(Image: Icon of Mary Magdalene courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Last Friday (July 22) is the day set aside to remember Mary Magdalene. One thing I know about her is that the medieval rumor to the effect of her being a repentant prostitute is not grounded in any ancient tradition. (For a very quick summary of other traditions about her and a truly beautiful hymn in her honor you can check the Prologue from Ochrid.)
Scripture tells us that the Lord healed her from being afflicted by seven devils and places her as the first witness of the Resurrection. Eastern tradition hails her as “equal to the apostles,” a title reserved for those who have special prominence in spreading the gospel. We don’t know what role sin and its forgiveness played in her encounter with Christ, but we know that it played some role, as it does for each of us. We don’t anything about her seven devils, but we know that Christ’s presence in her life replaced them. We know that before her encounter with Christ she was afflicted, that Christ healed her, and that afterwards she gave witness to Christ.Mark Shea has already given us a wonderful piece on the scripture passages read for this feast in the Latin Rite, so for this post I want to start from a different direction- with the aforementioned facts of her life (that she was afflicted, healed and then gave witness) and from the troparion sung for her feast:
You followed Christ who was born of a virgin for us, keeping his laws and observing his degrees, Mary. In return we observe your holy memory, that our sins might be forgiven through your prayers.
This liturgical hymn should make us mindful not of Mary’s sin, but of our own. So looking to Mary Magdalene’s witness to Christ’s triumph over sin and death and hoping in her prayer on our behalf – let us reflect for a few moments each on seven sins which afflict us (either in temptation or because we have already fallen) and what we should put in their place. May we – with the help of Christ and the prayer of Mary Magdalene and all the saints to aid us – drive these seven devilish impulses out of our hearts and replace them with virtue. First into our hearts and so often last in our repentance is. . .