Sunday of the Myrrhbearers

5 May 2020

‘And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb.’[1]

Just before His Passion, the Lord promised the inalienable joy of the Resurrection to His disciples and all those who loved Him, ‘I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.’[2] As He went forth to His incomprehensible Passion, setting His face to derision and extreme humiliation, He promised that the joy of the Resurrection would become imperishable in the souls of all who belong to Him. This joy of the Resurrection enflamed the hearts of the Apostles during the forty days before the Ascension, when the Lord ‘was seen of them’[3], and will be imparted until the end of time to the faithful who follow Him taking up their cross.

The Lord’s word, ‘I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice’, has a paradoxical character. The psychological man, who rejoices at the physical presence of the beloved, would hope to hear: ‘You will see me again and your heart will rejoice.’ Christ puts everything on another basis, saying, ‘I will see you again.’ It is not important whether man sees the Lord or not, but rather that the Lord’s merciful gaze should fall on him. The natural sun, the eye of the visible world, shines unceasingly and quickens creation; whether man sees the light or not, he receives its beneficial effects. Something similar occurs with respect to the hallowed Sun of Righteousness, the Light that knows no eventide, the Almighty Jesus. The wounds of His Passion and His sacrifice become sources of eternal Light. His eyes pour out Light that illumines the entire spiritual world.

Even when the eyes of man’s soul seem unable to see the Sun of Righteousness, the rays of His Light reach out beneficially to him. Through clouded faith or a shadow of hope, the energy of the unfading Light of the Resurrection is still affecting man. The Lord’s gaze is drawn to man, not as an All-seeing God Who contemplates all His creation, but in the same way that He watched attentively over His disciples in their desolation and the myrrhbearers in their grief, with a special and tender regard. The Lord’s words, ‘I will see you again’, bring tidings of something beyond His creative oversight. They herald His luminous and salutary gaze falling upon man, which will enflame his heart and enlighten his mind, begetting inviolable joy. If man’s nature is not strengthened by the Holy Spirit, his physical eyes cannot see the Light of the noetic Sun, that was seen by the three chosen Apostles who fell face down on the earth at Mount Tabor, and by the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, where ‘there shined round about him a light from heaven’, and he went blind for a short time[4].

The gift of Pentecost strengthens man’s nature so that he may converse with the Lord face to Face. Nobody is excluded, God thirsts for each man’s heart. However, He also establishes the means by which man may be vouchsafed His favour, so that He may watch over him as He did the myrrhbearers with the same loving attentiveness. The Lord says to the Prophet Isaiah: ‘to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word’[5]. Thus we must learn from His meek and humble example, trembling with fear, and loving His word so the Lord may direct his tranquil gaze toward us, imparting His peace and joy that no one can take away.

Meekness and humility are virtues of the man who remains unshakable in faith, whether he lives or dies, knowing that he belongs to God and fearing any deviation from His commandments. Following in the footsteps of the One who said, ‘Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls,’[6] he has already overcome death within himself. Thus the Lord regards him attentively day and night and the Light of the Resurrection remains imperishable and increasingly ever new in his heart.

During periods of spiritual intensity and quickening of the flame, such as the period from Easter to Pentecost, the Church bestows the word of the Lord more abundantly upon its members, because when they pore over it and tremble, it trains them not to put to shame the joy of the Resurrection or banish the Comforter’s breath.

The profound mystery of divine life is concealed within every sentence of the Gospel. By God’s providence, the false slip of Thomas reveals to us the mystery of humble faith that cannot be shaken either by life or by death, and today through the Myrrhbearers the Church sets forth the mystery of longing and love.

After the burial of their beloved Teacher, the Myrrhbearers prepared ‘spices and ointments’ but then keeping the customary high day, they ‘rested on the sabbath according to the commandment’[7]. A fire of heedlessness, longing and love burst out in them and gave them the courage to ignore insurmountable obstacles, such as the enormous stone that covered the tomb, the soldiers and the threat of death. ‘Very early in the morning’ they ran to render the honours fitting for the dead to the Lord.

In the Song of Songs, the Name of the Lord is referred to as ‘myrrh poured forth’[8]. The Myrrhbearers desired to anoint with myrrh the One who seals all creation, who sheds his lovingkindness unceasingly upon the world through His creative and providential energy, according to His word: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’[9] When the Word was made flesh, suffered, died and rose again, the divine nature of the Lord Jesus anointed human nature, overflowing to impart grace, power and holiness. Throughout the centuries, the Lord has anointed with this precious ointment all those who belong to Him, those who bear His meek, humble and tranquil ethos and in whom His Spirit, ‘the Spirit of glory’ finds repose[10].

Faith alone is not enough for man to approach the Lord and know Him ‘raised from the dead’, but as the example of the Myrrhbearers shows, love is also required, a love that drives man mad, so he can no longer concern himself with anything transient and corruptible. Surrendered to the current of divine love, ‘he looks upon the world and has no desire for it and sees it not’[11]. He desires only to be well pleasing to the Lord and unite with His Spirit.

After the Resurrection, the first fruits of the gift of Pentecost were bestowed upon man, when the Lord appeared to His disciples, breathed upon their faces and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ At that moment the disciples saw the dawn of the noetic sun, the Light that increases until the shining of the noon-day with the coming of the Comforter.

Through such grace, the Light of the Cross and Resurrection not only remain undiminished in the man’s heart, but even increase as he draws nigh to the beautiful and glorious mystery of Pentecost, when the refreshing flame of the Comforter will enlighten the soul to recognise her Saviour and Bridegroom Christ and carve His form within the heart. Then he will become ‘taught of God’[12], because it will suffice that he looks down to glance at his heart trembling with love, where the figure of the spotless and undefiled Lamb gives him an example and reveals his falsehood. When a mist of alienated thoughts clouds over the form of the Lord and the tumult of life’s cares covers His meek voice, man understands that he has to offer up repentance, so he will not lose the treasure that he has hidden within his chest.

During the period of preparation for Pentecost, man is seized by a thirst unto death for the waters of godliness, for the streams that bring indescribable refreshment according to the Lord’s promise, ‘He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’[13]. These cataracts of cooling and life-giving water express invigoration and joy, and imparting the energy of the Holy Spirit to man’s heart, so even his bones will ‘flourish like an herb’.

 

[1] Ἡσ. 66,14.
[2] John 16:22.
[3] See Acts 1:3.
[4] See Acts 9:1-18.
[5] Isa. 66:2.
[6] Matt. 11:29.
[7] See Luke 23:55.
[8] See Song of Songs 1:3.
[9] John 5:17.
[10] 1 Pet. 4:14.
[11] Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 504.
[12] John 6:45.
[13] John 7:38.
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