All-Conquering Love

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalane, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome,
had brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.

The devotion of St. Mary Magdalene and the other Holy Myrrhbearers, who came to anoint the body of Jesus Christ, is clear and heartfelt by those who themselves lived through the times of church persecutions in the Soviet Union. Those were dangerous times. It took great courage just to go to church then. One had to pick one's way to the still "working" churches, sometimes at night, through the back streets. One was never sure if the priest there where still serving, or if they already had been arrested. Much danger lay in wait on one's road to church: neighbors might report you to the "appropriate authorities," you might be stopped and questioned, you might lose your job, etc. People were afraid to openly wear a cross on their chest or to have icons at home.

The Holy Myrrhbearing Women were in a similar situation. You will recall that even Peter, the most determined and courageous of Apostles, had renounced Christ only two days earlier, out of fear that a servant girl would report him. The other disciples of Christ, fearful of being arrested scattered abroad. When they met again to discuss what to do next, on the third day after Christ's crucifixion, they did it secretly "for fear of the Jews."

If the One Who had shown so many great miracles and was so revered by the people was laughed at, defiled, condemned, and executed in the most shameful way; what were His disciples to expect, finding themselves outlawed and without any protection.

It was only a matter of time until they would be arrested as well. Having this in mind, it was only sensible for the Myrrhbearing Women not "to kick against the goads," it was all over. Their best hopes were gone along with their Teacher into the sepulcher. Evil was triumphant. It was prudent to hide somewhere, to lie low.

Still, some mysterious force was drawing the Myrrhbearers to their Teacher, buried not far from the place of execution. They felt the need to pay their last respects and to finish the burial rite. Actually, Joseph and Nicodemus had already done the rite of burial, even if only a minimal one: they had washed the body of Christ, anointed it with spices and wrapped it in clean linen. Of course they had no time to do everything required, but they did what they could, considering the circumstances. The Myrrhbearing Women knew that the entrance to the tomb was blocked by a large stone, sealed by the high priest's seal and under the protection of the Roman guards. Why then, contrary to common sense, did they risk being insulted by soldiers known for their rudeness or, even worse, risk being arrested and interrogated by the Jewish leaders? It was all over.

But the dedicated women had nevertheless decided to go and complete the burial rite. What motivated them? Undoubtedly, boundless love toward the Teacher! Even though He had died, the heavenly ideas and feelings that He granted them were the most inspiring of all that they had experienced in their lives. The Lamp seemed to be extinguished, but its light had settled in the depth of their hearts and continued to enlighten and to warm them. They had received from Him the strength that nothing could either stop or dishearten.

And what happened? When they came unto the sepulcher, they found the guards scattered, and the heavy stone rolled back.

Not only this, but as a reward for their courage, they were the very first to hear the wonderful news that to this day makes our hearts rejoice: "Christ is Risen!" "Be not affrighted" - said an angel, appearing as a young man clothed in a bright garment: "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen! He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him." And as another reward for their great love the Myrrhbearing Women were appointed to be the first heralds of Christ's victory over Hades and death!

If we now apply this Gospel passage to ourselves, we will have to admit that, like the rest of Christ's disciples, we are also troubled and possessed by all sorts of fears and doubts that prevent us from truly loving our Savior. Even though we are in no danger of persecution, we are afraid of so many things; for example, afraid of losing or not being able to attain material welfare and desired prosperity, afraid of the uncertainties of the future, of being denied retirement benefits or medical insurance. We are afraid of overburdening ourselves by an extra visit to the church or prolonging our prayer, or of weakening if we fast too much. We are afraid that we will become impoverished if we donate money to the church or to those in need, afraid to be seen as hypocrites or sanctimonious if we become too zealous in leading a Christian life, afraid to be perceived as fools if we become too kind and too forgiving. We are afraid to deny ourselves the pleasures and joys of the world.

These and many other less obvious fears and worries create a dichotomy in our Christian attitude and cool our love for our Savior. Theoretically we wouldn't mind being better Christians, but in practice we won't make the sacrifices to become such.

The Holy Apostle John wrote: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear. Fear brings torment, and he that feareth is not made perfect in love."

Therefore we should make every effort to drive away our various fears by reflecting more often on the great love and mercy of our Savior, by reminding ourselves of how much He suffered for us, how He constantly cares for us and protects us from different evils. The more we become aware of His love toward us, the stronger our love toward Him will grow and the stronger we will become.

The Holy Myrrhbearers will forever be for us an inspiring example of the all-conquering love.

My beloved, Christ is Risen!

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