Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Single-hearted Service
Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
11 May, 2008
Acts 6:1-7 ; Mark 15:43-16:8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

On this day, we are present with the Myrrh-bearing Women as they come to the tomb. It is important for us to keep in mind that these women are coming, first, not suspecting anything about what they are about to find. In second place, they come prepared to exercise a diaconal service which is related to the very sort of service which we have just heard about in the Acts of the Apostles. Deacons were being ordained by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in order to make visible what is the foundation of the Orthodox Christian way of life. This way of life is serving. Our Saviour Himself, when He was washing the feet of the apostles said, as it were : “You have to do this for each other as well. You have to wash each other’s feet”. In effect, He says (although He did not say it exactly like this) : “This is the product of love, love in Me, life in Me”.

Christian love, which is love that comes only from Christ, and is lived only in Christ, always has to express itself in serving, in caring for other people, in doing for other people. In this parish, one of the reasons that Orthodox hospitality for the Archdiocesan Council has been so fruitful is that this hospitality has truly been an expression of love. Therefore, when these women today were coming to the tomb, they were preparing to do one of these diaconal services. After the death of Christ, out of love, they were coming to the tomb to finish the proper burial of His Body by anointing it with spices, and by doing other preparations. However, when they come to the tomb, they find an empty tomb. They find an angel who says that Christ has risen from the tomb, and that He is going to Galilee. Therefore, Mary, Mary, and Salome (because we know who these women were) are absolutely flabbergasted. By this encounter with an angel, they are, as they say in French, bouleversées which means “bowled over” in English. It is true that they do go back to Jerusalem and to the apostles (although Mary Magdalene lingers there, and we see her soon having an actual encounter with our Saviour). However, they are still overwhelmed, bowled over, flabbergasted, and they do not know what to do. They do not really say very much either ; and I wonder whether we, under those circumstances, would have or could have been any different.

Nevertheless, the testimony of those women who had gone to prepare the body of our Saviour for permanent burial (because He had been hastily buried), led to a sort of service of talking. It is they who are soon bold to speak about their experience. It is important, also, I think, in our participation in this Feast of the Resurrection, and this encounter of the Myrrh-bearing Women with the fact of the Risen Christ, to remember that this can be taken as an expression of a sort of return to the original relationship between men and women. The original relationship between men and women before the Fall was rather more equal than it has been since. Although there are distinctions amongst the so-called ministries in the Church, and although there is an emphasis on the fact that men and women are not exactly the same, the difference is often turned towards making the gifts and work of women into something lesser. However, as the Apostle reminds us, there are to be no distinctions of any sort amongst Christians. Therefore, no gifts and abilities are exactly the same (in other words, human beings are all different, and the many modes of service which our Saviour gives to us all through the Grace of the Holy Spirit are all different). Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that we are equal in the eyes of our Saviour. We have to be equal in the eyes of each other in a manner such as is described by the following (there are some here present today who know about the persons to whom I will refer). There were in my experience (not so many years ago, but enough) two priests, and each was determined to be more humble than the other. They were bowing to each other lower, and lower, and finally they were both on the floor across from each other. They could not get any lower or more humble than that. They were trying to prove their humility to each other, and their lowliness to each other. In this lowest possible posture, they realised that this competition was ridiculous, and they began to laugh, and this event has remained a source of humour.

This is the way of the Christian. Yes, we are equal. Yes, we have our functions and our responsibilities that are Christ-given. Nevertheless, we are all equal because every one of our functions, and every one of our services is in the love of Christ, for the love of Christ, motivated by the love of Christ, and effective in the love of Christ. Our Lord calls each one of us to do different things in life. Not everyone can be a bishop ; not everyone can be a gourmet cook ; not everyone can offer super-excellent hospitality ; not everyone can care for the poor, because we do not all have the same gifts. Yet, our Lord, who is creating each one of us uniquely in His love, is giving us all these gifts, all these works of love and service in love as expressions of His love for us and of His life in us. We can do these things ; we can have the strength to do these things ; we can have the will to do these things because the Lord is in us. He is with us. He is giving us the strength, Himself, to do these things.

According to the way of the world, people usually think of responsibility and ability in terms of ascending degrees of power. In this view, greater responsibility means more power and more elevation and more prestige. People generally think in terms of a pyramid of responsibility. We have on the bottom, all the ordinary people. On the top, we have all the special people with a particular function and responsibility. In fact, the Christian way is the absolute inverse of this.

In the Christian mentality (when I say “mentality”, I am not talking about the head – I am talking about the heart), this pyramid is upside down. In reality, the person with the greatest responsibility has to be at the bottom. If he or she does not understand that, that person is incapable of imitating Christ, Who came to serve, not to be served (see Mark 10:45). He or she is incapable of being effective as a Christian, and is incapable of doing as Christ said. Our Saviour, Himself, said that the greatest are the least, and the last are the first (see Matthew 20:16). We all have to remember this in our lives. It does not matter if we have a huge responsibility in some way or another. It does not matter if we have lots of money. All that we are and have and do has to be undertaken and lived in the context of, and following the example of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who “'did not come to be served, but to serve'” (Mark 10:45). These women today are living out what His example is, and how He said that we are supposed to go about life. These women are our examples. Saint Joseph of Arimathea is also our example, because he is the one who boldly goes to Pilate to claim the Body of Christ. It is not a small thing to go to the Roman authorities, and claim the body of someone who is crucified. Under those circumstances, a person could easily find oneself up on a cross. It did not take much in those days to be accused of being a traitor and being quickly condemned as a traitor to the Roman Empire.

All these persons (and the apostles also, who finally came to understand, through the testimony of these women, and with their own eye-witness experience, that Jesus Christ had, in fact, risen from the dead) — they all, ultimately, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, exercised this service of love and care. We see them, like our Saviour, going everywhere, and bringing our Saviour’s healing love to people. It is not long ago in our reading the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 3:1-8), that we saw Peter and John in the Temple, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ, healing the man who had been unable to walk for all the years since his birth. He was sitting, as usual, outside the Temple. At the invocation of the Name of Christ by the Apostle Peter, he jumped up. As a result of this, and precisely because he could now walk, he was able to begin to make his own living, instead of begging. The healing had many facets. This is just one of the multitude (even beyond a writeable number) of things that the apostles did in the Name of Jesus Christ. In fact, this even is “just a drop in the bucket” compared to all the things that our Saviour has continued to be doing amongst us since those specifically apostolic times. In our own parish, we have people who have been being healed by our Saviour’s love through the prayers of each other. We have a man in the hospital right now, who is doing some unexpected things through the prayers of the faithful. Our Saviour is with us.

Knowing that our Lord is with us, as He said He would be, and experiencing His life-giving and healing love, let us keep our confidence in Him. Let us ask Him to give us the strength to serve Him single-heartedly with love, and to glorify Him all the days of our life, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.