Honoring the Ancient Myrrhbearers

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Robert Anning Bell, The Women Going to the Sepulchre

Christians have traditionally had a deep abiding respect for the ancient myrrhbearers, who have been honored liturgically by many Christian denominations.  Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians celebrate the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers on the second Sunday after Pascha (Easter).  At that point in the liturgical cycle, the radiance and rejoicing that began on Pascha (and which will continue through the Ascension on the fortieth day after Pascha, and then Pentecost on the fiftieth day, signaling the “leave-taking” of the Paschal season) will still be very much in evidence. On this happy occasion, as on other Church feast days, a hymn evocative of the reason for the feast is sung.  There are many websites with audio or audio/video recordings of these beautiful hymns; do search some out or check the Modern Myrrhbearers music page.

During the services celebrating Pascha (Easter), Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians sing the following hymns at various times during the service. These are ancient hymns, bearing witness that from the earliest days of the Christian church the myrrh bearing women were recognized, though not named, for their special role in salvation history:

Hypakoe:

Forestalling the dawn, the women came with Mary, and found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and heard from the angel: Why seek ye among the dead, as though He were mortal, Him Who liveth in everlasting light? Behold the grave-clothes. Go quickly and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen and hath slain death. For He is the Son of God Who saveth mankind.

Kontakion:

When Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal One, Thou didst destroy the power of hell. And didst rise again as conqueror, O Christ God, saying to the myrrh-bearing women “Rejoice!”; granting peace to Thine apostles, and bestowing on the fallen, resurrection.

Ikos: 

The myrrh-bearing women forestalled the dawn, seeking, as it were day, the Sun that was before the sun and Who had once set in the tomb, and they cried out one to another: O friends! come, let us anoint with spices the life-bringing and buried Body, the Flesh that raised up fallen Adam, that now lieth in the tomb. Let us go, let us hasten, like the Magi, and let us worship and offer myrrh as a gift to Him Who is wrapped now not in swaddling clothes but in a shroud. And let us weep and cry aloud: O Master, arise, Thou Who dost grant to the fallen, resurrection.

Stichera:

Stichos: Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered.

A Pascha sacred today hath been shown unto us; a new and holy Pascha, a mystical Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha! A Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer; a spotless Pascha, a great Pascha; a Pascha of the faithful; a Pascha that hath opened the gates of Paradise to us; a Pascha that doth sanctify all the faithful.

Stichos: As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish.

Come from the vision, O ye women, bearers of good tidings, and say ye unto Zion: Receive from us the glad tidings of the Resurrection of Christ; adorn thyself, exult, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King, like a bridegroom come forth from the tomb.

Stichos: So let sinners perish at the presence of God, and let the righteous be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women in the deep dawn stood before the tomb of the Giver of life; they found an angel sitting upon the stone, and he spoke to them and said: Why seek ye the Living among the dead? Why mourn ye the Incorruptible amid corruption? Go, proclaim unto His disciples.

Stichos: This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad therein.

Pascha the beautiful, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, the Pascha all-venerable hath dawned upon us. Pascha, with joy let us embrace one another. O Pascha! Ransom from sorrow, for from the tomb today, as from a bridal chamber, hath Christ shone forth, and hath filled the women with joy, saying: Proclaim unto the apostles.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Orthodox and Eastern Catholic parishioners would hear these hymns during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers:

Apolytikia

When You did descend unto death, O Life Immortal, then did You slay Hades with the lightening of Your Divinity. And when You did also raise the dead out of the nethermost depths, all the power in the Heavens cried out: O Life-giver, Christ our God, glory be to You. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. The noble Joseph, taking Your immaculate body down from the Tree, and having wrapped it in pure linen and spices, laid it for burial in a new tomb. But on the third day You did arise, O Lord, granting great mercy to the world. Now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Unto the myrrh-bearing women did the Angel cry out as he stood by the grave: Myrrh-oils are meet for the dead, but Christ has proved to be a stranger to corruption. But cry out: The Lord is risen, granting great mercy to the world.

Kontakion

When You did cry, Rejoice, unto the Myrrh-bearers, You did make the lamentation of Eve the first mother to cease by Your Resurrection, O Christ God. And You did bid Your Apostles to preach: The Savior is risen from the grave.

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Detail of Mironosnice na Hristovom grobu (Myrrhbearers on Christ’s Grave), Mileseva monastery, Prijepolje, Serbia c. 1235, known popularly as “The White Angel.”

Although the Theotokos (the God Bearer, the Mother of God) is not usually included among the enumerated myrrhbearing women (?), we do well to always remember that the Mother of God held a revered and honored – but exalted – place among them throughout Jesus’ ministry, passion and resurrection.  Eastern Christians sing a beautiful hymn throughout the Pascal season to remind them that the Theotokos, so familiar with the Divine, received the healing news of the Resurrection through the voice of an angel (Church Tradition teaching that Jesus’s love and concern for his mother could only mean that she was the first to learn of His Resurrection):

The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace, rejoice, rejoice pure Virgin.  Again I say rejoice, your Son has risen from His three days in the tomb.  With himself he has raised all the dead, rejoice, rejoice ye people!

Shine, shine, shine oh New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone on you! Exult now, exult, and be glad oh Zion. Be radiant, oh pure Theotokos in the resurrection of your Son!

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