On Sunday, 30th April this year the Orthodox Church will celebrate the women who brought spices to Christ’s tomb to embalm him, as well as the two men who took his body from the cross and laid it in a tomb. This is the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, at which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are also celebrated.

Taking information from all four Gospels, the Orthodox Church believes there were eight women who visited the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week after his crucifixion. These were: Mary Magdalene; Mary, the wife of Cleopas; Mary of Bethany; Martha of Bethany; Joanna, the wife of Chuza; Salome, mother of James and John; Susanna and the Virgin Mary.

The eight myrrh-bearing women, and the two men, had risked a great deal – they had spent a great deal of money on spices to embalm his body, and Joseph had begged Pilate for Jesus’ body, and then placed it in his own tomb. They should have been frightened of the potential consequences in the light of Jesus’ crucifixion, but they weren’t, even though they thought he was dead.

The women may not all have arrived at the tomb at the same time, but as a group, they were the first to discover that the tomb was empty. All of them were commissioned to declare the good news of the resurrection to the apostles. For this reason Mary Magdalene in particular was called the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

A short chant, the Ypakoë of Pascha, is used in Orthodox churches on this Sunday:

“Before the dawn, Mary and the women came and found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They heard the angelic voice: ‘Why do ye seek among the dead, as a mortal man, the one who is Everlasting Light? Behold the clothes in the grave! Go, and proclaim to the world: The Lord is risen! He hath slain death, as he is the Son of God, saving the race of man.’”