The Holy Myrrh-Bearer Equal-unto-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene. On the banks of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was situated the small city of Magdala, the remains of which have survived to our day. Now at this place stands only the small village of Mejhdel.
In Magdala sometime formerly the woman was born and grew up, whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account. The Gospel tells us nothing about the youthful years of Mary, but tradition informs us, that Mary from Magdala was young and pretty, and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels, that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary. From the moment of healing Mary led a new life. She became a true disciple of the Saviour.
The Gospel relates that Mary followed after the Lord when He went with the Apostles through the cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Together with the pious women – Joanna, wife of Khuza (steward of Herod), Susanna, and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Lk 8:1-3) and undoubtedly shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks, in common with the other women. The Evangelist Luke, evidently, has her in view together with the other women, stating that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, when after the Scourging He took on Himself the heavy Cross, collapsing under its weight, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing, but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on Golgotha at the moment of the Lord’s Crucifixion. While all the disciples of the Saviour ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.
The evangelists enumerate among those standing at the Cross moreover also the mother of the Apostle James the Less, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee itself, but all mention first Mary Magdalene; but the Apostle John aside the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from amidst all the women gathered round the Lord.
She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His Extreme Humiliation and Insult. As the Evangelist Matthew relates, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nicodemus went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body; before her eyes they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, behind which went the Sun of Life.
Faithful to the Law in which she was trained, Mary together with the other women stayed all the following day at rest, because it was the great day of the Sabbath, coinciding in that year with the Feast of Passover. But all the rest of the peaceful day the women succeeded in storing up aromatics, to go at dawn Sunday to the Grave of the Lord and Teacher and according to the custom of the Jews to anoint His Body with funereal aromatics.
It is necessary to suggest that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women, having gone separately on Friday evening to their own homes, did not have the possibility to meet together with one another on Saturday, and how only at the break of dawn the following day did they go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from their own house.
The Evangelist Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as the Evangelist Mark expresses, extremely early before the rising of the sun; the Evangelist John, as it were elaborating upon these, says that Mary came to the grave so early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of night, but it was not daybreak when round about darkness still ruled – she ran there where lay the Body of the Lord.
Now then, Mary went to the Tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she rushed away in fear thither where dwelt the close Apostles of Christ – Peter and John. Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and winding cloths, they were amazed. The Apostles went and told no one nothing, but Mary stood about the entrance to the gloomy tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb still so recently lay her lifeless Lord. Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it – and here a strange light suddenly prevailed upon her. She saw two angels in white garments, the one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. She heard the question: “Woman, why weepest thou?” She answered them with the words which she had said to the Apostles: “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know, where they have put Him.” Having said this, she turned around, and at this moment saw the Risen Jesus standing about the grave, but she did not recognise Him.
He asked Mary: “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom dost thou seek?” She answered thinking that she was seeing the gardener: “Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where thou hast put Him, and I will reclaim Him.”
But at this moment she recognised the Lord’s voice, a voice which was known from the day He healed her. This was the voice in those days and years, when together with the other pious women she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where His preaching was heard. She gave a joyful shout “Rabbi” that means Teacher.
Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendour as great Teacher – all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Teacher, to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: “Touch me not, for I am still not ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them: ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father and to My God and to your God.'”
She came to herself and again ran to the Apostles, so as to do the will of Him sending her to preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles stayed still in dismay, and announced to them the joyous message “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.
The Apostles were obliged to proclaim the Glad Tidings to the world, but she proclaimed it to the Apostles themselves…
Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt, that if in the terrifying minutes of Christ’s Crucifixion she was the foot of His Cross with His All-Pure Mother and John, undoubtedly, she stayed with them during all the happier time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke writes: that all the Apostles with one mind stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.
Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem for preaching to all the ends of the earth, then together with them also went Mary Magdalene to preach. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and set off to preach in pagan Rome. And everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His Teaching, and when many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” With this preaching she made the rounds of all Italy.
Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited the Emperor Tiberias (14-37 AD) and proclaimed to him about Christ’s Resurrection. According to tradition, she took him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: “Christ is Risen!” Then she told the emperor about this, that in his Province of Judea was the innocently condemned Jesus the Galilean, an holy man, a maker or miracles, powerful before God and all mankind, executed on the instigation of the Jewish High-Priests and the sentence affirmed by the procurator named by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.
Mary repeated the words of the Apostles, that believing in the Redemption of Christ from the vanity of life is not as with perishable silver or gold, but rather the precious Blood of Christ is like a spotless and pure Lamb.
Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Luminous Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. On one ancient hand-written Greek ustav, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of Saint Athanasius near Thessalonika (Solunea), is an established prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese, in which it is indicated, that the Hegumen (Abbot) in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: “Thus have we received from the holy fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy apostles, wherefore the holy equal-unto-the-apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”
Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul has precisely her in view in his Epistle to the Romans (16:6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has done much for us.” Evidently, she extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labours of preaching.
According to Church tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years still, following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome Saint Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where unceasingly laboured the holy Apostle John, who with her wrote the first 20 Chapters of his Gospel. There the saint finished her earthly life and was buried.
Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to the capital of the Byzantine Empire – Constantinople – and placed in the monastery Church of Saint 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 located in France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain is erected in her honour a splendid church.