Christ is risen!
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In light of the joy of the resurrection and in preparation for the celebration of the Myrrhbearing women this coming Sunday, I thought we could focus on a beautiful homily given by St. Gregory Palamas on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing women. In this homily, St. Gregory addresses the question of who was the first person to behold the resurrected Lord. He explains that upon a first reading of the Scripture, it seems that St. Mary Magdalene was the first. However, St. Gregory explains why, in fact, it was the Most Holy Theotokos. Laying aside the question of who actually was first, St. Gregory leaves us with an important point of reflection during this most blessed Paschal season, so let’s see what he says.
First, St. Gregory states there is “a certain shadow covering this matter on the part of the Evangelists ….” He further notes that the Theotokos is not explicitly mentioned in the Scripture because the Evangelists “do not want to present the mother’s witness so as not to give the nonbelievers a reason to be suspicious.”
St. Gregory explains, however, that, of all the Myrrhbearers, only the Virgin “saw the joyous countenance of the angel and heard his joyful message” and understood clearly. The other women, St. Gregory explains, were frightened and perceived very little of what was taking place: “But I think that the Mother of God made this great joy her own, since she comprehended the words of the angel. Her whole person radiated from the light in that she was all pure and full of divine grace,” referring not to created light but the uncreated light.
On one of the visits to the tomb, St. Gregory explains the Theotokos “saw and recognized the risen one before all the other women. And falling down, she touched his feet and became his apostle to his apostles.” Thus, according to St. Gregory, this “other Mary” that accompanies St. Mary Magdalene to the tomb is the Theotokos, and she is the one to whom we sing to on Holy Pascha the hymn written by St. John of Damascus, “The Angel Cried.” For as St. Gregory writes, “He was, after all, that same angel of the Annunciation, Gabriel….” The hymn proclaims, “… rejoice, rejoice O Pure Virgin, again I say rejoice your Son is risen from His three days in the Tomb.” Here, in the hymn, we encounter not only the first annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel of “Rejoice” celebrated at the Feast of the Annunciation, but also the second annunciation to the Theotokos concerning the resurrection of the Lord.
For St. Gregory, it was only the Theotokos, the Panaghia, “the All Holy,” that was able to completely attain that vision of the risen Christ. She, who having attained the heights of purity, was able to understand and spiritually see the truth of the Resurrection. She was the first to see and touch the risen Lord not only because she was His mother, but even more, because of her lofty spiritual state, for the Theotokos is more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.
So, what might we gain from this teaching that the Theotokos was the first witness to the Resurrection? How does this insight assist us as we enter the Paschal season?
Perhaps we are reminded not to descend after Pascha to our former way of living prior to the Great Fast. So often, after Pascha, we take refuge in the comforts of earthly food and worldly relaxation and neglect the spiritual nourishment given to us by God which is attained through our liturgical and ascetic life of worship, prayer, moderation in food, works of mercy, and spiritual reading.
During Great Lent, we sought to attain a purity that would allow us to more perfectly see spiritually the resurrection of our Lord, seeking the same purity attained to by the Mother of God. This is the vision of Christ that we sought to gain during Great Lent, and this is the vision that we seek to not only maintain, but also continue to cultivate throughout the rest of the year following Pascha. Our goal as we enter the Paschal season should be to build on our progress attained through Great Lent, not return to our former condition before the Great Fast. Our goal is to nurture and increase the grace received at Pascha in the coming year so that we may more fully enter into the joy of the risen Lord with each new day.
I invite you to read St. Gregory’s homily here.
If you would like to watch a short video we call Scribbles at Living Orthodox explaining the meaning of the Icon of the Resurrection, click here.
Christ is Risen!
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