St Mary Magdalene
For all the Saints: Mary Magdalene
Mary of Magdala, a town on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, has been the stuff of legend since New Testament times. The recent swirl of interest in her is but the latest in a repeating cycle across history. In the Orthodox Church she is called “equal to the apostles” and is among the Myrrh-bearing women celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter, for which the kondak (hymn) says, “In victory you rose, Christ God, proclaiming, ‘Rejoice!’ to the Myrrh-bearing women.” All Christians commemorate her each year on July 22.
The idea that Mary was a prostitute is late, unaccepted in most of the church, and stems from Pope Gregory I (590-304) who identified her this way in a sermon preached in 591. In the gospels she is a “woman of substance,” which means she had independent means of support, unusual for women in that age, which may have led to speculation about how her “substance” was gotten.
Mary was one of the women who accompanied Christ on his journeys. She was present at both the crucifixion and the resurrection. In John’s Gospel she was first to encounter the risen Christ (John 20) whom she calls rabboni, “my teacher,” and she witnessed to the apostles of this news. Mary is also included among the women who gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension of Christ (Acts 2:1-11).
The Orthodox Church holds the tradition that Mary and the Blessed Virgin Mary both retired to Ephesus and died there. Her relics were translated to Constantinople in 886.
Tradition holds that Mary Magdalene gained an audience with Tiberius Caesar at which she proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, holding an egg in her hand. In ridicule Caesar said that the resurrection was as likely to happen as the egg in her hand turning red, at which words it did! Thus we continue to dye eggs red for Easter.
Despite the popularity of the view propounded by books likeThe Da Vinci Code, there is no historical warrant to believe that Mary and Jesus were married.
The cult of Mary Magdalene spread all over southern France, due to a tradition that she went there before Ephesus. Colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities are named for her. The Oxford College is pronounced “maudlin,” whence came the word meaning “foolishly sad” as a caricature of true penitence. As a faithful witness to her Lord she is truly “equal to the apostles.”
Published 22 Jul 06