(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Mary Magdelene, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Mary Magdalene
The doctrine of equal rights for women is not a twentieth-century concept, but had its beginning with Jesus of Nazareth, who accepted Mary Magdalene into his confidence and recognized her as being on equal footing with the apostles. Such was the status of Mary Magdalene, who was privileged to walk beside our Savior, that she was bestowed with the title of Isapostolos, “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” a title of which few are aware. This ignorance of the true Mary Magdalene resulted from conflicting and misleading facts about her life, which diminished the true greatness of a woman who was favored by God to the extent that she had the confi dence and companionship of Jesus Christ himself.
The popular misconception that Mary Magdalene was a fallen woman stemmed from accounts of Western Christendom. It was assumed that since Mary came from Magdala, a city as notorious as Sodom and Gomorrah, she was of ill repute and was later cleansed of her many sins by the Lord.
But on the contrary, the Evangelist Luke depicted her as the stricken woman whom Jesus healed by removing seven demons from within her. Be that as it may, it is universally known that following her confrontation with the Lord she rose to become His close friend and devoted follower.
What woman, fallen or not, would not have traded places with Mary Magdalene to be near Him who died to save the world, to be the woman who agonized at His trial, wept at His crucifixion, and glorified in His resurrection? What greater honor than to be at the tomb of Christ and to speak to Him (John 20:1-18)? What Christian woman would not wish herself to be a Mary Magdalene to know the excitement of accompanying St. John the Theologian after the Ascension of Christ?
The biblical account of Mary Magdalene, as with any passage from Scripture, must be read more than once, for in it will be found inspiration for Christian women who can identify with Mary. Aside from the apostles themselves, none of our saints shared the privilege of Mary’s joy in being in Jesus’ company. Other saints who were born at a later time did share an intimacy with the Lord while they were on earth, but Mary was alive when Jesus walked the earth.
How long Mary Magdalene lived after the death of Christ is not known, but what is certain is that she died in Ephesus, where she had gone with St. John the Theologian. She was buried at the entrance to a cave where Christians had sought refuge.
In the year 890, through painstaking research under the direction of Emperor Leo, the remains of Mary Magdalene were located, removed from the entrance of the cave and were transferred to the capital city of Constantinople. Her remains were buried in a chapel where the remains of Lazarus are also said to be buried.
There is nothing to indicate that St. Mary Magdalene, prior to her encounter with Jesus Christ, was a woman of questionable virtue. The disparate views of the stricken woman about to be stoned cannot be supported by documented evidence but indications are that at the very worst she was a woman possessed. In that case, the fault not lying with her, it was only divine intervention that could have saved her and that intervention came about when the Lord strode into the crowd about her and, in cleansing her, indirectly cleansed those privileged to look upon a miraculous power of God through Jesus Christ. It follows, therefore, that St. Mary Magdalene, having felt that spark of the divine within her, could very well thereafter have expressed it to others in token of everlasting gratitude as well as a solemn desire to share this proximity to the divine with others. So long as the forces of darkness lurk to seek the destruction of the divine image in mankind, there is the safety net woven by St. Mary Magdalene and many more like her.
Accorded the honor of being one of the “myrrh-bearing women” of the New Testament, Mary Magdalene was further honored with the grand title of Isapostolos, a solemn tribute to a woman who brought glory to all women of faith.
Her memory is commemorated each year by the Orothodox Church on July 22.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.