Among the most rich and beautiful of all the hymns of the church year are the exapostilaria of Paschaltide. The Znamenny special melody used for the exapostilaria on these Sundays is both sweet and poignant, drawing our attention to the inner depths and the spiritual significance of these hymns. And the exapostilarion sung today, on the Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearers, is also the model for all the Sunday exapostilaria of the entire year, because on Sundays this hymn is always concerned with the Myrrh-bearers being sent out to preach the Gospel of the Resurrection. Let us then meditate briefly on this profound hymn, spoken by Christ to the Holy Myrrh-bearers whom we commemorate today.
Hearken, O ye women, unto the voice of joy, for I have trampled down the tyrant Hades and raised the world out of corruption. Hasten quickly and proclaim the glad tidings to My friends, for I have willed that joy should shine on My creation from her through whom sorrow entered.
We see here yet again the great theme of recapitulation which we have seen all throughout Great Lent and Pascha: the primal story of the Fall is being told anew, mankind itself is being recreated. Christ is the Second Adam and Mary is the Second Eve, but this time as they should have been, as they would have been had it not all gone wrong. Through Adam came sin and death, but through Christ comes perfect holiness and eternal life. Through Eve came disobedience and sorrow, but through the Mother of God comes total obedience and divine joy. The Garden of Eden becomes the Garden of Gethsemane. Death is trampled down by death. The tree is healed by a tree.
But what we see now, in this hymn, is a great and terrible mystery: this recapitulation not only affects, but is also effected by, all of humanity. Christ says: “I have willed that joy should shine on My creation from her through whom sorrow entered,” and of course this refers first of all to the Mother of God in Her role as the New Eve. But this hymn does not address the Mother of God alone: all of the Myrrh-bearers are being sent to shine forth this same joy. And that means that all of us are being sent as well, to bring joy where we once brought only sorrow. Just as all of us participate through our own sins in the Fall of our first parents Adam and Eve, even so all of us are called to participate in the work of recapitulation, of recreation and renewal, along with the Savior and the Mother of God. The story of the Resurrection is by no means over. It is being told now, in the life of every Christian, and it will continue being told throughout all time and all ages until that great day when the Lord comes, bringing both the end and the beginning of all things.
And it is our great calling and duty as Christians to continue telling this story, with words but even more importantly with our lives. Because we learn from this hymn that it is God’s ineffable will that the story be told not by Him, nor by angels, but by human beings. By Christians. He sends us to be His messengers, His apostles, His preachers. He sends us, each one of us, to His friends: to every human being whom we encounter in our lives. We must be to everyone we meet that same voice of joy heard by the Myrrh-bearers in that garden long ago. Because as the Apostle says: how shall they hear without a preacher?
Often people wonder how to avoid losing the spiritual treasures which they gained during Lent and Pascha after the celebration is over, when everything goes back to “life as usual.” How to retain that sober inebriation which constitutes the uniquely Paschal joy? Fortunately we do not have to discover the answer to this on our own. It is no accident that we read from the Acts of the Apostles in church throughout all Paschaltide: this book is our roadmap and our guide, a model and example for all Christians who wish to live in the light of the Risen Lord. And the lesson of this book is simple: if we wish to retain the joy and the peace of Pascha, we can only do this by sharing it with others. We can only keep it by giving it away. And to do so must be the only thought and desire of our hearts.
The story of the Myrrh-bearers is, above all, a story of faithfulness. And faithfulness is nothing other than love. The Holy Myrrh-bearers are the few who loved Christ so fully and so completely that they did not scatter and abandon Him in the hour of His greatest need and in the hour of their greatest fear. And it is never too late for us to join their ranks and to win their crowns. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had hidden their faith for years out of fear, loving the praise of men more than the praise of God, but in one night they cast aside all worldliness and instead gained Christ and His eternal kingdom. On that night Joseph truly became the Noble Joseph; he truly became a rich man indeed. Let us imitate their faithfulness and their love. And let us earnestly entreat the prayers of all the Myrrh-bearers, so that through their holy intercessions the Lord would grant to us sinners also their faith, their boldness, and, above all, their joy.