The Myrrh-Bearing Women: Sacrificial Love

If you look deep in a woman's inner world, you will see the words "bashfulness and modesty" inscribed by the Creator in her heart. The very happiness and honour of a woman lie in this modest and dependent position. If she looses these qualities, she looses her image. Thus, according to the word of God, the nature of a woman lies in modesty and humbleness, and her calling is love.

The third Sunday of Pascha is called the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women. The Holy Church praises and glorifies these holy women for their devotion and love of Jesus Christ, as they did not spare themselves at a moment of severe danger and suffering. At a time when every disciple of Christ deserted Him, they stood at the Cross to see His crucifixion and to lay His body down in the grave. 

The Lord came to the earth out of love for the fallen humanity in order to save it. The pure hearts of the myrrh-bearing women could feel the holiness of the Savior and his love of people and responded to him with the same strong and passionate love. The Holy Church has glorified them precisely for this steadfast faith in and love of our Lord and Savior, Sweet Jesus Christ. Let us talk about the calling of the woman as taught by Holy Scripture.

Nobody would dispute the great influence that women have on human deeds, both good and evil. We know from the Bible that it is through the first woman that sin has entered this innocent world. It is also through the woman that the Redeemer came to the world to renew and restore humanity. Indeed, the God-inspired author of the Book of Psalms speaks of the two ways that can be taken by the humankind. One is that of wisdom and devotion, while the other one is that of folly and vice. God was not pleased to grant the woman the power to subjugate others by force or coercion. But He has given her the influence to overwhelm the strong in such a way that they do not feel it, submitting without feeling their freedom restricted in any way. That is why the woman’s influence on people’s fates and morals is so great. This influence will prove beneficial if the woman’s life conforms to its original calling. 

What is then the calling of the woman? They say sometimes that men and women have one and the same calling to glorify God by their good deeds. This is true, but the woman has a special calling. Let us turn to Holy Scripture. We read on the first page of the Book of Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen.1:26). Further on it says this about the specific calling of the woman: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I shall make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). And this was not said about a married woman, as Eve was not only the first wife to the first husband, but also the first creature of female sex. Indeed, it was not good that the man should have been alone. God endowed the first man with every blessing. He put him in Eden, but the man was lacking a help capable of thinking, talking and loving. He had no one to share his joy, thoughts and feelings, because all creatures around him were below him, while the Divine Being Who had had created him was far above him. Adam, therefore, did not feel the perfect bliss. So God created a wife, a help, for the first man. She was that other “ego” which the first man was seeking. The wife as a God-given helpmate was to make the man’s bliss perfect by her concern and love. Thus, the calling of the woman lies in love. Being the help to her husband, she is his equal. She can give him the help he needs only if she is his equal. 

Has the woman’s calling changed after the Fall, after sin has shaken all nature and brought great changes into the world of morality? Satan tempted the woman because he knew that the woman was weaker than man. Then Satan used her as a tool to tempt her husband, aware that the wife had great influence on her husband. The satanic calculation was very shrewd and achieved its goal. The Devil led the man astray through his wife. The wife used the God-given pure and kind influence for evil and thus destroyed it. She requited Adam with sin and death for the life she had received from him. It is for this that God punished her with severe pain without which the human race cannot multiply. God downgraded her position, saying: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Since then she became fully subjected to her husband, and struggle began between good and evil in the very foundation of social life which is the family. 

Sin destroyed human everyday life and breached the balance in relationships between husband and wife. Instead of humbly accepting the punishment inflicted upon him by God’s judgment, the husband tried to load his wife with all his work and concerns, while preserving for himself the right to dominate and dictate. This is how the wife, the helpmate, became first a worker and then a slave. In an attempt to deliver herself from her husband’s despotism, but having no strength to do so, the wife resorted to cunning and craftiness. Thus the ages-old struggle began between despot and slave.

The merciful God, seeing the balance in relationships between husband and wife destroyed, found a way to restore it. He promised already to the first people to appear after the Fall that the Redeemer would be born Who would stop the devil and deliver the wife from slavery. And the time came when this promise came true. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, by the power of her love and humbleness, conceived God and gave Him birth to become the Savior Who has renewed and redeemed humanity and has delivered the wife from slavery.

As you can see, the Most Holy Virgin Mary acquired this freedom by the power of her love and humbleness. She is the example for women to follow. It was love and humbleness that brought her freedom. The woman’s freedom was gained not by rebellion against her husband, but by humbleness and love. Having accomplished such a great task as giving birth to the Savior of the world, the Virgin Mary remained largely unknown. She was not seen even among the apostles, though the apostle revered her. This is an example of true humbleness for us.

Love and humbleness so perfectly manifested by the Mother of God are essential in Christian marriage prescribing the wife to love her husband. Just as the Church loves Christ, so the wife is called to love her husband, not out of a slave’s fear, but with loving abeyance, as the Church obeys Christ.

The holy apostles sometimes pointed to the vices that crept in relations between spouses after the Fall. Thus St. Paul warns husbands against despotism, saying: “Husbands, love your wives” (Eth. 5:25). St. Paul writes, trying to prevent wives from seeking to dominate their husbands: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3), and adds: “The man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7). For it was not man who was created for woman, but woman for man. Seeking to free woman from craftiness and coquetry rooted in her desire to dominate man, the apostle writes: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls…, but with good deeds.” Then he gives a direct instruction: “I do not permit a woman to teach” (1 Tim. 2:12). Though it may seem humiliating for a woman, it is not in the least so. St. Paul pointed to that activity which should contribute to the woman’s greatness, and modesty and humbleness are the best way to achieve it. He writes further on that a wife should help bring her husband to salvation. By her love and concern she should promote his well-being, not so much temporal as eternal. She should help him in the task of salvation, so that she herself may be saved. 

Thus a woman is called to be a help to her husband. Her calling is love. If you look deep in a woman’s inner world, you will see the words “bashfulness and modesty” inscribed by the Creator in her heart. The very happiness and honour of a woman lie in this modest and dependent position. If she looses these qualities, she looses her image. Thus, according to the word of God, the nature of a woman lies in modesty and humbleness, and her calling is love.

There are two types of love. One is the joyful feeling of a person who is loved with a sacrificial love, while the other is the happiness of a person who himself or herself loves with a sacrificial love. Loved by others, a woman is happy, but this love is inconstant and changeable. To love her neighbours and to sacrifice herself for the love of them – this is the essence of a woman and the perfect law of her existence. Of course, egoism, which marks all humanity, is inherent in the woman as well, but we are speaking here about pure love as it ought to be. Taken without the tumours of sin brought by the Fall, the love with which the Creator endowed the woman is what makes her courageous and capable of great deeds for all her weakness and gentleness.

Look how patient a woman is in her good works, how insatiable her love is. The love of a mother has always been revered as a model of this gentle and holy love. The mother’s love has been glorified by writers and poets in all times and in all nations.

We are often asked whether men and women are equal in their abilities. They are equal and at the same time unequal. Women’s abilities are intended for one goal, while men’s for another. A woman has her own field of activity in which her abilities are, of course, incomparably higher than those of a man. It is her home and family. This is the field where a woman reveals all the power of her soul. This is where she is a full master, though her influence here is often inconspicuous. Her power is manifested not in oppression or rude force, but in captivating gentleness. It is in the family that her efficiency and her mysterious art to penetrate a man’s heart is manifested. The ability to care, to share, to respond, to show tact and to encourage tied and grieving souls – this is the mainspring used by women for domestic control.

The abilities that the woman received from God, however, cannot be revealed in all their fullness. She is capable of fulfilling her calling, but at the same time she is incapable of it. She is capable because she does seek to accomplish her predestination and incapable because of sin that chokes and sometimes corrupts the good seeds that God planted in her heart. Instead of being active, she becomes fussy, resorting to intrigue, slyness and coquetry. The woman’s heart so richly endowed with gifts of God’s grace becomes sinful and graceless. Holy Scripture, while praising the woman’s good qualities, also points to her viciousness. On its pages you can meet bad, senseless, fallen and thoughtless women who did much damage to people of God.

The woman’s heart, ardent and jealous, good and evil, strong and weak as it is at the same time, needs to be guided to a good goal. The good seeds planted by God in it need to be grown in the right way. But who can heal and teach the woman’s heart? Nobody can reform and renew it but the Son of God Who became flesh in order to restore human nature so that we may be saved. Only from Him the woman can receive the strength to accomplish her predestination in this life. 

When Christ the Savior preached on earth, nobody sympathized with Him as much as women. Just as a woman’s heart is attracted to Him, so His heart is attracted to hers, because the Son of God, by His very nature, is love. He performed His feat on earth as a humble servant for all. The woman, therefore, who is also called to love will find in our Savior the One Who is intimately akin to her in her modest and humble service. If Christian faith is precious to the human soul, it is especially precious to the woman’s soul. A woman cannot be a true woman if she does not accept the Gospel as a real Christian whose place is by the side of the humble and loving Savior. In this lies her greatness, her holiness and her salvation. Amen. 

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