I grew up with the image of this saint since my childhood, the old monastery near my grandparents’ village is one of the few that honors the memory of Mary Magdalene, the Monastery “Saint Mary Magdalene” Țibucani. It is one of the few places of worship in Romania that have assumed the patronage of this controversial Saint. Although the monastery has a history of more than three centuries, the place remained in complete anonymity until a few years ago, when the monk Hrisostom Filipescu revived it to the extent of its significance, a truly spiritual place of pilgrimage.
I think these are the roots from where I’ve got some affinities for female leadership and a desire to value women who aren’t valued at their true potential. I have sometimes wondered why this saint remains low-profile, as she is the first person to announce “Christ is risen!”.
I rediscovered this rhetorical question in the writings of Mihaela Miroiu, as she describes the priceless women:
“On July 22, we celebrate the Apostle of all the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, according to her exceptional importance in the life of Jesus, in the testimony of the Resurrection and in the preaching of Christian teaching. The resurrection of Jesus is also about the one who followed Him, and was among the first witnesses of the Resurrection. The one who unconditionally believed in Him, like His Holy Mother. Mary Magdalene is in the same line as the Apostles. The most faithful of teachers. The first witness of the Resurrection.
But, just as in the Orthodox Church Joseph is not considered a Saint, but only the Fair One, neither is Mary Magdalene an Apostle, celebrated in red letters in the calendar, but only Saint Prude, in the same line with the Apostles. I mean a footnote. There are justifications. But they only substitute reasons for the truth about the enormous significance of this woman. Covered with a deafening silence. Why is it treated so anonymously? Why is she considered secondary in the church calendar? Why isn’t she celebrated to the extent of the greatness of her role?”
From a canonical point of view, Saint Mary Magdalene fulfills all the criteria to be considered an apostle: she was with Jesus Christ accompanying him during his sermons, but also during the time of the suffering, when many left Him, including the Apostles.
She supports Mary, the Mother of God, as both of them witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus and taught others the gospel. Historians, philologists and theologians claim that Mary Magdalene was the first Apostle, „apostola apostolorum”, and that she can be considered the founder of Christianity, being the first person to claim that Jesus was resurrected.
Unfortunately, this saint has been the object of many mystifications that state that she was a prostitute and shouldn’t deserve these recognitions. This proves that the importance of women has been minimized since the beginning of Christianity. We can talk about misogyny and the fear of ancient theologians not to allow women access to power (even if only spiritual) by recognizing their values. And the easiest way to discredit a woman in those days was to call her a harlot. Artificially maintained rumors were perpetuated for centuries until they became folklore and imprinted collective consciousness.
The Bible nowhere claims that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, this being a mystification built by the patriarchs of the church to limit the role of women in the church. The Orthodox Church has never identified Mary Magdalene as the “sinful woman” who wiped the Savior’s feet with her hair. Mary was presented as a virtuous woman all her life, even before her conversion; at that time, Maria was a rich woman with a privileged life, but she chose to give away her wealth and follow her faith. The Catholic Church, as well as Renaissance art, assimilated Mary Magdalene as a converted sinful woman and worshiped her as a penitent. All the artistic representations of the great painters – Tintoretto, El Greco, Caravaggio, Girolamo Vitrice – present her as an extremely beautiful, slightly naked, sensual woman, but in a penitent way.
In 1969, the Catholic Church retracted the rumor that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.
The message of the Resurrection, claimed for the first time by a woman
In the Gospel, the name of Mary Magdalene is mentioned at the front of all Pruden Saints, due to her devotion and faith in following Jesus Christ, alongside the Holy Mother of God. She was by His side when the crowd cheered Him the Teacher, but also when even His Apostles abandoned Him and scattered in the crowd.
She did not leave Him in the procession of the terrible suffering and remained near the Holy Cross, on Golgotha Mount, near Holy Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John.
She was the one who spread the good news of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection, the essence of Christianity. She was entrusted with the mission of becoming an “apostle of the Apostles”, announcing to her disciples what she had seen.
Thus, Christianity symbolically restores the status of women. Through the Holy Virgin Mary, the one who gives birth to Jesus Christ, the Savior. And by replacing the old Eve, who is blamed for the entry of sin into the world, with the new Eve, who spread the news of the Resurrection to the world, due to Mary Magdalene. The death that comes to original sin is defeated by the power of the Resurrection, heralded for the first time by a woman.
Saint Prude, just like the Apostles, remained in Jerusalem, near the Holy Mother, from the Resurrection of the Lord until the Ascension. Together with the Holy Mother of God and His Holy Apostles, she will assist in the miracle of the Ascension of the Lord on the Mount of Olives, but also on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire.
Tradition confirms that Mary Magdalene continued her apostolic mission of preaching Christianity, making missionary trips to Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Wales and Rome.
In Rome, she met Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD), whom she healed. It is said that Mary Magdalene brought an egg as a gift to the emperor and greeted him with: “Christ is risen!”. The emperor was skeptical that anyone can rise from the dead, just as the egg he received from her cannot change its color to red by itself. At that moment, the miracle happened – the egg became red in the emperor’s hand which later became a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ.
Returning to Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene continued her mission of preaching Christianity. She was caught by the Jews and, together with Saint Maximus and other Christians, they were abandoned in the middle of the sea, without food, on a ship without sails and without oars. They were shipwrecked as far as Marseilles, where they disembarked alive. Here they also met pagans, but Saint Mary Magdalene converted many, including the Roman governor Ipatie, whom she conquered with the miracles revealed to his family.
Saint Prude continued her mission in Ephesus until the end of her life. The cave where she was buried became a place of blessing, pilgrimage and healing. In the year 899, the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Philosopher ordered the relocation of the holy relics to Constantinople, to be placed in his foundation, the “Saint Lazarus” Monastery.
Today, important parts of her holy relics can be found at the Simonos Petra, Dionysius and Esfigmenu Monasteries on Mount Athos, and in the West, in the Lateran basilicas in Rome and Saint Maximin in Marseilles.
In Romania, pieces of her relics can be found at the Mihai Vodă and Pajura churches in Bucharest, as well as in other holy places.
Saint Prude remains a symbol of deep, unconditional, faithful, constant, devoted love, as a genuine woman can offer. For better and for worse – when Jesus was being praised, and also when He was condemned to death and abandoned by the frightened apostles. Her contribution to the spread of Christianity is still unrecognized. Together with the Holy Mother of God, she rehabilitates the doomed destiny of Eve from the Old Testament, embodying the New Eve, the one full of grace. It’s time to become more aware of her message of restoring the women’s status, as Jesus Christ wanted, Who entrusted her with the spreading of the essential message of Christianity – Resurrection and eternal life.
I leave as a conclusion a wonderful message of female solidarity and empathy: “I believe that in each of us, women, there is a Saint Mary Magdalene who is silent, cries, sighs and forgets that Jesus addressed her first. She deserved the privilege of being the Apostle of the Apostles.
She had the intuition, the sixth sense to listen to Him, understand Jesus and follow Him unconditionally!
Enjoy what you are, Woman!” (Lucica Palade)