July 22 in the Orthodox Church is a special day, celebrating two great female Saints: Mary Magdalene and Markella of Chios. These Saints lived approximately thirteen hundred years apart from one another. Although they are from different eras and different parts of the world, they have one main thing in common: their love and devotion to Christ.
Mary Magdalene is Equal of the Apostles for having been the first to witness the Resurrection of Christ and in turn preaching the Good News throughout the world. She is named in all four Gospels and is among the Myrrh-Bearing Women who are celebrated on the 3rd Sunday of Pascha.
Mary is noted for her bravery, having been at the side of Christ at His Crucifixion and His burial. She along with the other Myrrh-Bearing Women also went to Christ’s Tomb after the Sabbath, early Sunday morning, to anoint His Body. With the exception of the Apostle John, all the other Apostles scattered for fear of the Jews. They knew any association with Christ could lead to their own persecution and eventual death. The Myrrh-Bearing Women, Mary Magdalene included, certainly could have faced the same fate. Nevertheless, their unwavering faith in Christ overcame any fear.
What a paradox, a woman (Eve) was first to sin, yet, first to see the Risen Christ. The Gospel of John has the only account of Mary Magdalene actually conversing with Jesus after His Resurrection. It was she who after seeing the stone rolled away from the Tomb, ran and told Peter and John what she saw.
First to see the divine Resurrection of the First Cause of blessings, who in his compassion made our nature divine you were revealed as also the first herald of the Gospel, Mary Magdalen, as you cried to the Apostles, 'Put away despair, regain good cheer, and come, look now on Christ who has risen again and grants the world his great mercy (1st Doxastikon of FestalVespers).
Both Peter and John ran to the Tomb to see for themselves that it was empty and the linen cloths that were lying there. They then went back to their homes. However, it was Mary Magdalene who remained by the Tomb and when she looked in a second time, saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain (Jn 20:12). Why did the two angels not appear to Peter and John? This certainly is an enigma. Perhaps, the angels were there but the two Apostles did not see them.
For John himself states about himself and Peter: for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead (ibid, 9). Maybe the Lord kept them from seeing the angels, reserving that blessing for Mary Magdalene exclusively. There are several accounts in all the Gospels where the Apostles did not recognize Christ and/or doubtful about His Resurrection. Yet, this was never the case with Mary Magdalene.
Soon after, Mary sees Jesus but supposes Him to be the gardener. Now it is Mary who is mysteriously held from recognizing Jesus until He calls her name: Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” [which is to say, Teacher] (ibid,16). This is a fulfillment of what Christ Himself said: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand (ibid,10:27-28). Even when she thought He was the gardener, once Christ called her name, she immediately recognized Him.
After Pentecost, Mary followed the Apostles and eventually made it to Rome. She remained there for some time preaching the Good News, finally travelling to Ephesus where she remained until her repose. She is indeed known as the Apostle to the Apostles.
Saint Markella was from Volissos, Chios and lived during the 14th Century. She was born from Christian parents, yet, lost her mother at a young age. Her father was mayor of the town and well respected. However, when Markella was a young adult, her father developed an unnatural, sexual desire for her.
One day, he attempted to rape her and chased her towards the seacoast. The Saint prayed to the Lord that the earth would open up and absorb her lest her purity be violated. Miraculously, the ground did open and absorbed her up to the waist. Her father, however, started to dismember her and threw her head into the ocean. This caused the waters to become tempestuous. It remains unknown what happened to the Saint’s father. Markella was more concerned about losing her virginity than she was of her own life. This certainly denotes her commitment in her faith in Christ.
The blood of the Saint still remains in the water at the site of her martyrdom. Even the rocks underneath are stained with her blood. I personally had the blessing to observe this in a trip to Volissos years ago. Every year on the Feast, a priest says a prayer at the site and a steam or mist miraculously rises from the rock that absorbed the Saint’s body. Thousands of people travel to this place yearly and many miracles have occurred.
The martyrdom of Saint Markella is very similar to that of Saint Barbara, in that both Saints were young virgins and murdered by their own father. The main difference is that Saint Markella’s father was a Christian; the father of Saint Barbara was a pagan.
Victorious Martyr Markella, reddened by your virgin blood, you appeared as an all-beautiful bride for your heavenly Bridegroom, for whom you endured maltreatment from your unholy father, O maiden most wonderful. And for the sake of the precise keeping of the divine law, you suffered the amputation of your very precious head and breasts. And thus you censured the monstrous deed of licentiousness that he ventured to perpetrate. Hence as a virgin you exult together with the wise virgins, and as a meticulous keeper of the law, you are glorified together with the Maccabees and the holy Forerunner. Together with them, intercede on behalf of our souls (2nd Doxastikon of Festal Vespers).
The woman may have been first to disobey God and partake of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, yet, with Christ there is redemption. It is not by accident that Mary Magdalene was first to see the Risen Christ. There are misconceptions that Mary was a prostitute or the sinful woman who cleansed Jesus’ feet. Although there is speculation about this, it has not been confirmed. All we know is that the Lord expelled seven demons from her (Lk 8:2). What is significant is that once she found Christ she began a new life, leading to the Eternal Kingdom.
Markella had her opportunity to bear witness to Christ in a different way than Mary Magdalene. By living the True Faith, she was murdered by her own father for not betraying her purity. The blood that stains those rocks and floats in those waters off the coast of Volissos is a witness to the True Faith. It is the blood of the martyrs which sanctifies and purifies. If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me (Lk 9:23). This is precisely what both Mary and Markella did.
Blessed (Double) Feast Day to all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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