Monday, May 5, 2014

Myrrh Is Fitting For the Dead

 "Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself not subject to corruption..."
--Troparion of the Myrrh-Bearers

Christ is risen!  He is risen from the dead, He is risen from the tomb!  The rock which once held His Body is now rolled away, and He walks once more among the living, eating with them, speaking with them, proclaiming the Gospel to them.  To so many does He appear: to Peter and John and the rest of the Eleven, to the 500 disciples, to the men on the road to Emmaus...yet He first appears to the myrrh-bearers.  They who were at His side for His burial He honors with the first revelation of His Resurrection.

It is these first witnesses, the myrrh-bearing women, whom we celebrate this week, and in doing so, we frequently bring to mind once again the burial of Christ.  Thus on Sunday the troparion of procession on Holy Friday is repeated: "The noble Joseph took down Your Most Pure Body...," but the hymn does not end as it did then.  He is no more in a tomb, but instead we declare: "You, O Lord, arose on the third day, bestowing great mercy upon the world."  Myrrh is fitting for the deed, indeed: it is an anointing unto burial.  So the myrrhbearers had anointed Jesus' Body on Holy Friday, and they bore the same fragrant ointment to the tomb on Pascha, but they would have no use for it this day.  For "Christ has shown Himself not subject to corruption," and so we cry out with all of the earth, "The Lord is risen!"  We recall in a flash that time of waiting, when the myrrhbearers went about their Shabbat services with heavy heart, for the Author of Life was in the tomb: yet He was not to remain there, but He burst forth as from a bridal chamber.

In yesterday's reading, the myrrhbearers hear the message of the Resurrection proclaimed by the angel.  This message of infinite joy "stilled the weeping of Eve," and so it stilled the weeping of the myrrhbearers.  Yet they were still afraid and trembling, not fully comprehending the magnificence of this glorious proclamation.  And so we leave them in yesterday's reading, but we know that the Gospel continues to relate how Christ Himself appeared to these dutiful women, the embalmers of the Lord.  Thus Mary Magdalene, who is among them, is named the Apostle to the Apostles, for to her Christ appeared, and He sent her forth to preach the Resurrection to the ones in the Upper Room.

So we follow the myrrhbearers from the tomb on Friday to the tomb on Sunday: the tomb is the same, but the contents have altered.  Myrrh is fitting for the dead, and so they brought it both days; but since Christ has shown Himself not subject to corruption, they had no need to use the ointments on Sunday.  The implements of gloom and death are no longer of use, for Christ arose as a victor over death itself, the final enemy, and our life is now filled with His glorious light.  Let us then declare, as the myrrhbearers did in their hearts at the news: Χριστός νικά!  Χριστός ἀνέστη!  Christ conquers!  Christ is risen!

Masked in sorrow, the myrrh for death
To Christ's tomb brought the caretakers.
Tears aflooding tragic visage
Did each one bear with earnest heart.
"Alas, our Lord long-suffering
Is cold resting encased in earth."

Yet, lo!  The Light does lash strong out
from awesome tomb and angel's face!
"Behold! bearers of burial spice
The Body's broken from bonds this morn!
For men, for dead, myrrh fitting is,
Christ Conqueror, cares not for it!"

Fearful females frantic sprinted,
Buoyed hearts and bright, pure faces,
From spot now great, spices leaving,
Bearing in not-broken hearts,
As in vessels array'd for joy
The Lord's strong Light of Life once more!

Nota Bene: All liturgical quotations are from the translations of the hymns for the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers found at the Metropolitan Cantor InstituteThe troparia "The noble Joseph..." and "The angel standing by the tomb...," without their Paschal endings, are also used during the procession on Great and Holy Friday.

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