Saint Mary of Magdela is far more than just one of the Myrrhbearing Women the church remembers on the Third Sunday of Pascha; her life is of such great magnitude that it is referred to as the Primacy of Mary. That Mary of Magdala is venerated in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, several Protestant churches, and even in the Baha’i Faith tradition, speaks of her prominence.
Mary of Magdalene was a Jewish woman, from Magdala, a small fishing town on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, who traveled with Christ and was an eyewitness to Christ’s crucifixion (noted in all four gospels), burial (synoptics), and the first to testify and proclaim that Christ was Risen (again, noted in all four gospels). She was the most prominent woman in the early church, and is mentioned on twelve separate occasions in the New Testament Canonical Gospels, more than most of the male apostles. She traveled with Christ and supported his ministry out of her resources (Luke 8:2-3), indicating, perhaps, she was a woman of considerable wealth? She is always referred to as either Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene in order to distinguish her from other Mary’s, which was the most popular name for Jewish women. Unless Magdala/Magdalene accompanies ‘Mary’, then it is assumed it is not her.
Several myths exist in popular culture which cast Mary of Magdala in an unfavorable light. She was a prostitute, a harlot, she suffered from a psychological illness which caused the Lord to “cast out seven demons” from her, it’s been argued. Her story is twisted and it defames her. Saint John Chrysostom said that Mary of Magdala was unfit to be the first witness of the Resurrection, and Pope Gregory of Rome (6th c.) trampled on her grave as well. Western artists, writers, and filmmakers do damage to her reputation. The Orthodox Church meanwhile, does not identify her in any kind of sinful way. Saint Mary of Magdala stands as a model for all women and men, and those who witness to Christ. For her role as ‘disciple’ (“one who follows”) and ‘apostle’, the one who proclaims the Risen Lord to other disciples, the Christian tradition honors Saint Mary of Magdala as the “apostle to the apostles”.
Written on The Third Sunday of Pascha & Mother’s Day, May 12, 2019
- Fr. Marc Vranes