The Myrrh Bearing Women

The Myrrh Bearing Women April 28, 2017

Myrrh Bearing Women. Fresco at Mileševa monastery. By Snežana Trifunović (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Myrrh Bearing Women. Fresco at Mileševa monastery. By Snežana Trifunović (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.  And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; — it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid (Mk. 16:1-8 RSV).

After Pascha, and St. Thomas Sunday, two celebrations of the experience of the resurrection of Christ itself, the church moves on to glorify the first witnesses of the resurrection, the myrrh bearing women.[1] These women, these special witnesses of the resurrection, found themselves sent to preach to the apostles, making them as it were, the apostles to the apostles:

The angel came to the myrrhbearing women at the tomb and said: / Myrrh is meet for the dead; / But Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption! / So proclaim: the Lord is risen, / Granting the world great mercy! (Troparion of the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women).

Their love for Christ was great. While most of the apostles fled, so not to suffer the wrath of the authorities, these women stayed with Christ, revealing not only their devotion to Christ, but their courage, a courage which transcended that of most of the apostles. Because of their greater love, manifested in how they stayed with Christ and sought to give him and his body proper reverence, they were honored by Christ as he gave their voice preeminence in regards his resurrection from the dead. They went to visit the body of Christ, to keep it from corruption by the application of new spices, but instead he provided them the true spice of life, the glory of his resurrection. They came to preserve him through their love, and instead he opened himself up to them with his love so that they could be preserved by his grace.

Through them, the glorification of women is revealed. Their love made them worthy. Society silenced women as it looked at them with suspicion, but Christ showed that society should be silenced so that it could hear the voice of his specially chosen women, to hear their message. The lamentation of women, going all the way back to Eve, was overturned by Christ, and now they were called to share the Gospel with shouts of joy:

You did command the myrrh-bearers to rejoice, O Christ! / By Your Resurrection, You did stop the lamentation of Eve, O God! / You did command Your apostles to preach: The Savior is Risen! (Kontakion of the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women).

It was not men, but women who had been chosen by Christ to be his first witnesses, to lead the way in the joy of the resurrection. While he had called men to be his chief disciples in his earthly ministry, he called women to be his first witnesses in his establishment of the heavenly kingdom, of the eschaton made manifest. Those who had argued as to which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven had fled from Christ when he was taken by the authorities, making them far from him at the cross, the pillar which united heaven with earth. On the other hand, those who followed Jesus out of pure love, without seeking glory for themselves, found themselves drawn in closer to him and lifted up by him, making them worthy of being by his side, to his right and left hand, as he revealed himself in his resurrected glory. The barriers between heaven and earth, established by sin, had been overturned, and it was women who were the chief disciples of that glory, the first to witness the resurrection, the first to point out and exclaim the true glory of the Lord. Women were given authority of voice.  Women were told to preach the good news!

The myrrh bearing women went to give Christ perfume, but they found he offered himself as perfume for their souls.  They did not abandon Christ, and likewise, Christ did not abandon them but strengthened them with his grace. He gave them a mission, to be the first to preach the fullness of the Gospel, to give birth, as it were, to the joy of the Christian faith by their proclamation of the resurrection to the apostles.

In the ministry of the myrrh bearing women, we see their call to the general priesthood of the Christian faith. It is a eucharistic ministry for they return thanksgiving to God for the joy which they have received, even as they then go forth and give holy things – holy truths—to those called to be holy, the apostles, so that through them we can see that all feminine ministry has a eucharistic core attached to it, as the Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov once explained:

The feminine ministry is expressed best in the eucharistic image: “Holy things are for the holy.” This is Peace – shalom – and the ultimate communion expressed in the very substance of the one body, in its holiness. [2]

While he did not want to reduce them to their bodily function and sexual reproduction, Evdokimov realized that the way women can and do give birth demonstrates a unique connection they have to what happens with the celebration of the eucharist. Like Christ, they give their body and blood to another, to unite themselves to that other with a bond of love, so that, more than what men can experience, women truly can understand what it means to give oneself to another so another can live and grow and thrive in that growth. Indeed, within them, they find a transfiguration takes place, where their body and blood is taken in by another and transformed into that other, so that in birthing, there is a great and mystical representation of what Christ gives to us in communion, showing how we can understand the mystical process which takes place at the eucharistic table.

The metaphysical principles behind transubstantiation are revealed, to those who have an eye to see, in the glory of women, which is why it was fitting, not only for Mary to give birth to Christ, but for the myrrh bearing women to receive the resurrected Christ and give birth to the joy the faithful receive when they hear the good news of Christ’s victory over death.

Christ is risen, and women are the first called to announce this to the rest of the world.

Let them speak and share their experience to the world.


[1] While there are a few different lists as to who those women were, usually eight are mentioned: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Theotokos, Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany and Martha of Bethany. Also, because of what they did to house the sacred body of our Lord, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are also remembered on this day, although the women take prominence because their mission relates to the resurrection itself.

[2] Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World. Trans. Anthony Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994), 260.


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