On August 4, we commemorate Mary Magdalene, the Holy Myrrh-bearer Equal of the Apostles, in the Belarussian Orthodox Church. There is so much one can learn from the life of this strong, devoted and brave woman.
We, unfortunately, do not have much information about Mary Magdalene’s life. There are many wrong ideas and misconceptions out there, but here are some facts that the Bible tells us:
Mary was born in the town of Magdala (now a small village called Mejdel). This is why we call her Magdalene, so that we can identify her from other Biblical figures who bear the same name.
We know that her parents were Syros and Efharistia, both devoted Jews. They raised their daughter as a pious, God-loving young girl. This foundation helped her to become the brave Myrrh-bearer we know.
At one point in her life, she met Jesus Christ, who miraculously delivered her from seven demons:
“...and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (Luke 8:2-3)
We can’t know for sure, but it is most likely that the demons cast away from her were the seven demonic energies, seven big passions she suffered from.
After being cured by Jesus, Mary changed her life completely. She became one of the most faithful disciples of the Lord, recognizing Him as the true Messiah. From what we know, she never separated from Jesus after her healing until His death on the cross.
She was present at the Lord’s crucifixion, witnessing His terrible death:
“And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.” (Matthew 27:55-56)
“And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:61)
The disciples departed, as everyone felt conflicted and scared. But the two Marys, one of whom was Mary Magdalene, stayed by His side, not wanting to leave their Lord even after His death.
Mary Magdalene is the Apostle of the Apostles. She was the first one to see the risen Christ and the one to deliver the joyous news to the Apostles:
“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.” (Mark 16:9-10)
“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her." (John 20:18)
According to the Tradition, Mary Magdalene then stayed with the Mother of God in Jerusalem. After the Theotokos fell asleep in the Lord, Mary Magdalene assisted Apostle John in his travels and preaching. She reposed in peace and was buried in the city of Ephesus.
Mary Magdalene is an example of extraordinary devotion to Christ. From her, we can learn what it really means to truly love God and follow Him no matter what.
Her love for God was stronger than the fear of being arrested as one of His disciples. Her love for Christ was stronger than the grief and the fear of the unknown after His death. She must have been exceedingly brave. Yes, Jesus told His disciples that He will rise from the dead, but think how hard it was to imagine that and believe, especially after seeing the Lord’s lifeless body on the cross, in the tomb. Mary stayed and believed, until the very end and beyond, her whole life.
She was also incredibly faithful. She stayed with Jesus, not only during the days of His glory, but also during the moments of His suffering and humiliation. She was one of the few people who never left Him. Her extraordinary devotion made her worthy of seeing the Resurrected Christ first, before anybody else in the world.
She demonstrated the ability to love which not many people have. Love is not just affection for someone, it is much more.
“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus is such a perfect example of this.
Mary Magdalene was truly the vessel of the Holy Spirit, possessing His gifts and fruits: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
In the Belarussian Orthodox Church, the Feast of Mary Magdalene is celebrated on August 4. It is also the Name Day of many women around the world who were named after the Myrrh-bearer.
Usually, the celebration starts on the eve of the feast. During the All-Night Vigil service the choir and the faithful start singing special hymns:
“In keeping His commandments and laws, O holy Mary Magdalene,
You followed Christ, who for our sake was born of a virgin,
And in celebrating your most holy memory today,
We receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers!”
(Troparion of Mary Magdalene)
On August 4th we serve a festive Divine Liturgy, during which we continue singing hymns:
“Standing before the Cross of the Savior,
Suffering with the Mother of the Lord,
The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears.
She cried out: What is this strange wonder?
He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer:
Glory, O Lord to Your power!”
(Kontakion of Mary Magdalene)
Many years have passed since Belarus was freed from fascism. But we hold close the memory of those who did not live to see the Victory. In our fast-paced world everything changes, but the truth. It is therefore important that the memory remains.