Updated: Dec 2, 2022
I gave a talk yesterday at a women's retreat at St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania on becoming a modern myrrhbearer. I know there were several people who had asked me if it would be livestreamed, or recorded, but knowing that probably wasn't going to be an option, I decided to share my transcript here. I hope you like the talk!
Good morning! My name is Lynne Wardach.
For those of you who don't know me yet, I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself.
I'm married to my husband Paul for 28 years and we have 5 children, all in their 20's, and a sweet baby granddaughter who is our joy. I grew up in service to the church.
That’s my parents’ fault…my dad’s been a cantor for nearly all my life and my mom takes her faith pretty seriously. All 11 of us are so happy to have recently become members of this parish.
It reminds me of the little mission parish I grew up in.
I have such fond memories of my childhood at that parish. I remember my mom writing my sisters and me a note so we could get dropped off at my friend Mary Ann's house after school...She lived just down the road from the church. Her dad would pick all of us kids up in his truck and take us to the church to meet our moms who were busy working on the latest parish project. We'd walk in to find them praying the Rule of the Theotokos (aka the rosary) while pinching pirohi, chopping vegetables for the Lenten soup sale, making crafts to sell at the Christmas Bazaar, or pulling weeds in the flower beds. We had coffee hour after every Sunday Liturgy and potluck dinners once a month. We attended every service not because we had to, but because we wanted to be there, and often stayed out late into the evening talking together in the parking lot until waaay past our bedtime. I loved it there.
Then when I was in my late teens my dad was asked to sing at a bigger church in the city so we transferred there as a family to find that it was an enormous and beautiful building with lots of parishioners; not like our small rural mission parish at all At the first Liturgy my dad sang the responses and we all belted it out together with him in our usual fashion only to find that we were the only ones singing in that packed church building…how awkward. How sad. Soon after we had arrived we got a new pastor who was determined to help the congregation along a bit by building up a sense of community, first by starting some ECF classes for the over 100 children of the parish. He had no response when he asked for volunteer teachers to help the 2 nuns he commissioned from the Basilian Sisters in Wilkes Barre, so my dad said, "my daughters will help!"...and so we did.
Since then, I've been an ECF teacher in the Eparchy of Passaic for over 30 years. When we started there were well over 100 students but as time went by there were fewer and fewer. I hadn’t been able to teach for the past 10 years or so for several reasons, the primary one being that my class size slowly dwindled down until there were simply no more children to teach. When it got so that our own five were the only kids left my husband and I began to attend Liturgy at different area parishes in the hopes of finding a Byzantine Church with children in the congregation, an education program we could count on, and a vibrant parish community, but sadly we found no such place. With recent scandals, mismanagement, misunderstandings, and pressures from the secular world to fit in the decline of the Church as a body is a sad reality everywhere and I’ve heard many people remark that they believe that the Church is dying.
I’m quite disappointed about that because I LOVE to teach young people about the love of Jesus and the richness of our Byzantine Catholic faith. I love to distill these complex truths down to sensory images that stick in the minds and memories of children and resurface in adulthood when something triggers them and they feel Christ’s love.
The feeling of the pussy willows in your hand during Palm Sunday Liturgy,
the crisp morning air on your face during the procession at the Paschal Matins,
the smell of incense and the sound of the hymns,
the thrill of getting to hold the lighted candle as you walk
and the hot wax that inevitably ends up on your new Easter shoes
are all sensory images that evoke wonderful truths about Christ and our love for Him…
and so rather than give up and do nothing about it, I gathered my lessons and created a blog and a website called ByziMom.com. From there I went on to create a magazine for Eastern Christian Children called ByziKids where I could share all my lessons, activities, crafts, and recipes with anyone and everyone on a monthly basis. It’s my myrrh! What do I mean by that? This is the basis of my talk today.
That said, I'm so very happy to have been asked to talk to you here today about the concept of becoming Modern Myrrhbearers. We’ll talk about who these women were, what they did and why it was so remarkable. Then we’ll discuss how becoming a modern myrrhbearer just might be the answer to the problem I just mentioned. So…what do I mean by Modern Myrrhbearers? Let me explain. ,
I’d like to begin our discussion by taking a look at the Oikos which is chanted at the Resurrection Matins and try to mentally and emotionally place ourselves among those women:
Early in the morning before sunrise, as if it were already day, myrrh-bearing women were
seeking the Sun, previously descended into the grave;
and they cried out one to another: "Come, O Friends!
Let us anoint with fragrant spices the life-giving and yet already buried body of Christ
Who has resurrected the fallen Adam.
Let us hasten, as did the Magi, and adore Christ and bring our myrrh
as a gift to Him Who is wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in a shroud.
Let us weep and exclaim: ‘Arise, O Master, granting resurrection to the Fallen!"
Let’s talk a bit about these women, the Myrrhbearers
They were the women disciples who followed Jesus, heard Him preach, saw His miracles, and the all-encompassing love He had for everyone, and were moved. They were also among those who saw everything that had happened to Christ from His arrest to His burial and I assume they were just as afraid, but they did something wonderful...they loved Him anyway and that love conquered their fear!
Even if others around them thought that Christ was a failure, a criminal, maybe even a fraud,...
they thought about what He preached and the life He lived.
They remembered Who He WAS and they grew to love Him for it, no matter what…
so they came to show that respect and love by anointing his lifeless Body, even when none of His disciples would or could.
They sought to anoint His lifeless Body with myrrh, but…What's Myrrh?
It’s the dried sap from a thorny tree that grows in Northeast Africa and Southwest Asia. When the tree is injured, it oozes little droplets of sap which, when dry, are harvested from the tree.
Now the myrrh the women carried didn’t look like that. It gets steam distilled to form a sticky amber-colored syrup (looks a lot like thick honey) and it smells warm and spicy.
If you know something about essential oils you know that…
It’s a great cleaning agent because it kills mold as well as bacteria.
It is useful to clean wounds because it kills germs that can cause infection.
It helps fight pain because it contains compounds that tell your brain you aren’t in pain, even if you are!
AND...Ancient people used it to anoint and honor their dead because it has all those great properties.
So the Myrrhbearers in Jesus’ time brought this wonderful substance to anoint the dead Body of Christ when he was laid in the tomb as an offering of love and compassion for Him, even though they knew they wouldn’t stop the natural tendency for decomposition to set in because they realized that He was already dead.
They couldn’t possibly heal the wounds caused by the whips, the nails, and the lance; because He was already dead.
It was pointless to try to alleviate His suffering and pain…because He was already dead.
But because of their great devotion to Him, that didn't matter to them and they set out to do so anyway with the most wonderful intentions because that’s all the women could do.
So, they set out before sunrise, in the cold and darkness, because their love for Him made this the first action of their day.
They knew the Roman soldiers would be there, and they most likely had reason to fear the soldiers, but in their devotion to Jesus, they didn’t consider the danger.
They would most likely have needed help to roll the stone away, but even that obstacle was not too daunting for them. They were determined to do this loving service for the Body of Christ, no matter the cost….and they were met with an awesome surprise. They found He had accepted their gift even before they had offered it.
Now, let’s consider this interesting comparison from scripture:
When St. Paul wrote his first letter to the people of Corinth, he told them that they were all individual members of the Body of Christ, each with his own specific job and function.
1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
This means that each person in the Church has his own role to play. Each member contributes to the state of the Body of Christ, whether for good or for bad. Each is as important as the others and no two are alike.
Just like your brain is very different but just as important to your body as your heart,
Just like your eye is very different but just as important to your body as your ear,
Just as your hand is very different but just as important to your body as your foot…
we must know that what YOU, a typical church lady is called to do for the Church is very different, but just as important as what the priest, bishop, or pope is called to do!
As I mentioned at the beginning of my talk, many people say that the Church is dying, just like the Body of Christ was dying. Attendance is sparse and sin is on the rise, nobody believes in God anymore..it isn’t popular or woke.
Many people are afraid, like the disciples were afraid.
Many people are so discouraged at what they see that they wonder if the Church is what they thought it was. They’re tempted to fall away so as not to follow something, or someone, who appears to be so broken and abandoned. I’ll bet there were many disciples in Christ’s time who did the same and regretted their decision.
The enemies of the Church today are attempting to shut Him away, to put obstacles between the Church and the faithful, just like that obstacle, the boulder, sealed the tomb and separated the Body of Jesus from His followers way back then.
But we myrrhbearers TODAY are called to be like our early examples, those women in the bible who found themselves in that very same position, and love Him despite all this, and bring.our.myrrh….no matter what.
We can anoint His Body, the Church, out of love for Jesus because we KNOW Who He is!
We are not afraid because... we know He will receive our gifts before we even offer them and His Body will arise.
Resurrection is coming for the Church too! and we want to help!!
HOW CAN WE WOMEN HELP BRING ABOUT THE RESURRECTION OF THE CHURCH??
This is what we’re going to talk about today.
Modern-day myrrhbearers (like US!) are called to carry a spiritual kind of myrrh to anoint the Church. Sometimes we can anoint particular individuals in the Church, and sometimes our little acts of love and kindness can become contagious and spread from person to person and even anoint the entire Church as a whole!
We can set out to do things that will help to cleanse the Church from her recent stains, heal and disinfect her wounds, and alleviate her pain...this is our spiritual myrrh! Each of us has our own individual gifts and talents and we can, as Modern Myrrhbearers, use these to anoint the Body of Christ which is the Church.
What a wonderful mission!
Let’s Get Practical
We can start by taking a look at the women listed in the bible as women disciples and Myrrhbearers. They become our role models and whatever they did for the real Body of Christ, we can strive to do for the Church!
First Example: The Theotokos: Jesus’ Mom
The Blessed Virgin is our finest example of obedience and love!
Jesus' mother surely made her Son the focus of attention in her home so we can imitate her by keeping Christ at the center of our homes as well.
One of the most practical ways to do this, and to foster devotion to Christ on a regular basis in the home is to revive the custom of setting up an icon corner, either in the public space or in bedrooms, (even in children’s closets as a special place to play and pray!) and keep them decorated with linens in the proper liturgical colors, flowers, icons, candles, chotki, religious books, even religious-themed toys for the little ones in the home! Once we have them set up…WE NEED TO USE THEM and let the rest of your household see you do it! This is how it becomes our myrrh!
For example, in my home, there is an icon corner just inside the front door, on the east wall of our foyer. We have a crucifix there that was given to us as a wedding gift with icons of Christ and the Theotokos, of all of our patron saints, a shelf for the icon of the season which we change regularly with the feasts of the Church, our books, beads, incense, flower vases, alms jar etc. It’s pretty noticeable and whenever people come to our home, it’s front and center. Repairmen often stop and look at it, (some have even venerated the icons!) and it makes Jehovah’s Witnesses eerily uncomfortable, but it opens up some great discussions!
The Theotokos was also known to have sewn beautiful seamless garments to clothe the physical Body of her Son and was even said to have worked as a seamstress, sewing garments and linens in order to help provide for the Child Jesus. This may encourage those of us who have the talent for sewing to transform it into myrrh by learning more about the creation and care of the various vestments and altar cloths used at the Divine Liturgy and other services and become like her and physically clothe the Body of Christ, which is the Church!
See how we can turn our everyday gifts into myrrh!
Second Example: Mary & Martha, the Sisters of Lazarus
We all know the story of how Mary of Bethany sat at Christ’s feet and listened to His heartfelt message while Martha was anxious and troubled about many things as she cleaned and cooked meals for Him and for His disciples.
We can follow the example of Mary when we strive to listen more attentively to His teachings and make prayer the center of our day. We may choose to join (or start) a scripture study group, take our role in participation during Divine Liturgy seriously; listening to the readings and to the homily with attention!
Sing! Those who have a talent for music may turn it into myrrh by cantoring or joining the choir, but all of us can use our voices to sing with our whole hearts during services!
Let me illustrate my point: When I was young I attended the funeral of the uncle of a friend. Now I had been a cantor’s daughter all my life so I was very familiar with chanting the Parastas at the funeral home, but at that time there was no one in their congregation who was willing to sing the responses, so they simply recited, “Eternal memory, eternal memory. Blessed repose and eternal memory”...no song. Just recitation of the words…saddest thing I ever heard. Everyone who grew up in the Byzantine Church knows that when they hear that hymn, whether they know the deceased or not, they will be moved and will most likely be brought to tears. But sadly, when there are no singers, there is no song. It was the most pitiful sendoff I ever saw.
Before this happens to us, we myrrhbearers must rise to the occasion and be what we need to see.
All of us can pray, like Mary, not just in church but at home as well!
*Offer to lead prayer groups in the home, or participate in one that has been started!
Offer to start a prayer group for the mothers or the children of the parish! They can meet once a month to learn to pray an akathist together, or the rule of the Theotokos!
There are so many good things that can come from praying together as a parish family!
I had a monthly gathering at my home several years ago where we prayed the rosary together and I must tell you that we witnessed so many answers to prayers!
Healings from illnesses, babies conceived, quarrels ended, the coming together as friends instead of strangers! All this praying heals the individual, but also binds together the entire Body of Christ!
I must add here that if you are drawn to contemplative prayer there is a special place for you to turn even this already wonderful gift into myrrh! I am privileged to be one of the oblates at Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf.
What is an oblate? It is someone who feels called to serve the Church by learning to live a more spiritual life as they do in the monastery, but while tending first to their secular vocation..in my case it is marriage and motherhood. We strive to keep in touch with the nuns as a real part of their community, and we learn from them, but we live at home and perform our daily jobs and duties as prayerfully and contemplatively as we can. If this is something that interests you, PLEASE do see me after the presentations and I can tell you more about this wonderful vocation.
We follow Martha when we perform our daily duty as perfectly and lovingly as we can! Whether we have a tendency toward perfection in housekeeping or keeping an office or other secular job well, we can perform our duties and interact with our co-workers in a manner that makes us a representative of Christ. We can raise our children to become great saints. We can serve our parents, spouses, and families with a loving and generous spirit and further the kingdom by doing the best job we can. We can be exemplary employees and showcase Christian attributes as we do so and influence others to live Christian lives by our example.
*I have a particular friend who loves to bake, and is quite good at it, so she bakes prosphora for her parish. She is discerning whether or not to become a remote member of the oblate group that I spoke to you about earlier and as an obedience (something we do that is our special “myrrh”) she told me that she would like to research prosphora making, become an expert on the subject and perhaps give workshops to others who may want to serve their parishes in this way.
One who is talented in gardening or landscaping may use their gifts to beautify the parish grounds!
One who works in finance may help the finance committee of the parish or head the fundraising team.
Anything we consider can become myrrh!
Third Example: Johanna, Susannah, and Mary Magdalen
Johanna Chuza and Susannah were two of the women who followed Christ and the disciples, tending to their hospitality while they roamed around preaching, and they prompt us to look for ways to support those who preach, like our priests, to do their job well.
We remember that the mission of preaching and teaching belongs to women as well but in a different way. Mary Magdalen is given the title, “equal to the apostles” because of her great love and devotion to Christ.
So how can we help Father with hospitality?
We can provide the parish with things like:
*A frozen meal stash to be used for parishioners who have an illness, a birth, death, or other hardship. I know of a parish where the women keep a steady supply of frozen meals to offer to people they know who have just had a death in the family, birth of a child, a hospitalization, or other life events. I wasn’t even a member of the parish but they sent me a meal when my husband was ill and we were so very grateful!
*Stock the parish pantry with dry and canned goods, or coupons for sandwiches or coffee for Father to give to the poor and destitute who may come to his door.
*Form a Sunshine Club to send cards for the elderly and sick of the parish and then the group can meet to pray for the recipients of the cards!
Participate in regular Coffee Hour gatherings in your parish so that you become a true Church Family! Get to know each other and each other's needs. Help each other, pray for each other and establish trust and a support system you can provide for each other when the world pushes back or tempts you to become like them. There is safety in numbers.
Fourth Example: Veronica- My Patron Saint!
We all know the story of how Veronica left her home, walked bravely past the soldiers, and wiped the tired and bleeding face of Jesus when He was hurting the most.
Our lesson from this...Just be courageously kind! Compassion speaks volumes. Veronica ran out to wipe His face with the veil from her very own head and give Him refreshment and let Him know that He was loved just for being Himself...no matter what. When our Church is worn out from all the sad things that happen in the world, we can be like Veronica and offer small acts of kindness to each member of our parish family to refresh their tired spirits! In short, be a family. Hold each other up! Come together and share more than just the Divine Liturgy!
At the crucifixion, these holy women who are our patrons were the followers who stood by to witness Jesus' death, console His mother, and bring cleansing ointment to anoint His poor suffering Body.
By their example, we women of the parish are called to bring order, healing, and refreshment to the Church in so many wonderful ways!
This is the most exciting part:
When you are not afraid to offer love to Christ’s Body, the Church, no matter what, you have to expect that He will be pleased with your efforts and reward you for them! Remember that because of their selfless actions and their respect for the Body of Christ, the myrrh bearers were granted by God to be the very first ones to witness His resurrection.
Let's re-read the Oikos now and visualize ourselves among those women, as modern Myrrhbearers, bringing spiritual ointment to the suffering Body of the Church!
Early in the morning before sunrise, as if it were already day,
…We make this our first priority! We don’t wait for the darkness to subside, but we anticipate the light and go for it!
myrrh-bearing women were seeking the Sun, previously descended into the grave;
…We recognize the Church's descent into its weakened and suffering state
and they cried out one to another: "Come, O Friends!
…Let's go together!!!
Let us anoint with fragrant spices the life-giving and yet already buried body of Christ Who has resurrected the fallen Adam.
…Gather your gifts!
Let us hasten, as did the Magi, and adore Christ and bring our myrrh as a gift to Him Who is wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in a shroud.
Let us weep and exclaim: ‘Arise, O Master, granting resurrection to the Fallen!"
…Granting resurrection to the fallen. There are so many fallen! Our actions hasten the resurrection, the bringing back to life, of those many souls who have weakened and let go.
YOU may be the first to witness a resurrection of His Church! What a gift!!!
YOUR LITTLE ACTS OF LOVE MATTER!!! They are SO important!
EVERY member of the Body is important to keep that body functioning properly and YOUR WORK is just as precious and necessary to the life and vitality of the Church as anyone and everyone else!
BE NOT AFRAID to do the work God has planned for you!