Questions about the Myrrh-bearing Women

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QUESTION 1

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The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women includes the name of one man. There was another man also involved who was mentioned in another place. Describe who they were and what they did. Don't just describe cold historical facts - what do their actions mean?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 1

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The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Holy Myrrh Bearers is taken from St Mark. After the God-man Jesus Christ had given up His spirit on the cross St Mark reports: "Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus." (Mark 15:43)

He continues, "Pilate gave the body of Jesus to Joseph, And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre." (Mark 15:46)

St John gives other details in his gospel which show that Nicodemus also helped Joseph: "And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. {40} Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury." (John 19:39-40)

St Luke gives us more insight into Joseph's character: "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: {51} (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. {52} This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. {53} And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid." (Luke 23:50-53)

St Matthew, who is perhaps the most laconic of the Evangelists concerning the events after the death of Jesus and His resurrection, still found it important to mention the exploits of Joseph, adding to our knowledge of him by calling him "rich": "When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: {58} He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. {59} And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, {60} And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed." (Mat 27:57-60)

Both Joseph and Nicodemus were disciples of Christ, although secretly, because of fear. Nicodemus had met Christ by night, and discoursed with him about being "born again" (John 3:1-21). Although Nicodemus did not understand about the Lord then, the divine words eventually found their place in his heart. He later was emboldened to contradict the gainsaying of the Jewish leaders who were plotting to find some way to put Christ to death, as John reports: "Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) {51} Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" (John 7:50-51). St Luke's testimony also shows that Joseph was against the treachery of the Jews, and did not endorse the slaying of the God-man.

These two men, who before had been timid, and, despite their learning, ignorant concerning the true nature and purpose of Jesus, nevertheless were converted, and emboldened by the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. When the time came, they showed themselves to be true lovers of Christ, as they risked their position in society and even their very own lives by their burial of Christ.

These two men were motivated by their consciences, which had been touched with divine truth. Indeed, "perfect love casteth out fear" (John 4:18). Such love also causes a person to act. May God grant that our love will also cast out fear, and we will not stand by idly as intellectual Christians, but will be motivated by our love to work in a way that is pleasing to God.

The clean linen that was used to wrap the immaculate body of Christ, and the nature of the tomb also have important meaning to be gleaned, but we will save these things for another question.


 

QUESTION 2

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When is the Sunday of the myrrh-bearers? Why?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 2

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The Sunday of the myrrh-bearers is the Third Sunday of Pascha (including the Sunday of Pascha itself as the first Sunday). It follows the Sunday of St. Thomas. St Thomas Sunday immediately follows the Sunday of Pascha because historically, Thomas saw the risen Christ for the first time eight days after the resurrection, and therefore, the commemoration is made in this time frame. It is true that the myrrh-bearers saw the risen Christ before Thomas, on the very day of the resurrection, but perhaps Thomas' confession of the dual nature of Christ, "My Lord and my God," also had a bearing on the order in which these two events are remembered by the church.


 

QUESTION 3

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The church names how many myrrh bearers? List them.


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 3

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Holy tradition names seven myrrh-bearers:

  1. Mary Magdalene
  2. Mary, the wife of Cleophas
  3. Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward
  4. Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John
  5. Susanna
  6. Mary, the sister of Lazarus
  7. Martha, the sister of Lazarus

 

QUESTION 4

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Where was Jesus buried? Is there any significant meaning to this place?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 4

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Jesus was buried in a "new tomb", which had been hewn out of a rock, where no man had ever before been laid. The tomb was sealed with a great stone.

The tomb was new, so that this would be a proof of the resurrection. No one could credibly claim that some other person had risen from the dead.

In a mystical way, the tomb represents the human soul, where Christ must always abide. Blessed Theophylact admonishes us: "... Let us (also) take the body of Jesus, through Holy Communion, and place It in a tomb hewn out of a rock, that is, place It within a soul which always remembers God and does not forget Him. And let that soul be hewn from a rock, that is, from Christ Who is the Rock on which we are established" (Blessed Theophylact, Commentary on Mark 15:42-47). The translators of this commentary into English also give this note: "The Greek word for 'tomb' is derived from the word 'mneme', which means 'memory'"

Christian! Have you hewn out a place in your soul for the God-man to abide? Have you labored hard to prepare a place, hewing out the hard rock of the passions and unbelief? Do not make the mistake of just believing in Christ, and not laboring to building a place for Him in your soul. The Christian life is filled with labor. Labor while there is the day, that is, while you have breath on this earth, and always keep Christ in your remembrance, in your soul.


 

QUESTION 5

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A great stone was rolled across the entrance to the sepulchre, sealing it. Can we understand anything from this?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 5

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The stone that sealed the sepulchre helped to validate the resurrection. It was set at the door of a previously empty tomb, and guarded by an elite cohort of soldiers. The stone was not moved until after Christ had resurrected, revealing an empty tomb, and the soldiers shaking with fear.

The stone was a large object, immovable by one man. Venerable Bede describes its removal: "This rolling back of the stone mystically suggests the unblocking of the Mysteries of Christ, which were concealed by the covering of the Law: for the Law was written on Stone" (Quoted from "the Sunday Sermons of the Great fathers", Vol. 2, Pg. 215) pg. 215


 

QUESTION 6

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The myrrh the women carried symbolizes something we must also "carry" to Christ. What?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 6

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Myrrh was used to preserve things from corruption and dry them out. It also had a sweet odor, as did the other ointments and spices that the women brought to anoint the body of Jesus.

We must understand the myrrh in a mystical way if we are to truly understand the Christian way of the life. The women came to the tomb of Christ in order to bring Him myrrh, that is good works, and a life that is pleasing to God and free of corruption. We must not come to Christ empty-handed.

"The Myrrh-bearers, fulfilling the Old Testament Law, the law of Moses, bought perfumes and went to anoint His body, the body of Christ. And we, fulfilling the Law of the New Testament, the Law of Christ, must also acquire spiritual perfumes - His commandments: humility, meekness, peace-loving - and we must anoint His body with spiritual oil (that is, love and mercy). And His body is the Church of Christ" Blessed Archbishop Andrei, "One thing Needful", pg. 67-8)

"You have heard, dearly beloved, that holy women who had followed the Lord came to the sepulcher with spices. They had loved Him when He was alive, and they showed Him their eager tenderheartedness even when He was dead. Their deed points to something that must be done in our holy Church. Thus as we hear of what they did, we must also think of our responsibility to imitate them. We, too, who believe in Him Who died, approach His sepulcher with spices if we are strengthened with the sweet smell of the virtues, and if we seek the Lord with a reputation for good works. And the women who came with spices saw angels, since those who advance toward God through their holy desires, accompanied by the sweet smell of the virtues, behold the citizens from on high." St Gregory the Dialogist, "Forty Gospel Homilies", Homily 21, Pg. 158)


 

QUESTION 7

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Where was the angel in the tomb? Any significance to this?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 7

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When the holy myrrh-bearers saw the angel, he was standing on the right side of the place where the body of Jesus had lain.

And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. (Mark 16:5)

It is not without purpose that the Evangelist mentions this detail "right" side. St Gregory the Dialogist explains: "What is signified by the left side if not the present life? And what by the right side if not life everlasting? Therefore, because our Redeemer had now passed over beyond the infirmity of this present life, rightly does the angel who had come to announce His eternal life sit on the right side" (Quotation taken from the Sunday Sermons of the great Fathers, Vol. 2, it is also in Homily 21 of "Forty Gospel Homilies")


 

QUESTION 8

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What were the angel's instructions? Were they understood? Were they followed?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 8

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The angel gave exact instructions to the stupefied women:

"And he saith unto them, 'Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. {7} But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.'" (Mark 16:6-7)

The Evangelist goes on to tell us:

"And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8)

The incredible reality of the resurrection was too much for the women to bear in such a short time. The Evangelists give many more examples which show that it was difficult even for those who loved the Lord to believe in His resurrection immediately. Blessed Theophylact explains: "Fear and amazement had taken hold of the women at the sight of the angel and at the awesome mystery of the Resurrection, and because of this 'neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid'. Either they were afraid of the Jews, or they were so in awe of what they had seen that their minds were confounded. For this reason 'neither said they any thing to any man', and they even forgot the command the angel had given them."(Blessed Theophylact, Commentary on St Mark 16:1-8)


 

QUESTION 9

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The angel singled out a single person to tell of the resurrection, apart from the rest of the disciples as a group. Whom? Why?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 9

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When the angel instructed the women, he specifically told them to announce the resurrection to Peter:

"But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you." (Mark 16:7)

Simon Peter was still shaken by the remembrance of his threefold denial of Christ. The church considers this to be an important thing to meditate upon, and addresses Peter's anguish thusly:

O Lord, after Thy resurrection on the third day /
and the worship of the apostles, /
Peter cried out to Thee: /
"The women showed courage, but I was afraid. /
The thief uttered theology, but I denied Thee. /
And dost Thou now call upon me to be Thine apostle still? /
Or wilt Thou show me again to be a fisher of the deep? //
Yet do Thou accept me, who repent, O God, and save me!"
(Second Sessional hymn after the reading of the Psalter, Sunday Matins, Tone 5)

The angel singled him out in order to help him regain confidence that the Lord had accepted his repentance. The Lord Himself also singled out Peter when he restored him fully by means of His three questions after they had dined by the seashore. The Lord is always present and will always forgive, but we frail ones need to be reminded of this fact continually.

Blessed Theophylact explains: "He names Peter separately from the other disciples, as Peter was the foremost of the apostles. Also, because Peter had denied the Lord, the angel singles him out by name so that, when the women came and said that the Lord had commanded them to tell the disciples, Peter could not say, 'I denied the Lord, and therefore I am no longer His disciple. He has rejected me and abhors me' The angel added the words, 'and Peter' so that Peter would not be tempted to think that Jesus found him unworthy of mention, and unworthy to be ranked among the Lord's disciples, because of his denial." (Ibid.)

"After this, the angel told the women to proclaim these joyful tidings to the apostles 'and Peter'. Why 'and Peter'? Surely because Peter was feeling far more confused than the other disciples. His conscience must have been pricking him for his having three times denied the Lord, and for having finally fled from Him. The loyalty of the Apostle John, with whom Peter stood closest to the Lord, must have made Peter's conscience the more tender. John had not fled, but had remained beneath the Cross of his crucified Lord. In brief, Peter must have felt a traitor to his Lord, and must have been very uneasy in the apostles' company, especially that of the most holy Mother of God. Peter's name means "rock", but his faith was not rock-firm. His hesitancy and timidity made him scorned in his own eyes. He needed to be set back on his feet and to have his dignity as a man and as an apostle restored. The Lord, in His love for mankind, did this now, and this is why the angel made special mention of Peter by name." (Blessed Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, "Homilies", Page 235)


 

QUESTION 10

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St Mark reports of the honorable counselor Joseph:

"And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre." (Mark 15:46)

How should we think of this "fine linen", and does it instruct us in any way?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 10

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Clean, white linen has always been a symbol of purity. Just as the two formerly secret disciples of the Lord wrapped the immaculate body of Christ in fine linen, we must wrap ourselves in good works and moral purity that is pleasing to God.

"Joseph wrapped the Lord's body in linen, a clean linen cloth (Matthew 27:59), and laid it in the tomb. If we want the Lord to rise from the dead in us, we must keep Him in our clean, pure body - for clean linen clothes denote a pure body. A body made impure by the passions and vices is not a place in which the Lord will rise from the dead and live." (Blessed Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, "Homilies", Page 231)


 





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