As an Orthodox woman, I have always received communion on Holy Saturday, the Saturday of the Myrrh-bearing women. For me, the truth and the light of the Resurrection comes earlier. I greet my friends and family with “Christos Anesti” even before the midnight Paschal service which is the “official” pronouncement of the Anastasi. Why can I get away with it? Because I am a girl. Anastasi comes to the ladies first!
The Myrrh-bearing women like most women of most cultures are responsible for tending to the details of daily living: the grunt work that keeps life turning, shopping for food, cleaning up dirt, wiping up feces and snots, tending to the sick and elderly, and of course, readying bodies for burial. In following the cultural dictates of the Jewish law, they had to rise early, before dawn (how many women do this on a daily basis?) to bring ointments, aloes, and myrrh to anoint the body of the deceased. Women’s work in this regard has always been relegated to the private realm; they are responsible for the background work and as a result they are not granted the credit or praise they deserve. That’s just “women’s work” the society signals it. In general, most societies degrade and devalue their work. Unlike men who hold high offices and are very visible in the public arena, women work in the shadows.
Yet, on this sabbath morning, when they come in deep mourning to look on the lifeless body of the one they love, Christ in His righteousness gives them the good news first. Here is the Scripture, with a few shortcuts:
“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake for an Angel of the Lord descended from Heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning” and clothing “as white as snow” told them: “Do not be afraid; for I know you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for He is risen even as He said . . . go quickly, and tell his disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you. (Matthew 28:1-7).
This account brings up several points. One, the first people to get an “official” pronouncement of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection were the women. This is not coincidental. In keeping with the social justice bent of Christ’s ministry, it would seem fitting that women, those substandard, sub-human second-class citizens, would be granted the joy of the resurrection first. It seems fitting also that those engaged in the most quotidian, “simple” tasks, the bearers of myrrh, would become the bearers of the miracle.
Christ’s message is then transmitted via grassroots or the bottom-up approach through the second-sex, the women.
Yet, even so, the official, public pronouncement does not occur until the Apostles get whiff of it. Unfortunately, when the women did tell the disciples that He is risen from the dead, they did not believe them. Why? Because they were women, of course! Women ontologically are not taken as witnesses, their testimony counts for nothing because their society has always viewed them as less than men. Women because of their sex are not taken seriously—even when they tell the truth. Ironically, the first person to meet the Resurrected Lord is Mary Magdalene, a woman. Her testimony is also discounted. Is the Gospel making a statement about who receives truth? Perhaps women are more inclined to understand deeper spiritual truths than what they are given credit for? Whatever the case, the status quo of the society of that time is maintained as it is after midnight when the official news of Christ’s rising from the dead is understood by His disciples that we greet Holy Pascha.
Thirdly, the message of the joyous resurrection came first to those who need it most. So many women suffer from emotional distress, the balm from the despair of death, the mothers, sisters, female companions, got it. For women, the Crucifixion is an emotional one, (“I see a sword piercing your heart” Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin). Their souls needed the light of the resurrection as their grief plunged into abysmal depths. It was not that they were not afraid, they were very afraid as the Scripture told, but their love was greater than their fear. Clinical research shows that women in general suffer twice as much on average than men from unipolar depression, generalized anxiety, OCD and associated mental illness.
Two, for all the bad words and insults that men use to put other men down by comparing them to women—“pu**y” “don’t cry like a girl” etc—it is the women who show the most courage to visit the tomb and support the person they love. Besides St. John, all the other apostles, ran and disappeared, booked, abandoned their leader in the time of most need. Isn’t that acting “like a girl”? a scaredy cat, a pussy? Ironically, it is the “weak” sex that shows up and stands with the hero as He is getting butchered. They did not betray their Master by running away. They were there living the pain and despair with Him at the foot of the Cross. They were not afraid to look at the horror happening in front of them; I am sure many would have taken the Cross and the nails and the beatings had they been allowed. This shows that women, while physically no match for the muscle of men, carry a deep emotional strength that men lack. Who can walk into the mouth of the grave in darkness to bathe the body of a corpse—and not just any corpse, but one’s own son? That is a tall order. Yet these women did it.
For all these reasons, I believe women should start celebrating Pascha earlier than men. They received the good news of Christ’s Resurrection first. Sometimes those who are underground and silently oppressed are the first to know the news.
So, Christos Anesti! For the women and girls, ladies first.