The Byzantine Easter occurred a week after the Latin Easter this year and today's commentary from Dr Andrew Kania is a speculation following on from his Eastern celebration that speculates theologically on a post-Resurrection meeting between Jesus and his mother Mary. He is assisted in his speculation with excerpts from the Byzantine Easter Liturgies and some thoughts on this speculated meeting given by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Imagining the post-resurrection encounter of Jesus with his mother...
As Sacred Scripture offers us no account whatsoever of the Resurrected Christ speaking with His mother, let us for one moment imagine what may have occurred that Holy Dawn; assisted in this task by the Liturgical texts of the ancient Eastern Christian Tradition. For in the Resurrection narratives the Holy Mother is enormously conspicuous-by her absence.
Imagine the disciples sitting in darkness after Christ's crucifixion. The Light and Meaning that had come into their lives had been torn from them. They sat in a world with a sun — but without Light; for without Christ, darkness seemed victorious; a sun that was impotent shone in the sky; and although the world turned on its axis, as was evident by the continued progression of night and day — everything around was void; as if they were taking draughts from a beautiful but empty vessel.
There too sat the Holy Mother — among these poor few; her Divinely appointed son, John, assuredly nearby (cf. John 19: 26-27). What had she witnessed over these last few days?
"The all-pure Virgin seeing You, O Word, lifted upon the Cross today, lamented as a mother. Her heart bursting with sorrow and moaning from the depths of her soul, her countenance deeply scarred with grief, she cried out so mournfully: O divine Child, how great is my sorrow. O Light of the world. O Lamb of God, why have You passed from my sight? ... As she beheld You hanging upon the Tree, O Christ our God. She who gave virgin birth to You, the Creator and God of all, cried out in such great sorrow: Where has the beauty of your countenance gone, O my Son? I cannot endure this sight of unjust crucifixion. Hasten and arise so that I may also see Your resurrection from the dead on the third day". [The Byzantine Liturgy of Great and Holy Friday, Eparchial Pastoral Council of Australia, pp. 15 - 16]
Morning was soon to arrive. As night is darkest in the hours before dawn; so on the morning of the third day the grief of the Holy Mother must have been at its deepest. For now it had been two days since she had seen her Son and the realization of His death was permeating through the shocking memory of His gruesome crucifixion.
A number of women had left the house, while still dark, taking with them spices and ointments to the tomb (cf. John 20: 1 & Luke 24: 1). The Virgin Mother must have also been away from the group at some time during the morning; for the Eastern Fathers teach:
"The angel exclaimed to her, full of grace: Rejoice, O Pure Virgin; again I say, rejoice! Your Son is risen from the grave on the third day and has raised the dead. Let all nations rejoice! Shine in splendour, O New Jerusalem! For the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. O Zion, sing with joy and rejoice! And you, pure Mother of God, rejoice in the resurrection of your Son". [The Byzantine Liturgy of the Holy and Great Sunday of the Resurrection Pascha, Eparchial Pastoral Council of Australia, pp. 13 & 14]
No Evangelist speaks of this Revelation to Our Lady. Indeed for this moment to have happened it must have been at a time when no other witness was present. Had she had gone for a walk? Had she perhaps even made her way to the tomb in the early hours of the morning, when every one else was asleep-so that none came with her. Perhaps even-she was a witness to the Resurrection.
As the celestial Light of Pasch shone from the East that morning — so too according to the theology of the Byzantine Church, the first to be greeted by this new light must have been the purest Handmaid of them all; as the first of God's Creatures to be called into the Mystery of Incarnation so it should be only fitting that the God-bearer was the first to know of the fulfillment of the Divine plan.
"It is truly proper to glorify you, who have borne God, the ever-blessed and immaculate and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who, a Virgin, gave birth to God the Word, you, truly the Mother of God, we magnify." [cf. Sedulius, Paschale carmen, 5, 357-364, CSEL 10, 140f & cf. Hymn to the Theotokos, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom]
The speculation of John Paul II...
Such an interpretation of the Paschal morning, as the Byzantine Tradition in its Great Sunday Liturgy allows for, with its clear intimation of the Archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary and revealing The Good News, was reinforced by the words of Pope John Paul II, when in 1997 he taught:
"Indeed, it is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not Mary's absence from the group of women who went to the tomb at dawn (cf. Mk 16: 1; Mt 28: 1) indicate that she had already met Jesus? This inference would also be confirmed by the fact that the first witnesses of the Resurrection, by Jesus' will, were the women who had remained faithful at the foot of the Cross and therefore were more steadfast in faith. Indeed, the Risen One entrusts to one of them, Mary Magdalene, the message to be passed on to the Apostles (cf. Jn 20:17-18). Perhaps this fact too allows us to think that Jesus showed himself first to his Mother, who had been the most faithful and had kept her faith intact when put to the test. Lastly, the unique and special character of the Blessed Virgin's presence at Calvary and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross seem to postulate a very particular sharing on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection." [cf. John Paul II, 28th of May, 1997, 51st Catechesis]
It is only after the Revelation of the Resurrection of Our Lord to His Mother, that the Liturgy in the Byzantine Tradition, erupts into the beautiful Paschal chorus:
"Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee from before His face. Today the sacred Pasch is revealed to us, holy and new Pasch, the mystical Passover, the venerable Passover, the Pasch which is Christ the Redeemer, spotless Pasch, great Pasch, the Pasch of the faithful, the Pasch which is the key to the gates of Paradise, the Pasch which sanctifies all the faithful. As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish as wax melts before the fire. O Women, be the heralds of good news and tell what you saw; tell of the vision and say to Zion; Accept the good news of joy from us, the news that Christ has risen. Exalt and celebrate and rejoice, O Jerusalem, seeing Christ the King coming from the tomb like a bridegroom. So let the wicked perish at the presence of God, and let the righteous ones rejoice. The myrrh-bearing women arrived just before the dawn, at the tomb of the Giver of Life, and found an angel seated on the stone, who spoke these words to them: Why do you seek the Living among the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible among those subject to decay? Go, announce the good news to his disciples. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us exalt and rejoice in it". [The Byzantine Liturgy of Holy and Great Sunday of the Resurrection Pascha, Eparchial Pastoral Council of Australia, pp. 16 & 17]
The Eastern interpretation brings the Paschal story to a logical conclusion; for if the Holy Mother was already privy to knowledge of the Resurrection this would explain why she was in no rush to make her way to the tomb with the party of other women. Any mother who had loved her Son so dearly, as the Holy Mother evidently did, would have at least wanted to go to the tomb, unless of course she knew not to seek the living among the dead. (cf. Luke 24: 5) The Byzantine tradition also beautifully completes God's plan in a circular fashion; the Archangel Gabriel announces God coming into the world — the Archangel Gabriel announces the Resurrection. In fact the exquisite poetry of Byzantine Liturgy marries the two events:
"Early in the morning before sunrise, as it were already day, myrrh-bearing virgins 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". [The Byzantine Liturgy of Holy and Great Sunday of the Resurrection Pascha, Eparchial Pastoral Council of Australia, pp. 16 & 17]
Without doubt Christ must have spoken to His mother post-Resurrection — but what He said to her, was not for the world to share in; it was between a mother and her Son, and a Son and His mother; and even John, her 'adopted' son — if he was at all privy to this knowledge, which indeed he may have been, did not impart a word, even as all the while he planned to glorify the Word made flesh, Who had come into the world. (cf. John 1: 1-10)
©2009 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania