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 Jesus, The Source of Life.
Faithful to the Law and Jewish customs in which she was raised, Mary together with the other women spent the following day at rest, because it was the day of the Sabbath, coinciding with the Feast of Passover. But the women did gather spices to go to the Grave of the Lord before dawn on Sunday morning and anoint His Body according to the custom of the Jews.
It is in this role she given the title Myrrh-bearer. A term not familiar to most Christians outside of the Orthodox Churches (Eastern, Greek, Slavic, Romanian, Russian and other Orthodox Churches). Myrrh-bearers are the individuals mentioned in the New Testament who were directly involved in the burial of Jesus or who discovered the empty tomb following the resurrection of Jesus. The term traditionally refers to the women with myrrh who came to the tomb of Christ early in the morning to find it empty. In Western Christianity, it would refer to the two women at the tomb, The Three Marys, etc. Although it is considered a sacred and special title associated mostly with the women, Mary Magdalene being the great and holy myrrh–bearer; also included are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who took the body of Jesus down from the cross, embalmed it with myrrh and aloes, wrapped it in clean linen, and placed it in a new tomb. (See Matthew 27:55-61, Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 15:40-16:11, Luke 23:50-24:10 and John 19:38-20:18).
There are eight women who are generally identified as the myrrh-bearers. Each of the four Gospels gives a different aspect of the roles of these eight women at the cross and at the tomb on Easter morning, most likely because the eight women arrived alone or in different groups and at different times. The eight are:
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary, The Mother of Jesus (Called the Theotokos in Orthodox Churches)
- Mary the wife of Cleopas (or Alphaeus)
- Mary of Bethany
- Martha of Bethany
Of the eight, the first five are the more prominent and outspoken. The last three are included according to tradition. Five of these women were also very wealthy; the women of means were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Mary and Martha of Bethany.
It is important to mention that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week, Sunday, to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women had no possibility of meeting with one another on Saturday. They went separately on Friday evening to their own homes. They went out only at dawn the following day to go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from her own house.
Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as Mark writes, it was extremely early, before the rising of the sun. John, elaborating upon the writings of the others, 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 yet daybreak. I can imagine Mary pacing and feeling every single minute pass until the sun began to rise. She ran to the place where her Lord’s Body lay.
Mary went to the tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she ran away in fear to tell the closest 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 two Apostles went away and said nothing to anyone, but Mary stood at the entrance to the tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb where so recently the lifeless body of her Lord had lay.
Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down into it and saw a strange sight. She 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 are you weeping?”
She answered them with the words which she had said to the Apostles, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw the Risen Yeshua standing near the grave, but she did not recognize Him.
Yeshua said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping, and whom are you seeking?” But she thought he was the Gardener, and she said to him, “Sir, if you have taken him, tell me where you have laid him; I will go take him away.”
Then she recognized the Lord’s voice. This was the voice she heard in those days and years, when she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where He preached. He spoke her name, and she gave a joyful shout, “Rabbi”. (Yeshua said to her, “Maryam.” And she turned and said to him in Judean Aramaic, “Rabbuli”, which is to say “Teacher.”)
Deep respect and an enduring love, a profound fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness, mirth and joy filled her at the recognition of His great splendor; her beloved Teacher (Rabbuli), all came together in this single outcry of one word. She was able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Rabbi to wash them with tears of joy. Yeshua said to her. ‘Be not touching me, for I have not yet ascended unto my Father; and be going on to my brethren (my brothers and sisters), and tell them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and to your God.
She followed His instructions and again ran to the Apostles, doing the will of Him – sending her to preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles still remained in dismay and sadness and proclaimed to them the joyous message, “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.
The Apostles proclaimed the Glad Tidings and Good News to the world, but she proclaimed it first, to the other Apostles themselves.
Holy Scriptures do not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ. She was there in the terrifying minutes of Christ’s Crucifixion, she was at the foot of His Cross with His Blessed Mother and St John, she would have stayed with them during the time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Acts of the Apostles, St 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. Mary Magdalene would have been among this group of women along with Jesus’ Mother Mary. Mary Magdalene was there at the “beginning of a movement that was going to transform the West” — in a way, no one, including her, could have known would become so profound for over two-thousand years! She was the “Apostle to the Apostles”, a title of honor, that fourth-century orthodox theologian St. Augustine gave her, though others much earlier had already conferred this title upon her. Mary Magdalene was the most important woman disciple in the movement of Jesus.
If you are to read the Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to all the ends of the earth, then Mary Magdalene also went with them. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and went to preach in pagan Rome. Everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His teaching. When many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant Easter morning of the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” With this message she went all over Italy.
Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. According to Tradition, she brought 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.
Mary repeated the words of the Apostles, that we are redeemed from the vanity of life not with perishable silver or gold, but rather by the precious Blood of Christ.
Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on Easter, the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ, spread among Christians all over the world. In 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.”
This is a blessing and gift to remember when people doubt the association of eggs with Easter and Christ’s resurrection. Sadly, this tradition of giving paschal eggs to each other has been lost to many except in the Orthodox Churches. Although, it’s celebrated in what has become a secular decoration of Easter eggs or Easter Egg Hunts mixing it in with the tale of an Easter Bunny, thus taking the celebration of spring (the rabbit and other symbols of spring) and combining it with what at one time was a Christian celebration of decorating and giving paschal eggs. Personally, I prefer to celebrate the beauty and excitement of spring returning, especially since I’ve been living in an area with harsh winters for the last few years, in addition to celebrating Easter and the season of Pascha.
Note: In western Christianity, Eastertide, the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday aka Resurrection Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the coming of the fiftieth day, Pentecost Sunday. In Orthodoxy, the season of Pascha begins on Holy Pascha and ends with the coming of the fortieth day, the Feast of the Ascension. The Orthodox Churches use the word Pascha instead of Easter. Although the word is used in Catholic and Protestant Churches at certain times. The words Pascha and Paschal come from the word Pesach, which means Passover in Hebrew פֶּסַח
Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. The Apostle Paul addresses her in his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with others laboring in their efforts of evangelic preaching he sends his greetings to Mary Magdalene (Mariam), “Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit. (NLT) “Invoke the peace of Maria, who has labored much among you.” (ABPE)
It is evident by his words that she served the Church wholeheartedly, and thus being exposed to the same dangers as the other Apostles, and sharing with the other Apostles the labors of preaching. As well as tending, along with other women, to the needs of the sick, poor, orphaned, and widowed; fulfilling the role of Apostle and Deaconess.
According to Church Tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle 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 unceasingly labored. There the saint finished her earthly life and was buried.
Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of St 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 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.
Deciphering all the various women named Mary in the New Testament:
Mary (Miriam) was a very common name in New Testament times, held by a number of women in the canonical Gospels. The history of Mary Magdalene has been greatly affected by different interpretations as to which biblical references actually refer to her, beyond those where she is identified by “Magdalene”. Historically, the Orthodox church Fathers, as a whole, distinguished among what they believed were three Marys:
The Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ
Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42 and John 11)
Mary Magdalene/Mary of Magdala
In addition, there were Mary, the mother of James and Mary Salome.
In the four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is nearly always distinguished from other women named Mary by adding “the Magdalene” (ἡ Μαγδαληνή) to her name.This has been interpreted to mean “the woman from Magdala”.
Tradition as early as the 2nd century identify Mary Magdalene as the woman with the alabaster jar in Luke 7:36-50:
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”
Not all are in agreement today, and some scholars say she was Mary, sister of Lazarus. Others believe it to be two different Mary’s that anointed Jesus (Mary of Bethany in John; Mary Magdalene in Luke). Mary Magdalene is portrayed beautifully for centuries as the woman with the alabaster perfumed ointment jar. Either way, she still was the holy myrrh-bearer and in so being would be shown with jar or box filled with myrrh. So, I wished to share a bit of the art. For the story is an important one on many levels, but I’ll leave it and the discussion of just who or which Mary it was for a future blog.
Talmudic passages speak of a Miriam “hamegadela se’ar nasha”, “Miriam, the plaiter of women’s hair” (Hagigah 4b;cf. Shabbat 104b), which most believe today is a reference to Mary Magdalene serving as a hairdresser.
In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is also referred to simply as “Mary” at least twice. Gnostic writings use Mary, Mary Magdalene, or Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene’s name is mostly given as Μαρία (Maria), but in Matthew 28:1 as Μαριάμ (Mariam), both of which are regarded as Greek forms of Miriam, the Hebrew name for Moses’ sister. The name had become very popular during Jesus’ time due to its connections to the ruling Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties.
Sacred Symbols associated with Mary Magdalene in art in addition to the red egg and alabaster ointment jar already mentioned: a red purple veil, a spice pot, a skull, a book, a mirror, a small cross, a scourge or a cilice used as penance instruments. (a cilice was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) worn close to the skin. It was used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.) In modern art, you are more likely to find Mary Magdalene holding a beautiful garland of various flowers, surrounded by pink or white roses, veiled or unveiled, or even with a labyrinth background. No longer limited by the centuries of incorrect history labeling her as a penitent, there are no limitations on the artistic symbols. Along with the fact that she is claimed today by Christians as a saint and important historical figure in the life of Jesus, by some as a pagan temple goddess, for others she is the Mary of the gnostic gospels.
The Orthodox Churches, The Roman Catholic Church and within the Protestant traditions, they all honor the holy memory of St Mary Magdalene, although, not all in the exact same way. She was a woman called by the Lord Himself from the darkness of her demons to His holy light. Having received healing, she sincerely began a new life. 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 receiving recognition as a miracle-worker, but also, it was she, who when all the disciples deserted Him in fear was by His side. Crucified, hung in torment upon the Cross, she was there. This is why the Lord, knowing her faithfulness, appeared to her first, and esteemed her worthy to be first to proclaim His Resurrection.
Her feast day or day of commemoration is celebrated on July 22, and she is also remembered in the Orthodox Churches on the Sunday of Myrrh-bearing Women.
Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you, not in mansions of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood…and I am there, lift a stone…and you will find me.”–The Gospel of Thomas
“The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a Eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber.”-The Gospel of Philip
Photos of Amber Rose Revah as Mary Magdalene from The Bible: The Epic Miniseries and the theatrical film Son of God and of Chipo Chung as Mary Magdalene from the upcoming A.D.: The Bible Continues are all productions of LightWorkers Media – Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (http://www.lightworkersmedia.com) and are used with my deepest respect for the projects and the strong yet beautiful portrayals of both actresses as the Apostle Mary Magdalene. No copyright infringement is intended. All rights remain reserved.
The Bible: The Epic Miniseries is available on DVD and Blu-Ray (http://tinyurl.com/om4yc34) as is “Son of God” (http://tinyurl.com/ntqtmar). Please visit www.ShareADtheSeries.com and be sure to watch A.D.: The Bible Continues which premieres on NBC on Easter Sunday 2015. Stay up-to-date with all of the various past and future projects, of Irish actress, producer, author and artist Roma Downey here: http://www.facebook.com/Roma.Downey
Mary Magdalene – Unconditional Love picture is from a Doreen Virtue deck you may purchase here: http://tinyurl.com/po7xp5w The name of the artist is unknown to me at this time. I will update and include information about the artist in the future. I was a bit surprised this card was not found in her Angels and Saints deck or the like. It’s found in her Goddess cards, which validates what I stated in this blog, that in our time, Mary Magdalene is claimed by not only Christians but pagans, Gnostics and others as well.
The artists and/or sources of all other graphics used of the images of Mary Magdalene have been listed in the caption description below each work of art, when available.
I prefer using the name Yeshua and have done so in my use of certain Bible verses (ABPE):
The Aramaic Bible in Plain English (ABPE), Copyright © 2012 by Glenn David Bauscher
Bible verse in the caption section of the stained glass window photo from Kilmore Church in Scotland is from the King James Bible (KJV) – Public domain in the United States.
Unless otherwise stated, all other Bible verses used are from the American King James Version (AKJV) – Public domain (copyright waived).
The Gospel of Philip is part of the texts called New Testament apocrypha, dated to around the 3rd century but lost to modern researchers until an Egyptian man rediscovered it by accident, buried in a cave near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in December 1945 and is part of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library.
The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well-preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel which many scholars believe provides insight into the oral gospel traditions. It is also in the group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. Modern scholars have stated that the Gospel of Thomas is the closest to the sayings of the historical Jesus. The sayings are similar to those of Jesus in the canonical Gospels and it is felt the Gospel of Thomas was written as early as the New Testament Gospels.
In addition to my many years of research and study on the mysterious yet sacred Mary of Magdala, I wish to thank Orthodox Church clergy members for corresponding with me and confirming how she has been viewed through out their church history and today and the legends associated with her in their religion.
Source information for some of the symbols of Mary Magdalene in classical art, although, most were already known to me….are from the article: Magdalene’s Iconography, between Passion and Melancholy by Pino Blasone.
Some minor facts were confirmed using en.wikipedia.org