Today, July 22nd, marks the Feast day of probably the most misrepresented and misunderstood of biblical figures, Mary Magdalene. Orthodox Christians know her as Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, Equal to the Apostles and Holy Myrrhbearer of our Lord. The world ‘knows’ her as the sinful woman, a prostitute, and God forgive us, the wife of Jesus and the mother of his children, a feminist heroine, even a New Age semi-divine goddess.
It makes me cringe to have to type such blasphemous words – which did not have the same effect on Dan Brown when he put The Da Vinci Code to paper. Awful writer that he was, he can’t take credit for originality. It took a heretical Greek at the turn of the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis, to begin the modern literary ‘tradition’ of Mary Madgalene as girlfriend; others elaborated this into wife and grieving widow, in such classics of poor scholarship and outlandish fiction as The Jesus Scroll, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess.
It is likely that sixth century Pope Gregory the Dialogist began the confusion of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman described in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 7); however, this has never been the interpretation of the Orthodox Church. Below is the life of Saint Mary Magdalene in a manner that is more fitting for the honor and veneration she is due.
Biography of Saint Mary Magdalene
Little is known of the early life of Mary other than the place of her birth which was in the area of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberius, in a small city called Magdala (from which her name “Magdalene” comes from). The small village of Mejhdel stands on the site today. In the Bible we read that she was afflicted with an incurable possession by seven devils (Luke 8:2). This was allowed by God’s Providence so that in curing her the Lord Jesus Christ could show the power and glory of God the Father. In gratitude she dedicated her whole life to her Saviour Jesus Christ and became one of his most devoted disciples.
Particularly remarkable was the determination and unusual courage which Mary Magdalene showed toward her Saviour. At the time of His greatest suffering, while He hung on the Cross and when even His apostles had abandoned Him, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Lord’s beloved disciple, John. They mourned andwept, but even in their weeping they comforted the Saviour with their undying love and the knowledge that He had not been utterly forsaken. That night, Mary Magdalene came with Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemos and took the Body of the Lord down from the Cross and laid it in a new tomb. Together with the other women disciples, she returned home to prepare myrrh and other ointments with which to anoint the precious Body of Christ, according to the Jewish custom. Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre carrying the myrrh. It is for this reason the Church calls her “Myrrh-bearer”. Coming close she saw that the large stone placed at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away. She thought perhaps someone had already come and taken the Body to another place. Hurrying back to Jerusalem she told the apostles Peter and John: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, ‘andwe know not where they have laid Him.” Together with them she went again to the tomb and stood there weeping. When they had left she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre. There she saw two angels who asked why she was crying. She told them and then,turning around, she saw Jesus, but in her grief she did not recognize Him, thinking He was the gardener. It was only then He said her name: “Mary!” that she recognized Him as her beloved Lord. Not believing her own ears, she cried out with joy, “Master! Then following His instructions, she ran quickly to announce the good news to the disciples: “Christ is risen!” (Because she was the first, sent by the Lord Himself, to proclaim the Resurrection, the Church also calls her “Equal-to-the–Apostles”.
Even after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, Mary Magdalen continued to preach the good news of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, not only in Jerusalem, but in other countries. Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection.
During a dinner with the emperor Tiberius, Mary Magdalene was speaking about Christ’s Resurrection. Tiberius scoffed at her, saying that a man could rise from the dead no more than the egg in her hand could turn red. Immediately, the egg turned red. Because of this, icons of Mary Magdalene sometimes depict her holding a red egg, and have given rise to the tradition of exchanging red paschal eggs.
Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. It is likely the Apostle Paul has her in mindin his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has bestowed much labor on us.” She served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, andsharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching. 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, the elderly St Mary Magdalene moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John unceasingly labored. There the saint finished her earthly life andwas 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.
(source OrthodoxWiki, and websites of the Orthodox Church in America website and ROCA)