Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene 2020

To Him that in the excess of His compassion did willingly live in my poverty, even Christ our God, o Mary Magdalene, thou didst faithfully minister as a disciple, and having beheld Him stretched out upon the Tree, and enclosed within the tomb, thou didst cry out while shedding many tears, “What strange sight is this? How is He that giveth life to the dead reckoned among the dead? What perfumes shall I bring to Him who removed from me the foul smell of the demons? What tears shall I shed for Him who wiped away the tears of my foremother?” (i.e. of Eve.) But the Lord of all appeared like the guardian of Paradise, and with the dew of His words took away the burning heat, saying to her, “Go to My brethren, and cry out to them the good tidings of joy! I shall ascend to my Father and yours, and my God and yours, that I may bestow upon the world great mercy!” (A hymn for Vespers of St Mary Magdalene in the Byzantine Rite.)

A 16th-century Cretan icon of the meeting of the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene at the tomb. (Public domain image from Wikmedia Commons.)
Τῷ ἑκουσίως πτωχεύσαντι τὴν πτωχείαν τὴν ἐμήν ὑπερβολῇ εὐσπλαγχνίας, Χριστῷ τῷ Θεῷ, ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ Μαρία, ὡς μαθήτρια πιστῶς διακονήσασα, ἐπὶ ξύλου ταθέντα, καὶ τάφῳ συγκλεισθέντα, κατιδοῦσα ἐβόα δακρυρροοῦσα· Τὶ τὸ ξένον θέαμα; ὁ νεκροὺς ζωοποιῶν, πῶς νεκρὸς λογίζεται; Ποῖα μύρα κομίσω τῷ ἀπαλλάξαντί με δυσωδίας τῶν δαιμόνων; Ποῖα δάκρυα χέω, τῷ δακρύων τὴν ἐμὴν μεταμφιάσαντι προμήτορα; Ἀλλ’ ὁ τοῦ σύμπαντος Ἄναξ, ὡς Παραδείσου φύλαξ φανείς, δροσισμῷ τῶν αὐτοῦ ῥημάτων τὸν καύσωνα ἀφανίζει, λέξας πρὸς αὐτήν· Τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου πορευθεῖσα, εὐαγγέλια χαρᾶς ἀναβόησον· Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα μου, καὶ Πατέρα ὑμῶν, καὶ Θεόν μου καὶ Θεὸν ὑμῶν, ὅπως παράσχω τῷ κόσμῳ τὸ μέγα ἔλεος.

This hymn, attributed to an 8th-century hymnographer named Byzas of whom apparently very little is known, meditates on salvation in Christ by a beautifully constructed series of contrasts, broadly arranged in a “chiasmus”, a rhetorical structure in which the elements of the first part are repeated in reverse order in the second part. Christ takes on our “poverty”, (not our material poverty, but the poverty of our human existence, as opposed to His divine life), in order to “bestow” the largess of His great mercy on humanity. Mary Magdalene ministers to Christ “as a disciple”, and is therefore sent to proclaim the Resurrection to His brethren, for which she is traditionally called “Apostle of the Apostles.” The word “Tree” is used instead of “Cross” to remind us that the garden of Eden, lost by the transgression of our first parents, is restored to us in the garden (note the tree and the greenery in the icon) where the Lord’s tomb is situated, and where the tears of both Mary Magdalene and of her and our foremother Eve are wiped away. An angel was set to block the entrance to Eden with a fiery sword; its heat is now quenched by the dew of Christ’s words. At the center of the hymn, “He that giveth life to the dead is reckoned among the dead”, and the “perfumes” which Mary brings to Him are contrasted with the foul smell that He drove away from her when He “expelled from her seven demons,” as stated in the Byzantine Gospel for her feast day, St Luke, 8, 1-3.

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